FREE Guide to SEO
DoLocal’s FREE Guide to SEO walks you through all the basics of optimising your personal or company website to help it appear higher up in SERPS (Search Engine Results Pages) organically.
From the importance and uses of keywords to local ranking factors, our SEO & Local SEO practice guide will help you edit your website, Google My Business, and NAP data to make improvements with regards to SEO and a customer’s page experience.
1. What is SEO?
Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of increasing traffic to a website by making sure it appears as high as possible in organic (non-paid) search engine results, for searches that are relevant to the products or services it offers. SEO uses a range of different techniques to help achieve this. From ensuring relevant keywords appear on each page of your website to driving links from other websites to yours, as well as from a technical point of view making sure that your website loads quickly, and that search engines can find and interpret its content correctly.
While the main goal of SEO is to get your website on page one in search results, this will depend on how competitive the market your business operates in is, and the quality of your website in terms of both content and build. If your product or service is a little more niche or your business operates in a limited geographical area, you actually stand a better chance of being found in relevant search results. This guide aims to help you understand the main techniques and tricks you can try to optimise your website and help improve its visibility in Google and Bing’s search results.
However, bear in mind that SEO isn’t just about making your website ‘search-engine friendly’, it also needs to be useful and engaging for the website visitor – your potential customer – too. So bear this in mind when making any changes or updates to your website.
2. Why do you need SEO?
You’ve undoubtedly heard of Google, the world’s most popular search engine, and most probably also have heard of Bing – the Microsoft-owned search engine. A huge proportion of website traffic is delivered via these channels, so you need to make sure your website is search engine-optimised.
Search engines deliver targeted traffic to your site, i.e. people who are looking for what you are offering. So if the search engines can’t find your site or understand what you offer, they can’t direct potential customers to you. Investing in SEO can give your business a great return on investment compared to other types of marketing. While you can pay Google and Bing to appear in their search engine results using PPC (Pay-Per-Click) advertising (they appear like normal listings but at the very top of the search results page, and increasingly at the bottom of the page too, with a small ‘Ad’ label), they are charged on a cost-per-click (CPC) basis, and once your set budget is spent, your ad will no longer appear – so you need to commit to an ongoing budget. With SEO, the aim of the game is to boost your visibility long-term, so the only cost is the time and effort in optimising your website for SEO.
Search engine owners are always developing ways to make their platforms smarter and more effective, so it’s important that website owners stay on top of making their sites as accessible and engaging as possible, while delivering the latest best practices as defined by the search engines. This is where the right SEO techniques can bring you thousands of extra ‘ready to buy’ visitors, and the wrong moves can lead to your site being penalised so it’s pushed further down in search results where people will never find you. And just as the world of business is fiercely competitive, so is the world of SEO. Many of your competitors will also be working on their website’s SEO, so it’s important to be ahead of the game by staying on top of the latest techniques and making sure your website meets these best practices.
3. What is the importance of Keywords?
When reviewing the content on your website pages with the aim of improving your SEO, it’s important to be aware that search engines are smart enough to interpret the content on your page without the need for you to fill the page with various different permutations of the same phrase. This is called keyword stuffing, and not only do you risk overwriting well-performing keywords and phrases which are already driving relevant traffic to your website, you may be penalised by search engines for this unnecessary variation and repetition. Instead, aim to improve your website by adding relevant fresh new content that is naturally keyword-rich, and reads well, which will help boost user experience and drive website performance.
At the very least, we recommend making updates to your website one step at a time – if you remove or add keywords on a page on your website all in one go, you won’t know what’s driving or causing a drop in performance.
4. What are the key ranking factors for local SEO?
Google lists three key factors that it considers in local rankings and that informs our SEO best practice:
Relevance: your website needs to have relevant content (optimised) to meet a specific user search query.
Location: your business must be located close to the user who is doing the search.
Prominence: your business should be well-known to customers and have high authority and trust both online and offline.
5. What is relevance in SEO terms?
Each page on your website should aim to focus on different unique keywords. Search engine spiders will visit and scan your website for relevant, helpful, informative keyword-themed pages to return high in the SERPs, based on user search intent. Here are some questions to ask yourself about the content on your pages:
- Is it easy to navigate to your main services?
- Are your services promoted in order of importance?
- Is the tone of voice appropriate for your target audience?
- Is your copy written for the customer, not search engines?
- Is copy relevant, up-to-date, engaging, informative?
- Are there helpful links to other relevant pages on your website, or external links where a user could find more useful information?
- Are your business’s unique selling points clearly communicated high up on relevant pages?
- Are you using H2 and H3 sub-heading labelling to highlight key services?
Don’t go into too much detail about a product or service that’s already promoted on another page – add a link to that page instead. If you add the same keywords on all pages, you risk them competing with each other in search results, and none of them having the chance to score higher in search engines for their areas of specialism. There needs to be a significant enough point of difference between your pages to appear high up in relevant searches.
