How Branding & LSI Keywords are Becoming a Major Influence on SEO [Case Study]

brand influence seo

This was a case study from 2017 that looked at the influence brand is having on keyword ranking in 2017. As branding is having a greater effect on a websites ability to rank, we’ve reposted this to show its influence in all its glory. 

Everyday we’re discovering new ways to work Google’s recommended best practices into our favour, and it’s little surprise when you’ll expect to drive very little traffic sitting on top of page 2.

But, in spite of overly crowded marketplaces, Google’s growing desire to humanize their ranking factors does open doors for opportunities to rank for keywords that we weren’t intending to target.

Ranking for multiple keywords at once

I worked with a client that recently rebranded. This happened between December 2016 and February 2017. The existing brand name had been in place since the firms’ inception in the 1900’s. It averaged over a 165k branded searches a month but the industry was in steady decline.

For confidentiality, let’s say the existing name was “Ali’s Cod Bar”

Branded search volume had declined 18% from 2014 to 2016 and then another 18% between 2016 and 2017.

Branded Search Volume -4 Years
Branded Search Volume -4 Years

The rebrand involved a slight (but substantial) change in the company name.

The new name contained a target keyword that had shown relative growth in the market over the last 5 years. For the sake of confidentiality, we’ll say that this keyword was “Squid.”

So, let’s now also call the rebranded name “Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar.”

Still with me? Great.

The rebrand involved both a site-wide CSS logo change as well as content inclusions of Squid where relevant.

In the months following the rebrand, branded traffic for the existing company name “Ali’s Cod Bar” dropped 17% compared to the same point the year before. This was at the same time the new brand name search traffic (expectedly) rose nearly 3,000% in the months following the rebrand.

New Brand Name Search Volume - 12 Months
New Brand Name Search Volume – 12 Months

During this period, Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar saw a huge jump in rankings for Squid Insurance. Squid Insurance, with an estimated 8,100 searches a month, jumped from position 16 to position 6 within 6 weeks. This insurance offering is a major product in the market.

Squid Insurance Ranking on Google - 3 Months
Squid Insurance Ranking on Google – 3 Months

The most interesting part of this was that at the same time, we also saw that a synonym of the keyword (worth 5.4k average searches a month) show a near identical jump in rankings.

Let’s call this Calamari Insurance.

Calamari Insurance Ranking on Google - 3 Months
Calamari Insurance Ranking on Google – 3 Months

Both ranking changes took Ali’s from Page 2-3 to Page 1 within 3 weeks.

There had been no direct mention of Calamari in any of the title tags, headings, body content, URLs or meta data across the site. Yet, we found that we ranked on page 1 for this term at the same time as we did for our target key term.

The rebrand likely had a part to play in the increase in visibility for the target keyword, Squid Insurance. But was it pure coincidence that we started ranking on page 1 for Calamari Insurance at the same time?

As Google continues to understand the way human minds think and search, it’s no surprise that SERPs are becoming much more aligned to user intent.

The introduction of Google grouping

2018 update: As Panda makes us more conscious of content quality than ever before, it’s now common knowledge to see single pieces of content ranking for hundreds (sometimes thousands) of keywords, eliminating the need for highly targeted, low quality, individual pieces of content.

If I were to now perform a local search for a holiday in Cumbria, I would likely initiate my search as per the below:

book a holiday in cumbria search box

The first 3 organic results actually list an offering for the Lake District – a more common holiday destination that is based in Cumbria.

book a holiday in cumbria search results page

Google had announced that they were starting to group synonyms of keywords and provide a total result encompassing all search queries, but there remained inconsistencies across SERPs that this was completely the case.

This study also only focused on search volumes and not the rankings of similar keywords, but it could be probable that the provision of bolded synonyms within the SERPs is a result of Google’s keyword grouping and continual bid to humanise their search algorithms.

But what is the reason for Google to show me results for keywords I haven’t searched for?

Google’s objective is to solve the problem that the user has queried in the search box. Its algorithm has understood that, typically, users searching for holidays in Cumbria tend to also search and click on holiday offerings in the Lake District.

Google has built associations between both keywords through user behaviour. The result of this is that I’m shown SERPs from both Lake District and Cumbria, despite not mentioning Lake District in my initial search query. It falls down to intent, and my search intent for both of these is aligned.

So what affect is brand having on traditional ranking factors?

Let’s dig a little deeper. The introduction of Google Schema and Structured Data has been another progressive step in Google (and other major search engines) humanising their search results.

It allows search engines to understand specific data segments and directly display answers (+additional value such as reviews and NAPs) to queries on the SERPs. It reduces the users’ need to necessarily click and so inadvertently demands more competitiveness from webmasters for the remaining space.

Google wants to provide answers, not just endless links to click. But it needs to know whom the authority links are when presented with a query and who also provides the most relevant answer to the query.

The introduction of Google Schema and Structured Data has been another progressive step in Google (and other major search engines) humanizing their search results. Tweet: The introduction of Google Schema and Structured Data has been another progressive step in Google (and other major search engines) humanizing their search results.

Humans don’t make decisions in a shop based entirely on the functional attributes of a product (the technical factors), they base some part on the brand of the product. Humans make associations with brands. They build trust and personal association. Search engines understand this, and are bringing it into the online world.

Recent research on the effects of branding on traditional ranking signals

A study by Tom Capper showed that branded search volume is better correlated with rankings than Domain Authority is.

Although, the correlation of this study was relatively weak, and further investigation seemed to show that Domain Authority was integral to ranking on page 1, but had little influence on the top 1 or 2 positions.

