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How to carry out an SEO audit on your website

When did you last carry out an SEO audit on your website? I’m guessing the answer is somewhere between ‘not for a long time’ and ‘never’. If you hope to get business from people who find your products when they search on Google, you really should pay attention to SEO.

(Other search engines, such as Bing, are available, but I’ll be referring to Google throughout this article. It’s easier than writing ‘search engine’).

In my experience, most small companies don’t spend a lot of time thinking about SEO.  They tend to trust their website designer who, in many cases, promises to make the site ‘SEO friendly’ when they set it up.

SEO = search engine optimisation. It’s what you can do to improve your website ranking on search engines.

SEO is not a ‘thing’

Unfortunately, SEO isn’t a ‘thing’ you set up and forget about. It’s an ongoing process.

The good news, for smaller businesses, is that most of your competitors pay as little attention to SEO as you do. So, if you put in a little effort, you should see results by improving your position on search engines.

This is why I recommend that you take some time to carry out an SEO audit and then fix some of the issues you uncover.

To help you get started, I’ve put together a simple, non-technical, SEO audit checklist. It only covers the basics, but it’s enough to get you going.

Google logo with magnifying glass
Google logo with magnifying glass

The simple SEO audit checklist

1. Keywords

You’ve heard about keywords. These are words people type into Google and that, you hope, will bring them to your website.

The problem with keywords is that everyone’s chasing them. If you run a holiday cottage in Dorset, you want to appear high up in Google when someone types ‘holiday cottage in Dorset’.

Problem is, all the other holiday cottage providers want the same thing.

So how do you get ahead of the competition by using keywords?

The short answer is to make sure the keywords that you want to bring people to your site are actually being used on your site. If your target keyword is ‘holiday cottage in Dorset’, does that keyword (which is actually several words) appear anywhere on your site?

You’ll be surprised how many websites don’t use obvious keywords in their text. It certainly surprises me!

When it comes to keywords, SEO is far from a precise science. Some SEO experts suggest that you shouldn’t worry too much about keywords, because Google is continually getting better at understanding what your website is all about, making precise keywords less relevant.

In my view, it’s worth making sure that your target keywords are on your website, ideally in titles and opening paragraphs. I’ve recently (late 2016) worked with a multinational client on the launch of their website, and their web team are very focused on keywords.

If they think keywords are still important, you should too.

Google search box
Google search box

2. Relevant content

Google’s advice to people who want their website to rank well is to focus on fresh, relevant content.

What is relevant content? If you’re a plumber, then relevant content is a page telling people what services you offer and how to get in touch with you. But that makes for a pretty thin website.

How do you add more relevant content to a plumber’s website without it becoming boring or repetitive? Here are a few ideas:

  • Case studies, describing the work done on particular jobs (you don’t need to name your client).
  • ‘How to’ articles, explaining how to perform simple tasks.
  • Common problem articles, describing issues people might expect to encounter.
  • Plumbing terminology explained, helping people to understand the language of the plumber.

You can probably think of other relevant content you could add to your website.

If adding lots of material to your website sounds like a chore, you can spread it out over time. How about writing one new article a month? Obviously, the more you can do, the bigger impact it will have, but twelve articles a year will make a bigger impression than zero in a year.

Here’s a word of warning about some website content. It’s tempting to publish news articles about your business, saying ‘we’ve just done this’ and ‘we’ve just done that’. Problem is, from an SEO point of view, these articles are low quality. Who’s actually going to read them?

And they go out of date very quickly - no one’s interested in that new contract you won three years ago. But that great article you wrote about choosing a kitchen tap that will give years of trouble-free service could still be very relevant for a long time to come.

3. Content length

SEO experts think that Google has developed a preference for websites with longer articles. It used to be that 300 words was considered sufficient, but today, 1,000 words could be more effective.

Why the preference for long articles when we’re all in a hurry and want quick answers? No one reads long articles, do they?

