If you have a business in 2019, you need an online presence.
For your online presence to have an impact, you need SEO.
But what is SEO, how does it work and is it worth investing in? At 123Ranking we’ve been in business for 18 years and know how to get your site ranking for those coveted first page positions.
We’ve put together this Beginner’s Guide to SEO to help you get started in understanding the basics. Once you’re ready to learn more, we’ve created an infographic below to help you take that next step and dive into the A to Z of SEO.
What Is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation. It is the process of making sure that your site is easy to understand for search bots, so that they can find the relevant information and show your site to searchers who want to engage with it.
Search Engine Optimisation also optimises your site based on the ranking factors that Google uses to order websites in search. This includes factors like loading speed, security and high quality content.
What is SEO Marketing?
Searching online is one of the primary ways that people find services and products that they want. Optimising your site to rank better in Google searches makes it easier for searchers to find your site and discover your services. This is one of the best ways of marketing your business and we would recommend all businesses invest in SEO as part of their marketing strategy.
How does SEO Work?
So how do you actually do SEO and how can you improve the SEO on your site?
SEO works by considering all of the factors that Google uses to rank. It is usually split into onpage and off page SEO.
What is On-page SEO?
On-page SEO deals with working on the back end of your site, so that search bots can easily navigate your site and understand it’s it. It also focuses on providing fresh, high quality content, and clear information.
What is Off-page SEO?
Off-page SEO looks at work that can be done outside of your website, that will improve your ranking positions in search. Sites which have a high number of backlinks, also known as incoming links, from good quality, relevant websites, are seen as more authoritative to a search engine. For this reason, high quality link research and acquisition is crucial to off-page SEO, and can take many forms.
How does SEO Help Your Business?
SEO makes your site more visible in search, for relevant terms. This connects searchers with your site, and drives more relevant traffic to your business. SEO can therefore be a great way to increase customers, business and revenue.
Do I Need an SEO Company?
SEO is a science, not an art, and there are plenty of resources online to help you get started. Making small changes such as increasing your content, making your site easier to navigate and improving the security is likely to see improvements in ranking.
However the world of search is competitive and ever-changing. Research shows that most searchers don’t look past the first five results, and that the first page of results accounts for 95% of search traffic. SEO is also an investment of your time, which means taking you away from the day to day runnings of your business. It is often more worthwhile to invest in an SEO team who can provide proven results, rather than wasting your valuable time testing out different SEO techniques.
Now you know the basics you’re ready to learn more. Don’t let the jargon slow you down, check out our infographic below and you’ll see that understanding SEO is as easy as ABC!
In this guide, you will learn about absolutely every aspect of giving your sales a massive boost in 2017. We’re being as comprehensive as possible here, but at the same time we’re going step-by-step to make the process easy to follow.
We’d like to start by posing a question…
What was the last thing you bought online?
Think about it for a second.
What was it that motivated you to make that purchase? Maybe there were a few factors, but why did you choose that moment to go ahead?
If you can answer this question, it could be the first step towards selling your own products or services successfully. We’re going to use this a starting point to work through the entire process of improving your sales.
Getting to know your customer
Firstly, before you can take any action to boost sales, you need to seriously consider who your target customers are. If your business is not performing, the chances are you haven’t fully understood your audience and their needs.
Later, we will move onto learning about how and why people interact with your business in a certain way, but first we must figure out, in detail, who exactly they are.
Understanding your target audience
There are a few different ways you can gain a deeper understanding of who your customers are, including what defines and motivates them. A few vital techniques include…
Use smart engagement tactics
By engaging with your customers on a personal level through one-to-one communication, social media or any other method, you can learn a lot about what they really want, and why.
Develop detailed customer profiles
Using your own experience, and asking your employees for their input, draw up detailed profiles explaining the traits and ambitions of your ideal customer. This will help establish who you are really looking to sell to. For help with this step, try checking out How to Create Detailed Buyer Personas for Your Business.
Aggregate and analyse data
If you use Google Analytics or similar tools to analyse your website traffic (which you should be doing), and you have enough data to draw conclusions from, be sure to make this a priority. Identifying any trends or spotting consistent problems can be hugely valuable.
Learn from the past and plan ahead
If your business has encountered problems in the past which have affected your customers, planning for such events needs to be high on your agenda too, in case a similar thing happens again. Think about something you weren’t able to offer a disappointed customer in the past, and whether you can work on that.
