Everyone wants their website to be the top of the search results for the keywords and questions that their customers are searching for. Here’s the real, boring facts on how to improve your website’s SEO.
Search engines aren’t like the yellow pages– you can’t just put your money down and get the top spot. There’s no magic words or code you can add to your website to instantly push your website to #1.
It’s true that there’s plenty of shady experts and agencies selling SEO (search engine optimization) services and claiming that they can guarantee your website is #1 on Google.
But no one can guarantee a #1 ranking, and you should definitely stay away from “experts” who claim they can. That said, there’s still a ton you can do to ensure your website will be a strong competitor and get the SEO results you want.
These aren’t the “hidden secrets” that SEO gurus are selling for hundreds or thousands of dollars in their books and online courses. These aren’t the $5 bandaids being hawked on gig websites to instantly push your website to the top.
At the end of the day, the only way to improve your website’s SEO is to do the work. You can do it, or you can hire someone else to do it, but either way it’s gotta be done.
So in order, here are the seven important things to do to improve your website’s SEO and get real results.
1. Follow best practices.
Google wants the best, most relevant results for every query that gets searched. So work with them to make that your website. Google’s recommendations are not a secret– they provide a ton of guidelines.
If you had an informed, thoughtful user sit down with your website and tell you exactly what they expect and what they find helpful in order to become a customer, you’d probably listen. In fact, Google is that user.
A site built according to Google’s expectations will be easy to understand for Google’s army of bots which search the internet for relevant results.
To find out how your website compares to best practices, I use a variety of tools like Lighthouse, which analyzes your overall page quality and returns score on things like performance, technical SEO, best practices, and accessibility. I relentlessly prioritize these factors in your website, so you can be assured that when Google measures your site, it will be in excellent shape in all these areas.
2. Imitate the competition
Please note, this doesn’t mean copying their content, design, or their exact marketing strategy!
With that said, the easiest way to outrank a competitor is to analyze what they’re doing right and do it better.
So write down the following questions and research the answers methodically:
Who are your main competitors? What kinds of content do they post on their website? What social media are they on, and how often do they post? How many reviews do they have, and how highly do customers rank them on average?
When you find answers for these questions, you might find that you need to add more content, get (and respond to!) more customer reviews, improve your content, or better learn where your customers are searching for your services online.
4. Optimize for the user
Your content shouldn’t sound as if it’s optimized for robots. Don’t be tempted to stuff your keywords into every sentence or paragraph. Yes, you need to use important keywords in your content (see #5 below), but that will come naturally when you research how customers are talking about your products/services online. Your content should be primarily be aimed at benefiting the real human beings who read it.
One way you can do this is by thinking about the commonly asked questions that people have about your services or products. What is the problem that they are typically having when they begin to search for your services or products? Your website should describe that situation and reassure them that you understand it, and have a solution!
Writing your website’s copy with the customer in mind can be much, much more persuasive than simply regurgitating keywords. So make sure that your website’s content reflects the language that people are actually searching for.
Rather than just talking about your product or service the way you would to someone in the business, you may need to research how customers are actually talking about your products or services.
You can do this by reading reviews of the competition, doing keyword research, and listening carefully (and making notes!) when you speak to customers in person, email, or on the phone.
Another way to cater to your potential customers is to think about the competition. What is the number one competitor to your product or service? I don’t necessarily mean another business– competition could be something else, like DIY. For example, the number one competitor to a pool service business might not be the other pool service guy who does it cheaper– it might be homeowners cleaning their own pools!
Imagine two pool service companies. One has a one-page website with a simple list of their services and contact information. The other has their services and contact info as well, PLUS a blog where they regularly answer common questions like “Is it worth it to pay for pool service?”
Now imagine a potential customer searches for “is pool service worth it?”– which website do you think Google will rank higher?