You’re reading this one.

Long articles go into depth on a subject. Length is no guarantee of quality, but short articles are almost always going to be light on detail.

When you’re carrying out your SEO audit, consider how many words are on each of your web pages. If it’s under 300, you should seriously think about adding more. Don’t be afraid to go much longer if needed. But always keep it relevant - don’t waffle just to up the word count.

4. Mobile friendly

This is probably a biggie. Google doesn’t tell us the impact of different factors on website ranking, but a while back, they made a point of telling us that mobile friendly websites will rank higher. Which means that mobile unfriendly websites will rank lower.

When did you last take a look at how your website appears on a mobile phone or tablet? Bear in mind that around half the people visiting your website will be using a mobile.

Google provides a handy tool for determining whether your website is considered mobile friendly. Click here to get to the Google mobile friendly test.

Unfortunately, just because Google thinks your website is mobile friendly doesn’t mean that it is. I’ve seen a site that Google gives the thumbs up to, because from a technology point of view, the site is good for mobiles, but from the user’s point of view it is far from friendly.

That’s because it’s people, not computers, that use websites. Even if your site ticks the technology boxes, it may be a pain for a person to find their way around. So, your site may rank better on Google because it’s mobile friendly, but if users can’t find their way around, they’ll quickly lose interest.

Which brings us to the next SEO factor you need to consider.

hands and a smartphone
hands and a smartphone

5. User experience

Some websites are a pain to use. Others are designed to be clear and simple. Websites that are easy to use will rank higher on search engines.

Google has ways of measuring user experience (often abbreviated to UX). If people don’t find your website gives them what they want, Google will know. And this will hurt your SEO.

The problem is, you’re not the right person to tell if your site gives a good experience. Because you built it (directly, or working with a designer or developer), you know it very well. To you, it’s easy to navigate around and find the information you want.

It’s tricky for you to know whether the site is doing its job well. One way to find out is to have someone else, who’s unfamiliar with it, give it a test. Ideally, find someone who matches your target market.

I recently looked at a website for a business that targeted ‘affluent greys’. That is, older people who are relatively well off. There are quite a lot of these in Dorset.

The function of the site was to get people to pick up the phone and make a call. That’s a good objective, because ‘affluent greys’ like using the phone.

However, finding the phone number from the site wasn’t that easy. It wasn’t hidden, but it wasn’t immediately visible the moment they arrived at the site. This meant that the user experience wasn’t as good as it could be.

6. Links to your website

When considering where to rank your website when someone does a search, Google takes into account over 200 different factors. One of these is how many websites link to your website. That’s because ‘authority’ sites (that is, sites that people trust) have lots of links into them.

So, the more sites that link to yours, the more authority your site has. Not all links are created equal - a link from a well-respected site is worth much more than a link from a site your mate set up last week.

If you want to see a list of the sites that link to yours, click here to access the Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster tools). This gives you information about how people are accessing your site, including a list of sites linking to yours.

Some SEO experts put a very high value on getting links. The challenge is getting links from high authority sites, because that’s not easy. Getting links from anywhere can be tricky.

Don’t be tempted to buy links. Google is on the lookout for this and will penalise your site if you do it. Similarly, with link exchange schemes.

The best way to get links that Google likes is to do it the hard way, by publishing high quality material that people find useful, and then encouraging other websites to link to yours.

chain links
chain links

Other SEO audit actions for your website

As I indicated at the start of this article, SEO is an ongoing, indeed, never ending, process. You can review the points above over and over, every few months.

Other ways to boost the SEO of your website include:

  • Removal of duplicate content. Avoid using the same text over and over on different pages.
  • Include some outbound links to other pages.
  • Break up blocks of text to make it easier to read, by using plenty of subheadings and bulleted lists (like this one).
  • Use social media to promote your content and generate more traffic to your site.

