By Steve Antill, Foundation Software
Think about the last search you performed online. Whether you were searching for the “fastest pizza delivery near me” or “hotel prices in Orlando” or anything in-between, you were ultimately looking for the most relevant and accurate information related to your search. How you’re able to find those websites with that relevant and accurate information is where SEO — or search engine optimization — comes in.
By its most basic definition, SEO is the process that helps drive traffic from search engines to relevant websites. It’s also SEO that helps sites to rank higher — or closer to the top — in search results. Generally, sites with the most relevant and accurate information related to your query will show in your search results instead of those that are off-topic, inaccurate or poorly presented.
As a website owner or anyone looking to grow their business, learning how search engines determine rank and optimizing your site accordingly can help increase your chances of showing on the SERP — or search engine results pages — putting more potential clients in contact with you and your firm.
In theory, it all sounds easy enough, but how do you actually get your firm’s webpage to show? Unfortunately, there’s no one simple trick to immediately improve your SERP ranking, but there are certain steps you can take to get your site noticed. Though search engines change the exact criteria for how they rank sites frequently, accurate and relevant content never goes out of style. If you’re providing answers to the questions that searchers are asking, you’ll organically attract visitors to your site. Likewise, if your site is set up to be “found” by search engines and you’re creating a positive experience for your visitors, your audience will have a better chance of finding you and sticking around once they do.
1. Generating Content
In just about every SEO article or guide, you’re likely to find the phrase “content is king” somewhere. It’s common because it’s true, albeit with one caveat: that content also has to be quality. Beyond anything else, quality content is what will help improve your rank and drive searchers to your website. If you can’t correctly answer the question a searcher has or quickly offer whatever it is they’re looking for, they’re probably not going to visit your site or stay there for very long if they do. Because of this, you’ll want to take steps to create content that offers the best solutions to the problems that brought your visitors in the first place.
When producing content in any form — blog posts, informative articles, podcasts, infographics, videos, etc. — it’s always important to keep your target audience in mind. You can help to narrow your specific audience by asking yourself a few questions:
- Who are you trying to attract to your website?
- What are your “typical” or target clients like?
- What are their interests and backgrounds?
- What information are they looking for, and what’s the easiest way to present it?
With these questions in mind, you can start to build an audience profile that will likely consist of several different target audiences. For example, you could have an audience of owners of construction businesses and an entirely different audience of their office managers. If these two audiences are searching for a basic term like “income statements,” it’s likely that what they’re looking for — and their motivations for searching for it — will be very different. The owner might be looking at hiring a construction-focused CPA to prepare their financial statements while the office manager might be looking for instructions on how to set up a statement. With separate content pieces that answer their questions, there’s a better chance of these two audiences finding your firm’s website.
When thinking of “how” someone might be searching for something, try to incorporate the same keywords — the important words that searchers use in their queries — within your content that your audience uses. One simple way to build a list of these potential keywords is to start a search using broad terms related to your topic to see what auto-fills within the search bar or what other suggested searches appear based on those terms. Often, creating content that uses these more specific keyword phrases can help you get better results for your SERP ranking compared to broad terms which have already been targeted by thousands of other sites.
To start building content, you might type “accounting” into a search engine and find suggested searches of “accounting definitions” or “accounting tutorial.” These may all present content opportunities for you or spark ideas for other content that you could create. For example, you might provide a list of some of the more common accounting terms and their meanings to cover “accounting definitions” or create an introductory article explaining the difference between credits and debits as an “accounting tutorial.” By creating content around these two search terms, you’re providing answers to searchers’ questions — thus creating quality content.
From a client-generation perspective, you should include your firm’s location information somewhere within your content in order to extend your reach to those searching for accountants in specific cities, states or just “near me.” Having your location listed will help your chances to rank for these types of searches, putting you in contact searchers that could become your future clients. This is especially true if you’re providing the content they’re looking for — like an article detailing why a construction-focused CPA is a better choice for construction companies than a general CPA.
At this point, you might be tempted to create a single blog post or article filled with every potential keyword you can think of. This practice, called “keyword stuffing,” can actually negatively impact SERP rank. Remember, quality content is key. Providing accurate, engaging content is more important than hitting every possible keyword as this will keep visitors on your site and provide them with the content they need.
Additionally, include keywords as naturally as a person would talk or write. Making content accessible and not sounding like a sales pitch increases the likelihood of readers sticking with it, which will increase your SERP rank, build trust with your audience and increase the odds of converting them from visitor to client. They’ll also be more likely to return and even link back to your content on their sites, getting you in front of even more potential clients.
2. Getting Indexed
So now that you’ve got some pieces of relevant, accurate content to coax visitors to your site, it’s time to focus on how that content appears. Above all else, your content should be readable for your human visitors, but to increase your SERP exposure, you also want to take into account how search engines will read and eventually rank your site.
To rank a website, a search engine performs three steps:
- 1. Crawl
In the crawl step, a search engine finds and “reads” your site’s content to see what it has to offer. It does this by continuously sending out bots — automated code that scans information on websites — to scour every nook and cranny of the internet to find new content like yours.
You can either let the crawl process occur naturally, which could take some time, or you can attempt to force the search engine to crawl your site by submitting a sitemap — sort of like an outline of the site that shows how internal pages connect to one another — to the search engine. Depending on where your website is hosted, a sitemap might have already been created for you, making it as simple as submitting a URL through search engine tools like Google Search Console or Bing Webmaster Tools. If not and you’re in a hurry to get indexed, you’ll have to create the sitemap yourself.
