SEO has had an interesting life and to this day continues to evolve. New strategies come and go, people are always trying new things and Google updates usually leave a large mark in the online landscape, kicking up dust that lingers in the online world for months and sometimes years.
This means everyone has a varying knowledge of SEO – from those who have a basic knowledge or awareness to those who have worked in the industry for years and have witnessed the changes first-hand.
All this creates vast amounts of online information on the subject and whilst many of the basics remain the same, strategies for implementation are ever changing. Including changes that many site owners choose to implement on their own sites in an attempt to improve their presence.
But there is one thing that doesn’t change…and that is your customers, quite often overlooked when it comes to changes regarding SEO. So how should you be managing the SEO of your website whilst ensuring your customer experience doesn’t suffer? How do these changes affect new customer engagement? These are questions I aim to answer in this post whilst discussing how to create a customer focused SEO strategy.
Long Running SEO Strategies
There are a number of long running SEO strategies still in place today that remain important. So, what are they? How have they changed and what you should be doing for current and potential customers.
Page titles are displayed at the top of your browser window, as the clickable links within search engine result pages and typically when your page is shared via social media. They are therefore important for numerous reasons.
There have been a number of title strategies over the years and they still remain an important page element as they describe the page content and even offer a ranking signal to the search engines.
Titles should be unique, relevant to the page content and help entice the click.
Regular customers will rarely need this information, but for new customers they need to know whether the page is likely to offer what they are looking for. If they visited your site and realised that your page didn’t offer the information it appeared to from reading the title, they will likely disappear and not return anytime soon.
Meta descriptions complement page titles and provide a longer description of what the page is about. Visible in the search results and often when pages are shared on social media (this information is usually pulled in automatically unless you use Open Graph / Twitter card information).
Google themselves have stated that they do not use the Meta description to determine site rankings. So it essentially is the task of the Meta description to carry on where the Title left off and look at providing more insight into the page content.
From a customer point of view, this will give more detail of what they expect to see when visiting the page and may therefore be the deciding factor to whether they will visit the page or not.
So make descriptions relevant, informative and try to encourage the click.
By page headings, I’m referring to H1’s, H2’s etc. that tend to occur on each page of the site and how they are used.
Web designers tend to use these page elements for styling purposes and to create a strong theme across the site. SEO’s on the other hand like to utilise these tags to improve the on-page relevance for the target keyword terms.
Although they can be useful for SEO, the customer is better suited to dealing with headings like they are utilised in traditional print media: by capturing their attention and by utilising them to highlight different sections within the page. The latter is often used by your customers to navigate the page if they are looking for specific information or if they do not wish to wade through lots of content.
This is precisely the way they should be used, to help break up lots of content and to highlight different content sections. Naturally these should contain relevant keywords without having to force them in, if you are, maybe you are trying to target too many keywords for that page – think about whether the content could be split across multiple pages.
Here I’m referring to the main bulk of text content on each page aside from the page headings, images and any other visual elements.
It is of course important because without it, the search engines have little to go on to decipher the context and theme of the site and pages of that site.
There has been debate about how much text content each page should have, the keyword density of the page content, whether all keywords should be bolded and how many internal links is too many etc. It is not clear as to whether there is a magic number for any of these things, but sometimes all these elements can create annoyances and experience issues for customers.
For best practice, each page should have a good level of content (appropriate for the page) that is relevant to the page. Think about what your customers are likely to be looking for and create content that will help them find this. As long as these guidelines are met you shouldn’t have to worry about the relevance towards the keywords because if you have done the keyword research correctly and the page is already relevant, everything else should fall into place.
The only additional consideration should be as to whether your content is unique, there is no use copying the text from elsewhere and not creating a unique experience for your customers.
Internal linking is a way of including links within your own content to other content on your site. Often this is done by utilising keywords to help improve the inner structure of the website and boost keyword rankings.
Some SEO’s will find a way of forcing these links in for ranking purposes, and sometimes even hiding the link by using a similar colour to the body text.
There can be an element of over-doing internal links and as a result destroying the experience for the site visitor, occasionally an internal link does not offer any benefit to the visitor and therefore is rather pointless.