Not only will that customer probably click on the website that answers their question vs. the one that only lists their services, they will probably stay longer and visit other pages on your website. That will improve your SEO even more. Google will evaluate this behavior and may decide that your website should show up for MORE related queries based on that successful response.
5. Optimize for the search engine.
I know I just said your content should be optimized for the human user, and that’s true. At the same time, we do need to consider how your content is understood by search engines like Google.
Google’s algorithm is good and gets better all the time. But it’s not perfect, and it’s not human. So you need to make sure that what’s obvious to you is obvious to a robot, too. Mostly, this happens behind the scenes in your website’s code, which takes a bit of technical know-how to optimize (but there are tools to help non-coders).
But your content needs attention, too.
Here’s a pitfall to watch out for. Often, the first and only step a business owner takes to work on their SEO is to search their ideal keywords and visit the websites in the top results.
So say you search your ideal keywords– “HVAC repair Anytown, AZ”. You find the top results are directories and aggregators– they’re not local and they are just selling paid access to their website to the actual, local businesses that you compete with. That’s fine– let’s ignore them for now.
The first “real” result is the actual competition, another HVAC company in town. They’re who you were really wondering about. And here they are, in the top coveted search results for the keyword that you want to rank for.
So let’s click on that and see what we find. Here’s what you might notice:
- Their website is ugly, and doesn’t work well on mobile.
- Their copy is fairly short, and they don’t have a blog (or they haven’t updated their blog in like 5 years).
- Every page is stuffed with keywords and sounds like it was written by a robot whose first language isn’t English.
“Aha,” you might say. “So this whole ‘write-for-the-user’ thing is bogus. Clearly keyword-stuffing low quality content really does work best.”
If that’s your takeaway, you’ve learned the wrong lesson. (But I completely get it, and I’ve been there in the past before I learned this stuff.)
If you were to imitate this competitor and write copy that stuffs keywords into poorly-written copy and an ugly website, you’d be taking the long way and playing catch-up forever.
The reality is, there’s a million signals that Google is listening to besides those stuffed keywords that could be filtering this competitor to the top.
- They might be a long-established player (Google weighs content that’s been around for years as more authoritative.)
- They might be new to the game (Google likes to shake things up with newer content, too.)
- They might have an amazing link-building strategy propping up their terrible website.
- The local competition for that keyword might be very low, so it’s easy to rank even inferior content.
So don’t play catch-up. Do an end-run, by writing better content that’s optimized for users and search engines.
But the real key is writing the right content, aimed at ranking for the queries that people are actually searching. And that requires research and planning.
I offer keyword research and SEO optimization using industry-leading tools like A Hrefs, which is a suite of software available by subscription aimed at marketing pros. This is available as an add-on to my monthly website care plan.
6. Measure health and performance.
Your website needs to be in great shape to serve your business well. That means that it should be free of any technical errors, like broken links, missing images, or pages that are hard to use on mobile devices.
It should also load quickly for everyone, including those on mobile networks and on devices like tablets, phones, or even smart watches.
I am obsessed with improving performance and making sure every website I build uses best practices to be accessible to all– so your website will be shipshape when Google comes a-callin’.
7. Rinse and repeat
Lastly, it’s important to realize that SEO is not a one-and-done service. It’s a process that needs to be continued throughout the life of your website. So if you subscribe to a website care plan, know that I will be there to help you improve your website by adding content, helping you strategize your content, and making sure your website is up-to-date and working well for your business.
Follow all these steps and don’t give up– your website can be climbing up the search engine results ranking sooner than you might think!
Boring SEO– a very good summary of SEO methods that actually work. Credit goes to this website for articulating the idea that real SEO is boring. (Link goes to an archive as the original has been redirected to an ad.)
Beginner’s Guide to Small Business SEO– a longer article featuring an audit of a small business website and giving steps to improve your own site.
Google’s own SEO Starter Guide. It’s pretty dense and aimed at those with some knowledge of code, but even skimming the “do this… don’t do this” tips can be helpful.