6. What is a ‘customer first’ approach when writing Titles and Descriptions?
Make sure you write for the customer, and NOT search engines. Also:
- Check that your Page Titles, URLs (displayed in the SERPs) and main headers on every page are keyworded to provide full context for what’s on the page. This is what is displayed in search results, so make sure it compels users to click through. Try to keep Page Titles shorter than 70 characters long (including spaces) – if they are longer, they will be cut off in SERPs and some of your message will be lost.
- Make sure Meta descriptions introduce what information is on each page, are engaging and encourage click-through rate (CTR). Try to keep Meta descriptions shorter than 156 characters long (including spaces) so that they are not cut short when they appear in SERPs.
- Beware of repetition and duplication of copy on multiple pages – combine themed products or services onto fewer pages for a richer user experience (UX).
- There’s no need to say the same thing in a different way, e.g. ‘holidays in France’ and ‘French holidays’ – it’s annoying for the reader and search engines already understand how to translate copy based on intent.
- Avoid adding the same or similar keywords to the page too many times, this will read repetitively and your site ranking may be negatively affected if Google suspects keyword stuffing is happening.
- Test new keywords before you add them to your website to make sure they will help drive relevant traffic. You can do this by searching ‘keyword + business location’. If you see results similar to your business, then it is relevant. Make sure you have relevant supporting content for each keyword in order for search engines to deem your website page relevant for this keyword search.
7. How does location affect the local search results?
Search engines and mobile phone users deliver a hyper-local experience for business searches, with search engine results pages displaying the nearest suppliers for the end user.
An estimated 60% of all online searches are undertaken on mobiles, so GPS (location) means that search engines will display the nearest businesses in mobile search results. For some business types this is even higher e.g. it’s estimated to be nearer 72% for restaurants.
Remember every page needs to index in its own right, so optimise each one for local organic search:
- NAP (Name, Address, Phone) details should be visible on every page
- An area-coded landline contact telephone number is one of the first things search engines look for in order to authenticate a business online and index its website. Display a landline number over and above a mobile number and consider redirecting landline calls to mobiles when you’re out and about, so you don’t miss any potential customer enquiries
- Primary location (business town/city) and other locations served should be made clear high up in the body copy on every page, as well as in the page title and meta description
- Optimise pages for town (business location) plus nearby towns (other locations served) rather than county, as users typically conduct more localised searches online, e.g. ‘Based in Liverpool, we also serve customers in Southport and Warrington’, rather than ‘Based in Merseyside, we also serve customers in Lancashire.’
- For businesses with multiple branches or that serve multiple areas (e.g. a plumber who serves both Liverpool and Warrington), it is a good idea to create location-based contact landing pages, so you can optimise your website to be found in a higher number of local searches.
- Ensure content on each landing page is unique and tailored to that local branch or service area e.g. feature individual branch /area contact details and opening hours, detail services offered at that branch/ in that area and local customer testimonials
- You can only optimise organic SERPS for local unless the business is specialist or niche. If you want to be found further afield, adding examples of work undertaken in wider locations and citing customer reviews from wider locations may help optimise your website accordingly.
- When choosing what service and location areas to optimise for, keep it realistic and consider business type, drive time, audience size and business opportunity. Remember that the further afield you try to target, the less likely you are to come up in searches and the more competition you open yourself up to! Also, Google will see this as a form of keywords stuffing.
8. Prominence – Factors that affect a site’s Domain Authority.
It’s important to carry out Domain Authority checks every month to make sure there is not a bigger problem affecting website performance. You can do this by signing up for a free account with Moz’s Link Explorer tool at https://moz.com/link-explorer.
Domain Authority is a measure of how authoritative search engines are likely to perceive your site to be. Each site is scored out of 100 – the sites at the top end of this tend to be very large sites full of content, like Wikipedia or the BBC. For most small businesses, a DA around 30 or 40 is pretty good, although it’s worth checking where you score against competitors – if their DA is higher than yours, they probably rank higher in search results too.
Multiple live websites promoting the same business is a major cause of poor website performance. Near-duplicate online content is confusing for customers and search engines alike, and Google invariably awards domain authority to the oldest domain as it’s built up a legacy of trust over time. Google may even suspect your new fully-optimised website is an imposter if you have an old website still online. Having just one great site is the best way to encourage organic growth over time. So make sure to repoint old domains to your new website or take the old site offline.
Inconsistent contact details (NATWE) promoted online? This is another key factor in negative rankings. If Google finds differing contact details online, it deems a business less trustworthy and will score your website accordingly.
