You might think SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation, is a dark art or something best left to web content writers with ninja skills. In the past, it’s certainly been portrayed as such. The truth is it’s not, but you do have to put in some work.
A qualifier – this post is entirely concerned with on-page written content. We all know that there is a whole range of off-page tactics that are not discussed here.
There are more articles online about SEO than needles on my cactus plant – a massive wealth of shared knowledge.
In a nutshell, when you do a search on Google, it applies algorithms that analyse content across the entire web and determine which pages should show up first in your list of results. The art of SEO is to get websites to feature as high up this results list as possible.
On-page SEO is basically about three things:
The particular words that you and your audience/customers use in relation to your product or service. More specifically, we are looking for the words people use in search engines to find you, or related words that are more specific about your service.
This could simply be your product type (e.g. Salary Processing, Fitness Workout or Content Writing), and one or two other words related to it (e.g. creative, high-burn, awesome, specialist, sales, etc…).
You also might want to think in terms of ‘long tail’ keywords – which is in fact a phrase more specific to your business. Using ‘craft beer’ will appeal to a bunch of enthusiasts, but using ‘craft beer with hops from Brazil’ will appeal to a specific niche much more. Less people will be searching for it, but those that do find your site are far more likely to want your product. It’s a trade off.
Having the right words is one thing. Using them well is another. Google favours text that is written in a coherent, easy-to-understand way that makes sense to a reader.
But, as well as the style it is written in, Google also gauges the text’s popularity. So if you have written about a popular subject in a bright, succinct and compelling manner that has drawn a lot of readers and gained hundreds of shares, then this will help you rank higher in searches.
3. The right voice
This is related to the Content rule above, but instead of appealing to a Google algorithm, it’s your actual human target reader that you are aiming at. If people read words they want to see, phrased in the way that they would think and speak in themselves, then your audience is more likely to click through.
And Google’s algorithms take notice when your site gets more clicks, so it cycles back and Google favours your page. Win again.
So where can you can find this goldmine of data?
1. Google Analytics
If you haven’t yet explored Google Analytics, then you should, but you’ll need to embed some code on each web page you want to study first. This is easy, as Google tells you how. You’ll need to allow some time to pass (perhaps 2-4 weeks, depending on your current traffic volume) so that you actually have some results to look at.
The feedback from Google Analytics is enlightening and will give you the lowdown on what keywords your customers are using, as well which pages they favour and how long they are staying on each page (or not staying). This is the data equivalent of the crown jewels, and can change how you do business, as well as what you prioritise on your website.
Don’t fret if you don’t have Google Analytics data right now. There are two other easy ways to determine what words to use, and the language and tone to go with them:
2. Organic search results
Yup, the good old Google search process. By searching on your field, topic, company name, etc, you can spot patterns and repetitions in the results. This can inform what words you need to use. Also think about related fields, industry topics and phrases, and look at what words you find from search results on them too.
Finally, you’ll notice that Google will auto-complete your searches as you type. The words Google inserts, and those added in ‘Related Searches’ at the bottom of the page, come from other popular searches, so you should take note of these as well. It’s all valuable info.
3. Studying social media
This takes more work, but it can really pay off. Search for your subject matter on Facebook, see what groups or people come up, and there is your data set (as well as potential target market).
You’ll get see which patterns, topics and words crop up more often, but also you’ll get to learn the tone of voice, how your customers talk to each other, and what language and terms they are using.
What are people always discussing? What are their problems, what questions are they asking, and how are people responding? What’s getting likes? What’s your target’s use of slang? What are sentences like? Are they shouting, back-patting, dryly informing or scoring points? You’ll really be able to get a grip on their language patterns and use that to inform your copy and speak back to them.
(And also, let’s not forget: what images or videos are your potential customers sharing? Understanding this can unlock a further layer of material for your own web content – but maybe this is for another article…)
Where are you going to use all these words and terms you’ve discovered?
Let me guess, it’s a list of three again:
1. Page content copy
Headings and body text, bullet points, micro-copy, blog posts, checkout dialogue, sign-up forms, headlines, the works. On-page SEO is a philosophy than can be applied to everything in your website content.
These are the brief summaries about pages that you see underneath the Google search results, usually 135-160 characters in length.
If you don’t tailor one, then Google will simply pull part of the page content containing the search keyword and use that. So don’t leave it to chance: create one yourself, make it persuasive and make it fun.
3. Page title tags
This is what appears in the website tab at the top of your browser window, usually around 50-60 characters. Often, you’ll a few default words have been automatically inserted – usually the company name and a word about the page (e.g: ‘Breathtaking Solutions – Home’). There are a bunch of WordPress plugins that automatically grab words from your text for the page tag.
Customising the page tag wording, even just a small tweak to include a keyword or phrase, will help you show up higher in search results and get more click-throughs (e.g. ‘Making Your Life Easy Again – Call Now’)
Other free tools to help optimise your website copy are also available:
WordPress focus keywords
If you are using WordPress, then make use of this SEO plug-in from Yoast that analyses your content and offers direct advice. They are quite a techy bunch, but it’s all solid – this article of theirs details it perfectly: https://yoast.com/focus-keyword/
Screaming Frog SEO Spider – https://www.screamingfrog.co.uk/seo-spider/
Very cool and convenient free tool that crawls web pages and analyses many other elements as well as the copy. If you can handle jargon, then this is a great tool for you.
SEMRush – https://www.semrush.com/
A very powerful tool to check what keywords your website (and your competitors’ sites) is ranking for. You can also see a whole load of other subsidiary words that people are searching on in your field. Then, bang, you can use them in your own website copy. To perform a lot of searches though, you’ll need to sign up for their paid subscriber service.
Your Competitors’ sites
Yup, take a look at what they are doing. Because they’ll either have been doing the same as you (which will show), or not (which you’ll also be able to spot!). I’m not saying copy their text, but it could help to see how you can improve. You’ll also get insight into how to differentiate what you offer while competing for important words.
The general rule is: don’t over-think it. If you’re using the same words, vocabulary and tone as your target audience, then you will pretty much be equipping your on-page content for SEO.
The days of simply plugging in keywords into your text as many times as feasible are long-gone. We all know that Google will penalise you for keyword-stuffing and spammy copy.
Use a few words carefully, in a well-crafted way that appeals to your audience so they feel drawn to your content, and you’ll be onto something. And finding one specialised keyword that suits you particularly well, will really help.
And, of course, a final P.S.:
Improved ranking in Google never happens right away. SEO can take up to 6-9 months to have an effect. Yes, you will have optimised your site, but you still need backlinks to develop, and traffic to gradually step up. Once that happens, Google sees you an an authority, and you’re on the home run.
Finally – don’t sweat it if you’re not absolute #1 in the search results in the end. Do you click on the top result all the time? No, you scan down the list to see one that appeals to you most, that’s well-written and speaks your language. That site might not get top ranking, but it will get more clicks. Which is what you want, isn’t it? 🙂