What we will cover
- How to write SEO content: A simple strategy
- Understanding and working with keywords
- A simple six step summary
- How to work with a technical SEO agency
- A crash course in Core Web Vitals
- Image compression: A quick win?
- Part 3 – What are backlinks in SEO?
- Why is offsite SEO so hard?
- What are backlinks in SEO?
- What are the Backlink ranking factors?
- Step 1: Identify good quality websites
- Step 2. Earning the link
- Step 3. Check the set up
- A matter of trust
Part 1: How to write SEO content: A simple strategy
For this article, I am going to use the example of an electrician to illustrate how to write SEO content for any business.
An electrician new to marketing online and not working with a digital agency might take the ‘one page’ approach. Websites abound where the home page (or a services page) is essentially a bulleted list:
- Electrical fault finding
- PAT testing
- Landlord certificates
Now, our SEO-savvy electrician has learned that this is not enough to convince Google’s algorithm that their website is the place to go for those services. It is simply one rather generic web page among hundreds, maybe thousands in their area.
Page one material? Not likely!
The simplest way they can improve on this structure is to create additional pages based on each of these services. We would recommend starting with individual service ‘landing’ pages.
So, our electrician could write a page, of no less than 300 words, focused solely on electrical fault finding. He or she could provide a bit more detail on what fault finding entails and the benefits of getting faults sorted quickly. They could explain why customers should choose their service over others.
Once they’ve written their landing page, we would suggest moving on to case studies.
Our electrician has a little think and recalls that successful electrical fault finding job they did at a big hotel. They could then write even more on this one service, explaining how important it was for the hotel to trace the fault quickly, the process they followed and the outcome. Perhaps the fault was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’ which the electrician diverted. Could the hotel manager provide a testimonial?
This exercise not only improves SEO but turns a soulless service into a relatable story. It can also help the electrician refine their service landing page to make sure they are addressing their audience and detailing all the benefits.
Our final guidance on how to write SEO content covers creating educational pages through which the business can pass on its knowledge and experience. These pages are often best organised as posts in a ‘blog’ section.
What could the electrician write about? What do potential customers want or need to know?
Chances are they come across common questions during their sales process:
- ‘What process do you use to find electrical faults?’
- ‘What types of electrical fault are there?’
- ‘Does it matter if there is a minor electric fault?’
These could all form the basis of meaty blog articles. What’s more, the electrician’s sales team would then have somewhere they could send people asking those questions. How’s that for efficiency?
These pages should all be linked to one another so that someone on a fault finding case study or blog post can click through to the fault finding landing page and book a service.
By evolving from one thin, generic sales page to many rich, interlinked pages on one specific service, this electrician is not just improving user experience, they are now sending a very different message to Google. The algorithm will pick up that fault finding is definitely an important service offered by this electrician. The ultimate reward is a spot on the first of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs)
Next, the sparky repeats the process with their other services.
If that sounds like a lot of writing, don’t fret. Digital agencies like Vu Online will have in-house or partner copywriters who specialise in creating this type of content.
Understanding and working with keywords
At this stage, you might be thinking: ‘He hasn’t even mentioned keywords yet!’
While carrying out the exercises above, you will probably find that you automatically include variations on important keywords related to your services. Google is getting better at matching keywords on web pages with user search queries.
However, to make sure you’re catching the most valuable searches you can try out some basic keyword research. At Vu Online, we use sophisticated SEO software to hunt down the juiciest keywords for our clients but Google does provide a free tool: Google Keyword Planner.
The information Google Keyword Planner provides is limited but you can unlock more granular data by joining the Google Ads programme and running a paid ads campaign.However, for the purposes of this article, we will assume you are only interested in ‘organic’ visitors and are using the basic Keyword Planner.
Let’s go back to our sparky. They open up Google Keyword Planner, click ‘Discover New Keywords’ and then choose ‘Start With A Keyword.’
They enter ‘Electrical Fault Finding’, click ‘Get Ideas’ and are presented with a list of related keywords in a table. The first three columns show the keyword, the average number of people that type that keyword into Google each month and the competition for that keyword. The columns can be arranged in order by clicking the headings.
The electrician notices a few keywords attracting 10-100 searches per month including:
- Wire fault locator
- Fault finding in electrical circuits
- Fault finding lighting circuits
He or she could work these terms into their landing pages, case studies and blog posts where they look natural. They might even decide to use these keywords as the titles of future blog articles.