For best practise, include an internal link if you think the linked to content is useful and relevant to the people visiting the page. Avoid using generic text such as ‘click here’ and try to limit the number of internal links per page.
Here’s an example of how we do internal linking on Koozai
Occasions where internal linking can be useful from a customer point of view include:
- When referencing a service you provide or a piece of content you have previously created.
- Recommended reading – other posts or pages that might make interesting reading for the page visitor.
- Similar services, content or even products (if an ecommerce website).
Think about how sites like Wikipedia interlink their content to help users of their site.
The URL structure is an important site element and often reflects the site structure. A clean site structure will often lead to clean and effective URL’s that easily identify the page content.
A clean URL structure may look like this:
This is keyword rich, easily understandable and references the page content perfectly. Occasionally you will find illegible dynamic URL’s that do not offer any clues to a customer as to what the page may be about.
For best practise, stick to a clean and easily navigable website structure with URL’s that reflects this. Another suggestion is to ensure there is a limit to how far you push this, e.g. avoid a structure like the following example:
A good navigation will mean that no page should be too deep in the site to ever need this type of structure.
An Alt tag is a piece of code that is added to the code that references an added image on a website. It is meant so that visitors who are using browsers with limited functionality to display images can see a tag which describes the image. Search engines can also read this information and can use it to decipher page context.
Traditionally these have been utilised purely to include keywords for ranking benefit but it’s important to remember they are used by screen reading software for blind visitors.
For best practise, include a very brief summary of the image content – this is often more relevant if the image is also a link and therefore you can add information about where the visitor will be sent upon clicking the link.
Local SEO is a relatively broad subject, but in this context I am referring to on-page lengths that some websites go to in order to try and rank for local search phrases.
Occasionally you will find a site footer that is filled with local phrases or links to locally relevant pages – sometimes this information is just present within the on-page sitemap.
It is all very well trying to rank for these terms, especially if the services offered span these areas. However when this information is presented to the customer, they may be put off with the huge amount of different pages the site has and the confusing structure.
So when should you have these types of pages? Generally if you offer a unique service for that area – maybe you have a number of car garages in different areas for example – then having a unique page makes sense.
If the offering is not unique to one area compared to another and you don’t have a physical presence in that place separate pages are not needed.
In a situation whereby you may have lots of local pages, rather than throwing all these links on each page – create a central page where potential customers can find the page relevant to where they are based.
The Old SEO
In the above section, a number of long running SEO practices have been discussed – largely these still contribute to a successful SEO strategy. However there are a number of old SEO tactics that should now be avoided even though information is still available online.
This is the process whereby a website owner would throw in as many relevant keywords as they could think of onto a page in an attempt to rank well. This often made the site visually overwhelming and difficult to navigate.
They may have previously ended up ranking well, but the customer experience was let down in the process.
Since those days, Google and other search engines have done a lot to crack down on sites that benefit from this strategy and it is therefore recommended that you stay well clear of this.
The website footer is a good place to include any important information, but is occasionally filled with a huge number of links to every page of the site and sometimes external sites, whether owned by the same people or not.
This is another example of a previous strategy that creates a horrendous customer experience and is solely for ranking benefit.
Footer links are unlikely to mean the difference between ranking well and not ranking well, therefore you should think about the types of links that might be most useful for your visitors. Some examples include:
- Link to the Sitemap
- Terms and Conditions
- Top-level pages
- Social profile links
The Koozai footer offers a quick way to get to our core content
Keyword Meta Tags
This is something I often see on websites, a keyword Meta tag that is filled with every keyword under the sun.
Traditionally these may have been used as a key indicator to what the site should be ranked for, but due to heavy keyword spamming an manipulation they are no longer a ranking signal, if a very light one.
Instead, remove the keyword Meta tags completely or just add one to five highly relevant keywords that may include some that are relevant to the target location.
The New SEO
SEO is continually evolving and there are a number of new strategies being implemented all the time. Below are a few of the most successful strategies that a site owner can implement, but it still pays to keep customers in mind throughout.
Rich Snippets are a way of tagging certain types of content on your site from within the code. This can be read most notably by Google who will sometimes choose to display this information within the search results. They can use it to create an enhanced listing and this can result in improved click through rates to your content.