These are just a handful of potential strategies that can unlock hidden secrets about your clients that weren’t necessarily obvious from your day-to-day interactions. The next stage is where we figure out how to relate to those clients and see things from their perspective.
If you want to research this step in more detail, try reading 10 Ways to Learn About Your Target Audience.
Understanding your buyer’s journey
You might be familiar with the idea of a “customer journey”. This is a common way of visualising how someone can go from a casual website visitor to a loyal customer, also known as a funnel. The end result is known as a conversion.
Here’s where you need to come in.
Instead of waiting for your customer at the end of the path, you can learn to help them along the way to make sure they don’t get lost.
The exact steps of any customer journey will be unique to your business, but they will probably follow a basic pattern. You need to understand the pattern in order to guide your customers on their journey.
This step is simple. Your customer may not be ready to make a purchase, and that’s not a problem. They just need to be aware of your brand, so when the time comes, they know what you offer.
This is not the time for a sales pitch.
Why? Customers at this stage are full of potential, but they have no reason to trust you yet. They don’t know how to differentiate you from the competition, including those who are full of empty promises.
For now, that doesn’t matter. Focus on providing the content they actually want at this point: your expertise. That means helpful, practical information they can use to inform their decision-making process. This might include the following…
- Online “how-to” guides
- Instructional documents
- Training resources
- Research and analysis
If you offer something of value here, that is what will set you apart. You don’t need to persuade your buyer yet. You just need to be remembered for the right reasons at the next stage.
At this point, your customer knows what they need. They know what their problem is and they have a pretty good idea of how to solve it. They just have to narrow down their options and come to the conclusion that you are the best option.
This is still not the time for a sales pitch.
Why? Your potential customer still needs more help before they can make a choice. It’s your job to offer them what they need again. This time you might consider content such as…
- In-depth expert guides
- Competitor comparisons
- Tutorial sessions
- Webinars and live streams
- One-on-one consultations
All of this builds on the initial trust you were able to secure when you offered the customer some straightforward information in the previous step. Now, you can develop that relationship.
This is the last major step in the journey. Your customer needs to commit, and choose you instead of the other options they have available. You need to convince them that you can solve their problem better than anyone else can.
It’s finally time for your sales pitch.
The content you need to provide now will be persuasive. You will need to encourage the customer to trust you, based on the expertise and transparency you’ve shown up until this point. You might typically offer any of the following…
- Product or package comparisons
- Real customer feedback
- Free trial period
Making it through all three steps brings your customer’s journey to a successful end. Understanding the process is the perfect starting point.
In fact, there are many examples of companies and researchers going to great lengths to understand purchasing behaviour and the steps that contribute to conversions taking place. If you’re interested in getting deeper into the research, check out case studies like this analysis of Pinterest user behaviour, which offers some fascinating insights.
To buy, or not to buy?
Although original research within your own niche is vital, to help make this easier we’ve compiled a few helpful notes about the final step of that conversion process. Once people get to the decision stage, what makes or breaks the deal?
Why people buy from you
- Price – You charge less than your rivals for a similar product or service.
- Convenience – You make the process simpler or faster than your competitors.
- Prestige – Your product or service is seen as superior and therefore reflects well on the customer’s status.
- Trends – You are offering something that is particularly desirable or in fashion at the moment.
- Identity – Your customer forms an attachment to your brand because they personally identify with or relate to it.
It helps to start off by understanding the basic motivations behind different types of purchases, too, which you can learn about by reading 100 Reasons Why People Buy Stuff – Your Roadmap to Sales Mastery.
Why they don’t buy from you
- Price – You set your prices too high for your target market to realistically afford, or higher than your competitor’s.
- Trust – You fail to establish a good relationship and instil confidence in your buyers.
- Time – Your customer does not feel any sense of urgency to make a decision.
- Motivation – You fail to explain what the customers stands to gain or lose, depending on their decision.
- Frustration – The purchase process is not smooth enough, and people give up before they complete it.
Part of improving your sales success is going to involve getting to grips with these kinds of concerns. Identify the reasons for missed opportunities and consider what action you could take differently next time. In the next step, we’ll consider exactly how to overhaul your approach and turn those missed chances into sales.
How to increase sales
Now that you’ve thought about your target customers and the things that might influence their purchase decisions, you should start to identify areas that need improvement on your part.
