SEO and ROI: How Optimising for Google Isn’t Just Alphabet Soup

December 2nd, 2015 in Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation

This blog needs to come with a warning sign: “Danger! Quicksand!” I’ll be honest: I thought at first that this post would be simple. That was a rookie error: I don’t want to put you off, but it wound up just a little bit technical!

Building websites is all well and good – but once you have one, how do people find it? Ensuring that your website actually has visitors should be an integral part of the service provided to you by any web developer – what’s the point of having one if no one ever sees it? To avoid this dilemma, you need good Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO.

Emily’s written before about the budget concerns of clients, and we understand them. If all the technical quicksand in this blog post has a plus side, though, it’s that it acts as proof, if you need it, that SEO is both essential and not for amateurs. Anyway, I’ll try to keep things straightforward – and I promise I’ll get to the return on investment eventually!

The key concept is relatively simple: SEO is not just about getting you onto page one of Google with brute force. It’s about trying to put some science behind our efforts, using as much data as we can possibly gather about your business and your audience, so that we optimise your website in as appropriate – and future-proof – a way as possible.

Let me explain a bit. The first thing we do is ask our customers to complete an SEO questionnaire to identify which keywords and phrases they would like Google to associate with their site – in other words, which search terms users will need to type into a search engine in order to find them.

Our job begins in refining that initial list: using our knowledge of how Google works – and how users search – we’ll amend it by removing key phrases which are too general, or ones too far removed from what the client actually does. We’ll then put the resulting list of keywords through a Google tool which will assess them in a variety of ways.

Most importantly, we want to discover which keywords and phrases similar to those we have already selected are the ones people are actually typing into their search engine.  Once we know this, we’ll have a list of the most appropriate keywords and phrases that people are using to searching for that business – not just the ones we think people might type to find our client, but the ones we know they are actually using.

For example, a business might consider ‘air conditioning’ to be their most important key phrase. But our assessment process might suggest that ‘air conditioning units’, ‘domestic air conditioning’, or ‘portable air conditioning’ might secure them a greater number of better qualified leads. Once we’ve consulted with the client, we’ll have a final selection of keywords and be able to identify where their site currently sits in the rankings for those phrases.

SEO can be a long game. Let’s say that for ‘portable air conditioning’ our client is ranked on the third page of Google (which receives on average just 2.42% of the click-throughs from any given search term – the first page receives around two thirds); we might decide that this key phrase could be a ‘quick win’ – in other words, we could, with proper SEO, get the client to pole position for this phrase in about twelve months.

Often good ‘quick wins’ are geographically specific phrases: ‘air conditioning birmingham’, for instance. The reasons for this are obvious – they pre-qualify your leads and reduce the number of potential competitors for that phrase. The good news is that we can identify exactly how many searches for a particular phrase there are per month; we can do this for a geographical phrase as easily as for a generic one. So we can find out the total searches in the UK, or just the West Midlands, or just Birmingham.

This ability gives us real power: we know that if a client achieves the number one position in Google, they will get an average click-through rate of traffic to your site of thirty per cent. So if there are a hundred searches for ‘air conditioning birmingham’ (there are in fact 90 – but 100 makes the maths easier!), then typically thirty of those would be directed to your website.

This last stage is the one at which we need to start making assumptions – and of course we do this in conjunction with our clients (the Image+ model is at every stage based around conversation). In other words, of those thirty people who just clicked through to your site, how many might place an order? Let’s be conservative and say 10% – the client would get three orders per month.

And, just like I promised, here’s the bit about return on investment: if the average margin of an order is £500, then getting to number one on Google for ‘air conditioning Birmingham’ just earned our client a return of £1,500 per month.

