I’m asked about this quite frequently. It’s this question about how to design a website and ensure it’s set up for the best possible search engine ranking. Because being found on search engines can make or break your online success. So it’s not just a question about ranking high for a certain keyword. It’s about ranking high for the best keywords to drive results.
Before we dig into the details, it’s important to understand that search engine optimization (SEO) success is dependent on two factors. The first factor is on-site design and setup. This has to do with the structure and mapping of pages on your site, the content you offer, and several behind-the-scenes settings. The second factor is off-site promotion. This has more to do with link building and gaining outside credibility for your website. Our focus here today will be with the first of these two factors, on-site design.
A few years ago, some friends started a new laser engraving business. As they were kicking things off, they knew that the website was going to be a key piece of their strategy. So we got together and built a site around their main keyword of laser engraving. The site did well in ranking for that phrase, and it helped generate several new customers for them.
Over time, the business continued to grow, and the owners gained a better understanding of their niche. Most of the work they are doing falls into two main categories. One type of customer they get is business and corporate accounts looking to get logos engraved onto other products as promotional giveaways. The other type of customer is looking for personalization on keepsake items, such as wedding party gifts.
As they began to expand and focus on those two categories, they also felt like it was time for the website to evolve with them. The good news is that the website was rock solid with terms related to laser engraving. However, it wasn’t anywhere on the radar for terms related to these two categories. The new design would need to capitalize on these niche categories.
Keyword Research (Where a Good SEO Strategy Begins)
When we set out to design a website for search engine ranking, the first thing we need to do is keyword research. I’m a firm believer in following what the data tells me. I never arbitrarily pick a keyword phrase out of a hat and build a website.
We targeted three keyword phrases in order to show up in searches for the best possible audience.
laser engraving (already ranking well locally for this, and didn’t want to lose it)
We selected these phrases after evaluating dozens of options and alternatives in Google’s Keyword Planner tool. When doing this for a local business, it’s helpful to filter results geographically. For example, you don’t want to use soda in an area where it’s more commonly called pop. Filtering geographically will get you the terms people actually use in your area to find what you’re offering. Beyond that, it’s all about finding the terms that have the highest search volume. And it’s a bonus if they have low competition. These terms present the greatest opportunities to capture visitors.
How To Design a Website for Results
Search engines are looking for authority. They want to ensure that the pages they send searchers to are the most helpful resources available. Old SEO methods of keyword stuffing pages just don’t do the trick anymore. So you need to show value. One of the best ways to show value (and authority) is through strong content. And long-form content typically shows higher authority than a few short blurbs. Therefore we built three high-authority pages mapped out like this:
Homepage (main keyword: laser engraving) – Our target for the homepage is 1500 words of content. Within that content, we have sections with short summaries for the other target keyword phrases. And then we added other general information about laser engraving.
Authority page (keyword: promotional products) – The target for other authority pages is at least 800 words of content. We used similar keywords, such as promotional items and custom logo engraving, but the main focus was on primary term.
Authority page (keyword: personalized gifts) – This page has the same 800-word target and used other supporting key phrases like anniversary gifts and personalized wedding gifts.
The new website structure focuses primarily on these three pages. Other existing pages aren’t removed. However, the more we can focus on core navigation for these three pages, the better. Therefore, we add the new authority pages to the header menu and link to them from the homepage. Likewise, the authority pages link to each other and back to the homepage.
Back-End Tactics to Improve Search Engine Ranking
Strong SEO writing is an important part of this process. Additionally, there are some other back-end pieces that to take care of. It’s things like creating strong snippets (using Yoast SEO) that can make a big difference. Not only should a snippet contain your keywords, but it also needs a strong call-to-action.
In addition to this kind of metadata, we make sure other elements are properly addressed:
Content readability – Yoast SEO does a great job scoring the page content for this. And I like to run all of my content through Hemingway App to help me find and correct difficult to read sentences, passive voice, and other readability factors.
Link balance – Every page should have links to other internal (your site) pages, but also external links to other websites. Don’t overdo it, but make sure the page’s links are strong and add value.
