Things to worry about before you worry about SEO

Very close up of an apparently worried face in black and white

I was at a business networking meeting the other day (because that, ladies and gentlemen, is how I roll). When I explained what I do most people nodded sagely and said “SEO”. Some of them went so for as to say

“yes we do that, targeting keywords, making sure we come up top in search results”

And this made me worry for them. Because, though I’m sure it does them no harm to go chasing search terms on Google there are, almost certainly, they would find would deliver them a return faster.

Here are a few of those things:

  1. Does your website work?

By this I don’t mean, is it there (though that’s worth checking). I mean does it fulfill its purpose. For most businesses its purpose will be to sell things, or to generate leads.

Lots of websites, and I mean LOTS, are really bad at this.

It’s really easy to build websites that don’t work. Much harder to build websites that do.

Your website stats package should help you answer this question. My favourite is Google Analytics and it has powerful tools to help you understand what proportion of your visitors actually go on to buy or to contact you.

2) Does your website work on mobile?

When you visit your website you’re probably sitting at your desk at work. You probably showed it to the directors by projecting it onto a massive screen. It probably looks tremendous.

But your customers aren’t visiting it on a desk (they’re really not). They are visiting it on iPhones cheap and cheerful LG phones and Windows phones (well probably not the latter). They’re sitting in their cars waiting for the kids to finish cubs or in a pub pretending to look up the quiz answers.

It’s not as simple as saying “Oo that looks nice” on your iPad. It has to be incredibly clear and simple to use on mobile. Because if it isn’t, people will go elsewhere, it’s a big Internet.

3) Is it accessible?

Broadly, can people with disabilities use it?

Now I know that for many, many businesses the question of whether your potential blind customers will struggle with your interactions is of very little significance. That’s a moral (not to say legal) problem but that’s not, in fact, my argument.

There are a range of rather geeky things that can really help search engines to understand and classify your site. Proper mark-up (the correct use of HTML) is one of them. Not hiding key information in images and videos is another. All of these are covered by accessibility. So, in fact, by serving people with disabilities you make the site work better for everyone.

4) Is it fast?

How fast?

As fast as it can be.

Consider the sense of satisfaction one gets making a purchase with Amazon. If you have one-click ordering turned on you can go from wanting a thing to the thing being ordered in a very few seconds.

Some of this is down to the fact that Amazon have very big computers driving their site. But mostly it’s because they really focus on getting the job done. It’s in the design, in the way the pages load and in the decisions they make about how to offer you services.

Website speed is actually a fiendishly difficult thing to assess objectively but, again, Google Analytics will make a good stab at it. Under a second page load speed is what I’d be looking for. But even then don’t get complacent. That customer sitting in their car might have an incredibly flakey and slow connection. Your .75 second page might take 15 seconds for them. And the next one. And the next one.

5) Have a retention plan

Most people, even if they are delighted by the speed and simplicity of your site, are not going to buy straight away. They might want to compare prices on your competitor’s site. They might want to talk it over with their partner. They might get distracted by a phone call.

So you need to focus on reaching people who have grazed your site. Encourage them to leave their email for a newsletter (a newsletter that will actually benefit them). Ask them to follow you on Twitter. Run a remarketing campaign so you can target adverts to them.

And reward your existing customers. Give them nice things. Give them exclusive discounts. Make it really easy for them to recommend your products (and services) to their friends and family.

And, inevitably, your favourite web stats package (it’s Google Analytics isn’t it) can give you rich data about what happens on the several visits that people make.

Here comes the SEO

And when you’ve got all that in place. Then it’s time to think about targeting search terms in Google.

My company, Likeaword, can help you with all of this, including finding and targeting the right search terms.

(Photo credit: Worried life blues… by Joe Sampouw used under CC BY 2.0)

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