This article has been contributed by Tom Welbourne.
There are 5 guidelines that are ‘must-dos’ for startups in order to improve your startup’s SEO and gain higher rankings on search engines. As a marketing agency in London, we know how important SEO is for small businesses. From gathering data on target audiences to increasing visibility to those audiences – resulting in higher traffic and conversions – knowing the best ways to improve your startup’s SEO can result in traction, awareness and success.
1. Meta descriptions
Meta descriptions are short descriptions that appear on search engine results pages (SERPs) for each webpage that ranks successfully. They appear in grey or black text immediately below the blue or purple H1 heading.
Meta descriptions not only explain to your customers what your startup is offering, they are also how search engines understand how to categorise your website.
It is important to have a meta description that is no longer than 130 – 150 characters, as this is the visible character limit on the most-used search engines.
While it has been suggested that having a meta description does not directly improve a webpage’s search engine ranking, having succinct and relevant descriptions for your pages does improve click-through rates (CTRs). This signals to search engines that the information is useful to your readers, which does place those pages at an advantage when it comes to rankings.
Optimising your meta description to be relevant to your target keywords (something we will cover later in our look at ‘Content SEO’) may mean that the relevance of your website to those keywords is higher than some of your competitors.
MOZ, one of the best online SEO tools, recommends that meta descriptions read intelligently. In other words, there should be no ‘keyword stuffing’, where the sentence does not flow naturally because of the number and nature of keywords.
Remember, Google especially uses latent semantic indexing (LSI) to determine rankings. This means that for on-page copy as well as meta data, search engines will understand the relevance of sensible, informative text to your target keywords. So, there is now no need to use the non-sensical unnatural keyword stuffing practices that were used in days gone by.
Four best practices for writing meta descriptions are:
a. Write Compelling Copy
While Google announced that meta descriptions do not directly improve rankings, they do still function as the main organic advertising copy for your website. Therefore, crafting copy which makes the searcher want to click on your website is key. This will not only improve the CTR of your site but ultimately encourage more potential customers to engage with your content and buy.
b. Use Keywords
Many search engines, including Google, display words that match your search query in bold within the meta description on the SERP, which is worth noting when creating your tag. Not only does this ensure the relevancy of your site based on a search term queried by a potential customer, but it draws the searchers eye to your website.
c. Avoid Duplicate Content
Duplicating your meta descriptions from one page to the next, firstly, does nothing to make your products, services or website stand out from numerous other competitors on SERPs. Secondly, using duplicate data means that elements of your pages are not unique, and can dilute their ability to rank successfully.
Duplicate content is a disadvantage for your website when it comes to search engine rankings – so it’s worth taking a little time to craft relevant and unique meta descriptions for each of your landing pages.
d. MOZ tip: Don’t Include Double Quotation Marks
If a double quotation mark appears in the HTML of a meta description, search engines like Google will cut off that description at the quotation marks in the results pages. This means your meta description is disjointed and will ultimately not increase your CTR.
On occasion, depending on what your site is targeting, it’s not always crucial to create your own meta description. Instead, search engines will create a description from the sentences on the webpage that are most relevant to the user’s search query.
A guideline, as suggested by MOZ, is that if you’re targeting one to three heavily searched terms or phrases, then you should write your own meta description. But if you’re targeting more specific, long-tail keywords (three or more words) then sometimes it’s best to let search engines create the description. This can sometimes be better than a written meta description, as it is formulated by the search engine to address the user’s query directly.
And seeing as meta descriptions are all about improving CTRs and getting customers to view your website, showing customers material relevant to what they’ve searched for is crucial.
2. Image Alt Text
The easiest way to describe image alt text is that it’s what you’d use to describe the image to someone with impaired vision.
Essentially, alt text allows search engines to understand what an image is about when crawling your website so that they can be indexed correctly. In addition, visually impaired users will be read an alt attribute in order to better understand what an on-page image is about.
Alt tags or alt text will also be displayed in the instance an image cannot be displayed or loaded – which means users will still see the relevance of an image even if it is not displaying.
Creating alt text for your images is crucial to improving the user experience of your page, whether they’re looking for infographics or visual content to make your content more dynamic.
Depending on the query, search engines will also pull up images on the SERP before the organic page results are shown. In this way, using alt text allows searchers to find your website through multiple mediums.