XML sitemap considerations – Static pages on the site that provide authority should be set to a high priority for the search engine bots. Additionally, less important pages (like your contact page, etc) should be bumped down in priority or removed from indexing altogether. This helps tell the search engines to determine what content is really important on the website.
Beyond this, if you have green lights from Yoast SEO on readability and SEO, then you should be all set.
Before this redesign work on the website, laser engraving was already performing well for us in local searches. Usually in the top three, and sometimes number one. The site was not ranking at all for the terms promotional products or personalized gifts. Once Google’s bots got to index the new site changes, we noticed some nice results. The homepage now seems to have a pretty strong hold on the #1 spot for laser engraving locally. And local searches for the other terms are now ranking the website in the top five!
Promotional products is currently ranking the homepage at #5…
Personalized gifts is performing even better with TWO pages ranking in the top five! Here you see that not only did the homepage rank for this term, but so did the authority page…
These results were achieved without any other external SEO work. Simple, yet strong design strategy resulted in major improvements in search engine rankings.
At the same time, there are a few other tactics which could support (or even improve) strong results like this:
Link building and other off-site SEO promotion – Building a good portfolio of links pointing back to all of these pages could continue to enhance their credibility.
Content marketing strategy – Producing fresh and relevant content using related keyword terms can strengthen on-site authority.
Social media marketing – Providing social proof for these pages by sharing them regularly on social media sends strong signals to the search engines.
There’s definitely a strategy to follow if you want to build a website for great search engine ranking. And the key really is to think through all of the elements of the design and don’t skip some for convenience. If you do a good job with all of this, you’ll see the payoff in increased visibility (and traffic).
Winning in local SEO isn’t about doing some magic trick and spiking yourself up to number one overnight. Remember the story about the tortoise and the hare? The idea is simple. Keep doing the right things consistently over time, and you’ll win. You can increase your organic (not paid ad) Google traffic over time by consistently focusing on a few key tactics.
That’s what happened last year with one local business we work with. And I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t have much hope for them at times through this process.
If you understand SEO, then you know there are internal and external factors that impact your rankings. Internal factors might include having a strong, user-friendly website design and authoritative content in your area of expertise. External factors deal with off-site issues like having a strong backlink strategy. In order to do really well, both of these areas need to be handled well.
What We Could Have Done Better
It was a year of transition for this local business. Over the course of the year, there were three different Marketing leads to work with. The transitions meant different ideas coming to the table regularly, and a need to move slowly on big changes. For us, that meant we weren’t able to pull the trigger on some bigger website changes we felt needed to get done. In particular, it would have helped our SEO chances greatly if we were able to:
Update the look and feel of the site to a more modern design
Restructure and streamline the site for user experience and a strong sitemap
Bulk up thin content pages to show greater authority
The good news is that it looks like we may be giving these things more attention this year. With this stuff not running optimally, we saw improvements in Google traffic, but not as much as we could have.
The Improvement We Saw In Google Traffic
In 2015, organic search produced 4,333 first-time visitors to the website. In 2016, that number was 6,446 first-time visitors. That’s an increase of over 2,100 more people (48.77%) coming through their (virtual) doors!
This chart might not look overwhelming, but remember the tortoise and the hare? Each month this year (blue bar) represents an increase anywhere from 110 to 280 more new visitors per month than the previous year (orange bar). It represents steady, consistent work resulting in steady, consistent results.
What We Did To Get These Results
Early in the year, we did some initial cleanup and link building, which gave us a bit of a boost out of the gate. Internally, there was some cleaning up of meta descriptions (the snippets you see in search results), and other optimization. Externally, we did multiple tiers of link building and social bookmarking. That all gave us a good start, but the real story is in the consistency throughout the year. Here’s what we did, and all within a budget of less than $400/mo:
Backlink Cleanup – Before we got into building our (good) backlink portfolio, we first needed to get rid of any old backlinks that were hurting us. We were able to uncover several links that held us down and get rid of them (as far as Google is concerned).
Creating Social Signals – We have a way to sort of mimic the effect that celebrity social media accounts can have when they share something. These social signals usually have a quick impact by showing the search engines that something on your site is of high social value.
Contextual Links with Guest Posting – The idea here is to get authoritative websites to write an article about a subject related to you and include a link in the article back to your website. The higher authority of the website, the higher value of the link back to you.