For example, noticing that ‘Fault Finding Lighting Circuits’ only has a competition rating of ‘medium’, the electrician realises this could be a ‘quick win’ for ranking purposes. A blog article titled, ‘A guide to fault finding lighting circuits’ could appear high in Google for those 10-100 people per month typing that keyword.
I guess you could call that a light bulb moment…ahem. Moving on, more here if you need help adding them to your WordPress site.
A simple six step summary
Let’s summarise the above into a simple six step action plan on how to write SEO content:
- Choose one of your major products and services
- Use Google Keyword Planner and find relevant keywords relating to your chosen product or service
- Create a sales-oriented ‘landing page‘ with a clear call-to-action (CTA). Add keywords if/where they would naturally make sense.
- Write a case study where this product or service played a central part. Use keywords. Link the case study page to your landing page
- Write a blog post or posts based on questions you have come across in your sales process. Use keywords. Link the blog post to your landing page
- Repeat steps 1-5
Following this process alone will put you ahead of a large chunk of the competition but there’s much more to SEO. next we focus on technical SEO, which is all the things that you can do ‘beneath the hood’ of your website to improve user experience and give Google the confidence that your website won’t let visitors down.
In part three we look at authority, search engines are trying to give important websites the platform they deserve. So we look at how it measures a pages popularity.
Part 2 – Technical SEO and how to work with a technical SEO agency
Did you know that Google made minimising page load speed and improving user experience a priority for ranking in 2021?
Unlike the simple content-related SEO we presented in Part 1, getting on top of this area will normally require hooking up with a technical SEO agency.
There are many SEO agencies that will spout the word ‘technical SEO’ in the hope it will be enough to convince you to trust them with getting your business found on Google. Many of them do have superb technical SEO credentials but others – to be blunt – have no understanding of SEO beyond the keyword research and content optimisation we wrote about in Part 1.
Technical SEO is an umbrella term that covers everything you can do ‘under the hood’ of your website to support visibility on search engines. While it sometimes includes writing meta titles and descriptions, a lot of the work should be focused on speeding up and stabilising your website.
If you are working with a technical SEO agency, don’t just hand over your website details and leave them to it. Instead, we recommend you:
- Get a layman’s understanding of Core Web Vitals
- Use image compression if you upload images to your website
- Monitor your agency’s performance
The rest of this article is dedicated to these three action points.
A crash course in Core Web Vitals
Before you freak out, we are not going to be going too deep into this element of technical SEO in this article. Fortunately, despite its imposing name and associated jargon, the concept behind Google’s Core Web Vitals is quite simple.
Internet users want websites that load quickly and respond instantly to interaction without jumping around all over the place. Google wants to keep its users happy so will reward sites that perform well in these areas with higher visibility.
Core Web Vitals is simply a way of measuring this performance. The three elements have been given obscure technical names but they roughly translate as follows:
- Largest Contentful Paint (LCP) = How long it takes your biggest image to load
- Cumulative Layout Shift (CLS) = How much your webpage shifts around (e.g. throws an ad in the way just as your user is about to tap or click some content!)
- First Input Delay (FID) = How long it takes the web browser to respond to a click or tap
While you are unlikely to need to know anything more about Core Web Vitals than this, your technical SEO agency should have an in-depth understanding of how to improve these metrics.
Fortunately, you have a handy helper which can help you ensure your agency are prioritising Core Web Vitals. Google’s PageSpeed Insights is a free tool that will instantly generate a snapshot of how your website measures up. Simply enter your web address in the text box, click ‘Analyze’ and your site will be given a number out of 100 for both desktop and mobile performance.
Anything over 90 is brilliant but the report also breaks performance down and highlights Core Web Vitals with a blue tag. If you see red or amber labels on these key metrics, it’s time to give your technical SEO agency a progress call.
Image compression: A quick win?
In many cases, the biggest culprit for slowing down a website is the size of images that have been uploaded. Ever received a bunch of high resolution images following a photo shoot and uploaded them directly into your website’s media folder? These files might be 5MB or more and you can bet your LCP metric will have shot into the red shortly afterwards. In 2021, that can cause your site to drop a place (or page) in Google’s Search results.
While a technical SEO agency will have tricks up their sleeve to automatically optimise large images, there is a pretty neat (and free) solution you can use yourself.