The study placed a softer emphasis on relevancy and intent once a domain is ranking on page 1 for their target keyword. What does the user specifically want? And who are the brands/domains that they want to see in their results?

A 2017 study into “brand” + “product” search effects on rankings concluded that if the product wasn’t relevant to your brand in the consumer’s eyes, then it wasn’t in the eyes of Google either.

This suggests that traditional weighted ranking factors (such as links) would naturally have lower impact on rankings longer-term and more focus on which brands best serve the user query.

A 2017 study into “brand” + “product” search effects on rankings concluded that if the product wasn’t relevant to your brand in the consumer’s eyes, then it wasn’t in the eyes of Google either. Tweet: A 2017 study into “brand” + “product” search found that if product wasn’t relevant to brand for consumers, it was irrelevant for Google too.

With this in mind, jumping back to our example; are users building more of a correlation with Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar (the brand) and Squid insurance (the product)?

The number of [brand name] + [insurance] searches improved by 700% during this period which would suggest an increase in brand association of Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar with their insurance product.

This suggests brand association with that product type. Although, the volumes discussed are so small that it’s difficult to attribute how much weight Google placed on this.

New Brand Product Search Volume – 12 Months

Upon the rebrand, there was substantial investment made in external factors – communications (including a big PR drive and the official launch announced at a trade show), social media (the launch was streamed on Facebook Live) and PPC. There was also a landing page discussing the new brand with video content.

All these factors contribute to human psychology building associations with a brand. Google now understand that if a user is searching for this they are also searching for this.

How can this work for me?

Let’s not be mistaken, the technical optimization of your site is still fundamental. If you want any hope of getting on to at least page 2, then you need to at least still consider link building, as well as optimizing your URLs, Title Tags, Heading Tags, content (2018 update: as well as speed, mobile UX and HTTPS).

In your content, it’s smart to sprinkle synonyms (or LSI keywords as it is commonly known) of your target keyword throughout to help build keyword association with Google. Also aim to get your target keyword in the first 150 words of your page.

2018 update: the LSI keywords should be secondary keyword targets. When undertaking keyword research, have a look at not just functional synonyms of that keyword, but also which of those keywords are traffic drivers with at least some volume, even if it is just a fraction of the primary keyword.

Turn those into headings and use them as inspiration for content creation. This is where you can use Search Console to aid in content creation

I’ve ticked the technical boxes, why do I need to use other marketing tactics to build brand association?

In the case of Ali’s Cod & Squid Bar, there was substantial investment made in the other marketing tactics. Don’t underestimate the influence of branding and communications in human psychology.

The end goal is to drive as many prospects to initiate a search that is “your brand”+ “product” (such is the case with most branded product searches) to build as much authority with that product as you can with Google.

The more often a user searches “your brand” + “product”, the more brand association is built with that product within Google.

The objective should then be to communicate this message and those product values to your consumers across multiple online and offline media.

Research shows it can take up to 13 touch points before a cold prospect converts and this same approach should be considered when building association.

How can I use other marketing tactics to build brand associations and rank well on Google?

Social Media – easily the most scalable and cost effective way to drive association. Work with your social media team to:

  • Communicate your brand messages in video and live streams
  • Drive prospects to landing pages and owned media that communicate the associations and target keyword
  • Use imagery that stands out and is memorable
  • Regularly contribute blogs and articles that communicate brand associations with your target keyword

Press and Outreach are also good to reach out to relevant audiences at scale.

  • Ensure you invest time in working on your outreach, that is, link-building with other media within your market. This helps to build both association and authority signals in your market place.
  • Generate press pieces in local and regional magazines offline if resource permits

Email

  • Nurture streams can reach different segments on a personal level to discuss these associations and product offerings. Tell your email list about these associations and why you are the number one brand for that product or service

Use multiple touch points to build that brand association with your target keyword!

Key Takeaways

  1. A ranking increase for one keyword could also result in multiple rankings increases for similar keywords
  2. Brand is now an influencer on ranking. Brand association of a brand with a product is a clear indirect ranking signal
  3. Traditional ranking factors are still integral to visibility, but external factors are now also playing a part more than they ever have done

Conclusion

This study looked at just one example of how one high traffic keyword started ranking on page 1 at the same time as the target keyword did. Although it is just one example, it demonstrated how Google is now showing a correlation of ranking URL’s that have similar search intent.

Ali’s example had the target keyword incorporated in the rebrand and thus they experienced a higher search volume for their new brand (and any branded search terms) with this keyword.

This helped build association of the brand with this target keyword and bump them up to page 1 for their target keyword as well as a close similarity of that keyword as well. It’s clear that consideration of target keywords now needs to be looked at more holistically.

Google clearly wants webmasters to humanise more of their content and web optimization.

As Google gives us more opportunity to rank for more keywords and seeks to better understand what product equity is best associated with which brand, we’re expected to answer the query that the user has searched for more effectively than ever before.

Supercharge your SEO Strategy with Google Search Console

Google Search Console. Our way of feeling as though we have control over Google.

Previously webmaster tools, Google Search Console (GSC) is a free service that helps you monitor and maintain your site’s presence in search engine result pages (SERPs).

Do you need it to rank in Google? No.

Should you use it? Definitely.

It allows the owner of a website to help Google better understand their website. Including:

  • Indexing website URL’s
  • Solving any URL issues
  • Submitting new content for quicker indexing
  • Identifying which search queries drive traffic
  • Setting URL parameters
  • And much more…

If you haven’t already, here’s a nice guide on how to set up GSC.

