Be honest, what’s the first thing that comes to mind when someone says: ‘Search Engine Optimisation’? Your eyeroll is almost audible, my friends, and I can’t say I’m surprised.
First thing’s first: SEO is something that people dedicate their careers to. It’s not something you just “know”. That said, there are some quick wins to get you on the right track.
Many moons ago, SEO took centre stage. It was something
people threw casually into conversation as though they knew exactly what they
were talking about. I’ll let you in on a little secret: they very rarely even
began to scratch the surface.
Here are my top five…
1.Research, research and more research…
I can’t begin to tell you how many times someone has included the phrase ‘we need to appear at the top of Google’ in their brief to me. Well, my response to that is ALWAYS: ‘for which phrase?’.
Where you rank in a search engine (yep, Google isn’t the only one – remember Bing?) is relevant to the actual phrase a user had typed into their search bar. Seeing as there will be a fair bit of effort required to increase your rankings for any given phrase (how much will depend on the specific words), it’s worth spending time deciding on the keyword or keyphrase to focus on.
Start by casting a wide net. Write down anything that comes to mind when you think about your blog or business. Then, refine and refine. There are a number of tools that will help you predict how competitive a phrase is, so that you can start to gauge the effort needed versus the expected ROI. Wordtracker is one of my favourites.
TOP TIP: Run your research past someone that could be your target audience, if you can. Ask them something like ‘what would you put into Google if you were searching for my blog?’. No answer is too primitive here, they’re likely to come up with something you would never have thought of. Go on, humour me.
2. Code is your friend
What I’m not suggesting is that you’ll have to go away and study to be a web developer. But, knowing a little about your code, will go a long way. Search engines will look at certain areas within the code to see which keywords and keyphrases the content is meant to be relevant to. You’ve probably heard the names before: meta descriptions, URL, alt text and so on.
These are the places the search engine will
compare with your text, so including your phrases in them, will jump start the search
engine’s work. That said, only include the phrases that are actually relevant
to your content. Mismatched code and text will not do you any favours.
TOP TIP: WordPress can guide you through this. Download and activate a plugin such as Yoast SEO and follow the tips it gives you.
3. Write for people, not for machines
You might remember the primitive days of SEO when the fastest way to the top of Google was something called ‘keyword stuffing’ – the more you mentioned a keyword, the higher you ranked
Yep, this really did work. Once.
Alas, it’s not been that simple for some time. Today, search engines will assess how your text is written, not just the subject matter.
TOP TIP: Forget about search engines in your first draft. Write for your audience and insert the keywords later. Keep reading over your text to make sure it sounds like something you would share yourself, not something that is written for Google.
4. Every little helps
Search engines like to see engagement with your content. Don’t just post to your blog and forget about it. You won’t get anywhere like that.
Share your content on your social media,
see if you can have it picked up by local media, submit it to magazines or
relevant industry blogs, grow your network and see if they will share it.
Extending the reach your content has across
media types will really help push it forward. Plus, you never know who it might
land in front of.
TOP TIP: Add ‘share on social media’ functionality on your blog. The easier it is for readers to share your content, the better.
5. Know when to surrender
Not to sound defeatist, but there is such a thing as a time to quit. Not to quit entirely, but to quit trying to do everything yourself.
I have great respect for Search Engine
Optimizers and so should you. They spend their working days (and probably
beyond) working for people like you and me, pushing their content forward, but
also staying on top of any changes to algorithms that search engines release. Be
honest, you wouldn’t know where to start.
Hiring an expert can be the best way
forward – it’ll allow each party to focus on what they do best.
TIP: Ask for recommendations from your network. You’re likely to work
closely with this person for an extended period of time, so it’s important you
know exactly what it is you’ll be getting and a personal recommendation can get
you much further than.. well, than a blind search on Google.
