June 3, 2016 | Sarah Danks
Search Engine Optimization That Works
This is the second post in a 4-part series designed to outline four major online marketing tools we use for our independent insurance agency clients:
In this edition I’ll be talking about search engine optimization (SEO) tactics.
Insurance is a very competitive market — everyone needs it, so it all boils down to choosing the agent that you feel most comfortable with, essentially.
In this day and age of Wifi-for-everyone, it’s commonplace for people to head to the Internet to find things — and they need to be able to find those things a) easily, b) quickly and c) without having to put forth much effort.
To that end, we optimize all of our insurance agency websites so that people searching for what they need can find our clients’ websites, and once there we want them to find helpful, relevant content.
I’m going to outline the main SEO tactics we employ to do just that:
- Goal tracking
So, let’s delve into more detail on each of these…
1) Optimized Content
Good content doesn’t just happen by accident. There’s a lot of planning and strategy that needs to occur for it to be effective — and it all starts with keywords.
Still today in 2016 some SEOs are trying to game the system and employ keyword stuffing (and other shady tactics) to “rank” in the search engines. That method not only doesn’t work anymore, it can be detrimental to the website.
Naturally we don’t do such things, although one of our owners DID get his start in the black hat world 🙂
So, rather than worrying solely about the keywords we think will “rank,” we focus on the ones the audience uses. See, you have to know a website’s audience — and how they talk about the services offered — before you can write content that speaks to them (and not AT them).
Write for Your Audience
I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “write for humans first; search engines second,” but we wholeheartedly agree. And the beauty is, when you write for the website’s audience, you’re by defect writing for search engines.
And, as Ann Handley says,
“Good content isn’t about good storytelling. It’s about telling a true story well.”
We focus on telling the clients’ stories — but we also want the website visitors to be able to easily consume all that yummy content. So, in addition to incorporating relevant insurance keywords into the content, we also want to make each page easily scannable and help the audience find key information.
To that end we like to use <h> tags, bulleted lists, short paragraphs, bolding, etc. to make a lot of content easy to consume at a glance.
The less work web visitors have to do in order to consume your content, the better. So make it easy for them to scan and find what they’re looking for.
Also, the entire point of the page copy is to get the visitor to take action — SEO, after all, isn’t just about getting visitors to the website; it’s getting them to do what you want once they land — so we also make it very easy within the content to take that next step.
If you can lead the proverbial horse to water AND make it drink, I’d say your optimized content is doing what it should.
I’m not sure whether or not I like the word “metadata,” but it’s the quickest way to describe some of the behind-the-scenes SEO stuff that every website needs. Namely:
- <title> tags,
- meta descriptions, and
- schema markup
There are of course many other things that happen “in the code” for any website, but these are the three topics we focus on for SEO.
The title tag is arguably the most important piece of “metadata” on any web page. Why?
It’s what search engine users see right away on the SERPs (and it’s the clickable link there), plus it tells search engines — and, ipso facto, users — what the topic of the page is.
There’s only so much real estate on a SERP, so while there’s no character “limit” on title tags, per se, you need to keep them short enough so at least the most important information displays (Google truncates title tags after ~55 characters, give or take).
While meta descriptions don’t factor into the search engines’ ranking algorithms, they DO play a part in getting visitors to click on your result. Basically you want these descriptions to expound upon the information in the title tag.
You should write meta descriptions that are helpful, entice users to click through and fit within the character limit (currently that’s ~155 characters) because, again, Google will truncate them if they’re too long.
As anyone with a vested interest in getting clicks from SERPs knows, Schema markup is your friend. For our insurance agency clients, a main goal is getting people in the door, so we focus on NAP (name, address, phone number) for the knowledge graph.
While Schema doesn’t *seem* to have any effect on rankings, it CAN induce people to click through from the SERP — much like meta descriptions — which is part of SEO, no?
If a tool exists to help you beef up your search snippet (and, let’s be honest, grab more of that precious SERP real estate), go for it.
Haha — I’m just kidding. We don’t use the meta keywords tag here.
Why not? Because no one uses that tag anymore, that’s why. Search engines pay it no heed — unless it’s to look at them only because they’re stuffed full of spammy terminology. My advice: don’t even waste your time on this outdated tag.
Regardless of what others might believe, here at ThinkSEM we know linking is an extremely important aspect of search optimization. But don’t take our word for it.
As evidenced by data collected by Backlinko, incoming links correlate to rankings in the SERPs:
But there’s more to linking than just acquiring relevant, topical backlinks to boost a site’s credibility.
Internal links also play an important role in a website’s overall link profile — while both are important, external links weigh much more heavily into search engines’ algorithms than do internal links.
That said, internal linking is the easiest form of “link building” you can ever do on a website, so make sure you do it right: we interlink related content where it makes sense; not just for the sake of linking.
