What efforts are you making when it comes to search engine optimization (SEO)? Are you making any efforts at all? This week, Scott Glidden is joined by Ben Austin, Content Marketing Manager at Continuum, to discuss how you can use available tools and information to have your website rank higher in search results. One of the best ways to do this is to take advantage of Google Analytics. However, if it's your first time venturing into this tool, it can be a bit intimidating. Luckily, Ben simplifies the process to get you off on the right foot. Ben and Scott also cover the importance of having a mobile-friendly website in the wake of Mobilegeddon and during a time in which mobile device usage is skyrocketing. Tune in to learn about SEO, mobile optimization, and much more!
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Scott: Hi, and welcome to another episode of MSPtv. I'm Scott Glidden, and with me here today is Ben Austin. How are you today, Ben?
Ben: Great. How are you Scott?
Scott: Good. Ben's our Content Marketing Manager here at Continuum, and he is also a guy that we go to a lot for questions concerning SEO, search engine optimization. I think, literally, when you talk about search engine optimization, about searching for information on the internet, you're talking about Google.
Ben: Ninety-nine percent of the time, you're going to be talking about Google, which simplifies it a little bit because you're going towards one set of rules, or one kind of standard idea. So that does simplify it a little bit, and usually what applies to Google will apply to the rest of them as well.
Scott: Now they've announced a change in February that just took effect recently, and that concerns mobile websites.
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. So they basically put out a web crawler, which is the way that they index all of your Web pages, specifically for mobile. So they're really prioritizing mobile search results now, and they're looking at pages specifically to see how they would rank or how well they are adapted to what users are looking for on mobile devices, as well as, you know, between tablets, phones, and computers all separately.
Scott: Sure, but certainly the mobile market is growing at a much faster rate.
Ben: Absolutely, yep.
Scott: And now I understand they have a tool, a webmaster tool, that's handy?
Ben: Yeah, so webmaster tools and Google Analytics both are very, very good tools that Google puts out there for free for anybody to use. That's the first step for understanding a lot of the SEO talk. They just put it out there for you to understand. And they give you a lot of the tools yourself, so you can go in and see what pages are ranking on your website, which keywords you're focusing on, what keywords people are searching the most that you're also ranking on. So you can kind of look and see, "Okay, people are searching this term a lot, but they're not necessarily always coming to my site," and you can make adjustments using that information to get you help up.
Scott: Now I understand that with the webmaster tool, also, one of the components of that is it will actually go through your site and flag which pages on your site are not mobile friendly.
Ben: Exactly, yeah. And they actually have another test, as well, that you can just go and put in URLs for each of your pages and it will tell you is that a mobile optimized page or not? But also digging in with the webmaster tools, they have a specific feature that's mobile usability and it'll go through each one of your pages and it will tell you on your website which pages have usability issues for mobile, and then you can address those. They give you some steps to follow to address some of those.
Ben: So it's really just about making sure that the design works on a mobile device. A lot of it is basically the responsive web design, which basically means that regardless of what kind of a device you're using, whether it's a computer or a tablet, the code in the URL that's being sent from your website is all going to be the same, what's going to change is the CSS and that'll change the display according to whichever device you're on. So it simplifies it for Google. They can always say, "This is the information we're going to serve up, and it looks great on whatever device, so if they're comfortable with it." So they serve it up a lot more frequently.
Scott: Good. Now we're going to provide a link here at the bottom of this page, a colleague of ours developed a really nice tool, that I know we've blogged about, concerning Google Analytics. Can you talk to me about that?
Ben: Yeah, so Google Analytics can be a little . . . If people aren't familiar with it, it can kind of be a beast to get into.
Scott: Sure, a bit intimidating.
Ben: Yeah, a lot of information that you can dive into. But one of our colleagues developed a really nice dashboard that's specifically built for MSPs just getting started with Google Analytics. And it basically, you can set that up, just lay it right over all your own information, and it will give a nice graphical display of a bunch of the big key ones you should be focusing on. Right in a nice dashboard, it'll give you your website analytics, and then you can have that emailed out to yourself or your webmaster or whoever, on a daily basis, on a weekly basis, however you want.
Ben: So just a good way to kind of get started and get your feet wet with Google Analytics.
Scott: Good. So as far as developing or looking at your site, what are some of the basic rules when it really comes to writing about your site.
Ben: Yeah, so you're obviously going to want to understand the key words that your audience is going to be searching in Google, and then taking that information and making sure you're plugging it in in the important spots on your website. So in the title tags, right at the top, that's going to be one of the first thing Google looks at. So with those, some of the key things are making sure that those key words are early on in the title, it's just Google notices those a little quicker, and then you're also going to want to keep those title tags . . . A rule of thumb is 55 or less characters, and that's how it shows up when you go to search for Google. So that's a good rule of thumb, just to follow.
