Search engine optimisation (SEO) is a funny old business. Organic traffic often makes up 70% of web traffic yet many don’t pay this channel the attention it deserves. Eventually, when the importance of SEO hits home, businesses don’t have the right people in place which leads to lots and lots of panic. If you’re working in a business who just realised how important SEO work is but has no idea where to start, this is the blog post for you.
These are four things that I’ve seen most companies either don’t do or get wrong. There’s no shortage of beginner’s guides that talk about keyword research and the likes out there. Instead, these are some of the lesser known tricks of the SEO trade.
Using a Content Delivery Network (CDN) Like Cloudflare
Cloudflare does a lot of different things and the service is perhaps best known for helping websites when they’re under attack. If you remember a few years back, Boards.ie was hit with a DDoS attack, Cloudflare was the screen you would have seen when trying to access the site. But obviously, there are some SEO benefits of Cloudflare too or else I wouldn’t be talking about it.
That sounds unrelated. Many sites are on CDNs. If set up properly, CDNs work great for users & search engines.
— 🍌 John 🍌 (@JohnMu) May 10, 2017
I’ve already shown some of the key factors that impact how your site ranks organically. One of the best-known ranking factors is site speed. Cloudflare helps with several of the more technical aspects of SEO. The likes of site speed and server response times can be greatly improved. For a client recently, I deployed caching and Cloudflare. The result was a fully interactive page load 16-seconds faster than the page I started out with.
Organic traffic to the site has already increased by 143% since these changes were implemented. Some very real impacts off the back of some relatively simple changes. Cloudflare also gives you a fairly hefty free tier which is what I used for this client. The website I was working on didn’t have an SSL cert either and was presenting a “not-secure” warning. Wouldn’t you know it, Cloudflare even gives you a free SSL cert which ups your security and also keeps the Google Gods happy.
For me, Cloudflare is one of the biggest no brainer first steps for websites that haven’t had SEO love for a while. It’s free, makes a massive difference and is remarkably easy to set up. You will need hosting access to change some DNS records, but honestly, it’s not that hard. It also makes the next step easier too.
Get Verified on Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools
Most guides will outline that you should get verified on Google Search Console. Some will also even go the step further and insist you also get verified on Bing Webmaster Tools. Doing so lets you submit pages to a priority queue for crawling and inspect pages for technical issues. Google Search Console has been giving some fairly massive updates in the past twelve months too with additional functionality.
Sometimes, I’m a bit taken aback by how some of the most useful data for SEOs out there is provided for free in these tools. Many paid SEO tools just wrap up this information is a user-friendly interface. I’m even more bowled over when asking companies for Search Console access and they look at me like I’ve got two heads. The information in these search engine management tools is so valuable. How many people type a phrase into Google and are presented with your website? How many people click through to your site? What’s your average position in the search results? I’ve even helped businesses name products based on the data in here.
All of this info would be just sitting there if you verified your site on these free platforms. So please, I beg you. Do it.
The new Google Search Console updates mean you can also verify all variants of your domain in one go. In the past, you would need to verify the different versions of your site separately. By versions, I mean http://, https://, http://www and https://www. Now, you can verify all four domain versions on a TLD level through your DNS settings. You don’t need Cloudflare to access this, but it’s super easy if you do have Cloudflare setup.
Simply select Domain verification as above, type in your domain and then follow the instructions to add a TXT record to your DNS records. A simple step that’ll keep you in Google’s good books.
Check Your robots.txt File
Another one that leaves me speechless. I’m a big F1 fan and I went looking for the governing body’s website recently. That’s the FIA. As soon as I saw the search result, I knew something was wrong.
When you see something like this, it usually means that the website has asked Google not to crawl their content.
I went a little further and checked if the FIA did have suggested content that should be shown here, content like title tags and meta descriptions. Sure enough, they did have content they wanted to appear in search results.
So the FIA does want Google to show all this content, but it’s being ignored. Why?
Well, when new websites are being developed, it’s common for developers to add a small line to the robots.txt file asking search engines like Google to ignore the site’s existence. Once development is complete, you remove that little line and we all go on about our business.
