A couple of years back I worked for a digital marketing agency. And when you’re in that world, you get to know about other agencies and how they work.
I like to think that I worked with an honest bunch of folk -- the sales team certainly took an honest approach to sales. But there were occasions when I had a hard time justifying charging clients for things that they could easily do themselves.
In other agencies, though, selling businesses owners things they didn’t need was rife.
They'd do it with jargon -- bamboozling folk that didn’t know any better with bullshit industry terms that sound important….
“Yes, but Sir, by optimising your metadata you’ll improve your SEO, and it’s a metric that will go a long way to towards helping you meet those KPIs.”
“... I don’t even know what that means.”
“Great. That’ll be £500 then. You know it makes sense."
I had a friend that would brag about it. It drove me nuts. But then I never worked in sales, so I suppose I couldn’t relate to the importance of commission.
Web design / development, content marketing, long-term technical SEO and social media management services, fine. There’s a level of expertise required in each of those worth paying for. Metadata, ALT tags and URL structure, though? Nah.
If you have a website, you’ll might answer the phone to an agency salesperson at some point. If they try schmooze you with industry speak related to any of the SEO services listed below, chuck the phone out of the window. Well, maybe don’t go that far, but hangup without saying bye.
Page titles and meta descriptions
Page titles and meta descriptions are the links you see when you search for something in a search engine.
Both are taken into account as ranking factors, which means Google and Bing look at them when deciding where a site should be placed in search results.
Search engines like titles and descriptions to be optimised to display the text without truncating it.
The optimal length for a title is 50-60 characters. 70 characters is the absolute maximum. Titles are actually measured in pixels, where anything over 600 pixels is cut off. It’s much easier to work in characters, though.
The optimal length for a description is 156 characters.
Make sure every page on your site has an optimised title and description that includes your keywords and business name. For example, if you run a photography business, the metadata for a services page might look something like this:
That example was created with SEO mofo’s free snippet optimizer. Use it to fine-tune your titles and descriptions.
While we’re talking about metadata, pay no attention to meta tags (not to be confused with the tags you use on blogs) . These aren’t relevant anymore.
Simple URL structure
A simple, easy to understand URL will help to improve SEO. By simple, I mean something that’s gives a clear idea of what the page is about.
Is a lot more pleasing on the eye than:
Dynamic URLs, which are generated when a user enters a search query on a website, are also ugly:
Create custom URLs that look like the first example. Make them readable to humans first and foremost. Search engines love that. Get your keywords in there too.
If you run an ecommerce site with a large number of products, you might be better off leaving dynamic URLs alone. But for typical navigation pages like Home, About, Services, Contact and the like, make sure they're easy to read.
Squarespace creates user-friendly URLs by default, so you’ve no worries there.
Image ALT tags
An image ALT (Alternative Text) tag is simply the description of an image. Search engines rely on them to properly index images.
If a search query matches your ALT tag in any way, your image will show up in image search results. It requires very little effort and gives people another way to find your site.
Also, users with visual impairment using screen reading software will use tags to better understand an image.
Here’s the first image that came up when I searched for ‘ham and pineapple pizza’
And here’s the ALT text (in the red rectangle):
The ALT text matched my search term exactly. Notice how the in the black rectangle the image JPG name includes keywords too. Keep that in mind when saving images to your desktop. Include keywords!
A few tips when creating an ALT tags:
Be as descriptive as possible
Use keywords, but don’t shoehorn them in
Keep the description concise
Don’t use the words ‘image’ or ‘picture’. That’s already known
All images can be ALT-tagged. That includes logos and buttons
When creating images for your blog, give them a keyword-friendly name. When uploading them to your CMS, just say what you see (Catchphrase style) for the ALT text!
Google My Business Listing
A Google My Business listing lets you manage how your business appears across Google Search and Maps. It gives potential customers more information about your business, like reviews, opening hours, busiest times, and contact details.
Everything features in dedicated section to the right of search results.
A My Business listing is a great thing to have, and something you can easily do yourself. It’s no more difficult than signing up for a Google account.
Just go to: https://www.google.com/business/ and enter your business details. Google will walk you through the rest.
A lot of the keywords you should be targeting will be obvious to you. They'll be related to your business and location.
With a little keyword research, however, you can dig deeper and find words that you didn’t think of.
If you’re hiring a writer to take care of your content, a clear idea of what keywords you want to focus on will help them produce targeted text. If you’re taking care of your own content, a bit of keyword research will help SEO massively.
Don’t let anyone tell you keyword research is a hugely complex task. The best tools are free to use:
Ideally, you should stay away from keywords being targeted by larger competitors. Their marketing budgets and online coverage make it too much of an uphill battle for you to compete.
Instead, use these tools to enter your keywords (business niche, services, location, etc.) and find longer or less competitive words to target.
Here's a useful guide to keyword research by HubSpot:
How to Do Keyword Research for SEO: A Beginner's Guide
A sitemap is a plain or HTML list of all the pages on your site. It’s there for users to visit and quickly find the page they’re looking for. Every CMS that I’ve ever used will create one of these for you as pages are added.
An XML sitemap is coded up version of a sitemap (similar to HTML) that is used to make it easier for search engines to crawl sites and index pages. Some CMS platforms will create these automatically (Squarespace does), but others won't.
If the job was to code up an XML sitemap from scratch I’d say, forget that, hire someone immediately. But it’s not. There are tools that do it for you, for free.
XML Sitemaps is the best one I’ve found.
All you need to do is enter your URL, configure a couple of settings (the default settings will most likely do) and hit ‘Start’. An XML sitemap of your first 500 pages will be created like magic.
You then need to download the file and upload it to the root directory of your website. The best way to do this is by using an FTP client like FileZilla (also free). Here’s how:
Go to your hosting provider and login to your cPanel. Go to your FTP server settings and get the FTP login details.
Use these details to enter the Host, Username, Password and Port in FileZilla and connect to your root directory.
Locate the root directory (for WordPress users this is the folder that contains wp-content and wp-config.php).
Paste in your XML sitemap.
Go to your Google Webmaster Tools account (you can create a free account using your Gmail account), select your website followed by Crawl > Sitemaps > Add/Test Sitemap.
Enter the sitemap filename (sitemap.xml) and click ‘Submit Sitemap’.
Run a sitemap test to make sure everything is okay.
If all that sounds a bit complicated, it really isn’t. Here’s a video that walks you through each step:
Notice the URL on this site.
I use SquareSpace who provide HTTPS as standard, so I’ve nothing to worry about. However, you can pick up an SSL certificate from your domain provider for about £30 ($40) a year. And you don’t need an agency to install it. Your host will take care of everything.
If you ever get a phone call from an agency offering you something you're unsure of, give me a shout and I’ll let you know whether it’s worth parting with your cash.