You also want to do the same thing with meta descriptions, which are the descriptions when you search. In a search result, that's the little description you see. That's almost written entirely for humans, it's not necessarily something it ranks on. But if you put the correct information in there, good thoughtful information in those, people are a lot more apt to click on your search result, so. Those are two key ones. Also getting content-rich pages, so not just all text on a page, get some images in there, and name the images using those key words as well. Don't name an image X234??, really, whatever the image is supposed to represent, whatever it's purpose it, use that right in the name and the alt tag of the image. Google will take that into account, and they'll see that you're being consistent and that you're being thoughtful with that. Also video, as you know . . .
Scott: Same way, sure.
Ben: Same thing. And that's a good way to keep people on your page, engaged in your page, is to have a quick one to two minute video describing whatever the topic of that page is. And the longer people are staying on your page, Google recognizes that, "Okay, this is a useful page for the users, it's keeping them there, they're finding out information, they're achieving what they want," and so it ranks them higher according to that.
Scott: And it is important, too, to as much as possible, to use unique words. You don't want to be using the same words and phrases as everybody else, right?
Ben: Absolutely. Google . . . Yeah, and it's important across your website on all of your pages, make sure that all those title tags and all of the headers and your text are all unique. Google doesn't like to see you taking a cheap way out of making quantity over quality. They don't like to see you taking the shortcut of just duplicating a bunch of pages and then changing one or two things here or there. They want to see unique, content-rich, key word-rich webpages that you've put a lot of thought into, that you're actually thinking about what the user's going to want to get out of that page, and then they appreciate that, they rank it higher based on that. So definitely stay away from just duplicating and copying out pages and URLs. Make sure that they're always unique, especially in the title tags.
Scott: Yep. Now we're all guilty, I think, of having a shorter and shorter and shorter attention span, especially when it comes to pages loading and stuff. And we were talking earlier about a three-click rule when it comes to your site map.
Ben: Yeah, so that's two good points. One thing is Google does take site speed into consideration, so anything you can do to clean up the load times of your pages is definitely important. And also, to that other point, building out a simple and kind of clean site map for Google, and laying out your site in a very simple and not so cumbersome or layered way, makes it so much easier for Google to crawl that. So basically, the way that Google is crawling your site is that they're going from link to link to link throughout your website, and so you should never really be more than three clicks away from any page on your website. So if a user's on your home page, they shouldn't have to dive down four or five layers to get to whatever, this small product page or informative page, that they're trying to get to. It should be up higher, keep a fairly flat URL structure, and make it as easy as possible for both your users and Google to get from place to place on your website. And that includes linking to internal relevant pages on your site from one page to another that, again, makes it easy for Google to crawl and it makes it easy for your users to click and get to the information that they're looking for on your website.
Scott: Right. And I think, too, is that, and I've talked to a number of people around this subject, and sometimes folks are trying, in my mind, trying to spend too much time trying to game the system with Google. I think, for me, if you look at Google as, "Okay, I have this editor, whether I like it or not, and he's in charge of how people are going to find my pages and stuff," it really is . . . They try to give you the tools, between the webmaster and some of the other tools, to help you produce a good, efficient, clean site that they will crawl and find things for you. So it's really a big lesson, I think, to be learned there.
Ben: It is absolutely. And that's the one thing that I stress more than anything. When you're dealing with Google, it's more don't think of it as trying to fight a machine, try to make it simple for humans. And that's what Google is trying to replicate as well. So, like you said, you can go online and find 100 easy, quick, simple tips for SEO. The thing is, it's not quick and simple. It's not a 1-2-3 kind of thing that you can just automatically do and cheat the system, because Google is very, very good at what they do. And maybe not right now, but in a few months from now, they're going to catch up to what tricks you're doing, and they're going to discipline you for that and bring you down. So that's a lot of the link-building, the buying links back to your site that people have tried this. If it seems too good to be true with Google, it is.
Scott: Right, so in many ways, it's just about good housekeeping and being in a good neighbor and working with the parameters that Google is really setting out there.
Ben: Yeah. And again, especially with the mobile things, we talked a little bit about the design and making it look good, but the other big thing that people sometimes forget about, they'll put a responsive design on the website, say, "Oh, it's mobile-friendly," and call it good. But really, another part of it is making sure that if somebody's on their phone or on a tablet, and they come to your site, whatever they're there to try to do, if they're trying to figure out where you're located, if they're trying to call you, if they're trying to have you contact them, make those the easy things for them to find. If somebody comes in and gets that information and uses it, Google will see that, and does rank that, absolutely, in their mobile rankings now, as well. So always, in your footer, try to have your email address or a "contact us", your physical address if possible, and a phone number, especially in the mobile design. A lot of the time, because a lot of the time, if somebody is on their phone, that's what they're interested in finding.
Scott: Yeah, yeah. Very much. Very true. Well thanks for coming on-board.
Ben: Thanks for having me, Scott. It was a pleasure.
Scott: I think we'll have you back and we'll maybe get into a sample and really dig into some real structured SEO, and take a look at what's working.
Ben: Great, sounds good.
Scott: Excellent. Well thanks very much for joining us again, folks, and hope you come back and see us here at MSPtv
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