As far back as 2007, marketers were saying ‘Search Engine Optimisation is dead’. Yet still there are millions of Google searches for What is SEO? Search term research tells us this. And if you aren’t already doing search term research for your website content then boy, are you in for a good time once you’ve finished reading.
This guide will show you how to build SEO into your website by doing search term research to see what people are searching for, so that you can optimise your website for the phrases that your prospective customers are using every day.
We’ll then take you through how to stay relevant, earn Google’s trust and deliver your content to Google wrapped up just how it likes it.
You can skip to a relevant section here:
Your prospective customer has got a problem. You have a reasonably priced solution. Hundreds of potential buyers are researching products and services just like yours. Wouldn’t it just be glorious if you could find out exactly what they typed into Google? Then you could use those exact words on your website to make it really clear that you’re addressing the question posed by that exact search. Not only would you be helping people find the answers they need, you’re also helping them find your business...
Well, count your lucky stars, because you can!
The approach to doing this is called Search Term Research and it’s pretty easy once you know what you’re doing. Grab yourself a brew and open up Google Trends. This website is great for finding those broad search terms that your prospective customers are searching for. Later, you’ll want to move over to sites like Answer The Public that allow you to find specific long-tail questions in relation to those broad search terms, but start here.
We'll show you how it’s done with the tasty example of honey. Let’s pretend you’re a beekeeper and you want to sell organic manuka honey in the UK. Get into character to cement the learning… staple some old net curtains to a sunhat and dig out the gardening gloves. It’s marketing role-play. Don’t make this weird.
In the search bar at the top of the Google Trends, where it says ‘Enter a search term or a topic’ type in the single word ‘honey’.
On the next page make sure you change the filter option from ‘Worldwide’ to ‘United Kingdom' and make sure the time period is from the ‘Past 12 months’. Leave everything else and let’s get searching.
Scroll down (past a section for interest by sub-regions, which you can ignore because the UK is small Google’s data messes up on a country level). Underneath the regions, you’ll find the ‘Related topics’ and ‘Related queries’ of the term you searched for. Sort the information by 'top', not 'rising', and you'll see the top 25 topics and queries searched for in the past 12 months in the UK. As you can see, in both topics and queries manuka honey comes in 3rd and 2nd.
Next, let's go back to the top where the search term ‘honey’ is sitting, and add a comparison with ‘manuka honey’. Hey, why don’t we throw in ‘organic honey’ too, for good measure. We’re really feeling this beekeeper vibe on you, by the way.
The graph below compares the total searches for each search term. So you can see that honey is A LOT more popular than manuka and organic.
If you scroll down to the related queries for manuka honey, you’ll see that all the queries point to:
- manuka honey mgo
- what does manuka honey do
- health benefits of manuka honey
Now, if you really were selling Organic Manuka Honey in the UK (and don’t tell us you’re not considering it now you’ve caught yourself in the computer screen reflection. That hat is so you), you’re starting to get more defined search terms that you can include in your website to demonstrate to Google (and potential new customers) just how much you specialise in Organic Manuka as opposed to just standard honey.
From here, you can take these search terms and start looking for more defined questions people are asking over on websites like Answer The Public or Übersuggest. You’ll discover delights such as ‘organic manuka honey cream eczema’. This method of search term research allows you to really hone in on what it specifically is that your target audience are searching for. Then you can optimise your website and content to get in Google’s good books and hopefully win pride of place on that first page of search results (we’ll go into how to do this in a mo).
Now repeat these steps but with specific search terms for your organisation, products and/or services and start building a list of the most important and relevant searches for each page of your website or product/service.
And if you’re not going to keep up the change of career, maybe take off the faux beekeeper hat before you leave the office.
Great, we’re swiftly moving along this journey towards some sweet, sweet SEO. You’ve done your research, you’ve compiled a list of search terms that you know your customers are all looking for. But how do you tell Google that your site is worthy of being found? Simply put, what it comes down to is carefully placing these terms throughout your content. Before we go any further, let’s just get two things straight…
DO NOT repeat search terms to the point where your
website becomes heavy and difficult to read.
DO NOT add them over and over again to the end of each town you serve:
'Organic Manuka Honey Bristol, 'Organic Manuka Honey Swindon' etc.
In order to start rising up the ranks of the first page of Search Engine Results Page (or SERPS for short), it’s imperative that Google trusts your brand. If you just stuff keywords into all of your content to the point that it’s obviously just spammy, then that’s a big turn off for Google.
You can read each of the sections below to find out where to add your chosen search terms but if you're more of a visual leaner, you can watch this on-page SEO webinar instead.
Think carefully when you or your web designer names the web pages on your site, as these will often become the URL and they’re a crucial spot for including the search term you are targeting within that page.
If you’re a new brand, consider a domain name that matches your primary search term as this suggests that the whole site is related to that subject. If you’re already an established brand then this example from Expolink is a great way to see how you can still utilise your URL. From the name alone you wouldn’t be able to tell that they are a whistleblowing hotline service. However, in the URL of the relevant page on their website about the hotline service, they have included a high volume search term:
Be careful! The Page Title is not the obvious page title that you see at the top of your blog. Page Title (or sometimes “SEO title” or “HTML Document Title”) is defined in the HTML code and will appear as text in the tab of your browser.
