One of my favorite marketing exercises are SEO website reviews.
What's in this article?
There are a couple of reasons for this: 1.) It keeps me sharp. Enabling me to quickly spot various SEO and Web traffic problems and 2.) It’s a great way to give potential clients a quick introduction to the potential value of making a few strategic tweaks to their website.
As you might imagine, having analyzed hundreds of websites, there are some common weaknesses that plague many Web pages and sometime entire websites.
Here are a few quick hits that almost every website needs to work on improving.
Title and Headlines
Page titles and headlines are your first impressions, and often your first opportunity to get the click that lands them on your website. Consequently, you would think that this would be the most obvious thing to get right, but invariably I find lots of issues with headlines and titles.
Titles and headlines are often neglected because they’re far more complex and impactful than most webmasters and writers realize. Most SEO types just think of it as another place to stuff a keyword, but the truth of the matter is that even if you convince Google to give you that high ranking search engine result–you won’t get the click (i.e., Web traffic).
This really is the key. Getting into a favorable position in the SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) is one thing, but getting that position to translate into traffic is another. In my experience, the two work hand-in-hand because Google (and other search engines) want every search to return valuable and compelling search results.
Enough convincing…lets get those titles and headlines fixed up to deliver top performance.
Keyword are Important
Yes, keywords are still important. And, yes, you need to have one keyword in your headline, but don’t shut your brain off after this single consideration.
Think about what people are looking for when they search for that keyword. What problem are they trying to solve. How is this article, infographic, video, slide presentation, ebook, or other mode of content going to help them get to a solution. Now, write that headline and make their eyes snap to your headline–your offer to solve their challenge.
This is the difference between:
10 Ways to Improve Your Email Marketing Subject Lines
10 Subject Lines That Open Eyes and Emails
Which would most likely capture your attention in a search engine result, on a cluttered web page, or in a brief scan of your Facebook news feed?
Make ‘Em Pithy
Headlines are the key to accessing consumers’ overwhelmed attention. You have one fleeting moment to pause their eyes and their attention to consider your offer. The best way to accomplish that is the way news and magazine editors have been doing it for years–make them concise and expressive.
Everyone understands concise, but expressive often escapes folks.
Here’s a crude little jingle, in the signature style of Dave McClure to help you write better headlines:
Everyone wants to get laid, paid, or made.
The simple point is that if you really want to grab the attention of an increasingly distracted consumer, you might just need to hit them square between the primal urges of sex, money, and power.
Keep Them Under 70 Characters
Back to a bit of the technical aspect of SEO.
Page titles and headlines ultimately have to get crammed, in a good and natural way, into the general framework of a SERP. In the case of titles this means that you need to keep that page title under 70 characters and make it pack a punch.
This will not only work your skills as a copywriter, making every word count, but it will also ensure you keep your appeal concise. If you exceed 70 characters you’re likely to cut your SERP headline at some arbitrary point, lopping off the punchline, and getting the dreaded ellipsis (…) at the end of your headline, making your SERP look messy and unprofessional.
This lack of attention to detail is even more embarrassing when you profess to be an SEO expert. This particular example (by the way nowhere near page one) seems to be trying to cram every keyword possible into this headline.
The natural result is that none of these keywords register a strong enough signal for Google to rank this website for any of them.
Here’s a little tool tip I use for all the websites I work on.
In my content architecture spreadsheet, I add a column that automatically calculates the length of my titles, using the cell formula len(). This will immediately identify page titles that exceed Google’s 70 character limit. This same process is also a good step to run against your crawl reports. If you use something like Screaming Frog, which I highly recommend, it’s already in the report.
Remember, It’s Your Sale Pitch!
Sit forward and take out your pen and paper to take notes. This is the most important thing about page titles and headlines on all your pages:
It’s your sales pitch in search results, social media channels, and the variety of other places you pages will be posted and linked. Your page title is often the default anchor text for these backlinks. So it’s in your best interest to make it compelling to click on, not just another boring keyword title.
Like the page title, meta descriptions are an integral part of SEO and your resulting SERPs. As such, these brief descriptions (often neglected by webmasters and content creator) are critical to the effectiveness of your traffic generation from organic search.
Some SEO types might even try to convince you that meta descriptions are not important at all because Google (i.e., Matt Cutts) has gone on record as saying that it doesn’t use meta tags and meta descriptions in their search ranking algorithm. This, quite honestly, has caused a lot of confusion and miscues in the SEO community.
In these instances, I find it best to go straight to the source and make my own read. In this video Matt Cutts gives us a pretty clear picture of the non-importance of meta keywords–to the point of telling us not to waste any time at all on them–and in contrast the appropriate effort and significance to give to your meta descriptions.
Here’s the summary version: Google uses meta descriptions, if they’re good.
They don’t want to see keyword stuffing, which is pretty much a general comment across all elements of your website and they don’t want to see the same (duplicate) descriptions all across your website. It’s no surprise that Google wants and rewards meta descriptions that are useful and relevant to the search user in understanding the content you’re offering.
Based on that understanding, let’s learn how to make your descriptions useful and relevant.
Keyword are Important
As you heard, Matt Cutts mention in his video, Google looks at meta descriptions and compares it to the content to determine relevance and utility in the description of the content.
Keywords are an important part of that determination. But, be cautious here. Google will quickly ding pages and websites that seem to be coercing them into coming to a particular conclusion on what a page or website should ranked for in their search engine. As such, keyword stuffing is a death sentence, but don’t neglect them altogether.