Maggie Majstrova has over 10 years’ experience in general marketing, having originally started in a full-service marketing agency. For the last few years, Maggie has been working as a freelance copywriter with several clients on web, social media and general marketing content. Clients include companies in construction, interior design, recruitment and jewelry design[
When it comes to marketing your business online, it can feel overwhelming. The digital space is a crowded one and we are constantly bombarded with free content and brands shouting loudly. With the right strategy in place, however, you can make yourself heard.
Follow my 5 (super simple!) tips to reach your audience online without hiring an expert.
Get other people to recommend you
One of the best ways to get new business is via ‘word of mouth’ recommendations and this can be replicated online. Gather testimonials from clients and let them shout about your brand for you. Add the testimonials to your website and turn them into quote graphics to share on social media (Canva is a great tool for this). Also invite clients to review your business on Facebook or give you a LinkedIn recommendation.
If your clients are really busy I would suggest going through past emails and gathering any nice feedback they have sent to you. Pull this together and then send to them asking if they are happy for you to share as a testimonial on your website or social media. I’ve never had a client say “no” to this.
You could take this one step further by offering up some sort of ‘refer a friend’ discount or even inviting customers to become affiliates, if it’s appropriate for your business.
Start a Facebook group
We all know that it’s now seriously hard to get reach on Facebook. It’s estimated that due to the algorithm only around 10% of your business page followers actually see the posts you share. Facebook groups are not restricted in the same way as standard posts (yet); in fact Facebook are pushing groups, so it’s a great way to talk to your followers and potential customers without being blocked.
Start by inviting everyone who follows your business page to join your Facebook group. Set up some regular threads and show up daily to to drive engagement and get people talking. You can use this space to poll your audience, ask what pain points they have, what content they would like to see from you and even get feedback on new products or services. You then have a very engaged group that you can sell to.
Join some groups that your target customers hang out in and start by just listening – see what common questions and problems are coming up and think about how you could help solve them. Offer up expert advice on any subjects you know about and promote your services (if the group admin allows). This can be a really great way to gain free feedback, network and ultimately get paying customers!
Offer yourself up as a guest expert
Offer yourself up as a guest blogger to spread the word about your business and what you do. You could also feature as an interviewee or guest on a podcast, video chat or even on a Facebook Live session (if you are feeling brave).
This is a great way to make yourself and your brand more visible and drive traffic to your socials and website. This is what is known as “inbound links” and these help your site to rank higher on Google search results pages. As well as driving visitors to your site, it also gives you great content to share with your social media audience that further proves your expertise. Sharing this sort of content helps to get the conversation started and thus boost engagement. This is essentially what we want from online marketing – a two-way conversation as opposed to just passive sharing of content.
Harness the power of video
By 2020, online videos will make up more than 80% of all consumer internet traffic (source: Cisco) and businesses that use video in their marketing have 27% higher click-through rates (source: Buffer). Social media platforms favour video over text posts as it keeps their audiences engaged and on their sites longer so if you haven’t already, now is the time to give video a go.
Social video is designed to be a lot more relaxed and “real” so you really can just record a short video on your phone without having to worry about it looking polished or edited. In fact, social media audiences love “raw” behind the scenes type video footage.
If you are new to video it can feel a bit daunting so I would suggest starting off with recording some video for your Instagram stories – it will vanish after 24 hours! Then you could try live video for stories and ease your way into Facebook Lives or IGTV (Instagram’s new video platform).
Not sure what to actually say in these videos? A great way to start is by writing down EVERY question you get asked about your field of expertise or your business. Then use these questions or misconceptions as the basis for your videos.
Grow your email list
Social media is really great when it comes to marketing your brand but one of the downsides is that you don’t ‘own’ any of your content or (most importantly) your contacts. If Facebook or Instagram decides to close down your account one day then guess what? You lose your audience! So, make sure you are driving people to sign up to your email list too.
You can use your social media accounts to direct people to sign up to your email list, Include a newsletter sign up on your email footer (WiseStamp is a great tool for doing this) and even offer a freebie or “opt in” as a way to gather people’s email addresses. You could offer up a free “how to” pdf download, access to a free webinar or an email course and ask people to provide their email address in order to receive it. Just be really clear on your communication what emails people can expect to receive from you.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) – one of the great mysteries of the modern world.