4) Good UX
A lot of online marketers don’t think user friendliness (UX) is a “core” SEO element, but it’s becoming more and more so. Why? Because Google’s telling us we need to have quick-loading websites that render on any device and are user-friendly, that’s why.
In fact, usability is creeping into Google’s algorithm so much that we can’t NOT say it’s a part of SEO!
Mobile-Friendly Web Design
What’s the big deal with websites being “mobile-friendly,” anyway? Well, it technically means a website is usable on a mobile device, but it’s becoming more common to think of it as a website being ACCESSIBLE via any device (not just phones).
And it’s not just Google “telling” everyone to do it; it makes sense in today’s mobile-focused world to ensure your website is easily used regardless of device upon which it’s being viewed.
Plus, being mobile-friendly helps SEO: Google is all about users and good UX, so if your site is mobile- (i.e, user-) friendly, Google likes it, and will be more likely to show it in the SERPs.
Any website needs to load quickly, but especially so if you expect mobile users to visit — and stay on the site.
What I mean by that is, a mobile user might find your result in a search and click on it…
…then wait and wait for your website to load. Technically they’re “on” your site, but they can’t see all the images or content because it’s taking too much time to load. So said visitor hits the back button and clicks on a different website — that that loads more quickly.
Page load time is one of (very) many factors in Google’s algorithm, but it’s not Google you have to worry about, in this case. Turns out USERS get quite cranky when websites don’t load quickly enough — which in turn can affect your bottom line.
So, make sure you trim down the excess fat on your website so it pleases your visitors!
The way URLs are structured on a website is part of the site architecture, which incorporates how the site’s pages are laid out/related, how the content sections are organized, etc.
But they, too, factor into the usability of your website —
- URLs show in the search snippet
- Well-written, easy-to-read URLs tell potential visitors what the page is about
- When URLs aren’t written well, they could be a turn-off and lose the click
- Search engines value a URL with descriptive text (vs numbers, special characters, etc.)
- If another site links to yours with the page URL, said URL acts as anchor text
With all that in mind, we write URLs that are easy to read while still explaining exactly what’s on that web page and adhering to other best practices for writing optimized URLs.
Suffice it to say we think good URL structure is important for users and search engines.
5) Goal Tracking
You can put all the search engine optimization techniques you want into place, but then what? If you’re not tracking the website’s performance, it’s pretty much all for naught. Marketing should never be based on guesswork!
To that end, every website needs to have some type of analytics code installed to be able to track visitor activity. There are two tracking platforms we insist on setting up on all our client sites:
- Google Analytics
- Google Search Console
Honestly, I’d rather have access to too much information than not enough, so you can pick and choose which data to monitor.
We’re huge fans of Google Analytics — namely because: it’s a free platform, you don’t need to be tech-savvy to set it up, and if visitors are doing it, you can track it with Analytics.
It’s not enough just to install Google Analytics to monitor a website’s performance; you need to properly set up goals, too — from the get-go; not 6 months after you’ve optimized a website.
Before the website’s even built we know the main goals of our client, so we track those objectives and make tweaks and adjustments as necessary to continually strive to do better.
Google Search Console
Google Search Console — previously Google Webmaster Tools — is an under-utilized tool. Most people focus on the data from Google Analytics, but the information within the Search Console can be just as beneficial.
For example, since late 2011 Google Analytics no longer shows query data in the keyword reports, i.e., the dreaded “not provided”:
Bummer, especially since I mentioned keywords are at the core of content, and content pleases users, and all that.
What you can do instead is turn to Google Search Console for (some of) this information. It doesn’t include all of the data, but it’s a useful guide. Plus, you can see the majority of your website’s impressions in Google, along with which queries are generating clicks.
So, since we monitor both Google Analytics and Search Console data, we can parse together the keyword/query data to let our insurance clients know what’s working for them.
SEO is an important aspect of any website. Whether you’re working with independent insurance agents or any other professional services business, optimizing the site to capture the ideal visitors is paramount to its success.
To that end we like to focus on a few key search optimization elements:
- Optimized content that incorporates keywords the audience understands
- Well-written <title> tags, meta descriptions and Schema markup to make the search snippets as relevant and helpful as possible
- Internal linking strategy coupled with topical backlinks to help boost a site’s credibility
- Good usability, including mobile-friendliness, quick loading and readable URLs
- Analytics data — Google Analytics and Google Search Console to monitor each website’s performance
And, one mustn’t for get that “SEO is a process; not an event.” That is, it’s not a set-it-and-forget-it type of marketing tactic (truthfully, though, which ones ever are???). So what we do is put all these best practices into place, but we continually monitor and adjust as needed to enhance a website’s search engine performance.
To all of our current — and future!!! — insurance agency clients: rest assured we use all the tools at our disposal to ensure your website works its best for you.