Let’s dive in and look at 8 ways GSC can give you the insight to supercharge your SEO strategy.

1. Improving Meta Descriptions & Title Tags

How to find it:

Search Appearance > HTML Improvements:

html improvements in google search console

This section highlights any cases of meta description and title tag issues, inclduing:

Meta description

  • Duplicate meta descriptions: Meta descriptions that are identical across at least 2 URLs.
  • Long meta descriptions: *2018 UPDATE*: Google are now permitting descriptions of around 230-300 characters (depending on your data source) as identified by SearchEngineLand here, but Google won’t give you an exact figure.
  • Short meta descriptions: Under 70-100 characters. Again, Google doesn’t give us an exact figure for these.

Title tag

  • Missing Title Tags: URLs without any content in between the <title></title> elements in the HTML.
  • Duplicate title tags: Title tags that are identical across at least 2 URLs
  • Long title tags: Title tags that exceed 55-60 characters, but Google doesn’t give us an exact figure for these.
  • Short title tags: Title tags that are under 30 characters. Again, Google doesn’t give us any indication as to the exact figure but research has shown it sits around this character limit.
  • Non-informative title tags: These are usually title tags that have been auto-generated at placeholders, such as “Title” or “Untitled”.

Non-indexable content

  • Non-indexable content issues: These are pages containing non-indexable content. This could be rich media files, video, or some imagery.

title and meta data google search console

Clicking on the element that has the issues will reveal the URLs.

It’s always good to use your keyword research to create any meta data. Although meta data is not a ranking factor, it does help increase your CTR meaning that it is vital all meta descriptions are sufficiently descriptive and within character limits.

Get creative with them.

It is also worth noting that Google may truncate titles or meta data, despite them seeming to fall within character limits. This may be because they exceed maximum pixel width.

It is always worth checking your new titles and meta data are appearing as you desire them to!

2. Identifying hidden keywords

How to find it:

Search Traffic > Search Analytics:

search analytics in google search console

We all know that Google’s Keyword Planner can give us a range of target keywords in which to optimize our pages for, but GSC also shows us which keywords our pages are generating the most clicks and impressions for.

hidden keywords in google

Below you’ll find a range of keywords that, depending on your search criteria, have driven the most clicks, impressions and their average position.

This is all dependent on the date range is given over the last 90 days.

Keywords with most clicks

Most of the top results will likely be brand related, and this will only grow as you scale your business and grow your marketing communication channels.

So how can we find opportunities here?

What we can do is have a look at instances in which we are driving a high number of impressions but driving a low relative number of clicks:

Keywords driving most impressions

With this data, you can work backwards to see which queries are driving a high number of impressions but a low CTR:

  1. Select Pages in the radio option provided

pages menu in google

  1. Sort by impressions and identify which pages have a relatively high number of impressions but a low CTR

target query in low position

  1. Select the page you wish to analyze the keywords for and then select queries

select the page

  1. The below then shows the queries generating impressions and driving clicks to the target page

You can also filter out any brand queries using the filter option in step 3 under “queries”.

With this information, assess which target keywords you wish for the target page to rank for and split test different title and meta copy to see if this has any effect on increasing your CTR.

It wouldn’t be uncommon to see that you have multiple pages competing for the same keywords. This can confuse Google as it struggles to understand which pages to rank for which target keywords.

Ensuring that you have optimized your on-page SEO for that target keyword and made good use of internal linking can how prevent this happening.

You can also use these queries as a basis in which to form your content strategy and content creation. Identify which keywords you wish to target and either optimize those pages for that keyword or build completely new pages with the goal of ranking that url on page 1 for that target keyword.

A little bonus… use keywords to help increase PPC efficiencies

It’s a natural battle, PPC vs. Organic.

In one company I worked for both of these channels were managed in different teams. So when it came to reporting on our weekly data, the organic channel was, to an extent, at the mercy of the PPC spend.

The bigger the investment in one PPC campaign, the more paid search would monopolize the traffic away from organic.

One little tip that you can use though is using your ranked keywords as a guide for PPC.

Once you’ve done your keyword research and identified your target keywords either through Search Console or a Keyword Planner, you may find that for a substantial few keywords, you’re not ranking so well at this point.

The top query is a target keyword for this client, although the average rank is relatively poor:

target query in low position

If we plug this query into the Google Keyword Planner, we can see that it drives an average of 90,500 searches a month yet we are only gaining a small fraction of that:

query in keyword planner

This would be an ideal one to really build a strong PPC campaign for whilst working on a longer-term strategy for SEO.

We can also do the reverse and identify target keywords that we are ranking top spot for and potentially reduce the PPC budget invested into these campaigns:

avg position top in search no ppc

This example shows a series of relatively low volume queries that we are ranking, on average, in position 1.

It’s always worth keeping an eye on fluctuations, but a PPC campaign built around these queries is arguably not as necessary as our previous example.

Of course, other considerations such as CPC and competition for the keyword will need to be considered before targeting the keyword for a PPC campaign, but this helps to guide which keywords should be considered as priorities.

It’s also worth noting the caveat to the Average Position provided in Search Console. The more popular a query is, the more pages that it may begin to rank for (including non-target pages). As a result, this could bring the average rank down (as a median), as it ranks for multiple pages in position 100.

Just one thing to keep an eye out for.

3. Do your target pages perform better on a different device? 

With Google’s long and drawn out move to a mobile-first index and Google themselves telling the world that ‘mobile friendleness’ is a ranking signal, it’s key to ensure that your entire website is responsive.