Advanced Crowdsearch – This is a strategic way of creating some of the other signals search engines look at to determine the value of your site (and its content). When search engines see the value, they bump you up in the rankings.
After the backlink cleanup, we just put the other three items on a three-month rotation. Each month we would do just one of them, and target it at the homepage of the website. After we worked through all three of them over a three-month period, we would start over.
Consistency is the Key
It’s also important to note that if the budget allowed for us to do two or three of these things every month, the results we saw would be greatly magnified. You get out of it what you put into it. But more importantly, the key is in the consistency.
Doing the right things regularly paid off by generating more Google traffic to the website. And if we’re doing our job well on the website, then we’ll be converting those visits into sales leads and then into customers. More on that idea some other time…
The internet of today is competitive, and having a strong local SEO strategy is a necessity for small businesses. Most business owners know the difficulty of remaining competitive online, but they don’t know where to start. Small businesses owners should consider these local SEO optimization tips.
Stay Compliant With Google Updates
Google rolled out their latest update in September 2016, and it encourages business owners to provide a more useful, relevant experience for searchers. The Penguin update lists a few strategies that can help business owners push their sites to the top of local rankings. Some factors revealed in the Penguin update include domain authority, on-page optimization, and the physical address of businesses.
Create Pages for Local Listings
Another effective strategy is to build local listing pages on directories such as Google+, Yelp, and Foursquare (just to name a few). Business owners should create profiles on these directory sites and claim site ownership. From there, the owner should ensure the accuracy and consistency of the listings. By listing the website on these directories, business owners can rise through local listings.
Sign Up for Your Google My Business Page
By signing up for Google’s My Business, a local business owner can make his or her site more visible on Google+, Search, Maps, and Google Local. When the site owner signs into this service, they can enter or update the business’ address and contact information, and they can also access other apps such as Reviews, Insights, Analytics, and Hangouts. The business search service can be accessed via desktop browser or mobile app, and the app provides notifications when someone reviews the site on Google+.
Add a Blog Page to the Business Website
Putting a blog page on the company website will help the owner improve the site’s visibility. The more posts you publish, the more visitors will come to the site. Writing blog posts allows business owners to target locally-relevant search terms and keywords, and these posts can keep visitors on the site once they’re there. The longer a visitor stays on the site, the more likely they are to turn into a customer. Relevant, engaging blog content reduces bounce rates, which are an important measurement of the site’s search engine ranking.
Optimizing a site for mobile users is another important way to improve its search engine rankings. With each Google algorithm update, mobile optimization becomes more important. Updates prioritize sites that display well on smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices, and these sites rank higher in mobile search results.
Ask Visitors for Positive Reviews
Google gives great importance to online reviews during site rankings. Good reviews build trust in a site and enhance credibility, and that’s why it is important for business owners to gather positive reviews from customers. Owners can increase the likelihood of customer endorsement with emails listing all the major review sites such as Google Places and asking for their input on products and services.
Create Engaging Content
With each algorithm update, it becomes increasingly important to have site content that offers users something of value. It’s quite easy to create engaging, valuable site content. All the business owner has to do is determine customers’ concerns and write content that attempts to resolve them. By solving a reader’s specific problem, a business owner can enrich that customer’s online experience.
Create and Maintain Social Media Pages
Building a solid presence on sites like LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter is critical for a business owner who wants high search engine rankings. Social media also has indirect effects on site rankings. When a company’s fan base increases, more people visit the site. Search engines take site popularity cues from search results, and increased traffic can boost the site’s rankings.
Improve the User Experience
Business owners should focus on an improved user experience (UX) by making sites easy to navigate. Clear layouts, appealing designs, and easy-to-find contact info can go a long way toward a better UX, and these factors can encourage visitors to remain on the site longer. When visitors stick around, conversion and bounce rates improve, and it boosts the site’s search engine ranking.
To dominate search rankings, site owners should regularly update site content. This helps sites in two main ways. First, regular updates keep customers coming back to see what’s new. Second, Google’s algorithm updates tend to favor sites that frequently post new content. By following the tips listed here, business owners can improve their local SEO.