Top Ten Tips for SEO on a Budget
Getting your website found online by your target audience is no easy feat but search engine optimisation is an obvious place to start. It both helps your website to be seen in the search engines and encourages you to provide content that your visitors are going to find useful. However, when working in a competitive market with a budget that barely covers your coffee habit, it can sometimes feel impossible to make headway in the search results.
"SEO doesn’t have to break the bank. There are a lot of foundational and advanced techniques you can apply with little or no cost to you except your time and imagination."
We’re going to look at some of the activity you should be carrying out in 2020 to get ahead of your competitors whilst reserving enough cash to splash out on your weekly Starbucks.
1. Monitor your website for technical issues
One of the key issues websites have is that the content that should be found and “indexed” by Google and the other search engines cannot be got to by their search bots. Technical problems with the site can block or deter the search bots (the programs used by the search engines to crawl the internet) from accessing content that you want your visitors to find through a search.
There are a lot of reasons why the search engines might not be able to reach your core pages. Sometimes you may have chosen to turn off a page that is no longer needed, but not redirected that page so a user, and a search bot, don’t have their journeys through your site abruptly stopped. Perhaps the server your website is on is a bit unstable and your site goes down when you’re not expecting it.
It’s hard to stay on top of all the technical issues with your site. Thankfully there are tools and services designed to help you do exactly that.
Screaming Frog is a much lauded tool by SEOs. It allows you to “crawl” through your website like a search bot would, bringing back information about your pages that you just wouldn’t know by looking at them. It can easily report on issues like “404” (dead) pages, pages that are no longer accessible to the search bots and where you may have accidentally told the search bots you don’t want a page to appear in their search results! Screaming Frog has a free option for websites with fewer than 500 URLs. It’s a great place to start if you want to keep on top of your technical SEO without spending too much cash.
If your website suffers from hosting that isn’t always working in your favour you may benefit from setting it up on a free uptime monitor like Uptime Robot. These services will send you an alert when your website goes down. This way, if your site goes down in the middle of the night when you’re not checking it you’ll still know about it.
2. Keep an eye on your competitors
Your competitors are what’s stopping you from dominating the top spots in Google. If you want to do SEO well in 2020 you need to know what your competitors are up to. It’s crucial to keep an eye on new content they are creating and also what the wider internet thinks of their site.
Google uses a method, sort of like a third party voting system, to determine how well respected a website is. It does this by analysing the links the website has gained from other sites. The goal is to have links from relevant, good quality sites that would indicate what your site is about and also that it has good enough content on it that another webmaster would willing send their traffic to it.
Keeping an eye on where your competition is getting their links from can help you work out how to get more of your own. For instance, if you see that your competitor in the restaurant industry has got a link from a well known local online newspaper reviewing it, why not contact that publisher and see if they want to review your restaurant too?
Free tools like Ahref’s backlink checker can give you a glimpse into where your competitors are getting their links from.
3. Listen to what your audience is talking about
If you want to know what your audience is likely to be searching for you need to find out what they’re talking about. In 2020 that goes beyond the traditional “keyword research” methods of putting search terms into tools and pulling back data on average search volumes per month. You need to go to where your target audience hangs out online - social media – so you can listen in on what they’re talking about
Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn; wherever your target audience is asking questions and discussing latest trends in your industry, that’s where you need to spend time. Sites like Reddit are a great place to start. Reddit has “subreddits” or message boards dedicated to very specific topics. There will most likely be one for your industry or product. If there isn’t, you can start your own.
Keep an eye on what is being discussed in these forums. If you notice that similar questions are frequently asked it probably means that your audience hasn’t found the answer online already. This is a good indicator that if you wrote an article hosted on your site they would find it highly engaging.
4. Put your mobile website first
The current statistics suggest over 50% of all visits that happen online occur on a mobile device. Your website needs to be easily used on a mobile device. Not only does your audience need to be able to read and engage with it without pinching, zooming or double-tapping – the search engines favour mobile friendly webpages.
Run your core pages through Google’s Mobile Friendly Testing Tool for free and see what it recommends you need to do to make your site mobile friendly.
5. Use “structured mark-up”
In 2020 search is no longer about the “10 blue links” on a search results page. There are so many types of search results that include pictures, review stars and product data. All of these are powered by “structured mark-up”, a bit of code that you can to your webpages through commonly available plug-ins. This mark-up allows you to label the content on your webpages so the search engines know with certainty they are what they think they are. For instance, labelling your 10 digit numerical code as “phone number” allows Google to know that it is your phone number. It can then pull it straight through to the search results when someone searches for your brand’s contact details.
There are many more labels you can apply. Search for the services or products that your brand offers and see what additional features your competitors search results display. Then run their webpage through Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool and see what mark-up they are using. This is potentially what you could mark up your own webpages with to get the same type of augmented organic listings in Google.
6. Keep your website’s load speed down
Both your users and Google will thank you if you make sure your website loads quickly. Numerous studies have been carried out which determines that conversion rate drops the slower your site loads. The search engines are also aware of the fact that users prefer fast loading sites. Google will demote very slow loading pages in the search results.
Check the load speed of your core pages for free using Google’s PageSpeed Insights tool.
7. Look for long-tail keyword topics
When conducting your keyword research have a think about what sort of questions or informational searches might be asked by your audience. These “long-tail” searches (named as such because they fall at the long-tail end of the demand curve) are an important factor in SEO strategies because they allow you to reach audiences who are very engaged with your product or service. They are not searching for generic “head” terms which will be highly competitive, such as “new Nike trainers” but instead are looking for advice or answers “how to clean new Nike trainers without damaging them”. The search volumes for these terms will be lower but you will be better able to answer their queries as you can be much more certain of the searchers intent when searching. If you happen to sell trainer cleaning products then the latter search terms will be much more valuable to you than the former despite there being fewer searches conducted per month for it.
8. Use other formats
Don’t be afraid to look at video, podcasts and images as a part of your SEO strategy. If your product or service lends itself to being promoted in these formats then it can be a great way of jumping over your competitor who sits in position 1 of the search results to the image “carousel”, video or podcast results that site above them.
Be creative in the formats you use on your website. See which ones are engaged with by your target audience but also which ones Google is using in the search results for your target keywords.
9. Use your expertise
A great way of gaining more links from relevant, quality websites is through using your industry expertise to educate others. Whether it’s in the form of providing quotes for local news outlets when running a story that involves your industry or creating material that helps educate others, you can promote your expertise in a way that isn’t “salesy”. In 2020 audiences are becoming much more socially conscious when deciding which brands they want to engage with. By offering your audience something for free you may benefit from an authority boosting link, but also from showing the good side of your brand.
10. Claim your local listing
If your brand has a local presence, i.e. a “brick and mortar” store or office you absolutely need to claim your Google My Businesslisting. This is a service offered by Google that allows your brand to be found in the Map results when a user searches for something with “local intent”. For example you may not be able to outrank Homebase for “gardening supplies” but you might be able to outrank them in the Map results for “gardening supplies Crawley” if that’s where your garden centre is based.
Make the most of these additional places in the Google search results that you can feature your or your clients’ brand.
SEO is always changing. During the beginning of January Google made changes that have already affected what can and cannot appear in the search results. It is imperative that throughout 2020 you keep up to date with the latest developments in SEO but also act on them.
Helen Pollitt is a senior SEO consultant, trainer, conference speaker and writer, who has led SEO teams in several successful agencies before starting her own agency, Arrows Up. She is a frequent contributor to industry publications like The Drum, Search Engine Journal, State of Digital and OnCrawl. Visit her website here and Twitter here.