To reiterate, spending £500 a month on SEO could be returning £1000 per month – for just one keyword phrase! Not only can you really not afford to have a website without SEO – you can afford the help it takes to navigate all that technical quicksand I walked into in writing this post. So maybe we didn’t need that warning sign after all …

Mobile-First Design: Why Remembering Mobile Is Like Putting On Trousers

October 14th, 2015 in Design, Development, Search Engine Optimisation, Web

We’re all familiar with the concept of optional extras: additional cup holders in your car,

or ‘accent stitching’ on that custom-made suit. But you wouldn’t buy a new motor

without an engine, and you wouldn’t slip on a new three-piece that didn’t come with

trousers. Those are just the basics. But why is it often so different for websites?

In today’s world, your website will be viewed in a hundred different ways. On a

smartphone or a desktop, a tablet or a netbook; it might be loaded up in Chrome or Safari,

Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox. This makes demands on your developers that were

absent in the ‘good old days’ of IE’s dominance, always installed on a 486DX2 66 MhZ

machine.

 

Just like an engineer or a tailor, web designers need to move with the times in terms of

what is considered ‘the basics’. That’s why we believe that all websites should be

‘responsive’ as standard. What do we mean by this? It’s simple, really: we mean that

every client should have confidence that their website will display perfectly on any

screen – and that none of their customers will be turned off by a design that just doesn’t

work on their device of choice.

 

This might sound like common sense, but a surprising number of other web agencies

charge extra for building responsive websites. That is, they treat the ability to display

properly on the varied devices people now use as an optional extra. For us, that’s like

forgetting to put on your trousers.

 

Think about it: according to comScore, the number of people globally using mobile

devices of one kind or another to access the internet has now exceeded those using the

traditional desktop computer. If your site is designed exclusively for desktops – still the

‘basic package’ offered by many developers – you will be alienating the largest segment

of your audience.

 

Not only that, but the internet has changed to reflect these new behaviours: Google has

made changes to how it ranks websites in order to reward those which prioritise the

mobile experience. They are not only penalising those websites which don’t offer any

mobile functionality at all; they are denying rankings even to websites which offer

limited responsive features, such as providing a ‘no-frills’ mobile version of their desktop

website.

 

What can you do about this? You can choose a developer who doesn’t simply remove

functionality from a basic desktop website until it ‘fits’ on a smartphone screen. At

Image+, our design philosophy is ‘mobile first’: we start from the smallest screen,

creating a great website which we can then enhance with each move upwards in size

towards the desktop. This, not surprisingly, is the approach which Google endorses.

 

‘Mobile first’ design isn’t just what the world’s biggest search engines expect. It’s what

your customers want, too. Make sure your website is the success you need it to be – and

don’t settle for a designer who forgets to put on their trousers.

Why Your Website Is Like Muhammad Ali

January 6th, 2014 in Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation google hummingbird marketing search

Muhammad Ali once famously professed that he floated like a hummingbird, but stung like a bee. Thanks to Google’s new algorithm, known as ‘Hummingbird’, your website can have a serious marketing sting in its tail, too – but only if you know how to exploit its new method of ranking sites.

Muhammad Ali Hummingbird

Of course, you don’t need to know. That’s what we’re here for. Google Hummingbird has been in use by the search engine since late August, although its launch was only announced on the internet giant’s fifteenth birth, on 27th September. Hummingbird is designed to render Google’s search process even more user-friendly, and ape the way in which humans think and find.

In order for computers to appear to think like humans, you need an awful lot of clever code and mathematics. Google is a past master at this sort thing. Their search engine has always been based on a particular algorithm – essentially a staged mathematical calculation – which helps it understand a search term and then deliver results which are relevant to the user.

In an interview with the Guardian at the start of the year, the company’s head of search said: “Ultimately I view Google as a way to augment your brain with the knowledge of the world.” As radical as that sounds, Hummingbird is part of Singhal’s journey to that goal.

Hummingbird is now a very significant part of the ‘recipe’ by which Google bakes the cake of your latest search: it focuses learning and understanding the particular meaning of words and how humans use them, in order to make search results more accurate. For instance, if you google for ‘iPad’, Hummingbird will not just match that particular word – it will know that an iPad is a type of tablet, and also deliver to you comparable products to you.