It’s also a good idea to understand how users are viewing your content. For example, if your site is mobile responsive but built primarily for desktop users, the user experience on the site may not be as great as it could be.

So how can we see page performance for each device?

  1. Select an important marketing page and then click ‘Devices’:

select the page

  1. The below will then list the performance:

devices in google

For this particular page we can see that, due to a higher average position of the keywords driving traffic to this page, we drive more impressions and clicks via a mobile device than both tablet and desktop.

With this information you can usually assume that the device is mobile friendly and hence Google’s willingness to rank it so well, but it’s always important to check:

  • How the user experience of the page is for each device
  • Are key CTA’s in optimal positions?
  • The load speed of the page on multiple devices

Check out our awesome infographic on Conversion Rate Optimisation if you are a little unsure on how best to build a page for conversion.

If this is the first time you are reviewing this data, then it’s worth checking two time periods in Google Analytics for this:

  • A check 12 months ago if your date range permits it (in Google Analytics)
  • A check 3 months ago

This will allow you to see if there has been any major changes in device usage of your page.

Have a look at your key marketing pages that you wish to rank for in search. Is there more opportunity in a different device or is there work to be done on the most popular?

At the bare minimum, all your pages should be mobile responsive.

4. Reindex your updated pages

Once any updates to your pages have been made, whether this is on-page or off-page, we want Google to tell Google about these updates.

The fetch tool allows us to see whether the Googlebot can easily access the page, how it renders the page and appears to the Googlebot and also whether there are any elements that are blocked.

You have up to 500 fetches a week.

It is also our way of giving Google a little prompt to reindex the page(s) that we have made changes to.

How to find it:

Crawl > Fetch as Google

Fetch as Google

How to fetch a URL

  1. Enter the URL after the root domain forward slash.

For example, if you wanted to crawl the URL: https://www.mywebsite.com/products/brand-x/ then you would enter products/brand-x/ into the URL box.

Fetch as Google URL

  1. Select either a Desktop or Smartphone crawl. Note: It’s best to run both for the same URL to ensure that you are not unintentionally blocks any JS or CSS required for responsiveness.
  1. Hit fetch to simply crawl the URL. Hit Fetch and Render to get a view of how Googlebot sees your page, it may be struggling to crawl elements that won’t be immediately obvious with just using ‘Fetch’.

Crawl URL

  1. Hit Request Indexing and this will prompt Google to reindex the page.

(After you prove you are real, of course)

Check the status of your pages in Google’s SERP’s across the next few weeks to see if your changes to any title and meta data have been updated.

You may even find yourself ranking slightly higher for your target keyword.

Google offer a full guide on fetching URL’s here if you run into any problems.

Let’s take a look at the technical elements for those medium term wins.

Google now places an immense amount of emphasis on user experience, ensuring that the result it provides to the query is exactly the result the user requires to solve their problem.

5. Identify crawl errors

It’s not uncommon to identify masses of technical debt of legacy URLs amounted over years if the webmaster or development team didn’t know it existed.

It’s also not uncommon to see this happening after a CMS migration.

You can identify any URLs Google had trouble crawling and subsequently reported it as an error.

How to find it:

Crawl > Crawl Errors

Crawl Errors Google

Here, we can identify:

  • Server errors: Response Code 500 -> The URL was blocking the Googlebot or the request for the page timed out.
  • Soft 404: The URL doesn’t exist but doesn’t show a 404.
  • Access denied: Server blocking Googlebot access to the URL.
  • Not Found: URL points to a 404 page.
  • Other: Googlebot was unable to crawl the URL but the issue is undetermined.

All Technical Errors in Google

The graph shows the error trend across the last 90 days.

Don’t panic.

It’s very normal to see Google finding errors within your site structure.

Google gives you the option to export all the errors into excel. If you find that Google is showing errors, export the document and sit down with the developers to try and better understand why this is the case.

Common causes:

  • Site URL structure changed when in development
  • CMS Migration left URL’s broken
  • Incorrect URL rules were set up.

Fixing crawl errors helps to improve user experience, a huge thumbs up in Google’s book.

Once you believe you have fixed the errors in question, hit ‘Mark As Fixed’ to clear them from Search Console.

If the errors still persist, Google will report them once they attempt to re-crawl them.

mark as fixed

If the URLs you fixed were in your XML Sitemap, then it’s worth generating a new one and updating this with Google.

  1. Generate your XML Sitemap with Screaming Frog
  2. In Search Console, go to Crawl > Sitemaps
  3. Hit Add/Test Sitemap
  4. Submit the sitemap URL, which should be yourdomain.co.uk/sitemap.xml

Test sitemap in Google

It’s also worth reviewing your robots.txt file to ensure that you aren’t unintentionally blocking any resources that may inhibit Googlebot from crawling pages effectively.

This could be important CSS or Javascript that prevent a page rendering and being indexed appropriately.

If you wish to view, edit and resubmit your robots.txt file, go to:

Crawl > robots.txt Tester

Hit Submit and select the step you wish to take:

XML Sitemap Submission Google

Manage your backlinks 

One of the first things you should do when in search console is manage the links pointing towards your site.

The authority, relevance, anchor and positioning of the links pointing towards your domain carries a huge ranking factor with SEO, so it’s important to ensure you keep on top of them.

Search Console allows you to view a large quantity of the links pointing towards your domain, but not all.

How to find it:

Search Traffic > Links to Your Site

links to your site Search Console

The summary presents you with three pieces of data:

  • Who links the most
  • Your most linked content
  • How your data is linked

Who links the most

GSC will show you the top 1,000 domains linking to your site, sorted by the number of times that domain physically links to your domain.

