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If you have a website for your freelance training business, then it’s worth regularly devoting some time to search engine optimisation to ensure that your website ranks as highly as possible on search engine results pages (SERPs).
You may already be familiar with the principles of SEO, but I know many freelance trainers find it baffling. What does it mean? What do you need to do? What does Google view as good SEO practice and what does it view as bad? How can you get organic (free) traffic via Google without paying for advertising?
In this week’s blog, I thought it would be helpful to outline the basics. I’ve also included a handy checklist at the end of the blog.
What is search engine optimisation (SEO)?
When we talk about search engine optimisation – or SEO – we mean any activity that attempts to improve the search engine rankings of the pages of your website. In other words, when people carry out a search, it’s the steps you take to appear as high up the listings as possible, preferably on page one of Google.
SEO isn’t just about the content of your website. There are estimated to be about 200 different signals that Google looks at to decide where your web pages will rank in searches. None of the search engines have released a definitive list of what webmasters should or shouldn’t do to achieve the perfect SEO, which means that the advice that’s available is based on testing, patents, data and anecdotal evidence.
On-page elements such as your headings, sub headings, copy, text in bold, bullet points, and images may all affect your rankings. Off-page elements such as blogging, inbound links from high authority websites, social bookmarking and positive reviews will affect your rankings too.
In addition, the search engines look at how visitors behave when they come to your website.
- How long do they stay on the site? This is known as ‘dwell time’.
- Do they leave your website from the page on which they entered, without looking any deeper into the site? This is your website’s ‘bounce rate’.
- How many pages do they look at?
- Are they new or return visitors?
If you offer a client-focused website that keeps people engaged and on the site for a long time, reading through multiple pages, then the search engines will take these behaviours as signals that the website is of a high quality and relevant to particular searches. This is great news for your rankings as Google and the other main search engines are committed to giving searchers the most relevant and high-quality results possible in SERPs.
Why organic web traffic matters
When you perform a search in Google, the top results on the screen are paid-for advertising using Google AdWords. While there are many reasons to use Google Advertising, it’s worth noting that many searchers prefer to click on the top organic (not paid for) listing because they know that the result is based on the content, not how much the advertiser has paid to make their company visible on page one.
Securing a spot on page one of Google will significantly increase the traffic that comes into your website. And the good news is that, unless you decide to pay an SEO specialist to maintain your site, that traffic is free.
The SEO basics
I’ve put together a checklist that should help you boost your website’s visibility in organic searches and follow best practice to avoid penalties from Google.
Unique, high quality, and relevant content
In my experience, this is the number one thing you can do to help your search engine optimisation. As discussed above, Google wants to provide search results that will best answer searchers’ queries. Once you understand your target market, you can write content that’s aimed specifically at their needs. The more relevant, useful and engaging you can make your content, the longer people will stay on your website and the more pages they’re likely to view. As we’ve seen, these are positive ranking signals.
Recent research shows that long copy, particularly in the case of blogs, is better for SEO than short copy. In this article, for example, I have been able to provide much more usable information than I could in a short 300-word article (seen by Google as ‘thin content’). That being said, Google won’t reward long content if it’s not relevant to the reader. The key is to use as many words as feels natural to get your point across.
Focus keyword or phrase
Each page on your website should have a single focus keyword or phrase. In other words, what would people be searching for to get to that page? What would be the one thing they want to know? Try to use a unique keyword or phrase for each page. For example, if you run in-company management training courses, you might a page dedicated to ‘Leadership Skills’ and another page dedicated to ‘Performance Management’.
Long-tail keyword phrases are search phrases that use several different keywords to be very specific about what the searcher is looking for. For example, a search for ‘marketing advice’ (374 million listings!) would bring up very different results to a search for ‘marketing advice for freelance training business’ (1.25 million listings).
If you can incorporate long-tail phrases in your copy, you may find that although the quantity of your website traffic drops, the quality of the traffic increases. This is because you will bring people to your website who are specifically looking for your offering.
Title tag (55 characters max.)
The title tag is the first line of text that you see in each listing on Google (see the section circled in red below). You can also see the title tag of a web page by hovering your mouse pointer on the grey page tab above the search bar when you’re viewing a website.
Ideally, your title tag should be between six to nine words, and include the focus keyword or phrase for that particular page near the beginning. Aim for a maximum of 55 characters (yes, I know my Home page tag needs shortening!)
Meta description/Description tag (150-160 characters maximum)
The meta description for a web page is the short piece of copy that you see in SERPs that describes the content of the page (see the text circled in blue above). This text needs to be compelling, a call to action that invites people to click through to the web page. It should also accurately convey what people will find on the page when they visit it. This is potentially the first piece of copy that a new client will read about your business, so it’s worth spending some time on your message. Try to keep to 150-160 character max. to avoid the meta description being cut off in searches.
Headings help to show at a glance what a web page is about. Research shows that most of us look at the top left-hand side of a web page first – usually where the heading sits – so your main headline should clearly tell people what the page is about. Sub-headings can also help to break up the copy and let people skim read the content.