One important thing to remember about the customer journey we’ve been looking at is that the whole process can last a matter of seconds. It’s amazing how much information we can absorb by glancing at a website, and how many snap decisions are made without us even noticing.
Improving user experience
You have only a few seconds to capture the right kind of attention online. Is your website up to the challenge? Here are some of the key areas to focus on.
Make your site faster
Loading speed is an absolutely critical factor. People are not willing to wait for a slow site, and will go elsewhere immediately. If you’re not convinced, check out some of the stats to see how quickly this effect can spell disaster.
- Almost 75% of users have come across a website that’s too slow to use, and more than half have encountered a site that crashes or has a serious error message.
- A delay of only one second can reduce conversions by as much as 7%. A delay of three seconds causes nearly half of users to give up and go elsewhere.
- If an e-commerce site is taking £1,000 per day, a one second loading delay could cost you £25,000 per year in lost sales.
Load speed also affects your SEO (search engine optimisation). Google rewards faster sites with higher search positions as part of its algorithm, while slower sites miss out. This can counteract the effects of any SEO services you are employing.
You can check your website’s speed using tools like GTmetrix and Google PageSpeed Insights, which will give you recommendations on how to make your site load more quickly. Common ways to speed up a WordPress site can also be found here.
Don’t kill conversions
Earlier, we touched on the possibility of users becoming frustrated with your website, or simply not being persuaded to take urgent action due to lack of clarity or any sense of urgency.
This is a major issue that needs resolving immediately. Common factors that stop conversions dead in their tracks include:
- Lack of focus on users
- Small fonts which are too hard to read
- Unclear navigation menus
- No social media integration
- Lack of clear call to action
- No mobile user optimisation
- Long, boring blocks of text
- Unprofessional or outdated design
- Inconsistencies and mistakes
- Functionality errors
- Poor use of colour
The list could go on and on. The fact is, many businesses do not have websites that meet the required standard to be taken seriously. In the worst cases, many websites are so disappointing they reflect poorly on the entire brand and serve as a huge red flag for potential buyers.
You don’t have to be a design expert to get this right. You do, however, need to know when it’s a good idea to get professional assistance with your website design.
User feedback is absolutely invaluable too, so conduct extensive testing to iron out all the issues above. It will take time and investment, but you could save your brand in the long run.
Keep it simple
Never try to impress readers by making your product or service sound more complicated than it really is.
Simplicity is actually a much more effective approach. There has been a lot written about the K.I.S.S method, or “keep it simple, stupid”. The less overwhelming your website is, the more likely your message is to get through and resonate with people.
Here are a few rules to stick to:
- Don’t feature more than three products on your home page.
- Remove all distractions from the page.
- Have as few steps as possible from the product page to the payment gate.
Support social media logins
To make the checkout process faster for your users, you can install support for logging in with their choice of social media account. This could be Google, Facebook, Twitter or something else with a suitable user base.
This is more convenient for users, increasing the likelihood of them actually converting. 86% of people say they dislike having to create new accounts on new sites, and more than half say they would consider leaving the site rather than go through it. By letting people log in with just a click, you eliminate this problem.
But the link also works both ways. It gives you access to additional information from their social profile which can be used for marketing purposes, if you take the time to interpret it. That makes it mutually beneficial – so what are you waiting for?
Much more on this matter is explained in this article: How Social Media Channels Influence Purchase Behaviour.
Demonstrate benefits, not features
You need to spell out the numerous ways in which your customers’ lives will be enriched by purchasing from you. That is not the same thing as listing the features of your product or service.
What’s the difference? An emotional connection with the buyer.
You’ll get a different reaction telling someone about how much enjoyment or productivity they’ll get from you rather than just reciting facts and figures which mean nothing to your audience.
Persuasive language is essential here, but you can take it a step further by using visuals to explain your points. Graphics and videos are extremely effective tools for explaining concepts and getting across your message clearly.
Use time sensitive offers
To create that feeling that action needs to be taken quickly, you can make use of limited-time offers and entice people to make commitments sooner rather than later.
This works on the understanding that they’re getting better (or faster) benefits as a result. The customer’s perception needs to be that you are giving them added value, rather than pressurising them.
Here you can read a more detailed article on this tactic, about how sales can be increased by 332% Using Scarcity & Urgency.