Creating a sitemap can involve some setup, but there are plenty of guides that can provide step-by-step instructions on how to create one, even if you don’t have a lot of technical know-how. These essentially involve establishing how the pages on your website interlink with one another and adding XML codes to indicate the site’s hierarchy of pages. If that all seems like a bit too much technical wizardry, there are also third-party services and programs available that can create a sitemap for you based on your site’s homepage.
After a search engine crawls your site, the site will be indexed and added to the list of potential results for search queries related to your content. At this stage, if a contractor searches for the keywords of your content, your site should appear somewhere within the search results — though it might not be in an optimal spot. This is a result of the third step of the process: ranking.
The exact ways in which a search engine determines a website’s ranking change frequently, but providing a positive experience to your visitors is among the most important overall factors for improving your rank.
3. Creating an Experience
The latest shift for increasing SERP ranking has primarily focused on the “user experience” of visiting a site. Again, this starts with quality content, but there are a few other metrics to gauge that experience beyond the quality of images and impressiveness of the writing. While some aspects of the user experience stem from technical SEO — which focuses on what’s happening behind the scenes of the site
— you can still make some improvements without fully jumping into the technical side.
The bottom line of creating a good user experience is to give visitors what they’re looking for quickly and efficiently. With the sheer volume of content available on the web, most visitors aren’t going to spend too much time poking around on a clunky site to find what originally brought them there.
Factors like a website’s load time impact the user experience. If pages are taking too long to load, the chances of a user bouncing to a different site are high. While high-resolution pictures might be impressive to look at, it won’t really matter if the visitor already left before that image loaded.
The layout of a site plays an important role in visitors’ experiences, too. Layout is more than just the overall look of the site and extends to the logical setup of the site — similar to the hierarchy created within a sitemap. Ideally, the entire website should be easily navigable and take only a few clicks for a visitor to get wherever they’re looking to go. Links shouldn’t dead-end or bounce through multiple redirects, which slow down the speed at which pages load. If a site impedes visitors from getting to their desired content, they’ll remember visiting that site as a negative experience.
In addition to a site’s structure, where information or features are located should make logical sense within the layout. For example, if the contact information for potential clients to ask about services is buried in the “Staff” section, this might not provide the most intuitive, user-friendly experience. Instead, it should probably be highly visible — especially from pages where they learn what services you offer.
With current trends showing an increase in mobile over desktop searches, it’s just as — if not more — important to optimize for a positive user experience on mobile devices. Without mobile optimization, site content might load perfectly on desktop but have issues even loading on mobile. One simple test is to verify that your content appears clearly on both mobile and desktop versions of your site after uploading it and building your layout. Beyond a quick visual scan, you can also enter your URL in the “Mobile Usability” feature of Google Search Console or the “Bing Mobile Friendliness Tool” to get a quick report of any technical issues your site may have on mobile.
Building a positive experience can lead to repeat visits and “backlinks” from other sites — both of which are factors in increasing a website’s rank and visibility. Besides sharing traffic, backlinks help boost SERP ranking by adding credibility to content. If you become a trusted authority on your subject matter, your content could be linked as reference material on other sites, increasing the chance of more visitors — who may become your next clients or referrers. Likewise, backlinks influence rank when search engines index the sites containing them. The more links to a site a search engine sees, the more important it regards that site, increasing its rank.
For creating a positive user experience on your site, remember the golden rule: try to provide a visitor with the same experience that you would like to have whenever you visit a website.
4. Maintaining Content
Now that you’ve created content and taken steps to make sure that your site is optimized, you can begin to make tweaks to and experiment with your content for even better results. With SEO, it’s important to remember that it’s not a one-time deal where you create content, optimize your site and it maintains its rank forever. Effective SEO is a result of continuous fine-tuning by responding to trends within your industry and consistently providing up-to-date content.
If something changes within your industry — like upcoming tax legislation for your area — keep your audience up-to-date by releasing content to explain how it affects their businesses. Not only is this great for building audience trust, but it’s also useful because you’re showing current activity on your website. As an added benefit, frequent updates cause search engines to crawl your site more often so new content appears in search engines faster.
If you’re stuck trying to think of something new to add to your site, you can always refresh older content. Even if it’s as simple as adding another bullet point to a list or reworking a few sentences of an article to modernize it, search engines may still treat this as “new content.” This is beneficial for both your audience and search engines to show that you’re actively engaged with your site — providing opportunities to increase your SERP ranking while building trust with your audience as a source of reliable, up-to-date information.
As you become more familiar and experienced with SEO, you may want to look into different analytics tools and programs to gather quantitative data about your site. With this information, you’ll be able to clearly see what pages are keeping visitors engaged and where they are leaving the site. Data collected over a statistically significant period of time can help to take the guesswork out of what’s working and what’s not and narrow down what your audience finds interesting.
Incorporating SEO strategies into a website can seem like a daunting task at first, but it’s not something that has to happen overnight. By taking small steps to optimize already existing pages — as well as using concepts like writing for your target audiences when you generate new content — you can develop a positive trend to the number of visitors to your site, increasing the accessibility to your firm and growing your potential client base.
About the Author
Steve Antill is VP of business development at Foundation Software and Payroll4Construction.com, where he leads the charge for continual revenue growth, including new entry points into the market to serve contractors. He invests much of his time building partnerships and relationships across the construction industry with contractors, CPA firms, associations and technology vendors. Over 20 years, he’s led more than 1,000 software selections and implementations for contractors of numerous sizes and trades.
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