The links show how many times the domain has physically linked back to you and linked pages show the number of actual URLs that they are linking to.

Click ‘Download latest links’ and this will provide you with a higher quantity of domains linking to your domain.

backlinks in google

What can I do with this?

Depending on the quantity of backlinks, it is worth installing Moz’s Free Domain authority checker and also manually checking to see if the backlink is suitable.

This can be done by assessing whether:

  • The link is paid for
  • The link is relevant to the page it is linking to.
  • The URL or domain links out to a high volume of domains.
  • The Domain Authority of the domain is far lower than your domain. Although, exceptions can be made in some cases. For example, a blogger may have been blogging for years but have a relatively low Domain Authority. The blog may still be relevant to your link and so would be fine.
  • The link is littered with advertising.
  • The link generally has a poor User Experience

Disavow the poor quality backlinks

Google gives you the opportunity to submit a list of domains pointing to your website that you wish to exclude. This is your way of asking Google not to consider these links when Google comes to assessing the authority of your website.

To disavow a URL or domain:

  1. Download all links pointing to your website and identify the poor quality links you wish to disavow
  2. Paste these links into a text file, one link per line. If you wish to disavow an entire domain, add domain:[website address]. For example, domain:spamlink.com
  3. Upload disavow file to the disavow links tool page

It may take some time for Google to process all the information provided. You will see a message on your in GSC Dashboard once Google has acknowledged the backlink portfolio.

Google offer more guidance on this here

Your most linked content

  • This looks at which content is most linked to on your domain. It can help provide an idea of which content is popular and which may need some promotion.
  • A URL with few links pointing to it could be an indication that the content needs to be improved or further outreach put behind it, assuming this is a link we want ranked for a target keyword. 

How your data is linked – Optimize your anchor text

  • This shows the anchor text that is used as a link back to your website.
  • The anchor text remains a ranking signal with Google, this means that there is opportunity to optimize it.

Ahrefs recently did a study that identified Google’s sensitivity in regards to anchor text.

They concluded that exact match keyword anchor text should only make up around 2% of your total anchors and phrase match at around 30%. This leaves the rest to brand, website links or non-targeted anchors.

Search console provides a list of anchor text but unfortunately doesn’t provide the links using the anchor text in question.

SEMRush offer an anchor text service allowing you to see which links are using which anchors.

This allows you to reach out to webmasters that are linking back to you with non-optimized anchor text and request that it be changed to exactly match or phrase match the target keyword for that URL.

Just ensure to not exceed your exact match anchors above 2%!

 To conclude:

Search console offers a great snapshot of organic performance for keywords and URLs, but it also allows us to guide the Googlebot, allowing their crawl and indexing of our website to be more efficient and more effective.

Search console can help shape your first SEO strategy by:

  1. Improving meta descriptions and title tags.
  2. Identifying hidden keywords to guide content plans.
  3. Increasing PPC efficiencies.
  4. Assessing page performance by device.
  5. Reindexing updated pages for quicker results.
  6. Identifying crawl errors and technical issues with the domain.
  7. Managing backlinks.
  8. Optimizing anchor text.

Of course, it can do so much more as well.

The truth is, we’ve only touched the surface of what Search Console can offer, but this should give you a guide on how it can be integral to shape your first B2B SEO Strategy.

Get the full SEO Guide here

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The Ultimate B2B On-Page Optimisation Guide

In this post, we are going to look at why on-page SEO is important and the on-page fundamentals required to optimise a piece of content for search engines in 2017, focusing specifically on B2B firms.

What is on-page SEO?

On-page SEO concerns all the ranking factors in the text and HTML of a specific page that have some influence over how that particular page ranks in Google; for example, title and header tags, body copy, images and links.

What is off-page SEO?

Off-page SEO, as you may have guessed, concerns all the ranking factors not on the page that affect how that page ranks; for example, backlinks, domain authority, trust-flow, anchor text and more.

Why do we even care about on-page SEO?

Google’s rollout of Panda has ensured that content quality remains a fundamental cog in the SEO process, focusing specifically on quality on-page content that has become harder and harder to manipulate rankings for. As the reader demands more value and demands that value quicker, it is our duty to ensure that we provide them content that meets their ever growing demand and in the format and medium in which they demand it. Content creation should be defined in a sound content strategy aimed at meeting the needs of the business. image10

This tweet from Google Webmaster Trends analyst, Gary Illyes, tells us a number of things:

  1. Google heavily focusing more and more on natural sounding content
  2. Content should be written for the user first
  3. The statement:  “…may weigh much less…” tells us that content quality is not the only ranking signal
  4. In turn, the “…much less…” segment also shows us how important content is to rankings in 2017
  5. The statement also gives us a hint as to the importance to consider voice search when writing body copy.
  6. BONUS: Could this mean that correct use of spelling and grammar could play a part? Possibly.

Now, with the knowledge that all our content should be written for the user first and anything else (Google) second, consideration should be given as to what audience this piece of content aimed at.

9 Key factors to consider when optimising for on-page SEO

To kick this off, it’s important to remember one thing. Everything is contextual. If you want to rank for a target keyword then run that keyword in Google and analyse the top 5-10 results in respect of the following key factors, then simply create a better, more optimised piece of content.

It’s no exact science, but it’s a good starting point. Simple right? Also, bare in mind that all of these factors play a small part in the SEO landscape, no one-factor results in a given ranking position.

1. URL’s

In terms of on-page optimisation, URLs still probably carry the most weight with Google. This is why, in part, when you search a specific brand in Google, 99% of the time that brand will appear as the top listing.

