Flashback to 2003 (when I started working in digital marketing): The SEO team was usually seated next to IT, sometimes in a cubicle all by themselves. No one knew what exactly they did, not even their friends in IT. The SEO team would be overheard talking about Serps and crawling, ranks and metas, headers and footers, links and trackbacks. It was rumoured that they ensured high ranks high on Google by making regular ritualistic tributes at Google’s altar. Marketing folks would wonder whether to ignore them or report them to the authorities.
Things eventually changed. The windowless cubicles were demolished and the team ventured out and mingled with the marketing department. Folks from PR, marketing and sales, customer relations now work with them.
The SEO team is an indispensable asset for marketing campaigns and customer experience projects. They discuss customer personas and information architecture and are invited to parties.
They have requested for two pets- a Penguin and a Panda as they feel these would enhance their plans. The pets, it is suggested, will learn new tricks every few months and keep everyone in the office occupied. And that they surely did.
Time passed and their style of working (and dressing) underwent changes. Some however, still had old tricks up their sleeves.
This post talks about the conventional SEO wisdom that did wonders by shooting up a certain client's’ website ranking on SERPs. This blog, therefore is dedicated to the aforementioned SEO team that helped deliver such staggering results and whose valuable contribution could not be appreciated just enough.
The keyword that I had been tracking for this client was ‘location voiture paris’; which translates into “car rental in Paris” and is quite naturally one of the top keywords for a car rental business based in France. The client being comparatively new in the market (less than 2 years old in France), has no history of any SEO.
When we began with this project, the website was nowhere to be found before the first 50 pages or before the first 500 websites, on Google. This necessitated some major tech changes, the list for which is given below:
- HTML header tags
- HTML sitemap
- XML sitemap
- Custom title and description for each landing page
- Review of any errors inside google webmaster
1) HTML Header Tags
The ranking of your page is hugely determined by the headers. HTML header tags give search engines a fair idea about the contents of your page. This implies that if your keywords form a part of the main header and section header, then you have a bright chance of appearing in the related searches.
However, it won’t be wise to go on an overdrive; jamming keywords in the headers is not the right way- your content must, ultimately be readable.
2) HTML Sitemap
HTML sitemaps make the user navigation much easier and speaks volumes about your brand. Not only this, linking all the pages to the HTML sitemaps helps in distributing link juice among most of your pages. This leads to an enhanced user experience, helping the user to position himself with respect to the rest of the content pages.
The link to the HTML sitemap can be placed on the main navigation menu or on the footer of your site.
3) XML Sitemap
For optimizing your website, the XML sitemap is an SEO analyst’s greatest ally. XML sitemaps by providing a structure to the website, inform the search engine’s decision regarding what they must crawl. Whenever a search query is raised, the search engines crawl sitemaps to distinguish relevant information. This explains why they’re also known as URL inclusion protocols.
Apart from making your pages discoverable, they also help the websites to prioritize their pages for the search engine results page. All that needs to be added here is an XML sitemap, stating which pages are the most important.
To keep the search engine alert to your website updates (to ensure that it gets crawled), 2 specific tags will come handy. ‘Lastmod’ notifies the search engine when the last change was made. Whereas, ‘Changefreq’ informs them how often the page is likely to change. Ultimately our goal must be to feed more data to the search engine.
They are the opposite of robots.txt file, which being an exclusion protocol, dictate what the search engines must not crawl.
4) Custom titles and description for each landing page
As a landing page is quite literally, the first page where a customer lands after clicking on your PPC ad, or on SERPs, it becomes vital to continue with the message earlier displayed on the search engine.
5) Review of any errors inside Google Webmaster
To keep crawl errors at bay, it is necessary to run weekly checks and avoid things getting out of hand. Other factors like site errors and URL errors too can have a devastating impact on your website ranking.
It thus become necessary to consult Google’s official documentation for Search Console, formerly known as Google Webmaster.
As the above mentioned improvements were slowly incorporated, the rank changes across four months looked something like this:
The progress was consistent. Here are the details of the activity that brought about such a great result.
What are these things and how do they make an impact?
Custom Title and Meta Tag
Meta tags help give Search Engines a good idea about the contents of your web page and index your web pages as per the relevant keywords or keyword phrases.
An often neglected value of meta descriptions is the fact that you can craft descriptions that have a call to action.
Every experienced SEO will have its own way and objective of writing meta tags. However, the golden rule is to write meta tags for humans and format it for search engines.