As a specialist in this subject I get asked a lot of questions on the subject from “what do the letters SEO actually stand for?” right through to “how can I source the best keywords in my niche?”. The broad range of these questions signifies to me that there is a fundamental miss-understanding of what SEO is and a belief that its very complicated and difficult to implement.
I will be the first person to say that SEO is time consuming and getting it right involves focus and commitment, equally it is something that everyone that has a website can understand and work towards improving themselves.
Here are the 10 most useful things I have learned about SEO….
1. Search Engines work just like our own brains.
All of us do it – when we see a stranger in the street we make assumptions about their lifestyle. If I see a person who has tattoos, is wearing ripped jeans and has purple hair I will draw conclusions such as they like rock music or they work in a creative industry. I might be wrong, but you can see why I would think these things. This is EXACTLY how search engines work. They draw conclusions about our websites based on their design and content. Optimising a website is very similar to choosing an appropriate outfit for the day ahead.
2. There is no “one thing” you can do to improve your websites SEO.
This point is often met with disappointment. There is no one single action we can take to improve SEO, just like the example I used in point 1, there isn’t one thing that people do or wear that make us drawn conclusions about them, its a number of things brought together for one common outcome.
3. SEO is relevant to every aspect of your website.
Search engines do not publish the criteria that they add to the algorithm’s that make the decisions about website ranking, this ensures we focus on creating good quality websites and content as opposed to just following the rules of SEO. Therefore you need to consider SEO in every aspect of your site, for example choose fonts that are easy to read, make sure all your links are working and that your contact details are easily accessible, every single thing that makes the quality of your website better improves its reputation in the eyes of a search engine.
4. You must understand clearly what keywords are.
Keywords are the words that we type into search engines when we want to find things. If we want to buy glitter we type “glitter” into a search engine and lots of websites that are selling glitter come up. Glitter is a great keyword to use if you are a glitter manufacturer. Include keywords in the text of your website to tell search engines what your website is about and that will help it suggest you to people who want what you’ve got!
5. You can (and should) research your own keywords.
Because there is a lot of competition for certain keywords its useful to try and find a balance between using popular words, that get a lot of traffic but equally have a lot of competition, and less popular words that get less traffic but therefore have fewer websites using them. My mantra is that nobody knows your business better than you. So, whilst there is value in getting a professional to source keywords for you, if you know your target audience and industry well you are best placed to try and second guess what the people that would find your website useful are typing into a search engine.
To go back to my glitter analogy, you might sell “bio degradable glitter”, “body art glitter”, “metallic glitter” or “holographic glitter”…I imagine at the moment there are 100’s of different types of glitter, someone who actually runs a glitter based business is going to be much better placed to name them all than someone who specialises in SEO, and each one is a relevant keyword.
6. Search engines do not decide the value of keywords, we do.
It’s a common misconception that search engines are the ones who control the value or popularity of keywords. Not true. We do. “The Rolling Stones” is a very popular and therefore valuable key phrase, if you wanted to knock rollingstones.com off the top of the search engine results you would need to go back to 1962 and start your own band with the same name and emulate Mick, Keith, Charlie and [insert guitarist here]’s success. Google hasn’t decided The Stones are popular, we have and we are showing it by typing “The Rolling Stones” into search engines millions of times a day.
7. Don’t repeat yourself.
Original and relevant content. Arguably the most important aspect of SEO and when search engines say “original” they really mean it. Search engines are bored easily and if they see the same thing twice or more they stop considering it to be relevant. If you write a guest blog for another site do not publish it on your’s, or if you need to write a bio about yourself to add to an online network write a new one, don’t copy and paste the one you have onto your own website, these are both big SEO black marks.
