It’s no secret. SEO is changing, and it’s not just about the search engines anymore. Today, we’d like to share the 7 strategies that have helped us grow from a handful of clients to over 100 in just over a year. Let’s take a look.
#1 – An Incredible Website
Okay, it might sound like I’m stating the obvious here. This is 2014 after all, and no serious SEO agency is going to tell you that you can rank with a bottom tier website.
At the same time, when it comes right down to it, this is still the most common problem I see.
Design is the very first thing people notice when they visit your site. According to academic research conducted by Elizabeth Sillence and her team, 94 percent of people who distrust websites do so for design related reasons.
Even if you’re selling a million dollar idea, it won’t seem like one unless the design represents it that way.
I’ve dealt with clients, and their competitors, who either succeeded despite having less than amazing ideas, or failed despite having great ideas, and it all came down to design.
Here are a few examples of what I mean:
- Rich, intuitive UI and UX that is not just aesthetic, but easy to understand, unobtrusive, and lacking distractions
- Use of the latest relevant technologies including HTML5, CSS3, and responsive design built for devices of all sizes and powered by a wide variety of technologies
- Full width design and Flat UI, with their emphasis on clarity, minimalism, usability, and whitespace
- Less dense text, more graphics, photos, and videos
- User friendly, functional interfaces
- Landing pages designed to build trust and convert (we’ve discussed this in detail at Search Engine Journal)
- Minimal loading time, which is still especially important on mobile devices
Here are a few of my favorite examples:
- Square – The near full-width image on Square’s landing page is a great example of flat design that conveys a great deal of information with a simple image and few distractions. While, personally, this landing page might be a little too minimalist when it comes to content that could address objections and concerns, it’s certainly above par and worth aspiring to.
- Basecamp – They use plenty of whitespace; simple and functional images; solid data in a headline, and a calls-to-action sign up button; all above the fold; and using a minimalist, aesthetic approach. At the same time, the page continues onward to address objections and explain how the product works to alleviate anxieties.
- Shopify – Shopify gets its message across quickly with a short headline, and places a professional, sleek video above the fold. The pleasing background image isn’t washed out like many trendy but ineffective watermark images, and features a face, which has been shown to build trust and empathy. The signup form, also above the fold, is non-threatening, asking for only 3 pieces of information. Again, the landing page continues downward to address objections and explain how the product works. The page keeps things interesting with visual variety, but it does so in a way that is minimalist and low on distractions.
If you’re still not sure why or how to do a redesign this year, we recently listed 14 reasons nearly every site should redesign in 2014.
#2 – On Page Optimization
Alright, we all know that on-site factors, like the presence of a keyword in the title, can help your rankings. But I’m not talking about traditional on page optimization tactics like these. I’m talking about core optimization factors that actually influence how Google’s 200 algorithm factors view your site. These include:
- Running the entire site with WWW or without it. A site that uses some mixture of both can suffer from duplicate content issues, and more importantly, indexation can be spotty. If your site runs with both, you’ll need to set up 301 redirects to make sure it’s used consistently everywhere.
- Unique Titles and Meta Descriptions for each page. (Forget Meta keywords, even for Bing.) The purpose of the title tag and meta description is simple: get users to click through to your site. You want to choose a title and description that will entice users in a way that they can’t resist. That’s your only goal here. Put yourself in the consumers’ shoes and figure out what will capture their interest. This usually has more to do with piquing their curiosity than anything else. Focus on conversions and clickthroughs, not on what you think the search engines are going to rank.
- Optimize your image and heading tags. I don’t mean you should jam these with a set of keywords. I mean that you should make your page more useful to visitors with subheadings that make it easy to skim through your pages, and image tags that clarify what they’re looking at. Fit keywords if it makes sense, but don’t go overboard.
- Use a consistent URL naming convention. This one is still very important. If you are using dynamic URLs for security or tracking purposes, there needs to be a canonical URL. Any page linking to a dynamic URL should redirect to the main one. Proper setup here often requires the help of programmers. This problem is very common, and it’s especially problematic for big sites. Dynamic URLs can lead to all kinds of duplicate content issues, poor indexing, and lost link equity. You need to use the rel=”canonical” tag to avoid this problem.
