If you’ve had a website for a while, you’ll undoubtedly have heard of search engine optimisation, or SEO for short.
You’ve quite likely been told by business acquaintances that ‘SEO is always changing’, ‘SEO is a dark art’ and possibly that ‘SEO consultants are dodgy’ – some or all of which may have caused you to steer away from taking professional advice on the subject.
In this article we’ll look at the practical steps that you can take in-house to help your own website generate more traffic from search engines – and we may just bust some myths along the way.
So what is search engine optimisation?
In a nutshell, search engine optimisation is the process of helping search engines to understand your areas of expertise and increase the visibility of your site among search engine users who are looking for what you have to offer. It should preferably be an ongoing process of continual improvement – try something, measure the results, rinse and repeat (though a one off exercise can also be of great value) - and it is not (or at least, it shouldn’t be) about trying to cheat Google.
In order to help Google (and other search engines too, all the main search engines work on very similar principles) to understand what you do and where to place you in their search results, you need to send out signals to tell them what your website is about.
‘SEO is a dark art’ is a myth perpetuated by suppliers who want to make what they do sound more complicated than it is. And most of the core best practice guidelines have remained the same for ten years or more, so while things do change frequently in the world of SEO, much of what search engine optimisation specialists do has in fact not changed dramatically over the years:
Step 1 – Identify the best phrases to target
This process is called ‘keyword research’. There’s little point targeting phrases on your website that nobody searches for, and at the other end of the scale, it’s probably a waste of time to target phrases that are over-competitive. You’re unlikely to get to the top of Google for ‘health’, for example.
By identifying the kinds of phrases that patients search for, and working out which ones have the best chance of bringing the right people to your website, you maximise your chances of success.
Read more about keyword research here.
Step 2 – Use those phrases in your website content
Having identified the ‘right’ phrases to target, plan your content around them. If you’ve found that lots of people are asking a particular question related to your area of expertise – then answer that question on your website, unless that would be inappropriate for your business model.
Key places in the page to include your target phrases are the title tag (this appears at the top of your browser and also as the clickable link in the Google search results), headings on the page, and of course the body copy.
Different phrases can be targeted on different pages, according to what fits best on those pages in context.
We would not advocate stuffing the target phrases into the text at every given opportunity – that may potentially land you in hot water with Google as well as sounding unattractive to readers of the page – and indeed it should not be necessary to do that. Remember that you are writing for your readers as well as for Google.
Link between your pages where relevant, using relevant phrases to form the link: ‘read more about dental crowns’, for example, rather than ‘click here for more’.
Step 3 – Build links to your content
Having built a website with quality, keyword rich content on it, it’s time to reach out to other websites and build links to your content.
Ideally, your content would be so compelling and so useful to your target audience that links to your content should just come naturally! It is particularly advantageous if your content can be telling visitors something new and unique – the results of some research or a survey you have done, for example. However, the ideal scenario of ‘links building themselves’ does not often happen, so you will probably need to give matters a helping hand.
Assuming you’ve added an article of interest to others to your website, it makes sense in the first instance to make sure that you have posted the article across all your social media accounts –and perhaps asked a few friendly supporters to retweet or repost it for you.
You should also look into the possibility of reaching out to any influential bloggers within your area of expertise. A few Google searches should turn up some useful people to contact. Reach out to these people and suggest that your content may be of interest to their readers – they may be prepared to link to your content, or allow you to post a guest post on their blog, with a link to your content, for example.
Where else can you obtain links to your content?
- Check that you have claimed all the online listings you are entitled to as a member of the various associations you belong to, any local business groups you’ve joined, and so on.
- Suppliers may be prepared to link to your website, or associates with whom you work regularly.
- There are many online directories you can get listed in for free – they probably won’t have that much of an impact on your search engine rankings but you may as well get listed in a few of them.
- PR is actually one of the best ways of building quality links to your website – if your business is featured in a newspaper or magazine and the article mentions your web address, this will most likely end up on the publication’s website, with a link to you in it.
- Check who’s linking to your competitors for even more ideas – some of the sites they are listed on may be appropriate for you too. There are various online tools that you can use to find who is linking to your competitors, such as Open Site Explorer. Or you can do it the low tech way by putting your competitor’s details into Google and seeing which websites they are mentioned on!
Step 4 – Claim and optimise your Google+ Local listing
If you’re targeting a specific geographical area (as most healthcare businesses are) then you will need to make sure you have a Google+ Local listing. You may know this as a Google Places page; the name was changed recently. These listings are very influential with regard to your rankings for local search phrases.
We’ve written a separate article on claiming and optimising a Google+ Local listing here.
There is nothing mysterious about search engine optimisation, contrary to popular belief – it is a well trodden path of ‘know what people are searching for - create great content that matches those needs – raise the profile of that content via links – stamp your geographical location on the map – and measure the results’.
There is, however, a lot of work and thought involved in planning and implementing a search engine optimisation campaign. Be prepared to set aside time as well as budget to do things properly, if this is going to be an important element of your business development plan.
If you stick to the tried and tested search engine optimisation strategies described above, you should maximise your chances of success. Good luck!
Author profile: Helen Culshaw
- Helen Culshaw has been working in the digital media industry for 14 years and founded Ascendancy Internet Marketing in 2004
- Her particular specialisms are search engine marketing and website project management. She is a Qualified Google AdWords Professional
- She is a regular public speaker and writer on internet marketing related subjects and is a Visiting Lecturer at the Universities of London, Worcester and Wolverhampton