It ALSO appears as the main headline of your listing on the Search Engine Results Page. As the title of the page, it is given a lot of weight by Google and so it is a vital place to include the search term you are trying to rank for. If the link takes you to the ‘Buy organic manuka honey’ part of your website, but you’re not describing this in your page title, then how will your honey-lovers find your business?!
By content, we mean the copy on each page, not the visuals. Try to get the main search term for a page in the first words of copy on that page, above the fold. Remember, don’t spam the copy with the search term, but try to refer to your business and services by their actual name, and not in vague terms like ‘we’ or ‘it’.
For example, ‘The Bees Knees Bristol sell the finest organic manuka honey in the UK, as well as an array of honey body creams, lotions and balms’ doesn’t leave much to the imagination. They’re a honey shop based in Bristol specialising in organic manuka honey, including non-edible products made from honey. Contrast that with, ‘We sell the yellow sticky stuff’, which might be on brand with your hipster image... but it will just leave people asking “Where are you based?” “What kind of honey do you sell?” “Do you have any honey-based products?”
Google isn’t a mind reader, so if there aren’t any relevant search terms it’s unlikely your page will be listed.
Throughout this guide, we’ve been linking to other useful pages. You should be doing the same on your web pages.
Academic works are expected to back up their claims by making citations to other established resources. The internet works in a similar way. Google expects to see a website to link out to other useful web resources to give wider reading when explaining a topic.This might mean linking to other pieces of content on your own website, or on other websites such as Wikipedia or an industry blog.
However, you should keep your goals in mind when adding links to your content – don’t add links just for the sake of adding links. Also, if you’re using a page as a landing page to convert your visitors to customers, a link off-site is probably counter productive here.
Alt text is useful for two reasons.
Firstly, for accessibility purposes, as it allows users with visual impairments to understand what the images are and if they link to anything.
Secondly, Google cannot ‘read’ image files very well (yet), so it needs a text description. If you’re looking at this from an SEO point of view, then it is a good idea to include a search term in the alt text, but ONLY if it actually describes the image. This isn’t a place to be adding that spam we warned you about.
If your website is built by a developer, then create a list of all the images to be used on your site with their accompanying alt text and send it across to them. Trust us, they’ll love you for it.
We’re assuming that your website has been built using industry-approved standards, considering the most basic form has been around since 1994 and if you’re not then WHY NOT? Therefore all of your headlines, sub headings and sub-sub-headlines will be called H1 (main headline), H2 (sub heading), H3 (sub sub heading) and so on. This is a great place to include relevant search terms to the content of your pages.
Don’t think of this as optimising your page for search terms. You’ve learned the kinds of questions people have, with search term research as hard evidence. This should be informing what you’re choosing to write about.
We still see a lot of websites using their H1 tag as “Welcome to our site”. Don’t do it. It sucks.
On this particular page of ours, the first and most important heading is our H1 tag. This can be found by right clicking > inspect on Chrome. Then press ctrl+F to bring up the find option, type in ‘H1’ and Chrome will show you where the first heading text is in the HTML code of the page.
When you search for something in Google, the meta description is the sub heading in black that appears under the main blue link in the listing. This is about 150- 160 characters long, and should be used to encourage people to click your link over anyone else’s.
This meta description should be different for every page, but don’t just ask people to click your link - use persuasive language with your search terms.
If your meta description isn’t persuading people to click, they’ll never see your site in the first place. It’s a crucial piece of text.
Here's some examples of ours:
The writing underneath the HTML link on the Search Engine Results Page is the Meta Description for that link. It can be anything, but ideally we’d recommend it be under 150 characters otherwise Google will likely truncate it.
Hahahahahahaha. OH STOP. IT HURTS.
No seriously, meta keywords haven’t been relevant for well over 10 years. In fact, there's a lot of SEO myths out there.
Unless you want to rank in Yandex (good for Russia, but not so much for the UK), then don’t spend your time filling them with words for SEO. And if your web designer/dev has done this, we’d consider finding a proper web developer, yours is a lazy idiot.
If you’re in the marketing biz, you’ll have heard the phrase ‘Content Is King’ thrown around A LOT. That’s not to say that its buzzword-status in any way detracts from the truth - if you want to start ranking more highly for your chosen keywords, you’ll have a pretty hard time without flexing those finger muscles and getting some great content out there.
SEO and content marketing can sometimes be thought of as separate things, but a more accurate (and lucrative!) way of thinking about them is that they have a symbiotic relationship, overlapping and affecting one another, for good or bad...
The SEO side is the techie bit, where there are specific do’s and don’ts that you need to implement in order to give your website a leg-up on Google; but when it comes to content marketing, the boundaries are less defined. Calculating a formula that is always exciting, informative and engaging content every time is a tricky one. You’ll have to experiment to find the right balance for your business.
