SEO for business in 2021 is an ever increasing challenge. The quantity of businesses, services and products increased in 2020 as everything shifted online because of the pandemic, and the volume of posts on social media doubled compared with 2019.
It is also still the case that although SEO is super important for brand visibility many brand leaders and, yes, many marketing people, are still a bit unsure about how to go about getting it right so they appear at the top of the first page of Google for what they are expert in and what they are selling.
It doesn’t help that Google keeps on refining and refocusing how it sorts and displays results on the SERP (search engine results page) – they do this in order to deliver the best ‘fit’ to the person searching, but it increases the challenges for businesses that are trying to be found. While it might feel frustrating, the rule of thumb is to remember that Google is always trying to find the best, most perfect, most popular and trusted, answer for people’s queries, from the very general to the very specific.
SEO isn’t about coming top of Google for your brand name when you search. Neither is it guessing what people are looking for and writing a heap of copy around that. Or writing a sales tag instead of a considered relevant metatag for your pages. SEO is about answering the queries your community are asking Google in the best, most expert, way possible. It’s about becoming the Holy Grail (i.e. the first returned result) for that particular question by that person.
Clearly, if you are trying to be the Holy Grail for the general enquiries in your niche, such as ‘Camping’ for example, you are unlikely to succeed. That’s because there will always be millions of pages that mention or optimise for that general term. Going back to camping, for example, we can see that there are over 6 million UK webpages optimised for ‘camping’ to service a mere 201,000 searches a month in the UK. Clearly your page is going to have to be extremely authoritative about camping AND an extremely popular page (website visitors, other pages linking to it and social shares), as well as very well optimised to get anywhere near the first page of Google.
However, being more focused can help enormously. Yes there will be less people searching for a more targeted search word phrase (called longtail keyword) but those people will be specifically looking for that, so being the one they choose to fulfil that requirement is much much more likely if you are the most relevant. So, if you refine camping down to, say, ‘wild camping in north wales’, the search traffic drops, but so do the number of pages answering that question, and the top page on Google is a structured list from the ordinance survey site of ‘top wild camping spots’ with lovely photos that have been properly tagged. It’s also clear looking at the page that if someone else really wanted to top it they could do so quite easily.
So how to get your brand to the top of the first page of Google for what you are selling in 2021? Let’s dig in and see where we are at and the requirements that you need to meet.
1. Core Technical Factors
Fixing and optimising the core technical factors of the website and page may seem boring but they are essential if you want the page to by found and displayed by Google. Make sure that the site is searchable – basic I know, but even major companies have fallen foul of this one, and if the spiders are blocked from searching the site they can’t map it or display it.
Set it up so it shows on social media and the metadata is the right length, unique, and relevant to the page (or else it’ll default to whatever Google thinks the page is about). Make sure your menu doesn’t go on too long (3 levels is TOPS), that it is a safe site (on https not http), and that if you rename, delete or move a page that you get a redirect in place. Google has shifted to prioritising mobile over desktop now, so making sure it shows correctly on mobile browser is essential, even more so than on a desktop browser. Either way, if people can’t read it easily they won’t stick around to try and poor customer experience like that is one of the reasons websites have a high bounce rate.
The bounce rate is a crucial measurement for visibility – the higher it is the less favourably Google views it and teh less likely it is for the page to get ranked. Bounce rate is driven by a lot of factors, including irrelevant content, poor design, slow load speed, and Java script on the page. Most sites have a 30-40% bounce rate, but you should always be looking to reduce it as low as possible – ours is consistently 1% or lower in case you are wondering.
Other ways to get to the top of Google include becoming one of their featured favourites. To do this, you will need to describe your content to search engines so Google will create rich snippets and other SERP features. Other ways include creating alt tags for image search, marking up for video search, and FAQ formatting for featured snippets, for example. Optimise your local SEO by maxing out your GMB page by adding reviews, service and product details, optimised pictures, and contact detail so Google knows where you are and what you do.
2. Relevant Content
Relevancy is key for content and that means getting laser-focused on what matters to your audience, what problems they are wrestling with, such as lack of visibility, or lack of time, or lack of customers. Write your web copy and your articles and blogs so people immediately know WHAT YOU DO and how you can solve their problems – that you are an expert they can trust to help them.
I know it sounds basic, but I’ve lost count of the number of jargonistic, long-winded, oblique, verbose websites we’ve had to help sort out over the years, where literally no one had a clue what a company was actually selling. Not only are they are a terrible advert for a business’s services and/or products and a dreadful customer experience, but they are also dreadful for sales (if they don’t know what you are selling how can they decide to buy?), trust (if you aren’t clear why should they trust you?) and for search (jargon is terrible for SEO as no one uses it to search for anything).
