A lot of clients forward me unsolicited emails from SEO (search engine optimization) experts that have identified SEO errors in their site: too-short meta description, no phone number, no Pinterest link or blog. Most of their advice isn’t flat-out wrong, but it may not be so right, either.
But how can you tell which SEO advice you should be listening to? For starters, I’d treat any unsolicited advice the same way I treat door-to-door steak salesmen — with extreme suspicion (a lesson learned the hard way). These folks don’t know the constraints of your web design project. For example, a common piece of advice is to include a phone number for customer service. But what if you’re a one-woman design studio and you don’t have time to answer phone calls all day long? Another is to add a blog (or links to Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest…) to your site, but not every small business owner has time for that.
First, know your numbers
If you have an e-commerce site, what was your revenue last year? How many site visitors did you have? How many return visitors? How many visitors added an item to their cart; how many proceeded to checkout; how many completed checkout? Did anyone add items to a wish list? How many visitors came from social media sites? What keywords did visitors use to find you on search engines? How many visitors created new accounts?
Dig into your sales data and your site statistics. Hosted e-commerce platforms like Shopify and tools like Google Analytics provide deep insights into your website’s performance. Set up an out of office auto-reply for your email, pour a frosty beverage, and get lost in the numbers for an afternoon. You’ll have a much better idea of what’s going on with your site (and your business) and can make better decisions. Not to mention that you’ll be better at evaluating claims about your site’s performance from experts.
Those who don’t know history…
Once you know a thing or two about how your site is actually performing, you can start setting some goals. Say your site earned $100,000 last year and you want to improve that by 10%. Or you have a blog and your subscribership was at 15,000 at year’s end and you want to add 5,000 more subscribers this year. You don’t want to charge into the mechanics of SEO without having clear goals.
If your goal is to increase sales, you may get more bang from your buck by improving your site flow from product page to checkout. SEO may improve your site traffic, which may in turn increase overall sales, but if your conversion rate is poor, you’re going to get a poor return on your SEO investment (not just money, but your time investment).
If your goal is to increase subscribers, maybe a little spring cleaning on widgets (yes, even SEO widgets) will speed up your site so visitors spend a little more time and get to know the real you and not just the spinning rainbow wheel or hourglass.
Start with goals, so you’re more open to the different ways to achieve those goals.
It’s not all about SEO
If you’re in a very crowded market, focusing on keywords, meta tags, image alt tags, etc. is probably going to have only a marginal effect. Visitors searching for your site keywords are still going to be drawn towards the major players in your market. You might get more bang for your buck in exploring a smaller niche or engaging more with a specific social media platform.
If you’re selling letterpress wedding invitations, but your site design is more appropriate for outboard motors or deer blinds, you can craft your heading tags, meta tags, and alt tags all day long, but the brides-to-be won’t stick around.
Consider the possibility that you may be better served by a professional photographer, copywriter, or web designer, than an SEO expert.
SEO is still important
Of course, SEO still matters. Your site should be built well and it should be updated from time to time to take advantage of new developments (e.g. Google rich snippets, Pinterest rich pins, Twitter cards, etc.). Good SEO is more than just search engine rankings.
It’s about making sure that your site presents meaningful information to whomever is searching and via whatever platform. Making sure that Pinterest has the product’s title and description and not just that of your overall website is a good example. Another is adding author rich snippets to blog posts. And another is adding price and availability data for Pinterest, Twitter, and Google.
This way, when someone finds your listing in Google, or pin/tweet/post of your product, they’re presented with richer information.
If you think SEO is the way to go, ask your web designer. Send them a screenshot or link to the site SEO grader you found, or forward them that email from the SEO expert. Together you can review the data, discuss goals, and make a plan.
If you build it (well), [more of them] will come.
Measure, measure, measure
Once you update your site, you’ve just begun the site improvement process. Now you need to measure the effects of the changes. Compare your sales, traffic, subscribers, conversions, time-on-site, bounce rate, etc. to a similar time period. How does the difference measure against your goals?
Maybe that new blog really is driving a lot more traffic to your store. It might be worth it to invest even more time in blogging. Or maybe that new cart page redesign increased the percentage of visitors following through to checkout — maybe redesigning the product page will get more folks to add items to their cart.
Knowing the impact of your efforts will guide your future efforts.
We know you have questions!
What questions do you have about search engines and methods of improving your site? We’d love to share more info based on what you’re finding tricky.