Search engine optimization has a reputation for being hard and brutally competitive. But is that really true?
Sure, there are millions of web pages competing for any given keyword, but how many companies have made a sustained, strategic effort to rank? How many companies have even done the basics of SEO?
Ends up, not so many. SEO is in some ways one of the most neglected parts of a content marketing program, or any online marketing program.
Don’t believe me? You only have to look at how much budget SEO gets. There are three different studies that support this:
So not only are there a lot of SEO tactics that most marketers ignore – most marketers are ignoring SEO entirely.
Given what good search engine optimization can do, this is downright depressing. Search engine traffic matters – it makes up 51% of visits to most sites, according to BrightEdge. And search engine traffic converts: “SEO leads have a 14.6% close rate, while outbound leads (such as direct mail or print advertising) have a 1.7% close rate,” according to Search Engine Journal.
We want to get you some of those goodies. So if you’ve been putting off your SEO work, or you’ve only done a little here and there, any one of these tactics can help. They’ll get you far more traffic to your site and give you a nice edge on your competition, too.
1. Write your title tags and meta descriptions as if they were ad copy.
You know what click-through rate is, right? And you know how important it is. That’s why we all obsess over the click-through rates of our emails, our pay per click ads, and our social media updates.
But what about the click-through rates of your pages in the search results? Are you doing anything to improve them? Because that’s the single easiest way to drastically improve your search engine traffic – without doing one smidge of other SEO work.
To find out what the click-through rates for your pages are, log into your Google Search Console account. Go to the “Search Traffic” > “Search Analytics” report. Select to view “Impressions”, “CTR” and “Pages”, as shown below:
That will show you the click-through rate for your pages. The next step is to click on the double arrow in the far right of each page’s row. This will bring you to a sub-report where you can analyze each page individually. You’ll be able to see which keywords the page is showing for and what the click-through rate of your page is for each of those keywords.
It’ll look a bit like this:
To see what your competition for these keyword terms is, just click the little gray square right after the keyword. It’ll show you the search results for that term.
Compare what you see in the top search results to what’s in the title and meta description tag for your page. Pay particular attention to any paid ads. These are often split-tested relentlessly to get higher click-through rates, so you might want to borrow some words and phrases from those ads to use in your title and meta description tag.
One caveat for this technique: Don’t write title and description tags for your pages that don’t accurately reflect what’s on the page. And you may want to circle back to the content of your page and rewrite/update it so it better matches searchers’ intent.
Once you’ve rewritten the title tag and meta tag description,
- Take screen shots of the Google Search Console reports and search results you used to make the changes.
- Let the page accrue impressions and clicks for at least two weeks.
- Go back and see how it’s performing.
- Rinse and repeat for as long as you have patience for, to see how the page performs over time.
You can probably double or even triple your click-through rates over time with this technique, but it will take a couple of months to get results.
2. Use keywords and dashes in the file names of your images.
You have to use something for a file name for your images – so why not use a few keywords? Some sources say you’ll get even more results if you use dashes between the words in the file names, like this:
This one tactic isn’t going to catapult your page to the top of the SERPS (search engine results pages), but it gives a little lift. And if probably won’t take you more than two minutes per page to implement.
Bonus: Take the time to write out keyword-rich descriptions for the Alt tags of your images, too. This is easy to do in WordPress or most other content management systems.
3. Beef up your pages that show up on pages 2-3 of the search results.
The Google Search Console also lets you see where pages tend to rank in the search results. Go to the Search Analytics report again and choose this setting to see that information.
Any pages with an average position of 9.5 to about 13 have been lingering near the top of page two in the search results. Very few people will see your pages there, as the vast majority of searchers don’t bother with results beyond page one.
But with just a little bit of SEO, you can nudge those page-two listings on to page one, and thus get far more traffic to them. Here are a few techniques for doing that:
- Add links to these pages from some of the high-authority pages on your site
- Update these pages – make them more valuable to your visitors
- Apply the title tag and meta description tag trick mentioned in item #1 above
4. Write long form content.
Several studies have shown that “long form” content (more than 1,000 words) does better in the search results. In fact, pages with 2,000 words or more tend to dominate the top 10 search listings for any given keyword.
Last year Moz and BuzzSumo discovered that
“85% of content published (excluding videos and quizzes) is less than 1,000 words long. However, long form content of over 1,000 words consistently receives more shares and links than shorter form content. Either people ignore the data or it is simply too hard for them to write quality long form content.”
While 85% of marketers are missing out, this can be an opportunity for you: Write more long form content. And, as corollary to this: spend more time creating it. According to a 2016 survey of bloggers from CoSchedule, only one in ten bloggers is spending more than five hours on each post.
Does spending that much time on a blog post seem out of reach? Consider publishing less often, but with higher quality content. You may get better results.
5. Go beyond the Google Keyword Planner for keyword ideas.
While keywords work a little differently in SEO than they used to, they’re definitely not obsolete. And choosing the right ones can make all the difference in your SEO work.
We’ve recommended using “long tail” keywords in the past (they’re search terms made up of three or more words). But often, the trick is how to find them.
Google’s Keyword Planner is notorious for giving inaccurate search counts, especially for keywords with lower search volumes. It’s even worse at surfacing long tail keywords and related terms.
So what to do? Well, consider thinking outside the box, or in this context, outside the Keyword Planner. Here are several ways to find long tail keywords to optimize your content for:
- Product reviews (including Amazon book reviews)
- Forums and LinkedIn groups
- Blog post comments
- Paid search tools like SEMRush, RavenTools, Moz and SpyFu
- WordStream’s free keyword tool
- WordTracker’s free keyword tool
- UberSuggest (a free keyword tool)
- Google Search Console’s list of keywords that your pages are appearing for
- The “related terms” search at the bottom of each page of Google search results
- Your site’s internal search records
- Your competitors’ sites
- Google Trends’ related searches
Google’s also added some tools to help with rich answers and schema markup in Search Console. They appear to be serious about making schema setup easier for everyone.
7. Update old pages.
This is a major opportunity, and almost no one’s using it. Updating old pages – particularly old blog posts – can almost double the traffic those pages are generating now.
Several sites have published case studies on how they got this to work.
The results from those case studies are so good, you might want to take a break from publishing new content – just so you can go back and optimize a few choice pages.
It’s too bad so few marketers are practicing SEO. But it can be good news for you. Even a little bit of time and money invested can put you at the head of the pack – and maybe near the top of the search results.
So please: Don’t fall for the rumors that SEO is hard or impossibly competitive. Leave it to your competitors to keep believing that.
What do you think?
Have you used any of these SEO tactics and techniques? How did they work for you? Tell us about it in the comments.