"Traffic volume is important, but also look for quality indicators such as number of pages viewed and time spent on the site."
All businesses have been affected by the recent health crisis. We have all been forced to adapt to new ways of working and days of seemingly endless conference calls and online seminars.
A winner in the new world is digital: if it wasn’t before, your website has now been elevated to your organisation’s most important marketing asset.
Whilst the pandemic has obviously put the brakes on in many areas (e.g. mortgage valuation surveys are a challenge), there are new opportunities to grow your business through search engine marketing. Search volumes for many financial services terms have seen an increase and it is more important than ever to ensure that your website can be found by those looking for help.
But where should you start? What are the most important aspects to focus on if you want to improve your visibility online?
The majority of online journeys start with a search query (whether by typing it into a box or through voice search), so you must have a keyword strategy. What do you want to be found for and what do you ultimately want those users to do when they arrive on your site?
There are plenty of tools that allow you to investigate search volumes for specific interests, but Google’s keyword planner is arguably the most popular. The quality of data has, unfortunately, reduced in recent years and there are commercial alternatives which are recommended if you need detailed information. https://keywordtool.io is a great option which offers limited free data or the option to pay for increased intelligence.
Whichever tool you use, the research process is the same - you input a ‘seed’ keyword to see lists of related search terms and associated search volumes. You should resist the temptation to immediately select the terms with the highest monthly search volumes. These terms are typically very generic, so less likely to deliver highly targeted web visitors, but also extremely competitive.
You should focus on the most relevant keywords. By focusing on relevancy, you should enjoy much higher conversion rates on your website as users will be highly targeted.
For example, if you are an IFA based in Manchester and wish to target a local client base, it would be far better to target ‘IFA Manchester’ (average of 90 searches per month in the UK) than just ‘IFA’ despite the generic ‘IFA’ having over 12,000 searches per month. If your main focus is mortgages, it would be interesting to know that ‘mortgage broker Manchester’ has an average of 720 searches per month, so is far more popular with search engine users than ‘IFA Manchester’. You can, of course, target both terms by optimising different pages for different terms, e.g. your homepage may target the more generic ‘IFA’ terms whilst a page promoting your mortgage services would target the mortgage broker terms.
Identify the core services that you wish to target and then undertake keyword research for these service areas. Once you have identified the terms that you wish to target, you need to look at your website and ensure that you are using the keywords in the right places.
On-page optimisation is the term used for making small changes to a web page to improve its visibility in the search engine results pages (SERPs). The objective is to help the search engines ‘understand’ your page.
There are many ways to actually build a website, but most sites use a content management system (CMS) that allows non-technical users to make changes. You should look for the following attributes in the CMS:
● Page titles
● Meta descriptions
You need to use the keywords that you have identified as key targets for each page in these elements. Extra weighting is given to keywords used in page titles and headings, so it can directly help improve rankings for the keywords that you use. You should also make sure that the body content of each page uses a selection of variations of the main theme. Your keyword research will have helped show the most popular variations.
Meta descriptions are not actually a direct ranking factor but they can have a marked impact on click through rates as they are usually shown on the SERPs as the text snippet under a site’s title link. Not only will this help drive more traffic in the short term but pages with a higher click through rate than their competition tend to see rankings improve over time.
Although longer term SEO success will also require building high quality links to your website (a different post in itself), you will naturally want to measure the impact of your digital spring cleaning work.
Checking search rankings is the obvious approach, but this may actually be misleading as the SERPs are heavily personalised, so the results that you see may not be widespread. You may well be lulled into a false sense of security, as Google is more likely to show your site to you in its results pages as it knows that you are a frequent visitor.
It is better, therefore, to use the ‘average ranking report’ within Google Search Console (a free webmaster service offered by Google). This is a very good barometer for analysing movements in search rankings following optimisation work as it will eliminate the personalisation that you may see when searching for yourself.
The ultimate measure of success, however, should be the actual impact of the improved search rankings rather than ranking reports. You should therefore use your web analytics (e.g. https://analytics.google.com) to analyse traffic to the pages that you have optimised. Traffic volume is important, but also look for quality indicators such as number of pages viewed and time spent on the site. Ideally, you will have set up conversion goals, so you can measure the business impact of the increased traffic levels.
Of course, taking a deep dive into digital marketing & SEO isn’t limited to lockdown, but what you do now could stand you in good stead when things start getting back to normal.