8. Some rules of SEO contradict each other.
The perfect website in terms of SEO doesn’t exist. One example of this is “keyword stuffing”. This is when we use too many keywords on a site or page. As a rule, using a keyword more than 3 or 4 times on an average web page is best avoided. However, when you consider that you need to use keywords in image titles, links and text and these words need to relate to each other it can become tricky to get the balance right and some of the things you might do to create balance may cause other SEO problems. This is just something we have to live with.
9. Build links.
SEO is somewhat a popularity contest and websites that are shared on other sites do well, it’s almost like a thumbs up to a search engine that if your site has been featured by another its “ok”. Get digitally social and share your website and feature others on yours.
10. Share your knowledge.
Blogging is great. Rumours that the internet is “full” or nobody will be interested in the knowledge you have to share in untrue. If your website has a lot of useful and original information (remember, we are all different so original can simply mean your opinion or experience of a very popular subject) people will want to see it so search engines will want to show it to them.
I hope the information I have shared here is helpful!
Jo Hamlyn is a web designer, web developer and SEO specialist based in West London.
First, a word of warning: blogging is hard work. You won’t become the most successful blogger overnight, it takes time and commitment … and a pinch of trial and error.
I’ve written a bunch of blogs in my time, some more successful than others, and while I can’t promise that you’ll write that perfect blog every time (writers’ block is real, y’all), I can share 10 things I’ve learned over the years, to give you a head start.
Plan your topic
Coming up with a broad topic is easy, what’s hard is honing it down to something specific. Consider the difference between “The most amazing interior design ever” and “The top 5 most beautiful cafes in London”. Fine tuning your topic will help you focus your thoughts, which will in turn focus your writing.
Do your research
There is more than one type of research to do though. Partly, the content – especially if you’re writing about something particularly theoretical. But also: looking into what’s been done before. Unless you’re onto some sort of goldmine, chances are, your topic has been covered before. Think about what you bring to the table. What will make your blog different?
Consider your audience
It’s all well and good writing about something you’re interested in, but will your readers care? Once you’ve got your topic, think about who you’re speaking to – CEOs of construction companies? Recruitment consultants? Graduates? Parents? Each of these groups will care about different topics, and they’re want a specific tone of voice too. There’s nothing worse than putting the work into a blog, only to miss the mark by being too corporate or too friendly.
Plan your content
I can’t stress this enough. Whether it’s on the back of a napkin, on a whiteboard, directly in your Word document, jot down the main points. It’s easy to forget to mention something once you start writing. Your outline will make sure you’ll always come back to it.
Just start writing
This works for me once I’ve covered the what and for who. You’re ready, that blog is in there somewhere. Jump in between sections if you need to, go back, go forward, get it all down. Cut and paste is your friend. The time to edit will come later.
End with a bang
Don’t just stop writing. In fact, don’t tie your topic into a neat little bow. Give the reader something to think about, ask a question, end on a teaser, provide related reading. As part of your planning, stop to consider this key question: what’s next? What is it that you want the reader to do, once they’re finished reading? That, ladies and gents, is your call to action.
Edit: Is less more?
Not always. Some topics (and their audiences) warrant a blog post of 300 words, some of 2,500. If the point is just a quick update on something I’m working on, I won’t need to fill up 2,500 words. Indeed, I probably can’t (and so shouldn’t). Conversely, if I’m writing about how best to prepare for a grad fair, I’ll probably need to cover more ground. Hence, more words.
Regardless of the length, please go back and edit. While writing, every idea will seem like the MOST important. It rarely is.
Don’t forget your title
I too start my writing with a working title but that isn’t necessarily what the blog should be sent into the world with. A blog’s title will be the first thing a potential reader sees (in fact 60% won’t read past it). The title will need to give a good idea of the topic, but also grab the readers’ attention (research says you’ve got 8 seconds) and convince them to click through to what you’ve just spent a few days (or weeks) writing.
I often jot down several ideas before I settle on the final one, don’t be afraid of options or trying things out.
Visualise your points, where possible
We all take information in differently and we retain it differently too. Using relevant images, infographics, graphs, and videos will break up your text into manageable chunks and provide something to remember.