Once you’ve made changes to your website, don’t expect its search engine ranking to change overnight. It takes Google a few days to process changes, and it can take even longer for these to start to feed through to how your page ranks.

What SEO tips have worked best for your website?

Getting results from SEO takes time. Be patient!

 

Author Bio

Andrew Knowles has over 25 years of business experience, from corporate, small business and charitable backgrounds. When he's not training local Dorset businesses how to use social media and technology more efficiently, he can be found strolling the Weymouth sea front and chatting to Leo the cat.

 
 
 
 
Guides, SEOAndrew KnowlesComment
Make it really easy for mobile users to buy from you

One out of two people visiting your website are viewing it on a mobile phone or a tablet. Google Analytics tells me that 31% of the visitors to Dorset Social are using a phone and 17% a tablet. I have access to statistics for a number of other websites, including several retailers, and the stats are very similar across them all.

The message is clear - if your website isn’t mobile-friendly, you risk losing half of your website visitors. When did you last take a look at how your website appeared when viewed on a smartphone?

There’s more to being mobile-friendly than passing the test

You may know that Google provides a website where you can test whether your website is mobile-friendly.

Click here to open the Google mobile-friendly test page.

But getting the green ‘Awesome! This page is mobile-friendly’ message does not mean the job is done. Passing this test is an important first step, but it’s really only a check on whether your site is built using mobile-friendly technology.

A pass is no guarantee that your website is actually easy for people to use when it’s viewed on a mobile phone. And it need to be easy if you’re going to keep their attention.

A site that’s hard to navigate around is one that loses people - which is not good if you’re trying to sell to them.

Shopping without signage is hard work

retail

Imagine walking into a shop to buy, say, an item of clothing. You know it’s the right shop because of the window displays. Once inside, you look for directions to the appropriate section, but all you see are signs telling you how great the clothes are.

There are loads of fabulous pictures showing people looking good in the clothes that the shop sells, but can you see clear directions to that part of the shop you want to find?

If you’re very keen to buy from that particular retailer, you persist with your search for a while. But it’s more likely that you’ll soon decide to go elsewhere - to a shop that’s better organised.

Someone coming to your website has that same experience. They’re probably looking for something specific. Can they find it quickly and easily?

Poor website design loses you customers, and poor design is more visible on a mobile phone.

Weak design isn’t just a problem for retailers. It’s a problem for any organisation looking to promote itself online.

How to make your website more mobile-friendly

The secret to the mobile-friendly website starts with you having a very clear idea of what you want people to do, and then making it really easy for them to do it. Say you want to sell a particular product. How are you going to bring customers to your website? It could be through:

  • Organic posts on social media
  • Online advertising
  • Email newsletter
  • Search engine

What page will you take people to when they click on the link in your post, ad or newsletter?

Too often I see businesses promote a specific product, but when someone’s interested and clicks on the link, they’re taken to the home page of the business website.

This is fine if the product is the headline item on that page and immediately visible on arrival, with no scrolling required.

But too often the promoted product isn’t the headline item. People are expected to scroll down to find it. As a result, some of those potential customers are already lost.

retail

Direct people to a landing page for your product

When you’re promoting a product, have people arrive on a page focused entirely on that item. And make the ‘buy now’ button immediately visible. Don't make people scroll down to find it, or at least, they shouldn't need to scroll very far.

online shoppingDon’t hide the route to ‘buy now’ behind a text link. Don’t assume that everyone knows that underlined and highlighted text is a clickable link, because believe me, they don’t. Big buttons are easy to spot, while links embedded in text aren't.

If you do put links in text, use words like ‘click here’ to make it really obvious to people where to click to get where they want to go.

Where possible, design your product landing page for mobile users first, then see how it looks on a desktop.

Beware of website menus. On a desktop, a menu can be neatly positioned across the top of the screen, but on a mobile it can almost fill the screen.

