Three underrated and badly used SEO techniques
It’s 2014, SEO should have moved on, but these three SEO techniques are still underrated or badly used by companies of all shapes and sizes. Here’s why:
1. Page titles and meta descriptions
The main information that’s displayed in the search results for users. This ‘data-about-data’ is also used by search engines to understand and rank pages.
The page title’s still one of the most important places to put keywords for SEO and consistently ranks highly in SEO ranking studies – but it’s often forgotten that it’s the main text that users see too. The meta description, displayed underneath, describes the page in more detail for users.
In a sense, meta data is like a shop window – albeit one that can be rose tinted.
Why badly used?
Page titles are often used badly, mainly because humans looking at the results are forgotten about for the sake of search engines.
This is either because too many keywords are crammed into page titles to create barely-readable text, overlooking the fact that the page title’s the main call to action for searchers, or because key offers and messages are left to get an extra keyword or two in an already-crowded space.
Length is important too. If the page title’s too long it’ll end up being guillotined by Google to create a sentence that ends abruptly and makes little sense without the missing words. This happens often – page titles that fit are still the exception rather than the norm.
It’s more understood that meta descriptions mainly provide detail for users, not search engines, but they’re also often badly written, too long, vague and forgetful of special offers, or just left out entirely.
What to do:
- Make sure you know your focus keywords
- Select 2 or 3 of the main ones to add to the page title
- Bear in mind longer and more investigative search queries – like questions.
- Add them to the page title…
- In a natural sentence, without too much repetition
- Try to keep to 60 characters max
- Remember to include key special offers or calls to action and include them – if there’s space
- Banish thoughts of keywords…
- Then write an enticing meta description in under 150 characters
- Remember to include key special offers or calls to action and include them
What not to do:
The results below contain too much needless repetition or are too long – in both page titles and meta descriptions – despite being from the websites of big brands like Westpac.
Structuring a title as a naturally readable sentence that fits in the search results is often unusual in itself – and normally enough to differentiate a page from competing pages.
But for some added ‘character’, experiment with unusual punctuations that can still be legitimately included in page titles without penalty – like an arrow instead of a dash – and help differentiate your page from competing pages that all use the same structures.
The result above shows such a character (the registered trademark symbol) being used on the first page of Google – without penalty – although best to check and do some research before trying to stand out with something really extraordinary.
2. Having a good core service
Having a good core service is one of the best social and content strategies (and by extension SEO strategies) that there is.
The Google search engine, for all its complexity, is a reputation engine that’s designed to reward and rank the best services behind the results.
So when it comes to off-site SEO, the bad-old days of buying links (and reputation) are over and have been replaced with integrated strategies like ‘content marketing’ or ‘social media marketing’. The wording varies depending on perspective and bias.
But it’s more certain to say that these strategies aren’t magic bullets that operate in a vacuum from the real world. If a core service is crap then it can’t be king, as the cliché goes.
Having a great service is the best way to make sure that key elements that impact and enhance SEO, like online citations, reviews, mentions, natural links and coverage are made – and that the sentiment’s positive.
But many companies still don’t grasp this idea and rush for a strategy when the solution’s closer to home.
What to do:
- Focus on the core service or offering
- If there are major problems, then:
- Forget about a sophisticated off-site SEO strategy until the problems are fixed
- If there are no major problems, then:
- Design off-site strategies to amplify and enhance the company’s good reputation and rankings
What not to do:
Reviews are great for users and search engines, in their many forms and channels. However, ‘incentivizing’ them can be clumsy and counter-intuitive – especially if the core service needs work.
If an effort is made to try and get more reviews, and the core service is good, then try to add strategies to existing customer-relationship management activities, like follow-up emails, instead of trying to build a new dialogue from scratch and confusing customers and staff in the process.
3. Image Optimisation
Images aren’t important in every vertical – I’ve not optimised the images in this blog post – but in many sectors, especially ecommerce, having optimised image content is crucial. This is because images often appear in the main search results or are searched-for within Google Image search – and are linked to intent and action.
Why badly used?
Optimised images can attract a lot of targeted traffic but image optimisation is often just forgotten about – simple as that. Anyone in the industry who’s had to complete an SEO audit knows that this practical SEO practice is often omitted as sexier techniques take precedence.
What makes the omission even more glaring is that image optimisation isn’t exactly difficult – it’s more or less a case of adding some self-referential search terms to some simple places (see below) and the development work is usually easy enough.
What to do:
Image optimisation is nuanced, for a bit more detail see this guide from Search Engine Watch, but effectively optimising images boils down to three key elements, more or less: the image alt-tag; the image file-name; and the image size.
Here’s how to do it:
- Use free tools or plug-ins (like this one) to make an image as small as possible, without compromising quality
- Add search terms to the image alt-tag
- And the image file name too
- Remember that focus search terms will normally be what the image shows – or what has already been researched for the page the image is on
What not to do:
Many major Australian online retailers, like Kogan, below, do not have fully optimised images on their site as they’ve either forgotten (or perhaps decided not to) to include relevant keywords within filenames.
Getting the search term into the image alt is good but keywords in the image filename (usually the URL too) are actually more potent.
Image optimisation can be time consuming. So, for sites with a lot of images, It’s also important to try and make image optimisation as quick as possible. Plugins for Magento and WordPress, like Yoast, can help.
Next time: three overrated and misunderstood SEO techniques.