Keywords in URL

Aim to get your target keyword as close to the domain as possible as this indicates to Google that the keyword carries importance for the proceeding page. Example:image18

You will typically see the keyword matching a category in the URL path, close to the root domain. In the case of the 2nd listing, Google has also understood the term ‘ERM’ as ‘Enterprise Risk Management’.

This gives a hint to the user that the page is also relevant to their search, increasing the likelihood of them clicking. Consider these two examples on page 6 of the same search:

image5
Neither URL fill you with confidence they cover ‘risk management software’.

Action: Include your target keyword in your URL path, as close to the domain as possible.

Categorisation

Categorising your products or services helps to give Google more context as to what your website is about. It’s integral. Why? It stops the same groups of products competing with each other for traffic. For example, if I sold a range of “office chairs”, I could structure my product page URLs in a number of ways:

  1. www.bensofficefurniture.co.uk/office-chairs-brand-1
  2. www.bensofficefurniture.co.uk/office-chairs/brand-1
  3. www.bensofficefurniture.co.uk/office-furniture/chairs/brand-1

Using the 1st structure:

  • I risk multiple brands (brand 2, brand 3 etc) competing for the keyword ‘office chairs’. This means diluting link equity in the keyword ‘office chairs’.
  • I risk losing any link authority in this URL if we stop selling this office chair brand and have to remove the URL.

The only time this would be preferred was if we had a range of ‘brand 1’ office chairs in varying formats: ie, colours, features, prices etc.

For example: www.bensofficefurniture.co.uk/office-chairs-brand-1/black/leather

Using the 2nd structure:

  • I can categorise all brand pages within ‘office chairs’
  • This means that any searches for ‘office chairs’ will rank my landing page with a complete range of office chairs, offering more choice and a better user experience.
  • This also means that all my ‘office chairs’ aren’t competing with one another. If someone searches a specific brand, then the actual brand specific page will be in a better position to rank.

Using the 3rd structure:

  • Gives an opportunity to rank for ‘office furniture’, but slightly dilutes the authority of ‘office chairs’.
  • Usually best if the volume of products is relatively high and we’re seeking to rank for a number of keywords.

Categories also enable Google to see how your site is structured through the use of breadcrumbs. Breadcrumbs are the URL categories that usually appear at the top of a page. For example:

image11

Google can also pull these into the SERPs

image1 This makes it far easier for Google to crawl your site and also indicates authority to the top-level category page.

Action: Categorise your products or services within your site structure

Mobile-optimisation

Mobile is now a more popular search device than a desktop, so Google has for some years been rolling out mobile-friendliness as a key ranking signal. As such, it’s not uncommon to have a separate url that serves a different piece of HTML depending on the user device. This could be www.bensfurniture.co.uk and m.bensfurniture.co.uk To help Google understand the difference and not fall into the duplicate content trap, they recommend:

  1. On the desktop page, add a special link rel=”alternate” tag pointing to the corresponding mobile URL. This helps Googlebot discover the location of your site’s mobile pages.
  2. On the mobile page, add a link rel=”canonical” tag pointing to the corresponding desktop URL.

See the below example from Google: image3 The rel=”alternate” is also supported in the XML Sitemap. Google also add:

“When you use different URLs to serve the same content in different formats, the annotation tells Google’s algorithms that those two URLs have equivalent content and should be treated as one entity instead of two entities.”

Therefore, if handled correctly, there shouldn’t be a compromise in url authority.

Action: Ensure that your URL is set-up to serve a mobile user.

2. Page Titles

Your page title should always put the user experience above all else, that is, writing a title that gives an honest description of the page copy below it.

Keywords

The page title should always contain your target keyword, as this remains an important ranking signal to Google. The closer that target keyword to the start of the title tag, the more importance it’s given.

The page title tells Google, and the user, what the proceeding page copy is about. It also gives an indication of the page structure. But bear in mind not to stuff your title with multiple keywords. Target one keyword phrase that clearly and functionally explains the page content.

Action: Put target keyword as close to start of the title tag as possible.

Length

Google will usually cut your character limit to around the 65 characters (600 pixels wide) though in some cases (known only to Google), this could go up to around 70 characters. Aim to keep title character length at around the 65 characters. Once it is indexed, see for yourself if Google cuts it short with an ellipsis. This is also true for mobile. Alibaba, in the example below, has exceeded their title limit and this could reduce CTR:

image6

Viking display a slightly better range of optimised title tags for their different product pages:

image4
Google has acknowledged that ‘Office Furniture’ could mean:

  • Office storage
  • Office Desks
  • Computer Desks
  • Office Chairs

The URL could do with work though! Remember, Google may use their own title tag if they feel yours isn’t sufficient or user friendly!

Keep them unique

Ensure each of your title tags is unique to that page and not duplicated across any other page.

Why?

Google may struggle to know which page to rank for that target keyword if multiple pages have the same title tags.

Keep them evergreen

Ensure your titles don’t need changing regularly in line with things such as a limited time sale. There could be a substantial amount of lead-time between changing your titles and that new title being populated in Google’s index. If your business runs a sale largely throughout the year, then advise of a ‘sale’ but avoid going into what that sale entails or time frames:

image2 ASOS could definitely do more with this title tag, but by avoiding going into detail with what the sale entails, they remove the need to adapt it every time it changes.

Brand

Did you notice in the ASOS example above how they have “| ASOS” at the end of their title tag? That’s no accident. Google likes brand inclusion, and it has shown to increase CTR generally across title tags.

