The most common question a prospective client asks is, “How can I improve my website ranking?”
For any readers who are new to building websites, we’re talking about a website’s rank in the search engines, primarily Google and Bing. Google holds the largest share of traffic and influence here by far and therefore sets the standards for how to optimize a website.
SEO is a process of improving the search visibility of web documents using a mixture of technical improvement, effective copy writing, and strategic marketing.
Work on your marketing
Marketing is often confused with advertising, thinking it is limited to only include activities that promote one’s business. Marketing is much more than that, comprised of market research, customer development, value proposition development, website content, and the strategic use of these marketing assets.
At the simplest level, determine who your target markets are. You can do a simple market segmentation exercise by considering first all the customers who you currently have, then separate them by needs and values. For an imaginary seed company, we could break the target market segments into:
- Hobby gardeners with a yard - purchase 3-25 small packets of seeds per year, less likely to collect their own seeds due to space constraints.
- Hobby gardeners in apartments - purchase fewer seeds, are gardening in containers on their porch.
- Small scale market gardeners - purchase seeds regularly, in larger packets. Some may collect their own seeds, but many lack a farm large enough to allow them to separate their crops enough to viably save seed.
- Professional farmers - purchase seeds by the bag, may get bulk discounts.
The goal for each segment is obviously the same, to sell more seeds. The needs of each segment, on the other hand, are remarkably different and those differences affect how you sell to each group. For instance, the professional farmer is likely buying such a bulk of seed they qualify for discounts and rebates not available to the hobby gardener who is buying a smaller quantity of essentially the same seed. You’ll find more success if your customers feel like their needs are being met. By looking at the imaginary market segments above, it’s easy to see how they have different needs.
If you can create content for each market segment based on what you learn about them, you will improve your website on two important fronts. By creating valuable content for your clients, you will be more likely to generate interest in your other pages, as well as increasing conversions on your website. Secondly, by honing in on the needs of each market segment, you will have all the more valuable content to create, which gives positive signals to the search engines as you publish these pieces.
A good resource for learning customer development principles is The Four Steps to the Epiphany by Steve Blank and Bob Dorf, and The Lean Startup by Eric Ries.
Assess your platform
Not all websites structures have an equal chance of ranking in the search engines. If the structure, speed, or configuration of your website is lacking, other competitors vying for the same search terms will rank above your website. For example, “builder” or free website platforms such as Wix, Weekly, and SquareSpace are not as customizable for SEO as more complicated Content Management Systems (CMS) are. If you’re using one of these platforms and want to improve your website ranking, you can set a business target of rebuilding your website in an open source CMS platform like Wordpress or Drupal.
From a modern CMS like these coupled with a hosting account, you’ll have access to files like your robots.txt, which lets the search engines know which pages they’re allowed to index, or the .htaccess file, which includes server instructions, and can contain information on pages that have changed URLs.
The benefits of moving to a modern CMS like Wordpress or Drupal are exceptional for SEO. Don’t wait another year - start planning a transition now.
Keyword research is ongoing
Google is no longer keyword-based. It is now context-based. This means as long as you stay on topic, you no longer need to reuse the same keywords over in your writing for Google to know what your page is about. Even in this new context-based world, having a good set of keywords is valuable to your inbound marketing strategy.
Assess and fix speed related issues
Using a free tool like gtmetrix.com, you can assess your site speed: the time it takes your server to serve your website pages to users. Google will favour websites that are optimized for speedy page loading. Gtmetrix will provide a score card of where your site is lacking, so you or your developers can fix the issues. Learning the problems will also help you avoid them in the future as you build your business.
Since the Intel Bug of January 2017, nearly all websites across the board are showing up to 25% decreases in speed. This is a MAJOR issue, and webmasters will need to get creative to tighten up their site speed, or risk reduced search rank.
Ensure you have an XML sitemap
If you’re using a free site like Wix, Weebly, or Squarespace, you won’t have access to this, so you’ll have to skip this until you make a move to Wordpress or Drupal.
If you are using Wordpress or Drupal, or have another platform that allows customization, you can use a plugin to generate an XML sitemap, or use one of many free online XML sitemap generators. Leave the file in your root directory, so the file is located at www.mysite.com/sitemap.xml. Now, log into your Google Console (and if you don’t have one, set it up) and navigate to “Crawl” in the left hand menu, then to “Sitemaps”. In the top right corner, there is a red button for “Add/Test Sitemap”. Select this and enter the location of your sitemap.
So, will this improve my website ranking enough?
There are dozens of assessments that go into a complete SEO Analysis, and it helps to have a qualified SEO Consultant steering the strategy and prioritization of each task. It’s also important to note that strategies to improve website rank in Google will change with every website. To that effect, you would be doing yourself a favour to have comprehensive SEO and UX Analyses.
That said, if you address the issues here, you’ll be on a good track to improve your website ranking. Having gained a clearer understanding of your market segments, chosen an appropriate platform for optimization, acquired some powerful keywords, fixed your website speed, and submitted an XML sitemap, you’ll be well on your way to higher search ranking for your website.