21 practical ideas to improve your search rankings
Although everyone is looking, there are no silver bullets for SEO. For me, successful SEO is about consistently applying some well-known approaches. It's not rocket science, but it is hard graft using a range of techniques which different people in a company and their agencies need to work on together. I've written a lot in the past about "best practices" and on Smart Insights we have summarised the basics of SEO and also the latest SEO ranking factors with which many online marketers are aware of.
On their own, the ranking factors aren't so useful, context is needed to illustrate how they can be applied in practice through being creative, so I thought it would be interesting and different to create a series of posts looking at simple SEO approaches with examples. They're relevant for all companies from small to large, but maybe easiest to implement in SMEs where there may be more flexibility in changing page templates.
Some ideas will be a little leftfield, but all ideas will be fairly simple, non-spammy and our posts should build up into a gallery of example SEO practices to learn from. On their own they won't make a huge difference, but applied together, over a period of time they will get you better results.
To get started here are some of the simple ideas Chris Soames and I will be covering in our new series. We'll start with 21 and take it from there. In the future, we'll go into more detail on ll take and example and together these ideas will build up into a checklist and gallery of ideas for you to think about and apply. Here's our first ideas on some simple techniques grouped together in terms of optimisation technique, we'll expand on them with more examples when we do a post on each:
On-page optimisation techniques
1. Use more editorial links across your site
We know that internal backlinks and the anchor text within them are important to help ranking, but did you know that Google weights links differently? Editorial links are given a higher weighting by Google, so this is a technique that can be used across the site and on external sites like links from other blogs. Train copywriters about editorial links and don't let the brand police completely restrict their use.
2. Use linked keywords to key category pages on home or About Us page
The challenge with the home page is we want it to be visual to support the brand make it engaging for the user, but we require content and links containing the right anchor text to showcase our main product categories. Making use of the area below the fold is a common technique here although you're hampered if designers don't permit scrolling home pages...
Example: About Us on home page on Asos.com
This shows the editorial links idea in practice:
This is neat since it explains the proposition too. If it doesn't work on the home page, then try it on the About Us page - this is usually a high authority page in the main nav, yet often the body copy doesn't contain any links.
3. Create more content, a mini-directory on home page below the fold
The home page is usually the top landing page effective at attracting natural search traffic, so if you can expose more keywords on the home page, then this will be effective.
Example: http://www.tripadvisor.co.uk - a nice simple widget at the top of the page will get the majority of visitors on their journeys but more detail content and key destinations below will help attract more visitors - either to this page or the destination page for the mini sitemap pages.
4. Review your title tag on key pages to keep it focused but with the right modifiers
Every compilation of ranking factors still shows that the <title> tag is THE most important on-page factor. Every site I've ever reviewed has always benefited from re-engineering of the title tags. The main issues are that either it's too short, possibly it's automated by a CMS and can't be overridden or alternatively it's too long so focus is lost. This summary of title tag options is the best advice I've seen, but with 40 ideas, it's possibly too long. Watch for more succinct advice on this coming soon. especially on the home page.
5. Optimise headings
After the title, the headings, particularly the <h1> are efffective. A well structured site has a semantic markup, that's typically:
- <h1>Main heading</h1> - one only
- <h2>Secondary heading</h2> - either as a subhead or multiple subheads
- <h3>Tertiary heading</h3>
I have seen so many examples where designers get this wrong and don't have a semantic markup from <h1> to <h2> to <h3> down the page instead headings in sidebars or sub-headings have a variety, making it harder for the search engines to see headings in the main content.
Yet many <h1> are simplified and perhaps worse secondary or tertiary level headings aren't shown on the site
6. Create multiple home pages.
This isn't so simple, it's more a different way of thinking to create major themes around sub-pages, hubs, themes or even category pages, call them what you will. Effectively you have multiple home pages which are authoritative.
7. Create unique content for product and service pages.
An obvious one this, but particularly for retailers, there is a danger everyone has similar if not identical product descriptors. Google just won't rank content it assess as duplicate compared to similar pages on other sites or on a single site.
This recent Smart Insights post Beat the Panda by Mel Henson shows how to differentiate - not just for the engines, but for visitors too.
8. Tweak! Use analytics to focus on the pages which will give you the most boost
There are two ways you can look at this, both require using Google Analytics to review landing pages for the natural search non-brand advanced segment. My preference is to look at the landing pages that are already attracting good volume from natural - almost the home page and then look at tweaking what we've discussed, i.e. title, headings, copy, internal and external links.
