When you’re a new business, saving money is a must, but when it’s crucial to be found quickly and easily by customers and potential investors, it can seem tempting to spend a small fortune on professional search engine optimisation.
While SEO professionals do have the skills and experience to get your website ranking well within a few months, that expertise comes at a price. Scrimping here and going with the lowest priced proposal could do more damage to your search ranking and brand reputation than good.
So, what do you do as a startup to be found more easily while keeping control of your marketing budget? Well, the truth is there are some elements of SEO that don’t need outsourcing to a professional, and you can start to implement on your website immediately.
1. Focus on content rather than design
Do you know what Google prefers over almost anything else?
Regularly updated websites with fresh and original content.
Take a second to think about it. Google makes its money from users searching for answers to their questions or websites connected to their search terms. So it wants to be able to deliver its users exactly what they’re looking for straight away.
While a flashy website looks great with your branding and bells and whistles, it’s not giving those search users what they’re looking for. Which means Google is going to send them to other websites that do – unless you’re providing the content that does provide those sought for answers.
It’s like seeing a stunning shop window display on the high street, walking through the door and being disappointed because the shelves inside are empty.
Make sure the writing on the sales pages are spot on for your target audience, that visitors can find what they want quickly and easily and that you have a blog you update at least once a month for best results.
2. On-page optimisation matters
While technical SEO is important, unless you know what you’re doing it can prove expensive to get right. On-page optimisation, however, is something that you have complete control over and can make huge strides in improving your search ranking.
It’s also something you can experiment with using A/B testing until you’ve found what works best for your target audience.
There are a few key elements to pay close attention to every time you upload a new page, whether it’s a sales page, product/service page or a blog post.
Page title – you want search engines to know what this page is about and make it enticing enough for your target audience to want to click on it. Putting a keyword in here is a wise move, but be sure to avoid keyword stuffing which will only attract penalties and lower your SEO score, i.e. just use one highly relevant keyword here.
If you’re using WordPress, many SEO plugins like Yoast will give you the option of having an alternative SEO title. This can work very well when you want to keep the actual page title in keeping with your branding and content as it provides an alternative specifically for Google to use and users to see in those search results.
Heading tags – don’t use these to make the font look bigger, bolder, etc. That’s not what they’re designed for. Headings break up a page making it easy to read while drawing attention to the essential parts you want your target audience to remember.
Every page must have an H1 tag which is usually the title of the post, then subheadings should be used in chronological order from H2 down to H6. When it comes to SEO, using keywords in headings will give Google clues as to what that part of the page is about and why its search users should be interested in it.
Meta description – this doesn’t seem to affect where Google ranks you these days as well as it used to, but it is the blurb that search users will see on results pages under the title. Make this appealing enough and relevant to what they were searching for you, and you’ll get more clickthroughs from people wanting to see what you’re about. Clickthrough rate is something Google takes seriously.
Keywords – a lot of entrepreneurs get hung up on keywords. How many should they use and how often? Which ones are right for me? If you’re creating content that’s focused on what you’re selling and what your target audience will want to know about it, those keywords should appear naturally within the text.
If you’ve ever read something online and it uses the same word several times in a paragraph, so it loses all meaning and makes it hard to read, that’s keyword stuffing and definitely to be avoided at all costs. Focus on informative content that answers questions, and you’ll naturally be on the right track. If you’re really stuck for inspiration, Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to start.
Image alt text tags – these are an often underestimated but essential part of any webpage, in fact, it’s technically illegal in the UK not to have these available under The Equality Act 2010. Designed for visually impaired visitors where a screen reader would read out the alternative text to ensure the user could access and understand all elements of the web page, when websites are unable to load pictures this text is also displayed instead. So it creates a good user experience rather than those annoying white boxes with a red x and gives clues to Google about why the image is relevant to your content.
The alternative text should be a simple description of the image so that anyone could understand what the picture contains, but it’s a prime opportunity to add a keyword or location in there to help those search rankings.
For example, “picture of two businesswomen having a meeting in a busy New York coffee shop with an investor for their new healthcare startup” explains why the picture is there and drops those search terms you want the page to rank well for.
Mobile responsive – make sure your website can be viewed correctly on phones and tablets. Google takes this very seriously as more people than ever are using the internet on mobile devices rather than their computer. It’s now a significant part of the score you’re given by Google determining where you rank on those search results, so do make sure your website is mobile ready.
3. Social media marketing is great for SEO
It’s all about encouraging people to visit your website and check out what’s on there, so Google knows the content is authoritative and reliable information. Social proof matters and how users find and engage with your website can inform Google’s ranking process. If users go to your webpage and it’s not what they thought it was, they’ll click away quickly increasing your “bounce rate” – Google uses this information to determine your search ranking.
That means social media marketing when done well can rapidly improve your search ranking, but it has to be done carefully. Using the same keywords, tone and language to ensure that users get what they’re expecting to. We’ve all clicked on those clickbait headlines and hated the feeling of being misled when seconds into the content you realise it’s about something entirely different.
Do your research and make sure you’re only using the social media channels that your target audience are hanging out on. Placing links back to your content on every platform may seem tempting, but if they don’t get clicked on they’re not only ineffective but could alert Google that something is wrong with the content, i.e. why aren’t people clicking on it?
4. You can’t escape some technical SEO
Don’t worry if you’re not technical minded, there are some things you can do without having to outsource to a web developer or SEO agency.
Make sure the server your website is hosted on is in the country of your target audience. Server speed counts when it comes to search ranking so the less distance between the user and the server the faster your website will load and the higher your SEO score.
Ensure your website is https with an SSL certificate. Having a secure website isn’t just important for GDPR and data protection around the world, but Google is likely to start penalising websites that don’t have an SSL certificate very soon. You can get a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt (with installation instructions!), so it’s worth taking an hour or so to implement on your website. As many anti-virus programs are now blocking non-secure websites, not doing so could prevent your target audience from reaching you.
Compress your images to keep file sizes small. Using free online programs like Tiny JPG and Compressor or WordPress plugins like WP Smush are easy ways to achieve this. If you can, resize images to the right dimensions for their usage on a web page, reducing a large image to a thumbnail can use a lot of website resources and seriously slow it down affecting your page speed.
If you’re not sure about the technical aspects of your website, it’s worth taking a few minutes to use Google’s own PageSpeed Insights tool to discover what might be affecting the speed. Google even offers helpful advice and suggestions on how to improve things.
Search engine optimisation doesn’t have to be as difficult as it sounds, or indeed cost your startup a small fortune to get right. By implementing these hacks and tips into your website today will go a long way in ensuring a good organic SEO score without resorting to blackhat strategies or tactics that might put you in hot water with Google.
Zoe Hughes is a freelance writer and content marketing whizz with a passion for helping business owners get noticed online for the right reasons. For the latest info on business blogging, content marketing and search engine optimisation head over to Zoe’s blog at Cupcake Content Marketing.