- Minimal load time. This is often more important than optimization “for search engines.” You need to optimize your site code, images, and scripts in order to keep the loading time to a minimum. QuickSprout has written a great post about why and how load time impacts search rankings. This is one of the most common issues modern sites face.
- Reduce your bounce rate. While Google doesn’t use Analytics data to rank sites, most professional SEOs believe that Google is tracking user behavior, clicks, and “pogo-sticking” from SERP to SERP in order to guess which pages users are finding less helpful. In order to combat this problem, you need to make sure you have a responsive site so that mobile and tablet users don’t end up leaving your site as soon as they land on it. Split test your site design and landing pages in order to keep visitors on your site. Design is the number one reason visitors bounce. Here’s Search Engine Watch on 20 ways to keep your bounce rate low.
- Use Schema.org – This markup protocol is used by the search engines to display useful information in the SERPs next to your results. Make sure to use it wherever it is useful on your site.
#3 – Content
Modern SEO content strategies have very little to do with keywords. While it’s still a good idea to get a keyword into your title or a subheading where it makes sense, you almost never need to worry about including it more than once.
More importantly, smart SEO is no longer focused so highly on specific keywords. With Hummingbird replacing user’s queries with more popular search terms, and making inferences about theoretical keywords you may not even use in your content, modern SEO is focused on long-tail traffic and subject matter more than ever before.
Current SEO trends are based on more user-centric strategies and elements. We recommend thinking about the following and incorporating it as a core part of your content strategy:
- Of course your product needs a unique selling proposition, but so does your media platform. In order for you to build up an audience online, you need to think about your brand not just as a source of products, but as a source of information. This doesn’t necessarily mean every piece of information you produce is wholly original, but it does mean that you become very skilled at presenting useful information to people who haven’t heard it, or synthesizing it in new ways that make it more valuable to more people. Most importantly, you need to think about how your content brand is different from any of the other main content sources online. This goes deeper than having unique content. It’s about having a unique personality and/or utility in the public space.
- While this isn’t a must, visual content is becoming increasingly important. Bite-size, visual content is especially important for getting shared on social networks, which can indirectly influence search results, and certainly boost exposure.
- Communicate how your product or service stands out, and do it quickly. A quick and easy way to see if you’ve done this effectively is to imagine what impression people would have of your blog after removing the header and menu. If they couldn’t immediately infer what your site was about from that, most people probably won’t figure it out soon enough for it to matter.
- Use Facts and figures. It takes time to build trust with people. This is why it’s important to use hard facts and figures, and to borrow them from authoritative sources that people already trust. It may be true that people ultimately buy or subscribe for emotional reasons, but only after they rationalize that emotional decision with more rational information.
- Use testimonials from real customers on your sales page, or let users leave a review on your site. Study after study has shown that this boosts sales, as long as it’s done correctly. Of course, there is a lot of skepticism of testimonials these days. You can counter a lot of this by using a large photo of the satisfied customer, posting unfiltered consumer reviews, or using testimonials from relevant authorities.
#4 – Blog
Blogs serve several purposes:
- They build a loyal audience of visitors that you don’t have to pay for.
- They help your audience better understand your brand’s “personality,” why it’s different from the alternatives, and why they feel they can trust you.
- They are more likely to earn exposure and get referenced by media outlets, social networks, and other blogs than any sales page.
- They serve as a logical place to interact with your audience, and to encourage them to interact with each other, especially in the comment section. This has been scientifically demonstrated to boost sales and consumer loyalty.
- They are the perfect place to address customer’s questions, solve problems for your users, make announcements, share case studies and experience, and publish news.
The most important thing to remember about blogs is that they are not advertising platforms. While you certainly should place calls to action on your blog, your blog posts are not advertisements. A blog is like a magazine. It’s something your users have to voluntarily take an interest in.
Blogs also serve an important on-site SEO purpose. While blog posts naturally attract links from external sites, they are also a natural place to link to your product and service pages in context. This helps these pages turn up in the search results.