Likewise, Hummingbird is trying to be ahead of the curve on ‘voice search’. This is the relatively new means of using Google via mobile devices, simply by speaking your search. People talking are more like to say, “Where can I find an iPad for sale?” than they are to type “iPad for sale”. Hummingbird is about suiting Google to this future of search.

What does this mean for you? It means your website needs to understand your customers more than ever. In the past, web designers have sort to encode keywords into a website – ‘iPad’, for instance. Now, we’ll need to be smarter: your website will need to be clear that it is the right destination for users wanting to learn more about tablets, but also clear that people asking where they can buy iPads should also make a visit. That imposes a lot of demands on your designer, but it’s important that they meet them if you are now to retain or achieve a positive Google ranking.

There’s a lot of jargon about this: ‘semantic revelance’, ‘market segmentation’, ‘content marketing’. But what it amounts to is the idea that your website needs to be built and populated in such a way that it proves your authority in your area, and meets as clearly as possible the needs of your audience. To repeat ourselves, then: that’s what we’re here for.

Web Accessibility Standards: Practical Politics

May 17th, 2013 in Design, Search Engine Optimisation, Web accessibility Design eu standards w3c Web

They say you should never talk politics if you want to avoid an argument, so it might be worth skating over this week’s ding-dong in Parliament about the European Union, and whether it’s worth the UK being part of it. There are plenty of arguments on either side, and very few of them have to do with marketing your business online.

web-accessible-key[1]

This is a blog about just that, of course, and yet that’s precisely why we mention Europe: the EU, believe it or not, has quite a bit to do with how you might market your business online. This isn’t just about the headline-grabbing stuff about privacy laws, Google and Apple; like it or loathe it, the EU also promotes something uncomplicated which is very good indeed for your business, and for Google’s.

At Image+, we design our websites with what are known as ‘web accessibility standards’ very much in mind. These are a numbers of rules, guidelines and design criteria which aim to ensure your website is as viewable to as many different people as possible. Devised and promoted by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), accessibility standards are important for the same reason that responsive web design is important: they make your website more flexible.

There are all sorts of reasons someone may have difficulty enjoying your website to the full: they may be partially sighted or hard of hearing, have a physical disability or learning difficulties. They may be elderly or in a rural location. The key is that W3C accessibility guidelines offer a powerful way of designing websites in such a way that they reach as many people as possible. This may be achieved by offering for alternative text for images, in case on slow connections they do not load; it might be providing transcripts of audio, or offering a website which can function without use of the mouse. Accessibility is about imagining the full range of your audience and catering for them.

This not only fulfills your business’s social responsibility – it brings your products to more people. That’s why we routinely design websites which tick all the accessibility boxes. There are many designers who take short cuts or simply don’t have the knowledge necessary to ensure their websites are fully compliant with W3C standards. Your website will be the poorer for using them.

To risk getting involved in that spat in the Commons, the EU are fully signed up to W3C and promote it strongly – indeed, sometimes it’s not strong enough for them! In that as in so many things, the EU is a complicated beast which occassions fierce debate … unlike web standards, which are a no-brainer. Ask about incorporating them into your website today.

Statistics and Sales: Getting the Most out of your Website

April 19th, 2013 in Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation, Web analytics marketing SEO statistics

They say cliches only become so popular because they have a grain of truth. So while we like to avoid them in our marketing materials, there’s one old saying which we think has a lot to recommend it in marketing circles: practice makes perfect.

seve

I risk over-using a tired old saying because constantly monitoring your activity is the best way to ensure your return on investment is as high as it can possibly be. Like learning to play a musical instrument or improving your golf handicap, tailoring your website is an activity to undertake over time. Practice really does make perfect.

In the last few weeks, we’ve been focusing our attention on the Sleepeezee website, paying detailed attention to the statistics of each and every one of the site’s pages. By going back again and again to these pages and these statistics, we’ve been able to increase their hits by twenty-seven per cent. On our own site, the same attention to detail has seen our ‘bounce rate’ reduce from 63% to just 4%.