Site owners can tag all sorts of information such as reviews, business information (address info) and author information.
If you have the data on your website, it is worth adding the mark-up to benefit from enhanced results and more information for potential customers to go on to decide whether your site is worth the visit.
It is worth mentioning that you should not try and manipulate these types of results, for example the number of reviews.
Authorship is Google’s way of associating written content with individuals; some believe this will lead to an inevitable AuthorRank whereby content associated with authors is much more likely to rank well.
This is implemented in association with an individual Google+ profile for that author and therefore customers will have a greater insight to the individuals behind the company. Brand representation is much more important in these cases.
Before implementation, think about how you are representing your own brand through the Google+ profile, and even other existing social profiles that people can find. This can make the difference between gaining a customer and losing one.
Social media is being pushed in a very big way. A good social strategy can be invaluable for some brands and it is a means of separating themselves from their competitors.
Growing a strong social media presence is important and will continue to grow in the future.
Companies need to make sure they represent themselves on social media as they wish to be viewed, remember that social is more or less instant and once information is out – it tends to stay out. Avoid registering yourself on every social profile out there and try to utilise those where your customers are.
Content marketing – you may have heard of it…It is a way of utilising content to your advantage to gain links, build a community, promote yourselves within the industry or to external parties. A site with a good and well thought out content strategy can see amazing results.
It has no doubt exploded in popularity, however recently I have noticed a few articles along the lines of ‘Content marketing is ruining the web’ – and in a sense this might be true. It has definitely led to an increase in low quality content that sites churn out to gain some sort of benefit from it. This however does not rule out content marketing altogether, you just need to be smart about it.
You want to be creating content for your customers, what do they want to read? What are they interested in? Are you positioned as an expert in your field whereby you can take advantage of this and grow your authority online? This is where you start to create good content that will benefit your site in the long-run.
Keyword research is an important area of the search engine optimisation process. Traditionally conducted by going through masses of keywords to try and find those which are slightly relevant and have low competition.
The issues with this process are that the website is often tailored to fit these keywords, rather than finding keywords relevant to the website and those which your customers are likely to use.
There are a number of things that should be considered during keyword research such as relevance, intent and competition.
The keyword research may also uncover keywords that are relevant and can be targeted through the creation of additional pages or used as part of your keyword strategy.
Link building is another area that has changed an awful lot in the past couple of years, mainly due to recent Google updates.
Traditionally a site would aim for quantity over quality and it never really mattered what types of sites were linking back. Anchor text was also a big thing and sites wanted to gain as many keyword associated links as possible.
Nowadays, this has changed hugely to where sites are being penalised for large numbers of unnatural links to their site and site owners are looking for the next strategy to give their rankings a push.
How does this affect current or potential customers? It doesn’t really, until a point is reached whereby you vanish of the face of Google and they cannot find you. Some businesses have also found that by blatantly using low quality link tactics, they have gained some bad press from this; however these situations are generally quite rare.
What your potential customers want is to easily find you if you provide something they are looking for. For this you need to be visible in the places that they are likely to look. This can be on local business directories, communities, industry relevant blogs, on social media and so on. This is where you need to concentrate your link building and outreach efforts to see the most benefit.
Let’s not also forget your social media profiles themselves – are they easily accessible or easy to find if a potential or current customer were to look?
It is one thing actively trying to build links, but you also want to ensure your own content is easily discoverable and easy to share. Are you making it easy for someone to share your content on their favourite platforms? If not, you may be losing out on valuable opportunities for others to discover you.
Making Site Changes
It is a common occurrence to make quite a lot of website changes if you decide to implement an SEO strategy after your website has been live for some time, changes that will likely affect current customers in one way or another.
You will want to ensure that there is a familiarity with previous iterations of the site, that users can still access important site areas and that if there are any URL changes, the old URL’s are redirected to a relevant live page of the site.
Whether you are responsible for managing your own or someone else’s SEO, there are lots of elements involved. You want to be making sure that at the forefront of the SEO work; the customer is always in mind as these are the ones who are ultimately going to be using the website.
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