It is easy for blog writers to either ignore the benefits of SEO or to get hung up on its supposed complexity. So, what’s the right approach? How can you reap the benefits of good SEO tactics without either falling foul of the hidden rules or spending ages working through a post?
SEO Basics – what is SEO?
Search Engine Optimisation is the task of amending/adapting/creating content so that it can be found by your target audience – buyer personas in content marketing terms – when searching the Internet.
There are a number of vital, behind-the-scenes details that must be addressed on your web site, which any website builder or B2B content marketing professional should be aware of. Getting these technical basics right will maximise your visibility in search engines.
And of course, in reality that means Google. (Despite a startling report from TechRadar that gave Microsoft’s Bing a 29% share of UK searches – many other sources still put Google at a 96% share in the UK.)
How does Google work?
Many people have dedicated their working lives to trying to work out what Google looks for in websites and content, how it assigns authority and how it ranks pages in order to game the system. They search for the elusive magic technique that will guarantee results for any page.
This however, is the wrong approach and it often leads to so called “Black Hat” techniques that result in Google heavily penalising those pages and banning sites from appearing in its results.
It is also a never-ending battle as Google changes it’s algorithms constantly (around 500-600 times a year) meaning a sneaky technique that works one month will not work the next.
It seems hopeless – how can you keep up with Google?
SEO – The answer
The answer is actually blindingly simple. Just ask yourself, what is it that Google is trying to do? What is its reason for existing?
Any search engine is trying to deliver the results that the searcher needs. I’ve deliberately used ‘needs’ because one of the great challenges for search engines is interpreting what the user has typed in – which may be confused, poorly structured or ambiguous.
Furthermore, these have to be quality results from a source that is trustworthy.
Therefore, all of Google’s algorithm changes are targeted towards this one goal of finding quality, authoritative content that answers the searcher’s query.
It follows then, that in order to be amongst those results, you have to provide a functioning site that Google can work with, a clear topic around which your post is written, and more importantly than any of this – good quality, useful content.
Following that strategy, you should appear in search results no matter what techniques or processes Google uses.
In a future article, we will look at writing blog posts that follow this strategy and are search engine friendly. But for now let’s look at some of the technical stuff that can prevent your beautifully written post from being found:
Optimised code, correct code and speed of loading
It is important that your blog is created with a content management system (CMS), such as HubSpot, that produces web pages that are coded correctly, cleanly and with the minimum amount of code. Quality of code and speed of content delivery are both factors that Google uses to decide whether the content comes from a reputable source. You can easily get an idea of a page’s speed of loading with Google’s Page Speed Insights tool.
It’s important that these tags within the code of a blog post are properly defined – either manually, or automatically by your content management system.
Firstly, let’s look at a meta tag that has no effect on page ranking, but is incredibly important nonetheless. The meta description tag holds the description that is shown in search engines results, so it’s invaluable because it’s your opportunity to sell your piece of content to a potential visitor.
Meta descriptions should reflect what your content is about and contain keywords as part of a natural sentence. Although they can be of any length, they really shouldn’t be too long, as search engines generally only show the first 160 characters.
An effective, well-written meta description tag can grab people’s attention and get them clicking on that all-important link to your content.
The other important meta tag is the "Title Tag" as this also appears in search engine results as the boldest, most obvious element. It is often generated automatically from your blog’s title, but it can be different. The title tag should include keywords and follow the same principles as creating blog titles. The closer a keyword is to the beginning of the title, the more likely it will be to rank for that keyword-based search query. Title tags should be around 50-60 characters in length. Again, writing a great title tag will pay dividends and increase the traffic to your content.
Two other tags that should be present are Content Type - this is often created automatically by the content management system - and Viewport. The viewport tag specifies how a webpage should be displayed on a mobile device. Without a viewport tag, mobile devices will render the page at a typical desktop screen width, scaled to fit the screen.
There are many other types of meta tags you could use, but keeping them to a bare minimum helps keep your page lean and loading times short.
URLs and Canonical URLs
URLs should ideally be short, descriptive and understandable – preferably with no symbols or numbers. Duplicate content damages your SEO, but many content management systems create multiple URLs to the same content. Unfortunately, search engines will just see this as spammy, duplicate content. However, to address this you can specify a canonical URL – a ‘preferred’ URL as it where, that references one main page for Google to index and assign PageRank to.
Another factor used by search engines is how responsive or mobile friendly it is. Even if you ignore the SEO requirement, you would be unwise to ignore the huge rise in people (including B2B buyers) using mobile phones and tablets to view the web. Many would argue that we are reaching the point where we should be designing for mobile first. So, make sure your site is responsive – it’s always worth previewing your content on as many different devices as possible.
SEO can seem a daunting subject, but over the years, as search engines have refined their algorithms to produce reliable results that better answer searcher’s queries, it is becoming less important to know how they work and more important to produce good quality, relevant content that targets your buyer personas.