For content to work it has to:
• Be interesting and provide insights, which often means go longer with articles, and don’t just repeat the news or the latest advice. Google prefers 900+ words but in your niche the average might be 5,000 or short videos, so do your research and make sure your expertise is showcased.
• Use relevant keywords that you and your community use naturally and that your community are using to search for what you are doing and selling.
• Nurture quality backlinks – good content is key to building high-quality backlinks (a link from another website to your page). Google judges a website by the company it keeps… so the better-ranking and more trusted a website is, the more weight Google gives a link from it to your website. The converse is also true: a poor or spammy webpage can reduce your website’s standing. People only link to website content that is relevant to them, or click on links to website content that is… relevant to them. Provide that relevant quality content and be proactive sharing it – see point 4, below.
• Answer the community questions with your expertise – This is all about EAT – Expert, Authority and Trust, which are teh main factors Google are rpioritising for content. the aim is to become a human voice and trusted source that is naturally referenced by your community, that is shared on social media and linked back to by quality sites (backlinks) in other articles and webpages to create social traction, which leads us to…
3. Embed Social Goodness to Create EAT
Social Goodness is another increasingly important measure that determines how a business is perceived. So when people are thinking to buy from you, they are increasingly likely to think: Is it doing good? For me? For my community? For the world? And how do I KNOW? Businesses and agencies know this, and that’s one of the reasons that green washing and woke washing have become such major issues over the last few years, as unethical companies try to hitch a ride on people’s preferences without actually doing the work or changing their bad behaviour. And that’s also why the amount of crisis’s have increased on social media, as people get increasingly fed up with fakery and band together to call out those they catch out.
Indeed, one of the major things to come out of the pandemic was the increase in the demand for trust and authenticity, as I catalogue in my book, Social Goodness. In order to be trusted as a business, people have to see you are consistent, that you walk the talk, do as you preach, and are not fake. They also need to see that you care about them and their issues. If you don’t, why should they care about you? And what that means in real terms is that if people don’t care about your brand they will ignore what it shares on social media, so the algorithms learn to not show the brand updates to that person.
So your brand becomes invisible.
To be trusted, ensure that you and the team are clear on your brand values and that these are embedded in everything you do, from processes to your policies to your supply chain. They should guide how you treat your suppliers and staff and underscore the service the company provides. Make sure that they are reflected in your brand voice and your marketing. Are you a ‘people first’ business? Then your voice should be warm and supportive. A innovative brand? Reflect that element of exploration and invention in your social media output and so on.
The goal now is for brands to be so relevant they are invited in to conversations and referenced by people. To do that they have to be seen as being relevant to their community, to care, to have key expertise and insights and/or provide entertainment. Without those factors a brand’s visibility will drop like like a stone. Not sure how to do that? Check how other brands have done that in the examples we shared and the interviews we conducted for Social Media Genius Week 2020. Or contact me. I’m an acknowledged expert, and one of the advisors on the Wicked7 project, which is working with individuals, charities and brands to help solve the world’s most pressing problems, and I can help you make sure that you can brag about your achievements and the good you are doing for your community and the wider world without running the risk of generating a social media crisis.
4. Quality, Consistent Marketing
All of the above are essential but the final piece of the puzzle is letting people know by taking it out to people in a consistent manner so they can see it and engage with it. Do not assume people see what you are creating or are aware of you. The way that the internet and social media is structured means that the algorithms people generally don’t see anything new or from outside their immediate silo. Share it numerous times and in many places. Push it out on email, on social media, reference it in comments and in online conversations. Invite people to check it out and share. Use hashtags and share in groups. Have a ‘buddy group’ that you can share your content to so it gets engagement in the first hour. Always respond to all and any non-spam engagement, including answering comments on social media.
Consistency is key here. It should all be on point for you and your brand and your values, it should be relevant to your community, and it should be regular and timely. For example, if you say you’ll put a newsletter out once a week at 10am on a Thursday, make sure it goes out at 10am on a Thursday. If you put out three social media posts a week, don’t suddenly go silent for weeks and then start putting out five a day for a week. When you have a link to your website, make sure it’s relevant to the post and looks and feels the same, i.e make the experience seamless.
Finally, never go off piste with what you are creating and sharing. Not only does it confuse your community, but it also confuses Google, and if Google isn’t sure what you are selling or saying, then you won’t become one of its favourites.