The other view is to see the gaps in landing pages - which are missing natural traffic compared to what you'd expect, based on their visitor levels. Review the most popular of these by views (all, not just natural) and look at how you can tweak these.
Internal linking techniques
9. Use editorial links in long copy
We've seen that editorial links are effective. These should be a key part of blogs, but many blogs don't include them. Of course they can be overdone - this example shows both sides of the story.
Try to use editorial links in other key pages too like product pages.
10. Create a "hot X" page which is available in your main navigation
This can be within your main or left sidebar and will be authoritative so can help flow ranking to your key offers - so this is hot products, services or deals that you want to rank.
11. Use footer links and dynamic panels
Yes, we have seen that Google has downgraded the value of run-of-site links such as footer links, but I've found again and again that they do have an influence.
Example: www.salesforce.com. The example of Salesforce.com is an interesting one, since they tailor the links by site section and use dynamic panels to display more in-depth content. It seems to work for them but then they have a solid PR/backlink strategy too.
Linking from other sites - aka backlinking, inbound links
12. Deep link!
Possibly one of the biggest mistakes with SEO, or if you prefer, one of the biggest opportunities is deep linking.
A link from a partner site can help boost ranking for your category or product pages much better if it's direct to these pages.
Naturally links are to the home page and you do need to keep a balanced link profile with some links to the home page which brings us to our next tip...
13. Use relevant anchor text
Using anchor text that contains your target keywords is known to be one of the key anchor factors - more important even that the on-page title tag.
Yet, if you review the natural backlinks to a un-optimised site, the vast majority of backlinks will contain the company name, URL. Both of these previous links take us to the next one:
14. Reconfigure existing links, especially high authority links
Use a backlink analysis tool like Google Webmaster Tools, Majestic SEO or SEOMoz to review your existing existing links.
Identify those with the highest authority and then look at how they can be improved in terms of anchor text, deep linking or additional links. Contact the site owners you think are most likely to be amenable to changes.
15. Follow-up new links to your site to form partnerships
If your content marketing is working well you will get new links daily/weekly, so put in place a workflow to follow-up on these links to form relationships with other site owners to maybe improve these links or look at opportunities for future links.
16. Use social media profiles to gain backlinks
Links from the profile pages of many social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are no-followed.
So limited relevance is applied to these, but this isn't true of all networks, for example,
Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube so review links and improve the anchor text. These do vary through time too - for example You Tube has reviewed nofollow.
See also this great post on SEO for social media profiles.
17. Guest blog
Many companies have a blog and put time into writing posts, but don't put as much time into guest blogging since it's harder to make happen. Changing the mindset to contribute content to other sites which will often allow you tailor deep links is time well spent. Try to identify a small number of sites where you can make regular contributions, but also set targets, e.g. one new guest post per week since the number of unique linking domains is important to improving overall rankings.
18. Syndicate content with back links
A related way of getting links from other blogs - you may not need to write new content, but republish it elsewhere. Before Panda this worked well on article sites and there is still some incremental benefit of using these sites, but it's best to syndicate content to authoritative sites if you can.
You likely already have content that others may be interested in sharing with their audiences on their blogs or sites. If not create it, you should plan to repurpose such it can be used in different locations.
19. Get the value from your other sites.
Very few companies we audit have a single site, even small sites. If you have more than one domain, even if they are hosted on the same server, this gives opportunity to flow relevant anchor text to a main site - deep links of course - direct to your key services or niche services you need to rank for.
20. Use an integrated approach to gaining links across the business and agencies
Not simple at all, but the most important to success since it's external links from authoritative sites that count for the most. It struck me at an SEO workshop I gave recently when I asked for simple success factors that someone on the course shared this approach since it's far from simple, but really important to get right - work with others in your company and try to get different agencies working together.
21. Review your most linked-to content and create more of the same
Finally, another quick win from the analytics - use the backlink analysis tools or Google Analytics to find your most linked to, most shared, most popular content and then replicate the approach using a different angle. You can also tweak the on-page factors to get better visitors values from this content too.
I hope you find these ideas useful, will add more detail and examples on some of them in future posts. We've only really scratched the surface of ideas, particularly for backlinking. If you're looking for more ideas on linking I recommend checking out Kelvin Newmans Clockwork Pirate ideas.