Plus, the right image will make your article stand out on social media, hopefully making its potential reader stop that mindless scrolling just long enough to read the title … and you’ve got them.
Set it free
This will take testing.
You’ll know (generally) when your audience is likely to be in the right frame of mind to read what you’ve written. Your most successful day of the week and time of day will also depend on how you are attempting to reach your audience. Each social media platform has a life of its own and should be treated as such. No need to share the blog across all platforms at the same time (or at all, depending on the topic) nor to share it just once (#throwbackthursday am I right?).
And so, I know I haven’t quite answered all your questions. I’ve focused on the actual writing part, but I’ve just skimmed the surface of how the blog could (and should) look, getting it out to its potential readers and I haven’t even touched on things like keyword research or meta descriptions. That, my friends, will have to wait till next time.
Maggie Majstrova has over 10 years’ experience in general marketing, having originally started in a full-service marketing agency. For the last few years, Maggie has been working as a freelance copywriter with several clients on web, social media and general marketing content. Clients include companies in construction, interior design, recruitment and jewelry design
I’m going to open this post by talking about what branding is. When I mention that I work on branding for businesses, I’m most commonly met with the reaction that I must be a graphic designer since a lot of people equate a brand with a logo. I’m not a graphic designer (although I do sometimes help clients with the visual aspects of their branding).
Branding today is about every way that you present your business to the world – so whilst that incorporates your logo, it’s not only that. It’s the way in which you set out not only what your business does, but also how and why it does it.
Very few businesses are entirely unique in their fields, but the best brands tell a compelling, authentic and unique story, which enables them to stand apart from their competitors and make emotional connections with their audiences.
Sounds good, doesn’t it? So why then, do so many businesses overlook the branding process? I’m going to share the two most common reasons with you so you can steer clear of the same traps and get a head start for your business.
1. Lack of understanding
Branding is often misconstrued as a visual gloss to add on at the end of the launch process for new businesses; so a nice logo or pretty colour palette. But what about the brand story?
Let’s consider for a moment you’re planning to launch a new luxury clothing business. You’ve set up the production process, sourced the finest fabrics and most renowned designers and makers. You’ve invested in an all-singing website and set up your social media channels. Launch day is approaching and both energy levels and budgets are starting to run low. You remember that someone mentioned the importance of branding but you think, “I’ll get to that once the launch is out of the way.”
Launch day arrives but you realise you’re struggling to articulate everything you wanted to get across about the dream business you envisioned some months or years ago. You’re putting information out but it’s failing to hit the spot and the people you wanted to reach are not moved to buy. You look around and see your competitors doing a better job but you just can’t explain why.
The missing piece of the puzzle is branding. Your lack of understanding of its importance meant it fell out of the process at a crucial time instead of underpinning your launch.
A well-crafted brand story is based upon the very foundations of your business, its vision, mission and values. This is what makes it both unique and authentic; a story that sticks and resonates with people rather than one that falls flat and feels like a tall tale.
As such, work on your brand story should be started when the business starts to be built. Richard Branson once said “Don’t wait till you are big before you begin building your brand. Build a brand from scratch alongside your business.” Love him or loathe him, he’s done OK.
2. Lack of investment
Let’s go back to the luxury clothing business. You’ve imagined the idea, visualised the designs and worked tirelessly to put all the elements of the business into place. You know you want your products to sell at a premium price point. Are you going to choose the cheapest fabrics to make them to save as much money as possible? I would assume not, since you want your clothes to make the right lasting impression and your business to have a good reputation.
Not investing in your branding will impact your business just as much as not investing in the right materials for your products. When you fail to invest in the aspect of your business that everyone sees and interacts with, you send a subliminal message about a lack of conviction in your own business.
When it comes to crafting a brand message for your business, the upside of investing in this is that the business you’ve created will be supported by a solid and impactful story that can be told and built on for years to come. It will give your business a professional look and feel that will lead your customers or clients to see you as trustworthy and investable.