Blogging is much more than an SEO practice, however. It is a crucial part of your online strategy if you hope to acquire a loyal customer base and attract new business. We wrote about how to use blogs to acquire customers and promote business here.
Neil Patel and Aaron Agius have also recently written an in-depth, 30,000-word guide on building a blog audience.
#5 – Building Linkable Assets
Linkable assets are fundamental to modern SEO. Without them, it is nearly impossible to earn natural links, and as a result, it’s extremely difficult to build rankings in search results that can be expected to last for the long-haul.
We wrote two posts for Search Engine Journal about linkable assets which you can read here:
The key to building linkable assets is to realize that this is about more than “content.” These are resources, and they tend to bring a bit more to the table:
- They are usually more interactive than traditional content
- They tend to be something that people would use more than once
- They are the kinds of things that would get mentioned in the press
- They have extreme utility, or the potential to blow somebody’s mind
#6 – Content Marketing
As everybody in the industry seems to be saying, “Content marketing is the new SEO.” While this is actually a bit of an exaggeration, the overlap between the two industries is impossible to deny, and that overlap is only going to keep growing.
Without going into too much depth on this, we’d like to refer you to several resources we’ve put together that can help you understand content marketing, and how to make it work for you:
- Planning a whole year’s worth of content marketing, the 2014 edition – Here you’ll learn how to prepare yourself for a full year of content marketing and earn a meaningful return off of it.
- Unusual sources of inspiration for content creation – Ideas are the lifeblood of content marketing, but they can be very difficult to come by. Here we offer our advice on where to get ideas.
- Preparing a team to win at content marketing – While it’s not impossible for an individual to make content marketing work, it works best as a team effort. This offers suggestions for what such a team should look like.
- 7 tools you should use for content marketing and link building – Most lists of tools for content marketing focus on finding ideas and publishing, two things that honestly can’t be well automated. This list instead focuses on tools that help build relationships, measure ROI, produce visual content, and more.
- Content marketing is not rocket science: the ultimate guide for agencies – This guide is meant to help agencies perform content marketing for their clients.
- Conversion friendly content marketing for B2C – While content marketing undoubtedly boosts sales when done correctly, the industry as a whole tends to short itself when it comes to data. This post teaches you how to use content marketing as a conversion strategy.
We also recommend this monster resource by SEO guru Neil Patel: The advanced guide to content marketing.
#7 – Social Media Marketing
Social influence is an important part of modern SEO. While statements from Google make it clear that social signals don’t directly influence search results, it’s increasingly clear that behavioral data is approaching links as one of the top ranking factors.
While behavioral data is invisible, social signals are not. You will do far more for yourself by looking at the social rankings and comment count on a site than you will by looking at the PageRank. PageRank is a dead signal that can be manipulated too easily.
I’m not saying that your analysis of a link prospect should stop with the social signals and comments, but that is easily the best place to start.
Likewise, social media marketing is an important part of your own SEO success. Again, while social signals don’t directly influence search results, they do play a crucial part in building loyal audiences and expanding your reach. Followers who join your social circles are more likely to search for you in Google and mention you to others. This behavior influences search results and strengthens your brand.
Social networks also serve several other important functions:
- They help you build casual connections with people who wouldn’t be willing to share their address
- They are a quick and easy way to gauge an influencer’s power online, and can be a useful platform to connect with them
- They can help expand the initial reach of your content, especially if you incorporate easily shareable, bite-size pieces of content within your blog posts and media
- They can act as a platform to interact with your audience, and encourage it to interact with itself. While this isn’t quite as powerful as similar behavior on your own platform, it’s often a good way to transition casual fans into hardcore followers
The 7 strategies we shared above are based on our personal experience and data. They have helped us grow our SEO agency from 2 to 38 employees and from a handful of clients to over 100. We have accomplished all of this in just a year and a few months.
We are very confident that these same strategies will help you increase your popularity in search results, and grow a loyal audience.
Thanks for reading this post. If it helped you, we’d appreciate it if you shared it with others.