My recommendation is to make sure that there’s a tight match between one keyword, which is used once in the page title, once in the meta description, one to three times in the content of the page, and if possible once in the page URL structure.
Beyond that small keyword trick, to ensure you clearly communicate to Google the primary keyword relevance of that page, meta description should be a simple and informative snippet on what you get if you click and why you should do so.
Make ‘Em Pithy
I might sound like a bit of a broken record on this one, but copywriting so important to Web traffic generation so you need to get it right.
There are mountains, no mountain ranges of words on the Web. You have to rise above the boring. Page titles and descriptions are a great place to stand above the crowd.
Consumers search the Web many times a day and they stare across search result after search result of boring nonsense, often ripped arbitrarily from the first few sentences of the page it’s referencing. Consequently, if you take just a few extra moments to truly write a relevant and interesting teaser for your content, click-throughs shoot up.
Keep Them Under 160 Characters
Like page titles, if Google gives you a character count to abide by–why wouldn’t you. It’s just a simple indication of discipline and professionalism on your page. So, hit the character count.
This is as simple as adding this little column and formula to your editorial calendar:
Remember, It’s Your Sale Pitch!
This is another point I can’t really overemphasize:
Descriptions, like titles and headlines, are a critical part of your sales pitch. You’re number one objective in digital marketing is typically to grow your Web traffic. That means getting the click!
Meta descriptions, again like page titles and headlines, often follow your content around the Web. In addition to SERPs, these descriptions show up in Web scrapings, social shares, directory listings, blog cross-postings and trackbacks, and a myriad of other opportunities to be referred and referenced. These are all click opportunities. Make sure your copy attracts the clicks.
To be a bit more specific, this is the guidance I give writers on writing meta descriptions:
Including your primary keyword, write your meta description like the worlds shortest sales letter (or if you’ve ever done this–like PPC ad text). Lead with the benefits of clicking on your result followed by one promised result.
[Improve your SEO copywriting – Download SEO for Content Creators]
I know, I know you just read the subheading and immediately reacted: “Calls-to-Action, what does that have to do with SEO?”
In and of itself, not a lot. However, in the big picture of hacking together an online mega-growth traffic and revenue strategy–it has everything to do with SEO.
Google is getting better and better at leveraging every bit of content on your page to understand the topic and its value. Towards this objective, the Google algorithm seems to give particular weight to elements in your content that have extra emphasis, typically this means HTML tags that indicate headlines, bolded, italicized, or linked text. This type of emphasis is often placed on the calls-to-action within your page.
If this isn’t true, it should be because this is all anyone ever reads anyway. On the Web people scan to find what they need/want. Acknowledge and use this fact to get more response from your content marketing efforts.
In addition to the direct impact these calls-to-action will have on your SEO, it’s also a critical element in the overall success of your Web pages and website in general. Few of us have the luxury of spending the time and money it requires to run a valuable website without it making money. Therefore, calls-to-action are critical to funneling your traffic–consumers–into the money making channels of your website.
With these principles as a foundation, let’s learn how to make those calls-to-action get SEO results and make money.
Remember, It’s Your Sale Pitch!
Have I beaten this dead horse sufficiently? The art of short sales copy is a priceless skill to possess and it’s going to continue to get more valuable as our attention spans continue to compress and become Twitter-sized.
These tiny, bite-sized pieces of copy, often as brief a two to three words and a dozen or so characters, crammed into concise headlines, anchor text, and buttons are sales pitches. They are the words that make people click-through or exit your page.
Remember that before you roll with the default “Submit” on that button or write a headline that looks like the 100,000 others just like is: “10 Steps to Get a Mortgage.”
Here’s a nice little example of some strong SEO and call-to-action copy from one of the fastest growing tech startups in the market:
Note the strong action words interwoven with the benefits and of course there is no question about the keyword concept being Dropbox and where to get it.
Tell ‘Em What They Get
Second only to forgetting to include a call-to-action at all, forgetting to lead with benefits is the most common mistake in creating strong SEO pages.
Crafting compelling benefits to taking the action within your content is the best way to weave in your most important keywords. And it will certainly prevent you from writing a whole page of copy or creating a beautiful landing page without ever telling them why they need to take action or take the next step with your business.
People Click Buttons, People Click Orange (Sometimes Yellow) Buttons
Now, for the psychology of the click. People are easily conditioned and the Web does this in an amazingly efficient way.
You intuitively know how to register and sign up for things using a web form. You know to use the tab key to move quickly through completing that form. Oh, please don’t tell me you use the mouse to click into each field, like my mom 🙂 You know to go to the contact page or the footer to quickly get a company’s address or phone number.
You get it. There are just some simple patterns that we get and mindlessly follow on the Web.
These conditioned responses are important behaviors that marketers should be aware of and leverage to maximize their results.
One of the biggies in this regard is the use of buttons. If you want someone to do something or click somewhere–give them a button, preferably an orange button. In A/B test after test the power of the button to get clicks has been an overwhelming winning strategy for driving visitors to take the right action on a Web page. Second to this is the blue underlined link, but buttons are better.
Add to this button a strong call-to-action and you have a money-making combo.
SEO can be a huge and complex topic, but getting a few of the basics right can have a significant impact. This is especially true in the cloudy and murky world of SEO, which is constantly tainted by misinformation and mythology.
Start with these three essential tips and then build on them for more and more effectiveness in ranking and driving traffic via search engine channels.
What are some other essential SEO tactics that you find important in ranking and driving traffic?