One of the primary challenges for any small business in 2019 is visibility. After all, you might have an amazing business and a beautiful website, but it won’t matter if potential customers can’t find you. That’s where search engine optimization (SEO) comes in. SEO, in a nutshell, is the art and science of raising your profile through organic search results.
You probably already know that. What you might not know is that Google tweaks its search algorithms as many as 600 times a year. That means that great SEO isn’t a goal to be attained; it’s an ongoing process that requires your constant attention.
At Clever Real Estate, we’ve made SEO one of our highest priorities, and it’s paid huge dividends, as we’ve seen our site ranking rise steadily since we began doing regular SEO audits. Here are some SEO strategies we focused on to improve our site ranking.
Provide a user-focused experience
One of the most important lessons of SEO is also one of the most obvious: if you want more traffic, you have to give people a reason to come to your website and, equally important, a reason to stay.
That’s because your site’s ranking isn’t just based on raw clicks. There’s an assumption, common in business circles, that all you have to do is get the customer onto the website. And maybe that was true a few years ago before SEO really became refined.
But a huge proportion of search engine ranking is determined by what happens after a user clicks onto your site. If they take a quick look and immediately click back to the search results, Google will note that, and your site will lose ranking.
At Clever, we recently undertook an overhaul of our 5000-article blog library after we noticed that many posts brought clicks in, but weren’t retaining user attention like they should have been. Once we approached things from a perspective of, let’s give them a reason to stay once they’re here, it was clear where we had to improve.
All that being said, you can’t retain a user who never clicked onto your site in the first place. An easy way to increase traffic to your site is to upgrade your meta descriptions. For those of you who might not know, the meta description is the text that appears below the title/link in individual search results. While Google doesn’t use meta descriptions for ranking purposes, they do play a huge role in driving the clickthrough rates.
Writing good meta descriptions isn’t tough, but it might require breaking some bad habits. First and foremost, stop keyword stuffing. While you obviously need to feature relevant keywords in the meta, it shouldn’t just be a meaningless jumble of keywords. Even if that worked at some point in that past, that era is over.
A good meta description reads like ad copy. It should be compelling, coherent, enticing and succinct. How succinct? We cap our meta descriptions at 160 characters; any longer, and Google will just cut it off anyway.
One last note; make sure your meta descriptions are unique. While it might be tempting to save time by copy and pasting, Google will notice, and penalize you for duplicates. A little extra time and effort pay big dividends.
Publish rich, long-form content
The internet changes fast. Remember when lists and slideshows were all the rage? That’s no longer the case. Users don’t go for the shiny objects and empty sugar rushes anymore. With their time and attention at a premium, they want substantial, authoritative content. In 2019, long-form content routinely outranks short-form stuff.
And when we say “long-form,” we mean “long-form.” A lot of SEO experts say you should aim for pieces of at least 2000 words, but we’ve been experimenting with pieces of twice that length, or even longer, and we’ve seen excellent results.
We pack our pieces with rich, dense information, cited to reputable sources. They’re written in a journalistic, readable prose style, and however long it takes to cover a subject, that’s how long the piece is, even if that means it swells to 5,000 words.
This approach might seem counterintuitive, in an era defined by short attention spans and more and more competition for eyeballs. But there’s no getting around the fact that, as the internet matures, users are becoming far more savvy, and impatient, about getting the information they need. And if you give them cursory or incomplete answers, they won’t hesitate to click over to your competitor.
Make it easy on the eyes
Long-form content doesn’t mean endless walls of text. Visual readability and aesthetics are more important than ever after you upgrade your content. One general rule we like to stick to is to keep everything as short as possible. That means short, to-the-point sentences, and paragraphs of no more than five lines. This keeps the content visually unintimidating, inviting and digestible. You know that feeling of dread you get in your stomach when you see you’re about to start reading a paragraph that goes on for half a page or more? Never make your reader feel like that.
Don’t forget that there are more ways to convey information than just text. We’ve had very positive results integrating infographics, videos and other visual mediums into our pieces. And when we do opt for the text-only approach, we use section headers to break up these long pieces. They give the reader a sense of what to expect ahead, and they introduce visually pleasing white space into the page.
Don’t ever underestimate the value of white space. It isn’t empty or unused: it provides a valuable sense of contrast that serves to highlight the text or objects it surrounds. Experts have found that a sufficient amount of white space improves user comprehension by 20%.
Anticipate and offer added value
Again, SEO isn’t an endpoint, but a process, and that process has many levels. Just as keeping users on your site after they’ve clicked is arguably more important than getting them there in the first place, it’s no longer sufficient just to give a user what they want. You have to anticipate their latent search intent.
If you want that coveted top spot in the search results rankings, you’re going to have to figure out what your users will want after they get the answers they came for.
For example, users who click on an article about the best time of year to buy a house will likely have subsequent questions about how to acquire financing, how to put in a bid and how long it takes to close on a house. Linking to articles on those subjects helps retain users even longer, and tells Google that our website is substantial and authoritative. That can only help our ranking.
Offering internal links on related subjects can also help prevent those quick exits that can be so injurious to your ranking. Sometimes readers may not know themselves exactly what they’re looking for; maybe they clicked on an article about mortgage lenders when what they really want to know is how to calculate a mortgage payment.
Providing related internal links early on in a piece is an easy way to pump up those retention rates.
Online publishing is like anything else in life; consistency is the best way to convey trustworthiness. If a user visits your blog and sees that nothing’s been published for six months, that’s not going to make a very good impression. We stick to a strict schedule of weekly publishing, and when posts hit a certain age, we update the content and add an “updated on” notice at the top, so users know it’s current.
Don’t underestimate the value of updating old or underperforming content. One website took two weeks off publishing to update their post library and saw a 275% increase in conversions after they republished.
We also have a robust guest content program that places pieces by our employees at websites across the internet. This is not only a great way to build authority and ownership of a subject, but it’s also a great way to gently evangelize your company and its mission to a whole new audience. If you decide to go this route, make sure this content is captivating and well-written, and when you do drop that company plug in the article, make it as subtle as possible.
Take the long view
We’ve already noted that SEO is a long process, but it’s also a slow one. According to a high-ranking Google employee, it can take up to a year for the full benefits of an SEO pass to show up in your rankings. So while this article might have you motivated to give your website a complete SEO overhaul, keep in mind that you’re playing the long game. Stick with it, be patient and consistent, and you’ll eventually shoot up the rankings.
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