Amiria Gale’s On-page SEO / Keyword Research Guide
Many people decide to create a website, but few get good at driving online traffic. Some people write and write and write and only ever see a handful of visitors each day. If they are lucky, a piece might see viral success on social media, resulting in a spike of traffic that dies away. Rather than uploading more and more content in the hope of one day publishing a viral post, there is a much better way. It is a game changer.
Tracking visitors to your website
Before we delve into this in detail, you must ensure that you can accurately tract the visitors to your website. The best way is to sign up for Google Analytics and Google Search Console. These are free tools provided by Google and they are invaluable. I could not operate my websites without them.
- Sign up for Google Analytics here. Google Analytics allows you to see which pages are being viewed, where your visitors are coming from, how long visitors are spending on each page etc.
- Sign up for Search Console here. Search Console allows you to see who is linking to your website, which keywords your website is ranking for etc. Search Console shows how many times certain pages are appearing in the search results and what percentage of people click through to view the page. It also lets you know if there are any issues with your site in terms of being able to be crawled properly by the Google robots.
Once you have signed up for an account with Google Analytics and Search Console, you need to add and verify your site with both of these. Start with Google Analytics first. The last step is to add a snippet of code to your website. If you have a WordPress website (which I recommend – see how to create a WordPress website), the easiest way is to add a plugin to help you do this, such as the ‘Google Analytics for WordPress by MonsterInsights‘ plugin. Once you have verified your site with Google Analytics, add your site in Search Console and use Google Analytics to confirm verification.
Good places to start with Google Analytics:
- Realtime > Overview. This shows live visitors on your website.
- Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. This shows the number of visits to each page on your website for the given time period (you can change the time period in the top right corner). It also shows the ‘bounce’ rate (percentage of people who stay on your page zero seconds – ie ‘bounce’ right off) and average time on the page.
- Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium. This shows how visitors are arriving at your site.
Here is my favourite page in Google Analytics, showing visitors viewing a website in live time:
Good places to start with Search Console:
- Search Traffic > Search Analytics (then tick Clicks, Impressions, CTR, Position). This shows you the keywords that people are typing into your website before they arrive at your site from a Google search. If you change from ‘Queries’ to ‘pages’, it shows you how your individual pages are currently ranking.
- Search Traffic > Links to your site. This shows you which websites have linked to you (as Google discovers each link, they are added here, so new links may not appear immediately).
How to get traffic to your website
Once you have created a website and set up Google Analytics and Search Console, it is time to start driving traffic.
There are only four ways that someone can arrive at your website.
1. People type in your url and visit your website directly. This is called direct traffic. Direct traffic is awesome, as it means that your website must be good enough for someone to purposefully seek out your site. Ultimately, you want a large percentage of your visitors remember your website and return. Unfortunately, unless you have a large marketing budget for advertising and/or paid traffic, this usually requires that you have actual visitors in the first place. In almost all cases, for people to remember your site, they have to visit it first. Thus, for most website owners, direct traffic is a consequence of producing a great website that drives traffic in one of the other three ways below.
2. Other websites link to you and people click on these links. Visits of this nature are called referrals. In this case, another website owner has vouched for your site and someone has decided to click on that link. Links from relevant, high quality websites are awesome, because, in addition to the visitors, Google is likely to take this as a signal that your site is worth ranking. Unfortunately, it is very hard to get high quality sites to link to you. Furthermore, the wrong kind of link (ie. from a dodgy website) can harm your search engine ranking. Paying someone to link to you (ie. a sponsored link) is not allowed, unless the link is made ‘nofollow’ (which tells Google not to count it as a ranking signal, defeating the purpose). If you offer or acquire undisclosed paid links, you violate Google Webmaster guidelines. Even if you do get a great site to link to you, the number of people that clicks your link and then goes on to visit your own site is likely to be minimal. For someone creating a new or little know site, therefore, generating links from relevant, high quality sites is time consuming and and fraught with difficulty. In my view, there is a better way to spend your time.
3. People discover your content on social media websites (ie. Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter). Unless you are an amazing writer like Emily Writes, whose first blog post was viewed over one million times, it can be unrewarding to pursue social traffic sources. In fact, even if you are a great viral writer, I recommend ensuring that Google traffic (see below) becomes a significant part of your online strategy. Although social media traffic is wonderful, it is varied and fluctuating and relies on you constantly publishing shareable content (more on social content soon).
4. Traffic from Google Search. In my view, search engine traffic is the most reliable, high value traffic that you can pursue. Although never guaranteed (the algorithm that Google uses to rank sites is top-secret and constantly adjusting), Google traffic can bring you a growing stream of visitors to your website, month after month after month. Unlike social traffic, which swells and subsides, each article that is well-optimised for search engines adds new visitors to your website, so your traffic steadily increases over time.