Branding is the difference between following the crowd and leading the way. It’s the difference between being the top of your game and being an also-ran. It’s as vital a part of launching a business as the products or services you sell.
Scrimp on this vital element and what you create will always struggle to hit the spot, for you and your audience. You’ll either find yourself settling for a business that struggles to reach its full potential or you’ll realise at some point that you need to go back to the drawing board and do the job properly.
We all know the old adage, ‘do it cheap, do it twice’. Don’t let it catch you out when it comes to branding your business.
Lidia Rumley is a brand consultant and the founder of Light Switch Brand Identity, helping businesses to get ‘PR-ready’ with great brand stories.
Despite setting up a consultancy to grow businesses through PR, I don’t believe it’s always necessary for a new business to hire a PR firm. If funds are tight, or if you’re willing to develop your own skillset, then there are some very good reasons why you shouldn’t hire a PR firm. Here are my 5 top tips to PR your brand yourself…
1. Use social media to your advantage
When I started working in PR it was my job to post out press releases. These days, brands can tell their own story through social media. This may sound obvious, but the person who can tell your story best is you. Your voice and love for what you do will come across on social media better than any PR selling-in. Capitalise on that.
A lot of journalists use Twitter to find spokespeople. Using #journorequest is a great – free – way for them to publicize this, and being recognized in case studies, as an expert and spokesperson, is a great way for you to publicize your business.
To make the most of a platform like Twitter, I’d encourage you to build a list of 10-15 journalists who write about your industry and competitors, and start building relationships with them. Check what they are talking about on a regular basis, share relevant articles and engage with them. Building these relationships is important for awareness of yourself and your business, and is a helpful mechanic that can lead to press coverage.
2. The personal approach is best
Some PR agencies (but not all, I must stress!) have a scatter gun approach to gaining coverage. I don’t agree with this practice. What use is a killer press release if you then download a media list from a journalist database and punt it out far and wide, to anyone and everyone? This strategy won’t do you or your brand any good, and you’re better off studying a few key titles that you want to be in and directly approaching the right person with a tailored and relevant pitch email. A number of our press contacts say that if an email doesn’t have their name in the subject line then they delete it immediately, with others sometimes blocking PRs that repeatedly send them spam press releases. And I’ll let you in on one of the challenges that PRs face every day: many journalists actually prefer dealing with clients directly so take advantage of that.
3. Give your Comment and opinion
This is a piece of content (much like this post), in which you act as a guest author and share your expertise. Comment and opinion pieces give you a chance to tell your story, which by proxy raises your business profile. As I mentioned before, a PR agency isn’t always going to be able to write in your tone of voice, and equally will need your sign off on everything before it can go out. If time and money are an issue for you, then start off by commenting on industry articles. Keep track of who is looking after the opinion columns in print or on the websites you would like to be featured, and spend time working on an individual pitch with suggestions of topics you want to talk about.
There are a whole host of networking events and talks available that give access to industry-specific media and details on how best to pitch to them. These events are also great for insight into wider industry issues. In larger cities, the price of a ticket won’t break the bank and the experience will be a lot more fruitful (and cheaper) than inviting a journalist out for coffee or lunch – which in this media climate is pretty difficult anyway, because it’s a challenge for anyone to find the time.
5. Book some training or hire a consultant
Seek out recommendations on Twitter or LinkedIn for PR consultants in your field. Any PR worth their salt will be able to advise you on how to service your business and, if you decide you need it, they’ll also be able to recommend freelance support, training sessions or handover to a bigger agency. Sometimes I meet people with the best business proposition who just can’t afford a retained consultancy. In these cases, at The Wern we offer training packages, review press materials and provide recommendations of relevant media with best practice of how to contact them setting you up with the tools and knowledge to be your own PR.
Lucy Werner is founder of The Wern, a communications consultancy for small businesses and entrepreneurs. She has over 12 years experience working in Public Relations, both in house and agencies. Her first book “Hype yourself: a no-nonsense DIY PR toolkit for small businesses” will be launching January 2020