Essentially, your SEO strategy is going to have a really hard time if you have no content, and vice versa, your magnum opus will never see the light of day if it has no SEO. This is all well and good, I hear you say - but where do I even begin?
Remember that time we told you all about search term research? If not, c’mon guys pay attention and scroll back up to the start of this page NOW! Well, this is your first pit stop every time you are planning a new blog or when you’re suffering from writer’s block. Don’t just write any old thing that comes to mind - find out what questions people are actually asking, then answer them!
That’s not to say that you should write a 10,000 word blog on every search term that Google spits out at you - some of the results you get might not necessarily fall in line with your target personas. Now if that’s a completely alien term to you, take a detour over to this blog about why you need buyer personas then download this template which will help you create your own buyer personas. We’ll meet you back here in a bit.
When you know who your audience are and what they want from you, you’ll be able to filter out all the irrelevant searches and only write the content that is relevant to your buyer personas.As well as showing Google that you are listening to your people and being genuinely helpful, you’re saving yourself a helluva lot of time. Once you’ve written your masterpiece all you’ve got to do is make sure you’ve got those search terms nestled safely within the text and you can get started with crafting out all those great content marketing ideas.
In fact, before you get started you might want to give this article about the anatomy of a perfect blog post a read before you start writing your content. And if you're hell bent on giving your content the best chance of ranking highly on Google, you should read this article about how to get a Google Answer Box too.
To put it simply, a sitemap is a list of every single page on your website that you want Google to find. ‘Submit a sitemap’ is one of the only instructions Google explicitly gives to marketers related to improving your organic search rankings. While you won’t be penalised if you don’t make one, it’s definitely a good idea to take the time to make and submit yours.
We think of submitting a sitemap as a ‘best practice’ strategy as opposed to a 'if you don't do this Google will hunt you down and banish you forever' kinda thing. When it comes to SEO, leave no stone unturned - a sitemap won’t take long to do, so why not, eh?
There are two different types - an HTML sitemap and an XML sitemap. HTML sitemaps are not what Google wants, whatever your web developer says. It’s an XML that fits the bill.
The example we’ll use here is on WordPress, but if you’re on a different CMS platform you should be able to find a corresponding option for what we’re about to do.
If you haven’t already, download the Yoast SEO plugin and enable the sitemap functionality. That basically does it all for you, but the problem is this has been generated by a computer, and computers aren’t as smart as humans (YET). They do as they’re told and won’t apply any common sense, so we should probably take a look and make sure you’re not doing anything freaky (like wearing a beekeeper outfit at the office)...
Okay, so it may not be the prettiest thing in the world, but it’s written in XML format which is what Google requests. If you can see any pages in the list that don’t really add value or aren’t actually used as part of the site navigation, you can go into Yoast settings to exclude them from the sitemap. If you need further support, see here.
If you’re currently trapped in 1995 and don’t have a fancy CMS platform, fear not - you can add a sitemap the retro way (who knows, maybe it’ll come back into fashion).
To add a sitemap manually, you could use a tool like Screaming Frog to generate the list of pages and then export it as an XML sitemap. Alternatively, save yourself the hassle and use one of the millions of free tools out there to do it for you, such as this XML Sitemap Generator. All you need to do is pop in your URL and it does the hard work for you, so you can just download the sitemap file. Make sure you open it in a text editor first so you can spend some time checking that everything is in order and that you aren’t submitting any pages you don’t want Google to see. Please note: Excluding pages from a sitemap doesn’t hide those pages from Google. Search for ‘no-index’ on Google to learn how to do that.
Fire up your FTP program (we’re using FileZilla), find your Public_ HTML directory, then just drag and drop your sitemap file in.
Once that’s all done, make sure you can reach it on www.your-site.com/ sitemap/xml. If you can’t… you’ve gone wrong somewhere and are making things very hard for yourself. Go install Wordpress.
Google might find your sitemap all on its own, but you’re better off submitting it via Search Console.
• Take your good self over to www.google.com/webmasters/
• Then go to Crawl > Sitemaps
• Hit ‘Add/Test Sitemap’
• Then paste in your URL.
Google will let you know some useful tidbits such as any errors it has discovered, how to fix them, and how many of your submitted pages it’s going to index. Ta-da!
An acronym in the marketing world can often be an ominous signal of something complicated that we’d like to ignore - and SEO can be one of those things that turns clever marketing people into quivering wrecks.
None of the 4 steps we’ve suggested in this guide could be classed as a ‘quick fix’ - they’re not difficult, but they do take time. Researching search terms is time consuming. Optimising your website is time consuming. Writing content is time consuming… If you're after something which gives you quick results, you might want to consider the pros and cons of doing SEO vs. PPC.
Think of SEO as a marathon, not a sprint - and if you’re fully invested in making a success of your bee-utiful honey business then SEO is a must. It may take a while, but if you start working on all these good habits now, you’ll see the pay-off later on down the line.
What, you’re not sticking with the honey industry? That’s a shame. A damn shame.