Understanding Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)
Search Engine Optimisation helps to get your website appearing high in Google search results. The higher you rank, the more people visit your website. For example, a study by Moz in 2014 found that the desktop click-through-rate (CTR) of the first result in Google is 31%. The second result has a CTR of 14%. The third result has a CTR of 10%. Page 2 and 3 results received only 6% of all clicks. This means that it is essential to get your website ranked as high up the first page of results as you can.
This article provides an approach to on-page SEO in particular (as opposed other aspects of SEO, such as link building or site structure). In my opinion, once on-page SEO is mastered, all other aspects of SEO pale in significance. This is because once you generate quality content that drives traffic through google, links take care of themselves.
The method I outline below is the result of seven years of intense research, experimentation and trial and error. This method is not for the faint of heart; it takes significantly more time than writing stream-of-consciousness blog posts. Keyword research takes time; researching facts / collating references and images takes time and writing each article takes time.
When you get it right, the graph for each article ends up looking something like this:
There is an initial spike when the article is shared via social media, followed by minimal growth for a couple of months, while Google assesses the page. By the end of the third month the page starts to gain traction, until it levels out somewhere… (this one stopped at about 600-800 visitors a day). It usually takes at least three months before an article gets a foothold; longer if your site is new (about six months). Often the graph is a bit more irregular and haphazard than this example, due to other random events that affect traffic.
The approach is as follows:
Conduct keyword research, using the keyword planner
The success of this method relies upon keyword research (the act of discovering what phrases people type into Google when searching for things online) and using these keywords to organise and structure online content. Keyword research shows you exactly what people want to know, which then influences the content you write, and helps with social sharing too (as you are more likely to be writing something that people are interested in). I use only one keyword research tool: the Google Adwords’ Keyword Planner. There are many other keyword tools available, however, these are usually overpriced and over-complicated. These extract data from the Keyword Planner and apply various calculations to these, comparing various keyword phrases with the current ranking results for these terms. I prefer to get the raw data straight from the source. To access the Keyword Planner, you need to sign up for Google Adwords (this is a free platform that you can use if you want to advertise with Google – you don’t, you just need to use their keyword tool). Unfortunately you now need to have an active advertising campaign in order to access all of the data. Although this is frustrating, for a very low cost, you have access to a phenomenal tool. The keyword planner is useful for discovering what people want to know about and what terminology they use. As an example, when I was a teacher, I always used to refer to my students’ notebook of drawings as a ‘workbook’. The Keyword Planner made it clear that ‘sketchbook’ is the most popular term. Although this sounds obvious in hindsight, until I saw the data, I just didn’t realise.
Analyse the existing search results
I open a new Google window using incognito mode (otherwise Google shows you personalised search results) and search for the topic you are considering writing about. I check two things:
- Number of times the keywords appear in the page titles, urls and (to a lesser extent) the descriptions
- Quality of the ranking websites (i.e. if the top result is just someone’s random pinterest board etc, it gives you an indication that ranking highly might be possible)
You may also find that there are so many ads for a particular search, that organic search results are pushed way down the page and are harder to see.
This process should only take a minute or so. It should be immediately apparent whether this topic is one that you have a possibility to rank for.
Once I have decided on a topic, I then do lots of other research, finding out what already exists online for a particular topic. For example:
- Study the highest performing Pinterest pins related to the topic;
- Look at other high ranking pages for that term;
- Conduct other general knowledge as required to write the article, including finding quotes from reputable sources.
Write a long, comprehensive piece of content
Aim to write the most thorough, up-to-date, aesthetically pleasing resource that is available for a particular topic. This is something Brian Dean coined as the Skyscraper Technique (although I don’t bother with link building as recommended in the second part of his article). Longer content tends to rank higher. As an example, if you are an artist, rather than having images spread out with one image per page, collate all works about a single topic on the one page, so that the page is long and comprehensive, rather than having multiple short pages.
Ensure that headings and subheadings contain relevant keywords
There can sometimes be a temptation (particularly when writing for social media) to include ‘arty’ or cryptic headings, however these do nothing to help Google understand what a particular page on your website is about. Google gives extra weight to keywords in urls, headings, titles, subheadings etc.
Ensure that images are optimised for search engines
Before you upload images to your website, make sure they are named using accurate keywords. For example, rather than uploading an image called 7232hhjk.jpg, rename it to relevant-keywords.jpg. This, along with the alt tag and the text used around the image on the page, helps to tell Google what the image is about. Ensure that all images are accompanied by text, as Google is much better at evaluating written text than images.
Follow the recommendations given by Yoast SEO
Yoast SEO is a WordPress plugin. When you are writing/editing a post or page, at the very bottom, the Yoast plugin will give you some advice and also has fields for you to input the SEO title and Meta description of the page that appear in Google (the Google search snippet). These should be written so that they are keyword rich and enticing.
Link out to other relevant, high quality websites
Some website owners, especially those interested in making a profit from their visitors, are reluctant to link to other websites for fear of losing traffic to another site. Google views outbound linking as a natural, normal part of being online. The websites you link to tell Google about your own site. Link to trustworthy, family-safe, educational websites, which contain content that is relevant to your own website.