Search engine optimisation with Sherlock

Search engine optimisation is usually defined as the process of making your website and webpages easier for your customers to find through a search engine such as Google. This can be very complicated made unnecessarily complicated, when really it all comes down to one thing: your audience.

SEO can be a very powerful tool when used correctly. It combines the best of online research, content marketing strategy and web development. It’s also one of the most effective methods of establishing a lasting online presence whilst improving the quality of your website, your content and your clientele. I believe SEO should not be something you outsource once you have a website up and running, but rather something you need to do from the very start of a project, because this saves a hell of a lot of time and money.

They ask, you answer - quickly

When practicing SEO, my mantra is: they ask, you answer – quickly. A three step curated process that combines the best SEO strategies used by leading industry experts. The first part of this mantra is actually Marcus Sheridan’s philosophy, one that has driven his success and made him into the thought leader he is today. To make it more applicable to the web, quickly had to be added – because your clientele expect you to deliver your service fast and effortlessly. However, as it will become obvious in the next section, SEO is no longer about your own website. It’s about your brand: what people say about you when you’re not in the room; and the web is the room. It's about their experience. It's about them. It’s time to change our perspective as to what SEO is.

Step 1: They ask

Today’s customers are world-class researchers, and SEO is now all about respecting their research wherever it takes them. Think about it – when people have questions, they ask Google. Google uses hundreds of AI algorithms, such as RankBrain, to try to actually understand what would best answer their questions. Therefore, if your website has the answers, and follows best practices, this will get you to the top of the search engine results page (SERP). As Garrett Mehrguth says: “great SEO is just great audience research” – knowing your audience is the most critical step in your project.

Start with keyword research, which is knowing what your audience is searching for and categorising these queries (keywords) into topics and FAQs so you can assess the amount of interest each of these receives throughout the digital journey. Keyword research is basically just knowing how often people are searching for information, products or services and understand how to position your brand correctly. So when people search online for something that you offer, they find you. This could be through your website, or through others that contribute to your brand through reviews and comparisons. You need to ask yourself how you’re being active across the websites that are being found at the different stages of the journey. You can actually assess this with my InterLynx algorithm.

This brings us to Marcus Sheridan’s “Big 5”, which are the 5 most common types of online questions: cost, problem (drawbacks, negatives, etc), comparison, “best of” and reviews. You might have produced content, you might have a content calendar that you use to push the content, yet you’re not getting results. Why? Probably because your website is no longer the best result for most of these questions. They are most likely to bring up independent sites that publish third party research. And these are the ones that are ranking incredibly well for your keywords.

What can you do about it? Well, start by understanding which websites are ranking the highest for each of your most important keywords and then find out which ones are using the Google Display Network. This will actually allow you to set up ads on them and drive traffic to your website. You can also use them as sources for your content and even contact them in order to start creating backlinks. Again, my InterLynx algorithm is great for finding these websites and to assess them.

Step 2: You answer

Everything hereafter is based on audience research and understanding the digital buyer journey. Once you know who they are and what they want, you now need to assess how to position your brand correctly. It starts with creating the best type of content to answer the questions you have control over i.e. the ones you can answer through your website.

Imagine your website is a book. A book needs a good title and a short synopsis (because whether you like it or not they get judged by their cover), a table of contents, a chapter name, sub-chapter names maybe, and of course, paragraphs of knowledge. And it just so happens, a website also needs a good descriptive title and a short synopsis (meta description), a table of contents (sitemap.xml), a chapter name (<h1>), sub-chapter names (<h2>, <h3>, etc) and paragraphs (<p>) of knowledge.

What’s more, the internet is just a massive library, and search engines are the librarians. They need to have a rough idea of what your “book” is about before they recommend it to their customers, and the more you help them out the more they will recommend it. It starts with creating titles and headings that perfectly align with the content that supersedes them. You can even help search engines understand your content better by including extra microformat markup such as Schema. This will tell search engines which of the people mentioned is the author, which images are more important and when was the last time it was updated. And you can help people read your content by structuring it properly: using the headings to delimit sections (not for styling like I’ve seen countless times…). Because let’s face it, we hardly ever read an article in its entirety, we’ll scroll through until we find the heading that catches our eye.

Hence, the more you help their customers to read your content, the more they will become your customers too. This is what you have control over. It is important to do this well.

But what about the content you have no control over? This is where link building comes in. Backlinks are links to your website from other websites, which can be from blogs, news articles or even from Wikipedia. You can create backlinks in two main ways: by creating and promoting content that’s worth linking to and by reaching out to bloggers, websites ranking for your keywords or other influencers and pitching your content. Outlinks, links from your website to other sources, are also important for search engines as well as users so they can see that your content contains references. In fact, Google has now started to take fake news pretty seriously, so starting to link to other sources to add credibility to your content is something you should definitely be doing.

Links are, in short, what will make your site a website. A site in itself can exist, albeit orphaned. In order to be part of the web, it needs to be connected. Search engines LOVE them, because this way their crawlers can find your website and can assess how relevant a page is for a particular topic by what websites link to it. Outlinks are just as important, because this way the crawlers can keep “crawling” more websites and it shows that your site is connected to the web.

