SEO for beginners in Northern Ireland

6 Feb

Last week Tim and I presented to a group of 40 SMEs from across Northern Ireland at a NI Chamber of Commerce event titled How to Build a Digital Strategy to Deliver Sales. The audience was primarily business owners or marketing/communications people with a responsibility for all aspects of marketing the company.

We touched on a number of topics (you can see the slides by clicking the links) – Search Marketing (organic and paid), social media, content marketing, LinkedIn for business and strategy development – but it’s fair to say that the area that caused most discussion (or distress) was SEO.

My website was optimised for SEO when it was built…

Before the event we sent out a questionnaire (using the wonderful FormStack) so we could gauge the level of understanding from the attendees. We asked the question: What best describes your company’s approach to SEO. The stand out figures from the responses were:

  • We have a clear SEO strategy – 5%
  • We don’t really understand SEO – 40%
  • Our website was optimised for SEO when it was built – 30%

SEO 101

I don’t claim to be an SEO expert, ninja, guru or wizard. To be honest, I’m not even sure what the last three of those terms mean. But what I tried to do next was explain the size of the SEO universe and give the delegates an understanding of what they need to do to improve their organic search.

The first part of that brief I achieved fairly well, I think, thanks to this SEO periodic table from Search Engine Land. It lists 22 positive factors for improving SEO – to which I added user friendly site and content – and eight negative ranking factors. Most delegates took a sharp intake of breath at this point and started to panic at the size of the task ahead of them.

On the second part of my brief – give them an understanding of how to improve their SEO – I didn’t fare quite so well. I think most were still in shock at the scale of the challenge.

Content is King

The one thing I repeated time and time again was that if they only have time to focus on one thing, then make that thing content. Over recent months I’ve become tired of saying content is king, but it still is! Changes to Google’s algorithm in 2012 moved the spotlight more towards good quality content and all the signs are that Google will continue this direction of travel. And with circa 136,666,666 Google searches per day in the UK, it makes sense to play their game rather than fighting against them.

Build a Content/SEO Strategy

So here are my eight top tips for developing an SEO strategy for the non-techy, time-pressured, marketing manager/business owner who is under pressure to deliver results!

1) Talk to your developers
They should be able to help make sure your site techy-bits are working properly. They can develop pages with descriptive URLs, make sure Google is crawling the right pages and make it easy to add headers to pages etc etc

2) Look around you
Find out who you have in your team who can help with this. If you work on your own, then it’s just you. If you have a business with other staff, see who is capable of contributing. Remember, many hands make light work!

3) Do your research
Websites usually come with more stats than most people know what to do with. Look at them. Find out what search terms people are using to find your site, see what pages they’re visiting and when they leave. Check free tools to see what volume of search terms there are for your product, talk to the people answering the phones to see what questions they’re being asked.

4) Don’t cap your imagination
A blog isn’t 1500 words, it’s whatever you want it to be. You’re trying to produce good content to answer customer questions not achieve a word limit on a university assignment. If your customers are asking “what’s the specials today”, it’s perfectly acceptable for your answer to be a sentence and two bullet points that answer the question. Don’t forget pictures and video too.

5) Develop a content plan and think like an editor
Think like an editor or publisher or journalist… anyone really, just not a marketer and develop content to answer the questions your customers are asking. Your customers don’t care about your CSR policy, the latest ZMC 23 you’ve invented or Finance Director’s latest holiday to Switzerland. They might want to know about your staff helping kids to read, the new time saving device you’re releasing to market or what the Swiss can tell us about your products.

6) Use a calendar
Go back to point 2 and think who will do the work, then marry this with their usual workload. Can they really blog every day? Is a video produced every week achievable? If it’s not, don’t aim for it. Make the goals manageable but make sure you manage the process and, most importantly, if you’ve set deadlines make sure you hit them yourself!

7) Share it
If you’ve invested time in producing content, make sure people see it! Put the blog button prominently on your site, share it on your social media channels, post it to relevant other sites (remember, other site owners are always looking for content too – it’s not always difficult to have your blog re-posted somewhere else).

8) Review
Go back to the stats (point 3) every month and see what’s happening. Are you getting more clicks on one type of blog? Are your visitor numbers up from one social source? Look at the stats and amend your plan, focus more on what is working and less on what isn’t.

Do you have any thoughts on my eight point plan? Any thoughts on what has worked for you or what didn’t work?

Andi Jarvis

You can find Andi on Google+, Twitter or LinkedIn

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