The online visibility of the project you spend months building is pretty important! It’d be a shame if no one could find it. That's where Search Engine Optimization (SEO) comes into the picture. Unless you have an internal specialist on retainer at the company, this is one of the more important chapters as the team may rely more heavily on you.
Most clients will mention SEO at one point or another so having an understanding of their expectations will also be instrumental.
Understanding SEO and SEA
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving a website's visibility on search engine result pages (SERPs). The goal is to make a site more appealing to search engines, ensuring it ranks highly for relevant keywords and phrases. When done correctly, SEO can lead to organic (unpaid) traffic, enhancing a website's visibility and user engagement.
Search Engine Advertising (SEA), on the other hand, involves purchasing ads on search engines to appear alongside organic search results. These ads, often created through platforms like Google AdWords, allow a website to reach its target audience quickly, as they appear whenever a user searches for a particular keyword.
These two strategies complement each other. SEO is a long-term strategy that gradually increases a site's ranking, while SEA provides immediate visibility, helping a website reach its audience while it builds its organic search presence.
SEO strategies are more suited to standard, longer-term websites where SEO is a fundamental requirement for visibility and user acquisition.
When discussing an SEO strategy with a client, two primary scenarios may occur:
- The client wants an SEO-friendly website (short-term strategy)
- The client wants to use SEO as a channel for customer acquisition (long-term strategy)
In the first scenario, the client requires a site that can be easily indexed by Google, meaning there are no technical obstacles to search engine crawlers. The site should appear in search results when users search for the brand name, requiring minimal SEO optimization. The size of the site doesn't matter much, as even a small website with few pages can be SEO-friendly. This scenario is often considered to be included in the agency’s base package as the minimal requirement for digital products.
In the second scenario, the client has a more ambitious goal: they wish to use SEO as a main channel for attracting new customers. This strategy requires more significant SEO efforts. Along with the standard requirements for indexing and brand visibility, the client would likely need to create many more pages of content, possibly engage in a link-building campaign, consider creating a blog, and consider a long-term follow-up (a 6 to 12-month period). This scenario requires a specialist and is not considered to be included.
The following are considered essential and should be included in your website productions, it’s always good to double-check, each has its own function and importance:
- Meta titles and descriptions for each page: These give search engines information about the content and purpose of each page on your website.
- Meta image and social media tags: 95% of the time these are forgotten, then the website is shared on social media platforms and comes without a link preview - which is a shame.
- Proper usage of H1 tags across the site: H1 tags are typically used for page titles and should include relevant keywords. They help search engines understand the structure and content of your page.
- A well-structured URL system: URLs should be straightforward and descriptive, making it easier for search engines to understand the content of each page.
- XML and HTML sitemaps: An XML sitemap helps search engines understand your website's structure and find all of its pages, while an HTML sitemap helps users navigate your site.
- Robots.txt files: This file tells search engines which pages or sections of your site they should or shouldn't crawl and index.
- Structured data markup: This is a type of code that makes it easier for search engines to understand your site's content and provide more informative results to users.
- Internal redirects: These guide users and search engines from outdated or less relevant pages to more relevant ones, improving user experience and SEO.
- Canonical URLs: These tell search engines that certain similar URLs are actually one and the same, preventing issues with duplicate content.
- Error handling and custom 404 pages: These ensure that when a user tries to access a non-existing page, they're directed to a custom error page, minimizing frustration and bounce rates.
- Adequate content on each page: Each page should have enough high-quality, relevant content to satisfy user intent and help search engines understand the page's topic.
- Fast page loading times: Faster loading times make for a better user experience and are favored by search engines.
- Mobile optimization: Your site should be fully accessible and functional on mobile devices, as mobile-friendliness is a major factor in search engine rankings.
SEO and User Experience (UX)
SEO and UX are two sides of the same coin. While SEO makes your site findable and interpretable to search engines, UX ensures that once users arrive on your site, they can navigate it easily, find what they're looking for, and have a positive overall experience. Search engines like Google value good UX, rewarding sites that are easy to navigate, fast to load, and rich in quality content. Thus, improving the UX of your site is also an effective strategy for boosting SEO performance.
Content is king in the realm of SEO. Search engines favour websites that consistently produce fresh, relevant, and high-quality content - which is why clients often request blogs or news sections on their websites. A well-planned content strategy ensures that your website stays up-to-date and relevant, which can help improve your rankings.
After the website is live I recommend including an SEO audit as part of your scope agreement, after a few weeks you can identify any errors and make adjustments to improve performance. This helps the client, builds trust, and is a healthy long-term strategy to build repeat business.
These audits should examine all key SEO aspects, including keyword rankings, backlink quality, loading speeds, content relevancy… If requested you can hire a specialist to take the SEO strategy to the next level.
If you want to try auditing a website now, you can use Google Lighthouse in the page inspector!
Google Search Console
Google Search Console is a free tool provided by Google that helps you understand and improve how Google sees your website. It provides detailed reports on your site's visibility on Google, any crawl errors Google's bots might be encountering, and how your site's pages are performing in terms of SEO.
It can also alert you to issues that are affecting your client’s website performance in search results, such as mobile usability issues or penalties.
You won’t always be granted access to the client’s Search Console, but it is good to remind them to set it up and invite you, if SEO is a priority.
Use Lighthouse to analyse a website you enjoy, consider how it’s SEO might be improved.