For startups and small businesses, getting down to the nitty gritty of SEO can be incredibly daunting; there are over 200 signals that Google looks for when ranking your website, and few small business owners will even have ever heard the term ‘offsite SEO’ before.
With attracting customers to your website becoming an ever-more crucial task for small businesses, we asked Magnus Linklater, MD of content and SEO agency, Bespoke Digital to outline what you need to know about onsite and offsite SEO.
“How can I optimise my website outside of my website?,” you may well be asking yourself.
It’s no surprise the majority of business owners I meet break out into a cold sweat whenever I start talking about SEO strategies in any detail.
In my experience, most people’s knowledge of optimisation is limited to a spot of keyword research and trying to place target words and phrases into blogs, but while this is important, it’s only a tiny slice of the mighty SEO pie.
Ultimately, before you worry about offsite efforts, it’s crucial to ensure your onsite activity is up to scratch. Only when your on-page SEO is firing on all cylinders should you look to boost things with offsite optimisation, so here’s a brief rundown on how to make your website work harder.
Onsite SEO signals
No matter how experienced your webmaster may be, it’s easy for crucial optimisation elements to be overlooked. Make sure you have the following nailed down.
Search bots take the URL of every webpage very seriously, so it’s key to be descriptive, ideally including the primary keyword that you hope to rank for.
Thus, instead of www.exampledomain.com/services something like www.exampledomain.com/seo-expert is more optimised, containing a phrase that would increase your search relevance.
I’m continually surprised by the number of young businesses that still have www.exampledomain.com/page-1 and /page-2 etc. as their site infrastructure, and don’t have a clue as to why their rankings are comparatively low.
Tweaking your URLs and being consistent with keyword placing can significantly boost your search performance.
Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
Page titles are the headlines displayed in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). These should be roughly 55-60 characters in length to avoid truncation. Again, being descriptive is crucial, so try using a variation of your target keyphrase.
A meta description is the text displayed beneath your page title and URL, and this is where you have an opportunity to make your content pop out, giving people a reason to click your way.
As above, space is at a premium in the SERPs, so meta descriptions must be no longer than 160 characters if you want to avoid being cut off mid-sentence.
Give a summary as to what your page offers, and attempt to weave a couple of keywords into the copy, as these will be displayed in bold if they directly match search queries.
While Google doesn’t take meta descriptions into account when ranking your pages, per se, they’re still vital for attracting visitors to your website, so you should use this space to sell your content.
Depending on your CMS (Content Management System) you should be able to easily dictate page titles and meta descriptions, so don’t leave them blank.
When indexing your website, search bots use headers as a neat shortcut to understand your content. As a result, you should carefully consider your choice of words, again trying to use natural variations of target phrases.
If you scroll back to the top of this article, you’ll see the headline (Header 1) is much bigger than the body text, and it contains the phrase ‘Onsite & Offsite SEO’. The first subheader (Header 2) then states “Onsite SEO signals”.
In essence, the search bots are on the look out for the HTML code <H1>HEADER TEXT</H1> and <H2>HEADER TEXT</H2> to quickly gauge the most significant parts of your content, so optimising these elements will increase your chances of ranking highly, while also benefiting user experience, helping readers to skim your content efficiently.
The main rule to bear in mind is to use only one Header 1, one Header 2, and as many Header 3’s and Header 4’s as you want, making it easy for the bots to differentiate between each section of your page, with the first two headers taking precedence and given greater significance.
This is, without doubt, the most important factor in how your website performs. At the end of the day, search engines want to display the most trusted, informative content at the top of the SERPs, giving searchers optimal user experience.
As such, it pays to invest in high-quality content production, which means researching blog posts that people will actually want to read and making sure your output is aligned with overall marketing goals. Placing keywords in opening paragraphs is still a crucial SEO tactic, but effective online marketing is about much more than cramming in your keywords.
You need to focus on producing insightful content that delivers a tangible message, which is relevant to your target audience and adds value to the wider conversation, increasing the chances of third-parties citing and sharing your work and, importantly, attracting customers.
In truth, there are dozens of on-page SEO factors that Google monitor, and one article isn’t enough to list them all. For further insights into onsite optimisation, feel free to check out the following guides:
- Why you should avoid duplicate content
- How to raise your search rankings with internal links
- 5 questions you should ask a prospective SEO agency
Offsite SEO advice
When your onsite strategy is finely-tuned and ready to go, you should then ramp up your offsite promotion efforts.
Usually, for most people, this amounts to tweeting out the odd link to blog posts, which isn’t to be entirely dismissed, as regularly updating your social feeds is crucial if you want to catch the eye and start conversations.
Repurposing blog posts
However, if you go one step further and look to repurpose your blog posts for LinkedIn, perhaps giving an abridged version so as to avoid duplicate content, you’ll be opening the door to a wider audience.
The more often people see your output, the greater chance you have of them taking time to read, share and link to it. And links are a crucial currency in the world of offsite optimisation.
Gaining links to your website
Whenever people link to your website, in the eyes of search engines they’re effectively giving you a vote of confidence, recommending your work to others.
Thus, the more backlinks you have pointing your way, the more recommendations and ‘votes’ you have, which means the search algorithms will start favouring your content over others.
As alluded to earlier on, Google is on a quest to return the highest quality content on page one, so the volume of citation links you acquire is a great indicator as to how useful others find your material.
As such, websites with lots of inbound links are likely to rank higher than their rivals, if, of course, their onsite SEO is also up to scratch.
The best way of naturally earning the attention of the wider Internet community is to take time to produce content that answers the questions your target customers are actively asking, underlining your knowledge and positioning you as a trusted service provider.
When you’ve got a healthy body of quality content on your site, you can then engage in a spot of outreach, contacting high-authority websites related to your line of business and offering them thought leadership articles that demonstrate your expertise while offering helpful advice to others.
As a by-product, you’ll earn citation links from these publishers, boosting your SEO and hopefully leading to an uplift in referral traffic. A win-win situation all round.
However, before going heavy on what is sometimes referred to as ‘article marketing’, you should make yourself aware of Google’s reminder on the rules of guest blogging.
If you’re serious about wanting your site to perform highly in organic search (and why wouldn’t you be?), it’s crucial to pay attention to both strands of SEO, onsite and offsite. Dedicating time to one an not the other is not an effective strategy, and your hard-working rivals will soon overtake you.
Producing thought leadership output on a regular basis is fantastic, but don’t miss open goals by neglecting onsite SEO factors that search bots take seriously.
Similarly, you can promote search-optimised content till the cows come home, but if it’s all about SEO without genuine, meaty substance, you won’t earn reference links from engaged audiences.
SEO is an evolving beast that requires regular maintenance, but following the tips outlined above will set your small business on the road to online success.
About the author
This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Magnus Linklater, Managing Director of Bristol-based content and SEO agency, Bespoke Digital. You can connect with him on LinkedIn.