Furthermore, alt text can act as the anchor text for an internal link if the image links to a different page on your startup’s site for further SEO value.
a. Don’t Use Too Many Keywords
As with meta descriptions, using too many keywords in an image’s alt text may not only confuse users, but will also hinder the indexing of the image by search engines.
Too many keywords instead of a detailed description will read in a disjointed way and often not make sense to users for whom the image does not load or those who are visually impaired. Google and other search engines will detect keyword stuffing and not reward the image with a ranking as much as if a sensible description were used.
b. Specifics, Not Just Details
If your image is of a chocolate glazed cupcake, rather than just putting ‘cupcake’ as the alt text, it would read better for both search engines and visually impaired users to read ‘chocolate glazed cupcake topped with chocolate sprinkles’.
If detail is better, specifics are even more so. To rank for your target keyword, search engines will need more specifics when indexing images based on their alt text, depending on the context of the image source. If your blog is about the best chocolate cupcake recipes, then you would want to make sure the search engines properly index your images as being related to the best chocolate cupcakes.
In this sense, context is king. If you’re attempting to optimise your content regarding gluten-free chocolate cupcakes, then including a few keywords regarding this is crucial when it comes to making that your content is being shown to your targeted audience.
Not only this, using relevant keywords in your already detailed alt text means that search engines can associate your images with certain parts of your content.
HubSpot suggests a few best practices when it comes to writing alt text:
- Be specific, and relevant – use context and specific details to ensure your images are indexed properly
- Don’t go over 125 characters – this is the standard length for most alt tags for most screen reading tools
- Don’t use too many keywords – make sure your alt text reads naturally, rather than confusing both users and search engines when trying to understand your image
- Don’t use ‘image of’ – search engines will automatically identify an image as just that off the HTML
- Use keywords sparingly – if your content or article has multiple images, only use keywords in one or two of them
3. Content SEO
Ensuring your content is optimised for search engines is one of the best ways to improve your startup’s search engine rankings.
While your website content might be accurate and what the customer appears to want, if your content is not ranking on SERPs then this becomes irrelevant. Ensuring that your content is optimised is also one of the easiest ways to see an improvement in your organic search rankings and a potential increase in conversions.
Using relevant targeted keywords in your startup’s copy is crucial. This involves keyword research, target market analysis and competitor analysis.
Regarding optimising your content for higher search engine rankings, there are a number of ways this can be done, all of which can dramatically improve your organic rankings.
a. Start Content With Long-Tail Keywords
Co-Founder of NP Digital and recognised entrepreneur Neil Patel recommends starting articles or website content with long-tail keywords relevant to your target keywords and phrases. While starting content with your specific terms is a great way to ensure that searchers know your content is relevant to them, using long-tail keywords means you can target with a lot more insight.
Using a tool like Google Keyword Planner not only gives you exact phrase matches for your keywords but collates commonly-searched phrases that are relevant. This gives you a lot of insight into what people are actually searching for.
b. Create High-Quality Content
Including high-quality content on your website will be your site’s greatest advantage when it comes to Google’s algorithms.
The search engine actively looks for websites that have dense, content-rich pages that are relevant to search queries.
The more valuable your content is to users, the longer they’ll spend on your site – the higher their dwell time. It will also mean that they return to your site more often so traffic and CTR will be higher than if you didn’t focus on the quality of our content.
Dwell time, traffic and CTR are ranking signals for search engines – they signal whether to rank your pages high or low. They are some of the metrics that tell Google’s algorithms that your startup’s website or content is valuable, and so it will show this more widely to other users.
c. Use Targeted Keywords
Once you’ve done your competitor analysis, site audits for any organic keywords that search engines might pick up on and relevant keyword analysis, then it’s time to implement these into your content.
Some SEO tools, like SEMrush, will be able to analyse your on-page optimisation for specified keywords and alert you to any improvements or changes that need to be made to increase your search rankings.
The main point to remember when using keywords is don’t use too many. Overuse leads to content which is unnatural, stilted and reads in a way which will discourage searchers from spending any time on your startup’s website, let alone engaging with your services or products.
But by matching your keywords with searchers’ intent, you can make sure that your content fits that intent. This will bring you closer to your customers, because they see your content when searching with intent to engage in services, or buy, whatever call to action it is that your startup considers a conversion.
4. Proper Use of Heading Tags
The use of headings within your website not only improves the user’s landing page experience but also allows search engines to properly index your startup’s website.