To achieve this, we optimised descriptions, included brand offers, maintained the length between 150-160 characters - anything exceeding 160 characters (including spaces) is usually truncated- and ensured that it had the right mix of brand term and keywords.
In short, we crafted metas to function as our advertising copy for the search engine.
Your website content has a crucial role to play in deciding the projected image of your company, your audience, and whether or not they’d like to associate with you in any way; and not to forget- your page ranking.
Content is the most important on-page factor influencing your website’s search engine ranking. A site that's not updated loses value. Keeping both your content and website fresh is a key factor that determines your ranking on the web.
Content freshness here is not to be taken as only text additions. Fresh content comes in many shapes and sizes. This includes images, infographics, video and other marketing collaterals.
Here are some ideas for content freshness that are worth considering-
- Is the content well-articulated?
Since time is of the utmost essence, the information must be relayed in a manner that saves rather than consumes the audience’s time. Putting your main ideas across, right at the outset is a strategy with proven results.
To achieve this, you might like employing:
1. Familiar words and phrases to replace more complex ones
2. Target keywords in the URL, H2 headers and meta descriptions
3. Addressing the topic directly without meandering
4. Relevant headings
5. Compact sentences
6. Short paragraphs
7. Active voice over passive voice
8. An upbeat and optimistic tone
9. Second person pronouns over third person pronouns
10. Bullet points wherever they can convey information speedily
- Is it educational, engaging or perhaps entertaining?
Before the audience begins investing their energy, you need to give them a compelling reason that explains why it’s worth it; which is why it’s important to make your content either informative or entertaining- basically anything to keep them hooked to your page.
Moreover, as reading paragraphs after paragraphs might not be to everyone’s liking, many, especially younger audiences respond better to visual stimulations.
Hence, generously deploying images, videos, infographics, that offer clarity on a given subject, usually prove to be a huge crowd puller and keep the audience riveted.
The difference between the rankings of an exclusively text-based content and that which employs creatives, can be quite astounding.
- Most importantly, does it have strong Calls to Action?
CTAs, more commonly known as calls to actions, are used to elicit a favourable response from the audience vis-a-vis SERPs.
If the appeal- made through CTAs succeed- they click on the description that lead them to the desired landing page of your website.
The secret to creating an impact through your CTAs depend upon the following:
1. It’s placement
2. What it really says
If your meta tags lack powerful CTAs, your page would most likely be overlooked.
While you’re at it, think on the following lines as well:
- What is the date that is published on your web page?
As the freshness score is, to a great degree, predicated on the publication date, changing it (the date) might do the trick.
- How frequently is it updated?
Updating your website more regularly has shown to make a huge difference in its ranking.
- Which part of the content are you specifically updating?
The focus should always be on changing the core content.
- Tried adding new web pages?
- How about submitting your site to Google News?
If you could tick these check boxes, just like we did, you are most likely of climbing up on SERPS.
Interlinking on the Website
Internal links enable you to establish the website’s overall design and spread link juice. The internal links are meant to guide the audience to the pertinent pages and help them navigate.
Implementing a successful interlinking plan usually requires you to undertake the following measures:
- Being aware of the the search patterns of your targeted audience and factoring it in your linking strategy.
- Linking the most important pages of your website with the most exemplary pages in your domain.
- Ensuring that the website supports opening of tabs/windows.
- Avoiding crowding the header and footer with site-wide footer links.
- Providing a 'do follow' call to the internal link
- Avoiding excessive interlinking for a specific term.
- Employing breadcrumbs navigation to assist users with their current position on the website.
- Running a check for broken links- these would adversely impact the SEO
And Here’s how Interlinking will be a boon:
- Visitors that wish to learn more will benefit from the additional reading options.
- It will improve your page ranking
The interlinked page automatically becomes relevant to Google. So, the current page will show-up in the results, even when the phrase searched for by the user relates to the interlinked page.
- Google can crawl your site more efficiently
Links on Other Site
Every SEO technique need timely updates and this also goes for guest blogging. When it comes to blogger collaborations and guest blogging, the emphasis should be on link bait rather than link acquisition. If the link that is being used as a bait is trustworthy, has a good content and its relevant to the blogger’s page, then it can be of immense value to both parties. Great content will always act as a link bait, but bloggers want more than just a good piece of writing. You need to assure them with a classic piece of content that allows them to see things with a fresher perspective. So, provide them content which becomes instrumental in generating traffic, shares, comments etc.; and they'll be more than willing to link it.
As soon as the above listed changes were incorporated, the impact on SERPs were almost immediate. It was quite satisfying to know that some things inside Google’s search algorithm still hadn’t changed much.