It all sounds so simple, but you wouldn’t believe how often developers forget to come back and remove that line in the robots.txt file. The site gets launched, everyone in the company celebrates and moves along. No one ever looks at the analytics so no one ever knows there’s an issue.
Honestly, I find a few of these every month just from casually browsing the internet.
Hey, @Shane_RossTD. Look. I really want to get a chat with you about electric scooters and you've opted for radio silence. So I'm going to do you a solid. Your new website is set to "no index". This means Google can't crawl it. Can't be found. Much like you for comment. #SEO pic.twitter.com/HdbfRS0y8L
— Marty Meany (@martinmeany) April 27, 2019
Using a free robots.txt checker, it’s easy to find what the problem is for the FIA. They’ve added that little line to their robots.txt asking Google not to crawl their site.
Ultimately, the result is Google paying more attention to subdomains not governed by the same robots.txt file.
The lesson here is to pay attention to your robots.txt file. It’s incredibly powerful. Don’t assume someone else will update it after a site launch or migration. To be safe, you should include individual user-agent callouts for the various crawlers and allow them rather than assuming they’re allowed by default.
Finally, test the hell out of your robots.txt file once before you update it. Technical SEO can be daunting, but maintaining your robots.txt file is easier than it looks. While your robots.txt will never move your site up the rankings, it along can make your site disappear. BrightonSEO absolutely nailed the feeling when this happens.
Google reindexing a site after you accidentally blocking it in the robots.txt
— brightonSEO (@brightonseo) June 21, 2019
Just Ask For Links
Search engines care about how many links you have coming into your site from other sites. A good long term strategy is to regularly ask for links but remember. Generally speaking, you should be looking for high-quality links from websites that are well established and not spammy.
There are plenty of tips and tricks when it comes to link acquisition, but here are my favourites.
Use Google Search Alerts
Google lets you set up alerts for mentions of certain things online. There’s a raft of reasons this is useful, but one of the best is to use this tool for brand mentions. Lash in an exact match for your brand and you’ll find out every time you’re mentioned online. Then you just reach out to the journalist or blogger who mentioned you and ask really nicely for a link.
Finding a Journalist’s Details
Great if you know how to contact the journalist right? Well, thanks to the nature of their job, journalists are usually pretty easy to get in touch with. Twitter is a great place to find journalists chatting and they often have their email in their bio. You might even be able to DM them on Twitter too. They probably have an author page on the website they mentioned you on too, with this page often having their email details.
Another favourite of mine is Hunter.io. Here you type in the domain of their website, along with their name and there’s a good chance the Hunter system will have an email address for you to reach out to.
Just remember to be nice and polite. Journalists get hundreds of these emails and there’s little in this for them. Some will even have a policy of not linking to anyone. It’s bad practice for them, but it’s their right. Respect it and don’t be spammy.
If you can, try and give them something in return.
Help a Reporter Out – HARO
I love this service but it’s extremely hit and miss. Help a Reporter Out or HARO, sends you three emails a day listing journalists who are looking for experts to help out with articles. The range of topics that appear in these emails is huge so there’s generally something here for everyone.
Steer clear of the ones listed as anonymous and try to write your responses as close to final draft content, ready for publication, as you can. In return, there’s a very good chance you’ll get a mention and a link in the article.
Just remember, not all responses you send will be used.
Why You Should Start Doing These Things Immediately
There you have it. Four things that I believe most websites don’t do but should. If your business has been ignoring SEO for the last few years, these are real gifts. None of these things cost any money.
- Cloudflare – free tier
- Google Search Console – free
- Google Search Alerts – free
- Hunter.io – free tier
- HARO – free tier
This means that even if your just a digital marketing head in a company where SEO is believed to be dead, you can uncover some wins without budget or risk. If you’re in sales, these four steps are a free and relatively easy way to ramp up your Google ranking on a load of pages, increasing your search traffic. Increase your relevant search volumes and you increase your sales.