SEO Strategy Cheat Sheet: Cliff Notes for Maximizing SEO Results When You’re Short on Time
We work with solopreneurs, business owners and small executive teams from a wide array of industries. These professionals are constantly on the go, and their time and financial resources are limited. They wear multiple hats and often learn along the way as they grow their businesses.
When we engage with these clients, it’s usually around a specific project (e.g., a new website, a product launch, a blog series, starting a business). Without fail – no matter what type of marketing project we’re doing -- the conversation invariably turns to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). “How can we get more traffic to our website? How do we rank higher on search engines? What key words should we be using?”
We get these questions so often that we created this SEO Cheat Sheet as a leave behind when SEO isn’t a core part of our work with the client. It’s for the small business owner or marketing team who “does it all” and just wants to know a couple of things they can do right away to boost their search rankings without spending hours and hours wading through articles on SEO.
To be clear, optimizing digital content for search isn’t something that can be summed up in a single post. SEO is a complex, multifaceted strategy, and the algorithms that impact it are constantly changing. However, the intent of these SEO cliff notes is to get people with limited time, money or patience pointed in the right direction.
Tools For Finding Keywords
If you have no idea where to start, there are plenty of freemium tools available that will help you generate ideas. Some of our favorites are:
What Keywords Should We Be Using?
It’s a given that you’ll use keywords and phrases related to your products, services, target audience and/or service area and (e.g., marketing agency, Mexican restaurant, Los Angeles, physical therapist). Chances are those words are going to be highly competitive, so you’ll have to dig deeper if you want to rank high in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). Here are common strategies:
Use longtail keyword phrases, such as questions or problem statements. Longtail keywords generally include a main, or “head” keyword, surrounded by other words. They get less search queries overall, but that makes them easier to rank for. E.g., What marketing agencies in San Luis Obispo do web design? What Mexican restaurant in Los Angeles serves the best tamales? How do I rehab a torn hamstring?
Include typos in your keywords for commonly misspelled products, brand names or words. E.g., Susies Diner, Suzy’s Diner, Suzees Diner, etc.
Reorder Words, Make Them Plural
Re-arrange the order of words in keyword phrases. Also, use words with and without an “s”. E.g., athletic shoes, shoes athletic, shoe athletic, athletics shoes, etc.
Make Them Local
If you are a local business, pair your main keywords with the name of your geographic service area. E.g. veterinary clinics Madison Wisconsin, Madison pet hospitals, Dane County veterinarians, etc.
Focus on Less Competitive Keywords
Many of the most popular keywords in your industry will be extremely competitive to rank for organically and expensive to purchase for paid search ads. Use the tools mentioned earlier to find keywords with a high search volume but lower SEO competition and create content around those.
These keywords can bring people to your site – often through your blog -- even if they’re not directly related to your main products or services. The key is to provide a pathway that gets visitors to the content you want them to see once they’ve arrived at your site. One way to do that is to put a Call to Action graphic on the page that brought them there that prompts them to take another action. E.g., The 5 Signs Your Dog Has Heartworms with a New Patient CTA graphic (e.g., Make your pet’s first wellness appointment with us and get 10% off pet medication for life!)
Where Should We Use Keywords in Blogs and Websites?
Since this is a cheat sheet and not a dissertation, we’re not going explain how to use keywords in pay per click campaigns since that’s a whole topic unto itself. Instead, here are some high-level formatting tips for using them on your website and blog. These same principals hold true for many of your other social and digital channels, such as Pinterest and YouTube.
Web Page and Blog Titles: Title Tags and H1 Tags
Include keywords and phrases in page and blog titles, preferably near the beginning of the title. One thing you’ll want to understand is the difference between H1 Tags and Title Tags and how to use them to leverage SEO. See our example for details.
An H1 Tag is the main title users see when they get to the actual content on your website. It is in large text and acts as a title for a blog post or a main headline or title on a web page. The specific wording does not appear in search engines, though the words are used for indexing your content.
The Title Tag is what viewers see when they do an Internet search. It’s the hyperlink users click on. It also shows up in the browser but does not appear on the web page itself.
Of the two types of tags, we’d argue the Title Tag is the most important because it’s the one that a) shows up in the search results pages (and by extension is more likely to show up higher if it includes keywords being searched by the user), and b) prompts a user to actually click through to your site.
Include keywords and phrases in header tags (e.g., H1, H2, H3). An H1 tag, as we’ve said, acts as the main title or headline on a page. H2 tags represent the main points or "subheaders" on your page, H3 tags further define sub points and so on. These tags organize information and tell search engines what content your website or blogs contain so that when users search for that type of content, you are included among the possible results.
Use the meta descriptions (i.e., those brief descriptions that come up during search and summarize what your page or blog post is about) to motivate action. Keep them keyword-rich and with language that encourages reader to click. E.g., Find out how you can increase your credit score by 30 points in one month.
Alt tags are more correctly known as “alternative text” or “alt attribute” or “alt descriptor” tags and are applied to images such as photos to promote web accessibility, for example so that someone with a visual impairment knows what is being represented on a graphic. They are also a good place to include keywords, when appropriate. Alt tags should be short and descriptive, but don’t use them to overstuff keywords.
You will, of course, use your keywords -- and many variations and permutations of them -- in the body of your blogs and web pages, also. Use them naturally in the context of your narrative, and don't artificially overstuff them into your copy.
Other SEO-Boosting Strategies
Blogs are a critical part of your SEO strategy. Tech Client notes that businesses have a 434% better chance of being ranked highly on search engines if they include a blog as a part of their websites. In addition, a long, well-written blog (i.e., 2000+ words or more) filled with multiple keyword phrases and with both internal and external links will perform better than shorter posts.
Encourage others to link back to your website and/or specific products, pages or blog posts. If you have a study, for example, you can tell people they can link to it or require that they include an attribution that links back to your site if they publish the study. Include the actual language of the attribution next to the study.
Creating select crosslinks between your blogs and web pages not only encourages more reader engagement and keeps people on your site longer, it has a modest positive impact on SEO.
Claiming Social Properties
Even if you don’t actively post, be sure to claim and fill out a complete profile for all the main social platforms. Try to use consistent branding/naming conventions across sites.
Snippets, Questions, Videos, Etc.
Increasingly, Google and Bing are placing search results like “snippets” and “people also ask” near the top of the SERPs. This can be an opportunity to create a succinct question and answer on your website that gets picked up by search engines and is featured in those lists. Videos, images, news stories and, of course, paid ads also have the possibility of landing your business near the top, provided you choose your keywords wisely. In the example below, we helped our client, Angle Oar, achieve two of the top three SERPs positions for their most critical keywords.
Submit Your Site Map
Be sure to submit your sitemap to Google Search Console so that it will index all your content so that it can be searched. Google will then continue to index every new page or blog you publish through its regular crawling process, but you can go in and have new pages manually indexed in real time by entering the URL yourself.
Start Somewhere, But Do Start
Even though we positioned this as a "cheat sheet,' we realize it's still a lot of information to digest. The key is to start somewhere. If we could only pick one area, if would be to take a look at the titles, header tags, meta descriptions and alt tags on your web pages and blog, followed closely by confirming your properties are indexed on Google Search Console. Okay, so that's two things!
If you'd like help with your SEO, website or other marketing efforts, feel free to reach out to us for help.