03.07.20167 min read

5 Pillars of SEO: White Hat Tips for Long Run Wins

The world of SEO is dominated by high profile Google updates that fuel discussions around major techniques such as link building. But businesses can genuinely be transformed through increased search visibility, so paying attention to the smaller details is your opportunity to get ahead. Think of Team Sky Pro Cycling’s boss Dave Brailsford who created teams that won two consecutive Tour de France titles and multiple Olympic medals with a central ethos of marginal gains; that is to say that repeatedly saving a few grams here and a fraction of a second there will eventually amount to a winning margin.

The same is true in search engine optimization. You can count on your competitors creating good content and link building from credible and relevant sources, but not everyone will pay attention to the smaller details. The more competitive the industry, the more important these marginal gains are.

Here are some oft-neglected SEO factors that will help you find the winning edge:

Research thoroughly

Keyword research is the process of identifying high value search terms for your business and is the first step that we recommend with any SEO campaign. The problem is that many businesses will only focus on a handful of primary services. You can get the edge by conducting comprehensive research across all aspects of your website to drive traffic:

  • Brainstorm potential keywords prior to looking at any competitors or websites. This is to avoid being anchored on keywords that you see elsewhere
  • Use Google’s Keyword Planner for indicative average monthly search volumes
  • Research keywords for every single service that you offer or topic that you cover on your website
  • Use tools such as keywordtool.io, Buzzsumo and Google’s autocomplete function and Uber Suggest to explore opportunities for content creation. This will also help develop an editorial plan for your website.

Website structure

A well defined website structure is crucial in effectively articulating what your website does to Google. Imagine that Google is viewing your website and attempting to decipher which page is most relevant for a particular search term. There are a number of considerations to take into account when devising a structure or restructuring a site. How to get started:

  • If you have multiple pages with similar content they end up competing with each other to be ranked for relevant search terms. This is known as duplicate content and should be avoided when structuring a site or creating future content.
  • As mentioned in part one, keeping each page focused on a particular topic will prevent confusion. You want to make sure that it is abundantly clear to Google which page should be ranking for which search term. The likelihood is that the more specific the content, the more specific the target search terms for that page will be.

Avoid duplicate meta data

Meta data are the tags included in the header of a page and act as the title and description of the page. Much like in website structure, you do not want two pages competing for the same search term, so you should not duplicate meta data across multiple pages (apart from your brand name). The title tag and meta description on each page should be unique. Here are some best practices:

  • Title tags should be less than 512 pixels wide, or the equivalent of 55 characters.
  • Title tags should include relevant keywords, with the most important keywords appearing first. 
  • Due to the length restriction, only use two to three search terms on a title tag.
  • Meta descriptions should be unique. Google doesn’t take them into account although keywords will appear in bold so it is worth including them once.
  • Meta keywords do not need to be used. Google ignores them.
  • They should be an accurate description of the page’s content.

Compiling correct meta data is one of the first steps of onsite optimization for SEOs but is often only applied to high value pages. This leaves the website open to duplicate meta data, especially for larger sites. Making sure that each page’s meta data has been sufficiently optimized can help you get ahead.

Coding errors and load speed

Gaining visibility on search engines is all about credibility and value. Without authority your website will struggle in the results pages. This web credibility is more than just screen deep, you have to make sure that your website’s code is up to scratch. Furthermore, with the exponential increase of mobile usage, load speed is becoming even more important. There are a couple of free tools which can help you bring your website’s code up to scratch:

  • Google’s Page Speed Insights will rank your website for performance on both mobile and desktop. They also have a tool which tells you if your website is mobile friendly or not.
  • W3C Validator is an industry standard for checking coding errors. It also shows you where the errors or warnings are so that you can go about rectifying them.

Schema mark up

Schema mark up is code that can be applied to a site to categorise it. This language gives search engines clear definitions of your industry and further information such as opening times and telephone numbers. It is not the world’s sexiest subject and can be tricky to implement, but rest assured that the vast majority of your competitors are unlikely to be tackling this subject. For more information go to http://schema.org/

It is important to note that these marginal gains will only bear fruit if you are also addressing the more mainstream topics thoroughly, and you want to ensure your website addresses all SEO factors. No stone should be left unturned. Some can be tedious, others can be time consuming but keep reminding yourself that this investment will set you apart from your competitors.

Simon Ensor is an SEO specialist and managing director of a marketing agency and consultancy in the UK called Yellowball (weareyellowball.com). As part of their SEO service, Yellowball provide auditstraining and full campaign management for clients ranging from cash strapped start ups through to more established SME's, larger blue chips and governments. He is a big believer in ensuring that all marketing efforts are connected and help fuel cross platform engagement as well as efficiency. Say hi on Twitter @simon_ensor

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