Tinypng.com is a website that allows you to drag and drop up to 20 images of 5MB or less. It will then spit out a much smaller compressed file that looks identical to the naked eye. Simply adding this step to your content workflow will work wonders for your page load speed.
Apart from this, you will need the support of a technical SEO expert to fully optimise your Core Web Vitals. This is not a task for the amateur.
2021 is the year Google got serious about page load speed and other elements of on site user experience. If you have a shortfall in your technical SEO skills, Vu Online are here to help. Find out more about our professional SEO services and contact us for a conversation.
Part 3 – What are backlinks in SEO?
What are backlinks in SEO and why are they so important? Backlinks, also known as inbound links, are a major part of offsite SEO.
Offsite or off-page optimisation is the third element of SEO we are focusing on in this series – it is also the hardest to get right.
Why is offsite SEO so hard?
No one likes to be manipulated, in the early years of websites and search engines it was possible to cram pages full of keywords to earn a valuable spot at the top of google.
As well as adding hundreds of ranking factors that span our previous two parts: good content and technical optimisation, the third is something that is very hard to fake, it’s your reputation on the web.
Put simply, Google ranks each page out of 100 for authority, the higher the authority the more likely you are to appear ahead of someone else for a keyword.
So if two sites are created equal and did exactly the same thing from our first two articles, google still needs to decide who is the leading authority on the matter.
Authority relies largely on other websites linking to yours (a backlink), to show that among your peers what you are saying is worthy of consideration, so offsite SEO relies to a large extent on other people. In order to benefit from backlinks, you need to:
- Identify good quality websites
- Get the owner of that website to link to your website
- Make sure the link is set up correctly
- Repeat the process
Before we break that process down, let’s rewind and go back to the main question:
What are backlinks in SEO?
Backlinks are a pretty simple concept. When writing content for your website – whether that’s a service page, a blog post, a case study or anything else – you have the option to create a hyperlink to somebody else’s webpage. This is called an ‘external link’.
From the perspective of the website you have linked to, this is a backlink (or inbound or incoming link).
From Google’s perspective, you have just ‘voted’ for that web page and therefore given it some credibility.
Google’s original algorithm, PageRank, was heavily based on backlinks and the more backlinks a website had, the higher up the search engine results pages (SERPs) that site’s pages tended to feature.
This led to the growth of so-called ‘link farms’. You could pay a company a chunk of money and they would get as many links as possible pointing to your website. This led to tons of poor quality websites ranking above their station so Google changed the rules. Nevertheless, backlinks are still one of the top three factors Google use to determine search position.
Now we’ve hopefully answered the question, ‘What are backlinks in SEO?’ it’s time to look at how you can go and get some.
What are the Backlink ranking factors?
Google (and the other search engines) have invested a lot of time into developing their secret algorithms to sort the wheat from the chaff of backlinks. SEO specialists have, in response, dedicated lots of time into finding out what type of backlink strategy will benefit a business’s web visibility. Their main findings can be broadly split into two areas:
About what we said earlier…Actually, the raw number of inbound links to a website does have a large bearing on its popularity (as this Moz guide shows) but don’t just go crazy asking for links because Google does not value webpages equally.
Google make use of a dynamic system called PageRank (PR) to order webpages on an eleven point scale increasing in quality from zero to ten. In actual fact, the real scale is a long floating point number but was modified and rounded down for public display. It is now no longer displayed at all but is still a potent ranking factor.
The simple logic behind backlink value is that inbound links from a page with a high PR score will be more beneficial than one from a page with a low PR score.
This ‘value’ is sometimes referred to as ‘link juice’ which can be a useful metaphor when getting into the nitty-gritty of backlinks. For example, the amount of ‘juice’ available to pass on is finite which means that a page with a high PR and few outbound links will provide more benefit to the pages it links to than a similar page with multiple outbound links.
With all of the web being analysed by the size, content and links in and out of it, this shifting sphere lifts the authority of credible websites and lowers those trying to manipulate it (have a go with this awesome authority checking tool).
Anchor Text and Link Characteristics
However, it is not just the PR and other characteristics of the referring page that are important when it comes to backlinks. The type of link and the words used (or ‘anchor text’) are also crucial ranking factors.