But what does all this mean in plain English? The ‘bounce rate’ is simply the percentage of visitors who enter a website and “bounce” (leave the site) rather than continue viewing other pages within the same site. A high bounce rate is bad news: it means people simply aren’t lingering for long on your pages, reducing your chances of converting eyeballs into paying customers. The only way to rectify this problem is to look closely at your pages, and figure out what it is about them that is failing to capture your visitors.

So practice makes perfect. At Image+, we capture, monitor and interpret the usage statistics of our client’s websites, and use this process to improve bounce rates. We can identify which of a site’s pages have the worst bounce rates, and analyse their content to ensure that it is more engaging; once we’ve tweaked that content, we can again monitor the page’s statistics to see the changes – and repeat the steps as many times as it takes to improve and perfect the way in which you site communicates with your potential customers.

This process really is essential if you are to get the most out of the website in which you’ve invested so much time and money. If you hardly ever pick up that guitar, or never manage to get any time on the course, you’re not going to become the next Jimi Hendrix or Seve Ballesteros; likewise, if you don’t pay detailed attention to your website, and spend time tailoring your pages on the basis of active and passive user feedback, your website won’t work for you as it should.

Put it this way: purging your sales copy of cliches is a great way of helping to keep your visitors’ attention; but in doing so you’re proving one of the oldest ones in the book. Practice makes perfect.

SEO: The Race To First Place

March 15th, 2013 in Search Engine Optimisation, Web SEO

photoThe Cheltenham Festival has been hard to miss this week, with blanket coverage on Channel 4 and advertisements everywhere. The team at Image+ haven’t been immune to the excitement: in between developing websites, it’s possible we’ve been watching a few races online this week and having a flutter in the office. There’s a big buzz amongst the team – if not too many winners!

In part, our enthusiasm might be down to a certain amount of sympathy for the owners, trainers and jockeys who prepare so carefully for events like this. From stamina to speed, and jumping to sprinting, the team around a horse focuses on ensuring that every element of its race is matched as tightly as possible to the demands of the course it will be running. Huge amounts of research and work is put into understanding how a given horse might be given the best chance to achieve that coveted first place.

Put that way, horseracing is – and bear with me here – oddly similar to Search Engine Optimisation. This is a process we undertake for many of our clients, by which we assess their market, understand its demands – including what phrases customers might use to search for relevant services online – and then tailor the website in such a way that the biggest search engines place it pride of place on their results pages. This is a game only for experts: it’s detailed, difficult work, but done right can have huge benefits.

Google ‘Cheltenham festival’ right now and the top sponsored links feature the various bookmakers to whom this week is so important. The first natural link, of course, is to the website of the Cheltenham Racecourse itself, which has made the Festival a key fixture in its calendar. Newspapers are listed, too – search engines like nothing better than regular, constantly updated content – and before the first page is over the bookmakers are making a return. The presence of each of these sites – and their re-appearances as keyphrase-sensitive advertising on those newspaper websites – reveals something about the nature of SEO, from its key importance for revenue generation to the virtues of pay-per-click campaigns and the best means of achieving natural listings.

The bookmakers are a case in point: fittingly, they hedge their bets by investing in paid advertising, ensuring they are always at the top of the page, but also optimising their sites to achieve natural listings. Paddy Power, for example, features both as a sponsored and natural link on Google’s first page of ‘Cheltenham festival’ search results. Key to Paddy Power’s success, though, is what punters get when they click that link: visitors to the PP website are immediately exposed to a wealth of content, but also a user interface which is easy and enjoyable to use. All the SEO in the world won’t help if your website is poor – once the search engines have sent you visitors, it’s up to you to keep them.

I’ll be following the runners today at Cheltenham, cheering on one particular horse named after my home town’s theatre. I hope I’m cannier in my betting at the course itself than I have been online: when I won recently on the Paddy Power website, I found myself with £100 in my account – and gave it all back to them in the shape of further bets.

Now that is a successful website!