This is especially true if you’re a big player in the market. There’s a relatively fair chance that if you don’t include brand yourself in your title tag, then Google will include it for you. As a result, we may see an example of the Alibaba title tag. Google has added “- Alibaba” and cut the title tag short as a result.

Action: Include “ | Brand” at the end of each title tag.

With all this in mind, the ideal title tag should loosely follow something along the lines of: “Primary keyword | Brand” or “Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand” Experiment with capitalisation, I’ve always found it to generally increase CTR.

3. H1

Your H1 is the first heading on your page and generally gives an indication of what the page is about.

For example; URL: https://www.logicmanager.com/grc-software/risk-management/ Title Tag: Risk Management Software Tools | LogicManager H1: Risk Management Software Tools

image20 It’s defined in the HTML as the text in between the <h1></h1> tags. Notice how the H1 clearly defines what the page is about.

Keywords

The H1 also carries a lot of weight with Google, so it’s best to optimise this tag with your target keyword. I would usually keep this identical to the title tag (without the brand), but using a synonym of the target keyword would also help you target for possibly more specific searches and give Google a little more context about the page.

The keyword is also a clear indication of the proceeding page copy that should keep bounce rates low and increase avg. time on site.

H1 Essentials

  • Use just one H1
  • Avoid duplicating your H1 across other pages.
  • Long-tail keywords help to tell the user and Google what the page is about

4. First 100-150 Words

The first 100-150 words set the contextual scene for both Google and the reader. It offers more depth about page content, allowing both Google and the reader to better understand what value the page is going to give them.

Keywords

Notice a running theme? I hope so. Drop in your target keyword as early as possible within the first 100-150 keywords of your body copy. Ensure it sounds natural and just the once will do for now. This, again, will signal importance of that keyword to this page. Using the below example from Xero, we can see regular use of ‘Accounting Software’, with it being the 101st word used in the body content.

image22 image12

Note: You’ll also see that this keyword sits nicely in the H1 as well. Never trade-off natural free-flowing content in return for getting your target keyword near the top of your copy, but it’s a huge benefit to get it included. So make it work!

Action: Include your target keyword within the first 100-150 words of your body copy. PS: The Word Counter Plus extension is super helpful!

5. H2 & H3

Your use of H2’s and H3’s, of which there can be more than one, help to further structure and give better understanding about your page. Although header tags run from H1-H6, the H1-H3 tags offer the most SEO value, but do bear in mind that this is minimal.

Remember:

  • The H2 should act a subheading to the H1
  • The H3 should act as a subheading to the H2
  • The H3 is widely used now as a header for ‘additional information’ of your page
  • Always ensure that the structure follows H1, followed by H2, followed by H3.
  • Only put useful and relevant text in the header tags.

Keywords

The H2 and H3’s offer a good opportunity to add variations of your keyword in the title. Make use of them but don’t stuff them!

Size Matters

Naturally, when creating a H1, then H2, then H3, the size of your titles should reduce to reflect the header tag. This helps give visualisation of the importance of that header to the user. Ensure that you don’t ever have your H3 the same size as your H2 or H1. Google Advise in their SEO Starter Guide: image8

  • Avoid excessive use of headings throughout the page
  • Avoid putting all of the page text into a header tag
  • Avoid using header tags purely for styling and not structural purposes

Body Copy

Unfortunately, like all aspects of SEO, there’s no one size fits all when it comes to how much copy to write and what exactly to write. But it’s not all doom and gloom, and years of research have shown a number of common factors that you should aim to roll out across your pages.

6. Word Count

Let’s dispel a common myth: More words does not necessarily mean more value. It’s little secret that Google’s Panda updates focus primarily on content quality and, within this, the amount of quality content your page is providing. Although user experience isn’t a direct ranking factor with Google, it is mentioned in Google’s quality guidelines.

This indicates that user experience does play some part in how well your page can rank. Fact: Writing more words has the potential to give the user more information, increase the avg. time on site and add more value to their experience. BUT – only if what you write is good quality content. We trialled some long-form copy for a client in the travel market. Typically, an average piece of content would have the following characteristics:

  • Average page length was around 150 -200 words
  • Most copy included one standard image.
  • Only 37.5% of users would typically scroll to the bottom of the page

We decided to write a 2,500 word piece around summer beaches, internally link to multiple travel products and include over 10 images. Results:

  • 65% of users scrolled to the bottom of the page
  • 160 bookings (the most the site had seen from a single piece of non-product focused piece of copy)
  • Dwell time was 150% greater than the site average.

Studies have shown Google tends to rank longer content higher, but always ensure the content adds value.

Action: Write long-form copy that adds value to the user reading it

  • Product Specification: Add in a detailed specification of your product or service. Those that dwell on the page and read to the bottom will more likely be a highly qualified lead. Find ways to create B2B content here.
  • Reviews: Add in product reviews. Not only does this give consumer confidence, it’s also a great way to add lots of good valuable content on to your page.

If your piece of content is aiming to generate leads, then you should ensure that it is optimised for that action. Note: 2,500 words is a number we chose based on content length of competitors, it is best to split test different lengths of copy to find your optimum.

  • According to Medium, posts with average read time of 7 minutes capture the most attention.
  • Research conducted by serpIQ found that, on average, the top 10 results for most Google searches are between 2,032 and 2,416 words.

Keyword Density

Keyword density looks at the number of keywords that exist in your body copy. There’s been much conflict written about whether keyword density is a metric that needs to be considered for on-page SEO. It’s still best to look at the keyword density of all urls ranking on page 1 for your keyword and see if there are any patterns.