For example, certain links include a ‘nofollow’ code which tells the search engines not to pass any ‘juice’ along that route. Google stipulate that advertisements must use this code (we can hear the groans) and some high PR sites like Wikipedia also default to ‘nofollow’ links (you thought you had it cracked then!).
Anchor text is a subject of great interest in the internet marketing community because words which are semantically related to the topic of the referred site are valued higher than non-related or generic words (e.g ‘this link.’) Anchor text that is within the body of the referring content (contextual links) is also more valuable than links in a bio or forum comment. However, overdoing anchor text construction is also believed to be a negative ranking factor although there is debate about whether this is actually the case.
So just up there ?? we have passed a backlink to ahrefs for their authority checker, with the anchor text “awesome authority checking tool” – these two actions tell google what it is and that we like it.
Step 1: Identify good quality websites
Google is more of a meritocracy than a democracy. In other words, a vote from My Lazy, Spammy Blog is not going to be equal to a vote from Wikipedia, The Times or BBC News.
Instead, Google gives each website a score out of 100 which is its Domain Authority (DA). Having a high DA is like being the cool kid on the playground: everyone wants to be your friend.
This doesn’t mean you should only hunt down sites with a high DA score but quality does trump quantity. In fact, a link from a high DA website can be worth a thousand links from sites with little credibility.
The most important thing to bear in mind is that the linking site should be relevant to your industry. If you sell shoes and receive backlinks from a gambling company, Google will smell a rat. This is why you should avoid link farms like the plague as they will happily place a backlink on any site that will take it.
Step 2. Earning the link
To earn a link, first of all, you have to have what is known in the trade as ‘a linkable asset’.
Simply put, this is a piece of content that other people will want to link to. Like an informative blog post, a cool video or a smart infographic.
Even so, other website owners are unlikely to link to your content unless you approach them with an offer. There are many ways to earn backlinks (too many to detail in this blog post), but here are some examples:
- Writing guest posts for other people’s blogs. Your link will usually go in the article itself or in a bio.
- Finding broken or poor quality links on a website and creating a better linkable asset for that website to link to.
- Mutual shout outs on social media sites.
- Approaching websites that provide link roundups.
- Subscribe to HARO or similar PR sites that ask for expert opinion in return for links.
- Directory listings. Some of these are ‘self-service’ and it is a good plan to spend 30 minutes or so a week adding your business to relevant directories. It is good practice to make sure your NAP profile (name, address and phone number) are identical on every directory and on your website.
Step 3. Check the set up
This is left out of many guides on backlinks we’ve come across.
Whether your link is from an article, a directory listing or an image caption, make sure you check it afterwards. There is no point in having backlinks if they are broken or they go to the wrong place.
It is also a good idea to double check that the link is a ‘dofollow’ link. Otherwise you won’t get any SEO benefit from it. Ask your web developer for help if you don’t know how to check this.
A note on anchor text: Anchor text is the name given to the highlighted text you click on to follow the link. It is more effective for SEO if the text is related to the keywords you want to rank for rather than a generic ‘click here’ or ‘link’.
So, if people were linking to this article, we would like them to use the anchor text ‘What are backlinks in SEO?’ or similar.
However, there is a caveat. If we asked third parties to only use ‘What are backlinks in SEO?’ we would likely fall foul of Google’s Penguin update because this is how a link farm usually operates.
So, like everything there is best practice and there is trying to manipulate the system, if you are creating authentic connections to your website with relevant info for different audiences then the anchor text will require changing as the context changes.
A matter of trust
The above section focuses on page and link-level characteristics but what about the domain as a whole? Will a relatively low ranking page from a high ranking domain benefit your SERP ranking and vice versa? Researchers have found that links from trusted domains – regardless of PageRank or link characteristics – do seem to have a very beneficial effect on the referred pages.
They also found that the fewer steps there are between a referred site and one of these so-called ‘seed’ domains the better, with direct links the best of all.
Hopefully that helps demystify what backlinks are on a website, in short, contextual backlinks using relevant anchor text are great for improving the visibility of your webpages as long as they come from high value pages and do not include a ‘nofollow’ instruction.
A direct link from a website with a high domain authority is likely to be particularly beneficial.
Are you ready to climb Google?
Hopefully you have learnt a lot in this three-part SEO series and you can start putting some of your new knowledge in action.
If you have further questions or fancy a chat about how our SEO specialists can support you, please visit our SEO Services page and get in touch.
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