Users’ attention span is limited to the first 10 seconds of landing on your startup’s website – wherein they will decide whether to bounce back to Google or continue on your site. Maximising the time that people spend on your site is integral to improving your sites SEO; therefore organisation is key.
a. H1 Tags
This main heading introduces your page’s content to users and search engines alike. There should be only one heading 1 (H1) tag per page, so that the topic of this content can be easily established.
Your H1 tag should also normally include your main target keyword, to cement the topic of your content and improve the likelihood that your content will be shown to users searching for that particular topic.
Optimising your H1 tag for a long-tail search phrase is often beneficial, then addressing that query straight away within the body text, directly underneath the H1. This drives user interaction with your content if you’re drawing their interest based on their search intent.
b. H2 Tags
These work to break up your content into recognisable main sections, especially if you’re creating long-form content such as blog posts over 1,000 words. Think of them as book chapters, organising your content into defined sections.
c. H3 Tags
These are used as subheadings within your content within each section defined by its H2 tag. Have you noticed that this blog post has done just that? Dividing content into manageable sections per main subject not only means the content itself is easier to read, but it provides more value to users, as it increases their overall experience of your landing pages.
If you’ve ever read through online content and been discouraged by the lack of formatting or headers, then you know the importance of organising your own content.
5. Image SEO
Images are becoming increasingly important to how users search for content online. In 2018, Google held a Future of Search event which named visual search as one of the forefront changes it sees taking place in the future. Ensuring that you optimise your images for search engines is also another relatively easy way to improve your startup’s SEO.
Not only are there AI-powered tools for mobile camera lenses that can analyse the text in a photo and show you lookalikes of items, but Google has incorporated a new interface in its image search.
The new image search includes much more metadata and context around the images. Now, even related search terms pop up in image search.
All this just drives the importance of images within your content, and the right images, and the importance of optimising these images through the use of alt text as we mentioned earlier, as well as the following factors.
a. Choosing Images
Your images should be relevant to your content. Using an image just for the sake of increasing your SEO for one particular piece of content is not going to work.
Images should be related to the text in your content, and ideally placed near to that related text. This is because images with related text will rank higher for the keyword it is optimised for, using alt text that we discussed earlier.
Finding licence-free images can sometimes be difficult, and it’s best to steer clear of stock photos – purely for their often unaesthetic and obviously non-genuine nature. However, Flickr.com and Unsplash offer some aesthetically pleasing, free images perfect for adding an extra level of quality to your content.
Images should also be named accordingly in their file name, much like the optimisation seen in creating alt text. This allows Google to understand the image without even having to look at it. Include your main keywords or phrases in the file name and some brief context.
b. Scaling For Load Speed
Yoast, a popular plugin for WordPress, considers the best way to format and scale your images depending on the type of image, and its intended use:
- JPEG – for larger photos and illustrations as this will ensure good quality colours and clarity with a smaller file size
- PNG – if you want the background to be transparent
- WebP – instead of JPEG or PNG, to produce high-quality images with low file size
Of course, the larger the image, the slower the load speed of the page, which is one of the ranking signals Google uses to rank sites. Therefore, scaling your images so as not to waste searchers’ time and risk them bouncing back to the search engine is important.
Many content management systems (CMS) like WordPress help to automatically size images for SEO.
c. Image Sitemaps
Creating an image sitemap improves search engines’ access to the images on your site, increasing the chance that your images will be shown on image search.
This can be done through an image-sitemap.xml file, which can alert Google to images that may not have been found during crawling, and can deliberately highlight images which you want to be indexed.
Using Google Search Console, you can create these image sitemaps to improve your image SEO.
d. Image Captions
Captions are also an element of SEO that you don’t want to miss. According to a study, captions are read up to 300% more than the body of an article itself. This is crucial when considering how important images are becoming not only to SEO, but to user experience.
When creating captions, write them in a similar format to your headlines, in order to reinforce the message of your content or website.
Use specific keywords for relevance, and an attention-grabbing outcome or promise, to assert that readers have found the right place during their search.
SEO is a critical process for startups, in order to boost awareness, traffic and conversions. Optimising your content using these 5 guidelines will not only significantly improve your startup’s organic search rankings but will increase the professionalism and user experience of your website.
About the author: Tom Welbourne is the founder of The Good Marketer – a Digital Marketing Agency in the heart of London that specialises in helping small business owners with their digital marketing.