“NAP inconsistencies have been identified as the third highest negative factor affecting local rankings. Consistent NAP citations across your website, review sites, social media profiles, and directory listings acts as a positive ranking factor. However, if search engines find inconsistencies in the citations, in the interest of caution and their own reputation, they promote businesses with accurate and consistent NAPs over yours.” (Econsultancy, 2018)
Missing or not optimised Google My Business (GMB) listing? It’s increasingly important for SMEs to create a GMB listing, optimise it and stay active on the platform if you want to boost your online visiblity. If you are a local business owner, you should do your best to rank high in Google’s Local Pack. It is one of the most visible SERP features, and your business can appear in the block with some careful effort. You can achieve this organically by optimising your website and Google My Business listings. Among the businesses that can make use of the Local Pack are those servicing a particular territory (e.g. plumbing, repairing, delivery services) and local businesses (restaurants, dentists, hair salons, etc.) For many companies in very competitive business sectors, the Local Pack is the only chance they have of appearing on page 1 in search engine results – especially on mobile. Complete your GMB profile as fully as possible, add your website URL, business description, opening times, videos and photos, Q&As, request customer reviews, acknowledge and respond to them, and post relevant, sharable content regularly.
“GMB-specific features like Google Posts, Google Q&A, and image/video uploads are frequently mentioned as ranking drivers… Many businesses are not yet investing in these aspects of local search, so these features are currently a competitive advantage. You should get on these before everyone is doing it…” (Moz, 2018)
9. What is E-A-T – Expertise, Authoritativeness & Trustworthiness?
In 2015, Google released a 164-page document about its guidelines on search quality. In it, it revealed its E-A-T acronym which summarised its approach to scoring businesses’ website page content for quality.
Expertise: This means you need to demonstrate the skill of the content’s author via content that is truthful, informative, original and useful for users.
Authoritativeness: You need to show that you are an authority or the authoritativeness of the creator for the content. You can get this from the expertise of your writers or yourself. Credentials are necessary, but so are personal experiences like reviews.
Trustworthiness: Users need to be able to trust the creator of both the content and the website the content is on. This is particularly important for eCommerce websites that ask users for credit card details. Your website should make visitors feel safe, and as a starting point, this means having an SSL certificate on your site. All new websites that we make come with SSL as standard.
10. What are other local ranking factors?
Local Search Ranking Factors
Google My Business – 25%
Links – 16%
Reviews – 15%
On-page – 14%
Citations – 11%
Behavioural – 10%
Personalisation – 6%
Social – 3%
- Create a GMB listing, optimise it and stay active. Does your business have multiple branches? Create individual listings for each branch. Do you serve multiple areas? Create one listing, but cite all the different areas you serve on your listing. Remember – keep locations served realistic. The further afar you try to promote your services, the more competition you open yourself up to and the less likely you are to appear in search results because Google displays the nearest businesses for the end user. Create geo-location landing pages on your Website, featuring unique localised content to optimise for each branch or service area.
- Generate Backlinks – Ask suppliers or business affiliates to add links from their website to yours e.g.: citing you as a trusted partner or preferred supplier.
– Aim to post relevant, shareable content on social media at least twice a week and include a URL backlink to the relevant page of your website each time
– Set up a blog on your website to post and share helpful, informed answers to frequently asked questions
– Post on trusted industry or trade websites such as third-party blogs and forums, with backlinks to a page of your website when relevant e.g. to provide more information – but don’t spam, your site ranking could be penalised for this!
- The importance of reviews continues to grow significantly year on year. Most consumers check out reviews before they employ a local business, so it’s important to request these. Reviews contribute to your online reputation, so it’s crucial to monitor and respond to them too. We can help you do this with our Reputation Manager service.
- Optimise for on-page signals by enriching copy quality and optimising relevance: keywords and locations. We offer a free report on your website’s technical health which looks at things like site security, mobile speed and broken links. Get your free audit report here.
- Citations – This relates back to NAP inconsistencies. Ensure your business name, address and telephone number is listed consistently on every page of your website and all other online sources which promote your business. This is also important for voice search (Alexa, Siri, Google Home etc).
- Behavioural – This means visitor engagement and interactions with your website – click-through rate, time on site, call to actions (CTAs), clicks to call. You can help influence this by optimising the meta description of each page to drive its click-through rate and reviewing the website copy quality to ensure it’s engaging and reflects your business in the best possible light. Adding dynamic content like videos high up on the home page and strong CTAs on every page all help to increase engagement.
- Personalisation – Trigger personalised messages for visitors to your Website. Make sure they are targeted e.g. add a ‘welcome back’ pop-up message for returning website visitors and present them with an enticing offer. Make sure this message adds value over and above what’s on the page for all users.
NB: Only display pop-ups for desktop visitors – site ranking will be negatively affected if you publish pop-ups on mobile sites as they are annoying for the user on such a small device.
- Social signals – It may seem relatively low but if you aim to post relevant, shareable content on your social network channels at least twice a week, it can be an effective way to drive backlinks to your site, helping to increase domain authority, and in turn boost website performance.