Offer a money back guarantee
One of the best ways to ensure your customer can trust you is to provide them with the assurance that you will refund their money if necessary. If all goes to plan, you won’t need to, but it gives the customer that extra confidence to make the commitment.
There is a very detailed article here on money back guarantees which may help you implement one.
Share success stories or reviews
Ideally, you should address common concerns before the question is even asked, in order to demonstrate that you understand the risks involved and can see things from your customer’s perspective.
The best way to do this? Share stories and reviews from past clients who recommend your product or service, and make sure they’re from sources that your audience can identify with.
Provide multiple payment options
This is relatively simple to implement, and could save a lot of potentially lost sales. People feel more secure if they have a free choice when it comes to payment methods. Make the process more convenient and comfortable for them by offering alternatives.
To better understand how this can impact on conversions, have a look at the following article: 40 Checkout Page Strategies to Improve Conversion Rates.
Make checkout quick and easy
The process of paying and placing your order needs to be as streamlined as possible. Do not use this as an opportunity to harvest more personal information from your customer, unless it’s an essential part of placing an order. You are most likely to simply put them off.
In fact, users abandoning shopping carts is one of the most serious issues facing many e-commerce sites. Reasons for this could include any of the following:
- Asking for too much personal information
- Error messages that are not specific enough
- Lack of time-saving form features
- Unexpected costs being added at checkout
- Forgotten passwords
- Non-mobile-friendly checkout pages
- Too many pages in the process
- Unattractive checkout design
This is another list that could continue to go on. You can read more expert opinions here about what goes into a great checkout design.
Getting this right will, again, require a lot of testing and specific experience. However, it’s absolutely vital that you don’t become complacent with this in order to really improve your sales.
Track, monitor and improve
Since we’re going into each step in great detail here, it’s important not to lose sight of the entire process as a whole. You need to look back at every step from A to Z once you start implementing changes, and start the cycle again to ensure you’re doing the best you can.
Continuous monitoring and optimisation is always essential when you make major changes to your sales strategy. Solving one problem could create another. There isn’t necessarily a quick fix, and that’s OK, as long as you learn from all the data you have at your fingertips.
Specialist tools to collect and analyse this aggregate data are normally essential. Fortunately there are a few simple tricks you can make use of in almost any sales-driven market.
Using Google Analytics
There are a huge range of tools available to you in Google Analytics, so this is probably the single most highly recommended tool for analysing your website’s performance. You can consider more tools for monitoring your sales success, but this is a great place to start.
Narrowing down which tools to use and where to start can be tricky, so here are a few things to look into as a priority.
Setting up funnels is a great way to visualise what is happening on your website using real user data.
The funnel is essentially the customer journey we looked at earlier. In Google Analytics, you will be able to identify the points in the conversion process that cause a high proportion of users to abort, and start determining why that might be.
Setting up goals on Google Analytics effectively means telling it what your objectives are. That way, you are measuring precisely what you want to know. Typical goals for an e-commerce website might include:
- Adding an item to the basket
- Checkout completion
- Submitting an enquiry
- Signing up to a mailing list
Goals can be integrated into other areas of Google Analytics to provide a complete and useful picture of how successful your strategy is.
You can set up experiments with the help of Google Analytics in order to simultaneously test two versions of a page on your website. This gives you a direct comparison between the two, allowing you to judge which version is more effective. You can then implement that version or test further variations on it until you have the optimal format.
Whatever route you take, the point is that analytical tools will give you highly valuable insights into how well your strategy is really working. Sometimes the results will seem counter-intuitive, so it’s always worth backing up your ideas with real data instead of guessing and sticking to what’s supposed to work.
If you would like learn more about the specifics, try using this guide: How To Setup Google Analytics Goals and Conversion Funnels. Much more about A/B testing can be found here: 55 A/B Testing Best Practices Every Marketer Should Know.
As you may have noticed, the process you need to go through in order to improve your overall sales is not always quick or easy.
However, you will be rewarded for conducting thorough research, applying your experience and making things work gradually.
The most important points, in summary, are as follows:
- Use tactics to understand your customers first
- Look at the purchase process from their perspective
- Build your brand in a way that encourages trust
- Fully optimise your website for user experience
- Analyse your improvements and repeat the cycle
If you’re able to follow every step of this guide and take all the details into account, you should be well on your way to seeing significantly higher sales in 2017. We hope these strategies are useful to you, and remember to get in touch with us if you require any further consultation.