Google needs some help to differentiate headings from the rest of your copy – this comes in the form of heading tags, which essentially tell the search engines whether they’re looking at the main heading (<H1> tag), main subheading (<H2> tag) or subsequent sub-headings (<H3>, <H4> and <H5> tags, and so on).
Ideally, your <H1> heading should contain your focus keyword or phrase for that page. It is helpful for it to appear in at least one other subheading too.
Alt tags are short descriptions of images that are visible to search engines but not human visitors. Alt tags serve two key purposes. They help Google to understand that it’s looking at an image and why the image is there, but they are also important for visually impaired website visitors who may be using a screen reader to access your website.
Done properly, an alt tag should contain a short, relevant description of an image, and include the main focus keyword, if appropriate.
If you can, you should aim to create a short, relevant URL for each page of your website. The best URLs contain the focus keyword or phrase, or accurately reflect the content of a web page so that people could make an educated guess about the web address and end up on the right page. For example, www.yourwebaddress.co.uk/leadership-skills would be better than www.yourwebaddress.co.uk/training/management-courses/?page_id=21
If you do have several words in your URL, which is common with blog posts, you should use a hyphen (-) as the word separator rather than an underscore (_).
Mobile-friendly, responsive design
As searches on mobile devices now outstrip desktop and laptop searches in Google, the search engine prioritises mobile-friendly websites on SERPs. Therefore, if your website isn’t mobile friendly, it could impact negatively on your rankings and traffic.
You should have one website that uses a responsive design so that it adapts and provides a good viewing experience on any device. Alternatively, you could explore having a mobile version of your website, although this will mean that you have two websites to maintain.
By featuring clear navigation on your website and having a well thought-out web structure, you can help visitors find the information they need quickly and easily. This will encourage them to spend time on your website and read connected information, as well as giving them a positive user experience – all positive signals to Google.
One way that you can help your website visitors to find the information they want is to include links in your copy to related articles you’ve written or to external resources and sources of information. At the bottom of my blog articles, you’ll notice a section called ‘Related posts’ where visitors can find out more about the topic that brought them to the website. In fact, why not check out the articles at the bottom of this page?
Fix broken links
If you do already use internal links on your website, when was the last time that you checked they were working? Broken links can be frustrating for visitors, so it’s worth doing some regular housekeeping to check that all your links are working.
There’s a free extension for Google Chrome called Check My Links that can help you find internal links that need fixing.
No duplicate copy
Search engines frown on text that is either duplicated across your website or copied from another website.
A common issue with WordPress websites is that several different URLs can take visitors to the same page, depending on whether they’re coming to the page via its main URL, a category, author, date or tag. If you do have multiple URLs to a single page, you should add what’s known as the canonical tag to the main URL to tell Google that this is the one you want it to index. Moz has a handy guide to canonical tags if you would like to know more.
High-quality inbound links
Many SEO experts believe that attracting high-quality links to your website from another website is the single most important off-page thing you can do to boost your search engine optimisation.
It used to be that people attempted to game the link building system by buying backlinks or dropping links to their website in forums, at the bottom of blog comments, and in low-quality directories. Another tactic was to write multiple low-quality guest blogs or post the same blog to multiple blogging sites.
Google’s various algorithms have clamped down on these tactics over the years. These days, your linking building strategy needs to focus on attracting links from people and websites that have a good reputation. In Google’s eyes, a link to your site from an industry authority or key influencer acts like a vote of confidence in your content.
Check out Search Engine Journal’s guide to link building for ideas about effective, best practice strategies.
Get active on social media
Although Google representatives have said that the search engine doesn’t directly use social media data to rank web pages, being active on social media can still have a positive impact on your organic website traffic. Why?
- Social media gives people a platform to share the content from you that they love – this will attract referral traffic and backlinks to your website
- You can grow your number of followers and brand ambassadors, again attracting more referral traffic to your website and growing your authority and reputation
- Google will list your social media profiles in SERPs (if it’s relevant to a search), giving you a way of appearing several times in response to the same search – if people see that you not only have a regularly updated website but are active on social media, it gives a subtle message that you are established and know how to market your business
- Social media platforms are search engines too – new clients may find you through a social media search rather than through Google
Track your data using Google Analytics and Google Search Console
To determine whether your SEO efforts are paying off, set up both Google Analytics and Google Search Console for your website. These free tools provide a wealth of data about your website visitors, how they search and how they behave when they’re on your website.
After implementing some or all of the suggestions in this checklist, look out for whether your traffic goes up, your bounce rate goes down, or more people spend longer on your website. These are all signs that your efforts are working.
Let me know how you get on
When was the last time you reviewed your SEO? How important do you think SEO is to your business? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the Comments section below or over on The Trainers Training Company Facebook page. If you make any of the changes suggested on this checklist, why not leave a comment to let me know how you get on?
If you’ve found this checklist helpful, it would be great if you could pass it on to your network using the social share buttons below. It only takes a second but it means a lot.