 

I’ve seen sites where a smartphone user clicks on a menu item but nothing seems to happen. They are, in fact, now viewing a different page, but the website design means all they can see is the menu and logo. Because the logo and menu appear on every page, there's nothing to tell the user that having chosen a menu item, they're now looking at a different page.

To see the new page content, they need to scroll down. Again, not everyone will bother to do that, meaning you’ve lost them.

training

Please don’t assume that ‘everyone knows’ they need to scroll down, or that something is ‘easy to find’ on a webpage just because YOU know where it is. To a first time visitor, a page crammed with text and images is hard to navigate, making it easy for them to miss what they’re looking for.

Let’s rephrase that - making it easy for them to miss what you want them to find! A potential customer can go and buy elsewhere. It’s in your interest to make it really easy for them to buy from you.

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A visual guide to SEO - infographic

If you're using social media to promote a business, organisation or cause, there's a good chance that you also have a website. Having a website means you're probably concerned with SEO (search engine optimisation) - which is all about how easy your site can be found through search engines. If you're not concerned at all about SEO, don't expect to get many visitors to your website.

SEO is a hugely complex subject. There are hundreds of factors that influence where your website appears when someone performs a search online. If your site isn't listed near the top of the first page of a search, the chances of anyone clicking through are dramatically reduced.

A graphical presentation of the key SEO factors

The team at Search Engine Land have produced a handy graphic that helps explain the factors which influence SEO.

Different factors carry different weighting. The most important are shown at the top of the middle section, which those in red are negative factors, that can damage your search engine position.

The notes to the left and right of the table give a brief explanation of the factors.

My approach to SEO is to follow Google's advice - keep your content fresh, relevant and interesting. I don't get bogged down in the technical aspects of SEO, because my site ranks well enough through being kept up to date.

If you're operating in a highly competitive industry, such as online retailing, then you'll want to pay more attention to the detail of SEO.

Table of SEO success factors infographic

The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors from Search Engine Land - used with permission.

Choosing a hashtag - infographic

A couple of years ago Twitter published a handy guide that explained how to choose a hashtag. I came across this guide the other day and the principles are still very relevant. And I know there are plenty of people who still aren't sure about how to make a hashtag work.

So here's that guide for you.

You may also want to read my post on how to use a hashtag.

How to choose a hashtag infographic

This infographic was originally posted by Twitter. You can view it on the Twitter blog here.

How to get a great headshot photo
professional-headshot

First impressions count for a lot. However much we might say that we want to judge by merit, not appearance, our initial opinion is heavily influenced by how someone or something looks.Whether we’re researching a restaurant or shop, a new business contact or potential employee, a website or social media profile, our reaction will be affected by those first impressions.

This is why the quality and presentation of the headshot photos you use on social media are so important. I recently picked up some useful tips from photographer David Morphew which I’m sharing here.

We humans are a social lot and we’re naturally drawn towards pictures of people. Hence the recommendation to use a headshot or portrait photo on your social media profile. We find it easier to connect with people than with a logo or some other, more impersonal image.

A headshot photo brings the added benefit that people recognise you when you meet in person.

As portrait photographer David Morphew was updating the images I’ll be using on my social media accounts, we chatted through the elements that make up a great headshot.

Use a professional photographer

This is my tip, not David’s. A good quality portrait says a lot about your attention to detail and the best way to get one is by using a professional. Or at least a good amateur.

During my training courses, when I talk about using portrait or headshot photos, quite a few people tell me they don’t like photos of themselves. In most cases, I suspect that’s because they’ve not been photographed professionally.

And even if you really don’t like to see a picture of yourself, you’re not putting an image on your social media profile for your pleasure. You’re doing it as part of your online marketing.

People do business with people, not logos, so I recommend you start that person-to-person relationship as early as possible. Photos of yourself that you’re not embarrassed to use are a great asset.

Relax and enjoy the shoot

I find it hard to smile for the camera. That’s because I don’t usually pay much attention to how I smile - it just happens. When David asked me to smile, I became aware of all those facial muscles that normally work unconsciously.