Have a look: does the URL ranking in position 1 have a higher keyword density than the URL ranked in position 2, 3 and 4? It’ll be exceptionally rare to see a complete linear pattern that follows the above example, but if all urls on page 1 have a keyword density of between, say 0.4-1.5%, then it’s probably an idea to write content that also falls into this bracket. But this is where we make use of LSI keywords:

LSI Keywords

Latent Semantic Indexing keywords are quite simply words or phrases that are synonyms of one another. In other words, they are semantically related. Using a variety of LSI keywords around your target keywords is now almost an essential practice to follow for your body content. LSI Keywords help to:

  • Give your content context -> Are you talking about “Transformers” the film or the electrical plug?
  • Avoid keyword stuffing -> Content feels more natural to both Google and the reader.
  • Rank for similar long-tail searches -> Google will understand your page content talking about a broader category of, potentially, similar longer-tail search terms. This gives you a better chance to rank for these terms and therefore drive additional traffic.

If you’re stuck for LSI keywords, give lsigraph.com a visit. This can help you generate LSI keywords for your target keyword. Alternatively, search for synonyms in Word or a dictionary.image19

7. Images

Images are great, aren’t they? They not only add value to the user to help explain or visualise a piece of content, but they’re also fantastic for sharing across multiple communication channels.

Alt tags

“Alternative attributes”, or alt tags, are tags that give an image a specific name. They are specifically used to help the visually impaired using screen readers give a more descriptive understanding of the image, and to help crawlers understand what type of content the image is showing. Let’s go back to our favourite example, office chairs, and see how they’ve used their alt tag: image9

Key points to understand:

img src: the location of the image Width & Height: width and height of the image in pixels Alt: Product description This alt tag gives a detailed description of what the image shows:

image7

alt=“Ergo-Tek Mesh Manager Chair £139 – Office Chairs”.

There is little need to go through every single image on your site and add alt tags. It certainly adds an SEO benefit, but not as much as other factors. Key images should include the product description and a target keyword if it is relevant for that page. Never compromise a good product description with un-natural keyword stuffing, but having a target keyword in the alt tag is definitely a plus with a crawler. The example above offers a good representation of how an alt tag should look.

Image Tactics

Images can be good to really improve your on-page engagement stats:

Avg. time on site: Readers spend more time looking at images

Bounce rate: Readers are more likely to share and engage with imagery reducing the chance of them bouncing. This is why it is typically best to aim for more images on your page copy

Avg. Pagers per session: If you’re referencing another product on your site in your body copy, using their image could encourage users to click through to other pages on your site. Taking the example of Office Furniture Online:

image23

Images should give an honest view of your product

image17

  • Most e-commerce pages now offer a full 360° view of the product
  • The functionality allows you to zoom in and swivel the image

Do consider:

  • Multiple images may slow down your site load speed which will have a huge impact on your SEO
  • Ensure that your images are mobile-friendly, this will also impact your SEO

Action: Include multiple images with relevant alt tags

8. Internal Linking

Internal linking allows web crawlers to reach other URLs within your website structure. If a crawler can’t reach a particular URL, then it can’t be crawled and indexed. For example, categorise groups of products, just as we discussed in the URL section previously: image21 Amazon, like most ecommerce stores, categorise their product groups with the use of their menu. This allows Google to easily understand each category and crawl each product effectively. Aim to keep all pages (or at the very least, important pages) within three clicks of the home page. The further a page is from the home page, the less important Google will perceive it. Google may also decide against crawling pages that are to far from the root domain.

In-content linking

Internal linking within body content also has SEO advantages:

  • Acknowledge similar pages to Google: If you have pages that are similar to Google, there could be duplicate content risks leading to rankings and traffic splits. Internal linking tells Google that these are similar but different pages with separate target keywords.
  • Adds value: They provide the reader with external, relevant reading material. This also has the bonus of increasing those lovely engagement figures!

Action: Ensure you have built a sound menu structure and internally link your content where relevant.

9. External Linking

Linking out to external authority sites now carries SEO weight. External links help tell crawlers about the relevancy of your domain and the url you are linking out from. A Moz study showed that there is a correlation between positive external linking and SEO. It benefits you to link out.

  • Aim to link to fewer, higher quality URLs
  • Link to articles with a high number of social shares
  • Ensure you nofollow any links that have been paid for

Ensure any outbound links open up into new tabs!

Action: External link to authority sites where relevant. In summary, consider the following factors when creating a new page

  1. URLs
  2. Page Titles
  3. H1
  4. The first 100-150 words
  5. H2 & H3’s
  6. Word Count
  7. Keyword Density
  8. Images
  9. Internal Linking
  10. External Linking

Right, I’ve created a new fully optimised page, now how do I get Google to crawl and index it? You can do this via Google Search Console: 1. Select ‘Fetch as Google’ image13 2. Insert your new URL then hit ‘Fetch’

image14 3. Click Request Indexing and verify

image15 Bare in mind that this is a ‘request’ for indexing, but keep an eye out for it in Google: 1. input site: [url] into Google

image16 We can see that https://session-media.com/5-ways-create-b2b-content-boring-industries-infographic/ has successfully been indexed in Google.

The secret to winning at on-page SEO

You already know it: “Everything is contextual. If you want to rank for a target keyword then run that keyword in Google and analyse the top 5-10 results in respect to the following key factors, then simply create a better, more optimised piece of content. It’s no exact science, but it’s a good starting point.”

Have you had any major successes with on-page SEO or any tips you would advise?

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