Step 3: Quickly

As I eluded to before, and as you may already know unless you’ve been living under a rock, page speed is an essential factor for a great user experience. Google, and even Facebook, are pushing initiatives such as the AMP Project and Instant Articles respectively, to deliver content to the user as fast as possible. Because half of internet users now expect your website to load in 2 seconds or less, and every second of delay can result in 7% reduction in conversions.

However, it’s not just about the page loading speed. You should also bear in mind that people grow ever more impatient and want the answers almost instantly. Google knows this, which is why it’s now providing you with structured answers a.k.a. rich snippets. Give it a try: google “what is my IP” or “what's the weather like” and you will see what I mean (unless you’re in a country that doesn’t support rich snippets). You can actually create these yourself by adding extra markup in your HTML.

Understand Google's brain

Being relevant and having people stay on your site is critical, because Google is now an AI. What the heck does that mean? Well, an AI is a program that you can train to remember and act upon memory. Example: you write “what is the weather today?”, and an AI will ask you what you mean by that, you say you want the response to be the current temperature and condition in your location for the current date. Next time you ask it, the AI will return this information. But what if you say “what’s it like today”? The AI will try to guess but might fail, so you tell it that you mean the weather again. Next time it will guess correctly because it learned.

Say you ask Google “why am I not getting any traffic”. Google returns webpages that its AI algorithms “think” is best to answer that question. You visit each website and each one fails to answer your question so you keep pressing the back button and returning to the Google results page. Google knows how long you spent on each one and the fact that you returned because none answered your question. But finally, the 8th webpage on the results page does answer your question. And so, next time someone else asks this question, Google might consider ranking the 8th webpage slightly higher. If enough people find their answer in this webpage then Google might even consider giving it the top spot!

I’m talking of course about click-through rate (CTR), the new sheriff in town. You can actually view which queries are showing up your website in the SERP and your CTR through the Google Search Console, an indispensable tool for SEO.

CTR: monitor your ranking

It’s important you track your rankings since they never stay the same. The best tool by far to do this is the Search Console's search analytics, which can actually be linked to your Google Analytics. This data comes directly from Google and tells you what queries show your webpage, how many people saw your webpage in the SERP, what position in the SERP your webpage appears and how many people actually clicked through. Once you know this information you can keep tweaking your content and assess your website's user flow in order to adapt your UX to your ideal audience.

So, what is Sherlock?

Sherlock is an algorithm, developed by yours truly, with a simple goal: to improve the quality of your website by telling you what’s wrong and how to fix it. It automates what can be automated, leaving the more important aspects of an SEO audit for my (or your) brain to work on.

What does Sherlock do?

Sherlock is thorough and powerful, performing a full website crawl imitating the Google bot while dissecting and collecting key data on every page available. Among other functions, Sherlock can:

Analyse page titles, meta data and headings
Assess which need to be optimised, which are duplicates and if headings are being used correctly.
Analyse page content structure, size and relevance
Review the appropriate use of headings, the size of the page and if the page is answering the questions the audience is making correctly.
Review responses, redirects and errors
Find pages that are not responding, temporary and permanent redirects and pages that throw errors.
Find broken links
Discover broken links, both linking internally and externally.
Discover duplicate content
Find partially duplicated elements such as titles and meta descriptions as well as whole pages.
Extract keywords and phrases
Assess which keywords and phrases are the most abundant for each page including titles, headings and throughout the whole page.
Analyse mobile compliance
Evaluate how fit your site is for the mobile world, including use of AMP and differences in loading speed.
Assess page speed
See how long pages take to load and how many requests they’re making.

And the list goes on. However, unless you are very digital savvy there is no point diving into the more technical metrics. That said, if you want to know more be sure to contact me.

To conclude

SEO is all about your audience; and no brainstorming session is ever going to give you the eureka idea unless you fully understand your audience’s needs and questions. It’s time to stop writing briefs asking “how can we get more traffic” and start asking “how can we add value to people’s digital journey”.

Research has already shown that when your customers contact you they are more than 50% likely to have done their research and have already decided to convert. A single website is very unlikely to answer all the questions they have, so it’s more important than ever to assess your brand throughout their digital journey. Collaboration is not only essential for a search engine to assess your relevance but also for people to find you. Finally, make sure you are delivering the best content in the fastest and most aesthetic way possible.

An extra word of advice, if you are looking to take SEO into your own hands or you are looking to gain a better understanding start by reading the beginner's SEO handbook by Moz, and most importantly (especially if you're a developer) the Google Webmaster Guidelines (a.k.a. the SEO commandments).

Let's get started

If you’re about to start a website or a project I can offer anything from general guidance to a full SEO strategy to skyrocket your brand. You would receive a toolkit that includes audience research and a technical on-page checklist to drive your success. If your website has been live for some time and you’re not getting any ROI, given my Google Analytics and Search Console expertise and using Sherlock I can review your existing website and content and use the data to create an SEO strategy making use of existing assets to drive a higher level of success.

With such an overabundance of data, it can be overwhelming. Luckily I love diving deep into the data to help you see the story the numbers are telling.

Say no more, let's talk.