Part of the photographer’s skill is to get the subject to relax and to forget those facial muscles. David’s jokey, slightly irreverent style made that easy. He coaxed me into a variety of facial expressions without me needing to try too hard.

I have a newfound respect for professional models who know how to manipulate their look!

Changing the the environment can help you relax. Below are two photos that I like - one is posed and the other David snapped when we went for coffee after the shoot. I thought we were done when we got to the cafe, but clearly not.

Think about the look you want to achieve

David recommends that you wear your normal business attire for a photoshoot, and ideally have some variations on it.

You’ll look most comfortable when you’re wearing clothes that you’re used to. It also helps people connect with you more easily, both through a photo and if you meet in person.

Variations in appearance can help you transition between the serious professional look and the more relaxed, approachable style. Both may deserve a place in your portfolio, depending on the context in which the photos are to be used.

You may want to use a more relaxed, smiling image on Twitter, but adopt a more formal look for LinkedIn. If you’re using the photos to go out with press releases, you want an image that matches the tone of the story.

Lighting makes a huge difference

David talked about sculpting with light. From the way he speaks, you know that he’s continually thinking about how to use lighting, both natural and artificial, to get a better result.

The easiest way to discover what approach to lighting works best is to try several alternatives. David shot me in his studio using natural light, then with a seriously large but not overwhelmingly bright flash. After that, we went outdoors into a chilly, bright February morning.

While we liked the idea of the outdoors photos, they didn’t make it to the final portfolio.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Don’t face the camera directly

Why do passport photos look so grim? Because you’re staring directly into the camera lens, with no smile, and the lighting is purely functional.

David’s advice for getting a decent headshot is to position your shoulders at an angle to the camera. Take a look at the photos below - one is square on, the other at an angle.

The camera itself doesn’t need to be at the same height as your face. It could be looking down on you, or looking up. Looking down is popular because when you look up to the camera, the skin beneath your chin is stretched, helping to mask sags and bags.

It’s not obvious from these photos, but when David took them, I was sitting down and he was standing up.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

Perfecting the results with image editing

Many of my photos looked great straight out of the camera. David’s skill with lighting, angles and depth of field was evident. But there was still room for improvement using Photoshop.

David hasn’t performed virtual plastic surgery on me, trimming off pounds or reshaping my nose and chin. All that was possible, I’m sure, but it wasn’t what I wanted.

Now it’s time to play ‘spot the difference’. Before reading on, take a look at the two photos below to see what’s changed.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

How many differences did you count? I’ve not asked David what he altered, but there are at least three changes.

First, it’s brighter, bringing out more of the colour in my face and clothes, and brightening the background.

Secondly, I’ve been flattered by having the lines around my eyes softened. They’re not hidden - just not quite so obvious.

Thirdly, my hair is a little more under control. I confess this is a change I made having received the photos. My hair does have a tendency to stick out at odd angles, despite my best efforts to take control of it. In this case, that control came through Photoshop.

When I put the two images side by side on my computer screen, I also thought that David had airbrushed out a mark on my face, but then I realised it was a mark on my screen!

How often should you update your headshot photos?

The photos I’ve been using until recently were taken in 2008. That’s eight years ago. I leave it for you to judge whether I needed to update them.

Andrew Knowles
Andrew Knowles

I recommend that you consider updating your headshots every two to three years. Your appearance may not have changed much, but perhaps the image you want to portray has.

Putting fresh photos of yourself on your website and social profiles gives them something of a refresh.

Don’t be shy when it comes to using headshots as part of your marketing. Be confident that your face is an asset. Using good quality headshots means you’re taking control of how your face appears, in order to help make that all-important positive first impression.

Click here to learn more about photographer David Morphew, who's now based in Dorset.

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If you liked this post, take a look at:

How to use a hashtag

How to get more people reading your Facebook posts

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