Search engine optimisation (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) is all about making your website work harder for you. Online competition is so fierce that it’s become an essential part of unlocking the most potential – and the most value – from your digital presence.
SEO is one of the most powerful tools you can use to increase relevant web traffic in both the short- and long-term. That traffic is secured in a sustainable and efficient manner, increasing your conversions – and ultimately, boosting your financial returns.
There are secondary benefits, too. Increased visibility on search engines boosts brand awareness, credibility and status. As for more site visits, not only does this lead to increased business: it also means more audience data and insights. Plus, knowing more about your audience – and, in turn, your customers – is invaluable in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace.
So if you’re looking to make an impact on your audience, out-perform your competition and raise your profile, you should start with optimising your web presence.
Gaining more short-term web traffic today
When using a search engine to look for information online, the top few results are often sponsored advertisements relating to keywords in your search. Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising is the process used to get your business in these valuable spaces.
If you’re a smaller business, or your website hasn’t been fully optimised yet, you may not currently feature within the top ten search results. PPC advertising is the quickest way to get in front of a relevant audience without having to entirely overhaul your website. Maximising your visibility in this way raises the likelihood of customers clicking-through to your website.
To get going with PPC, you need to choose which searches to target, determining the keywords or phrases most relevant to your business. You’ll then need to write an advert encouraging people to visit your website. Then, you can set up your chosen PPC tool, such as Google Adwords.
PPC means that you pay for every click a user makes on the advert you’ve created. This might be a fixed price, a fluctuating price, or paid at auction: Adwords, for example, uses the auction approach, so there are different variables which go into calculating what you pay.
Search engines need to ensure they’re presenting high quality links to people searching online. They don’t want businesses placing high bids for completely irrelevant adverts that won’t provide the desired results for the customer. So, how do they prevent this?
Essentially, search engines will assess your website’s relevance to the terms search engine users are entering. They take into account your maximum bid, your engagement rate (how likely people are to click on your advert) and your quality score (how relevant your landing page is to the searched term and your advert). They then use this information to determine the ads they display and in what order, every time a person enters their query into a search engine.
So, the better you know your audience – what they’re looking for, what they’ll respond to, and what they’ll interact with – the better your PPC campaign’s results will be.
The key to setting up a successful PPC campaign is doing your research first. Assess your audience motivations and actions, and then find the right keywords to target based on what your customers are looking for. This will also help you create relevant landing pages and advert copy, to best appeal to your audience. Then it’s simply a case of testing new approaches, and refining your adverts as the campaign continues.
PPC campaigns help drive relevant, targeted traffic that is more likely to convert, forming a solid basis for business growth, whilst also solving your need for more site visits in the short-term.
Building long-term web traffic for the future
To increase and maintain your website traffic in the long term you will need to do some search engine optimisation (SEO) to increase your visibility and coverage online.
At P+S, we worked with investment management company Rathbones, to increase their search traffic year-on-year by using SEO. Initially with a set target of a 10% increase, we analysed Rathbones’ website and search traffic at the time, and provided them with a strategy which would achieve it.
After optimising their website, we were able to monitor, report and refine the campaign so the client could implement further changes, and increase their success even further. The final result was a huge 22.64% uplift in search traffic, and a 26% uplift in search visibility for their target keywords. And we achieved it by understanding how search engines operate, and applying that knowledge to great effect.
Search engines exist to do four things: crawl, index, rank and display. By understanding how these processes work, you can improve your ability to drive traffic to your website.
Search engines use automated bots to ‘crawl’ through your website. These bots have a set amount of time to identify what your site’s about, and where your pages can be found. The faster your pages load, and the easier your site’s content is to understand, the better your results are in the crawling process.
Giving the bots clear indicators on a web page’s content in the URL can have a dramatic impact. For example, if your page URL is www.example.com/node/311.php, there are no clues telling us what’s on this page, what it’s about, or even which part of your business it relates to. If the same page’s URL was www.example.com/services/service-1, you gain a much clearer insight into the page’s content and how it relates to the rest of the website. Search engine bots use this same logic to crawl and analyse your website.
Once your site has been crawled, the data needs to be stored somewhere. Google use something called a ‘search index’, containing information on every page it’s ever crawled.
A page’s index is affected by a number of factors: keywords, relevancy, how up-to-date the information is, and other factors such as metadata or Schema. Once it’s indexed, your page is added to the results of any keyword it matches.
Typically, any query on a search engine sees you greeted with thousands of results. And they aren’t just placed in a random order – you’ll usually find the page you’re looking for closest to the top of the search engine results page. Search engines rank (order) returned pages based on the following factors:
- Relevance. Search engines attempt to match intent with relevant results. Imagine searching for “birthday cake”. The results may feature supermarkets or local bakeries stocking cakes, close to the top of your page. That would be vastly different to the results of a search for “easy birthday cake recipe”. Search engines rank content higher when it matches a user’s intent.
- Authority. This comes from a number of different sources: how long your website has existed, how many people are linking to your site – even the job title of the page author. It’s a way for search engines to assess how trustworthy and reliable your site is.
- Quality. This refers to the quality of your content itself. Is it unique? Was it published recently? How much content has been written previously? Higher quality content means a higher search engine ranking.
- Engagement. Search engines reward engagement with your content, on the basis that if people are liking, sharing, commenting positively and clicking on it, it’s of value.
- Design. Even the design of your website is taken into consideration for your ranking. Is your website accessible? Does it offer a good user experience? Is it easy to navigate? Is it mobile-friendly? These features will be rewarded, as they’re more likely to drive engagement and help the user find what they’re searching for.
Google released an update to their search algorithm at the end of October called BERT. This update is designed to understand the context of a search query in more depth, not just focusing on keywords alone. There will be more of an effort to interpret intention, based on understanding the language that’s being used. For website owners, this means hosting well written, focused, informative content on your site is more important than ever.
The search engine results page (SERP) is something we’re all familiar with, and it features different types of results.
Organic search results are your typical imagined search result: a title and short description pulled from a site’s metadata. These appear on every type of search. From some queries you’ll also see paid adverts appear above these search listings – these are PPC listings, mentioned above.
The last few years have seen the rise of the featured snippet. When you search for the answer to a question, you sometimes see an expanded link at the top of your SERP, displaying the answer. Almost always, they’re followed by a “people also ask” section, where search engines are surfacing related queries.
If you’ve used Google as your search engine, you may have also seen the Knowledge panel. Based on the right-hand side of the SERP, you’ll find detailed information on a search result, company or product. This info is pulled from Google’s Knowledge Graph, which is contained within its index.
Understanding how search engines work – and in particular, these four steps – is the key to unlocking the full potential of your website.
It’s all about mindset
Ongoing website optimisation is most successful when you treat it like an ongoing process, not a singular action. Harbour a mindset of constantly testing, learning and refining your content, and you’ll reap the rewards.
At P+S, we’ve been taking the test, learn, refine approach to improving clients’ marketing for over 40 years. When it comes to digital, our in-house team takes care of everything: from back-end development, to front-end design, SEO, AdWords and automation. And they’re led by our expert strategists, who’ll work with you to ensure we meet – and exceed – your expectations.
Get in touch today to find out more.