Magnus Linklater has spent the past decade working in the world of SEO and content marketing, launching Bespoke Digital in 2011. He previously headed up the UK office of an international agency, and here he shares his advice for getting ahead online.

What are the most common SEO mistakes you see businesses making, and what can they do about them?

The issue of duplicate content is something that can seriously undermine your search performance, and I’m amazed at how many businesses shoot themselves in the foot without realising.

Ultimately, if multiple versions of your website are live and being crawled by Google, you’re effectively competing with yourself, and this causes great confusion for the search bots, who are on a mission to return the most trustworthy, authoritative websites at the top of the SERPs.

However, if they see swathes of duplicate content, they won’t be able to tell which website is best, which means they’re likely to filter you out of results altogether.

One of our clients had struggled to make an impact online, with less than 20% of their web pages indexed by Google. This was largely because both the ‘www.’ and ‘non-www.’ versions of their website were live, rather than one redirecting to the other. To add insult to injury, their ‘.dev’ test site was also live, meaning they had three duplicates competing with each other.

You can use Google Search Console to suggest a preferred domain structure, telling search engines which version of your website you want visitors to see, and by adding a canonical tag to the site’s source code, negating the risk of bots crawling the wrong pages.

Upon making this relatively quick fix, our client had 95% of their web pages indexed within a few weeks and saw a healthy boost in search visibility.

For further insight, you can read my blog post titled ‘What is duplicate content?

What is your process for developing an SEO growth strategy?

Clarity starts at home, which means auditing your website is the first step to success.

You could invest in the most sophisticated content marketing campaign in the world, but if the architecture of your website is fatally flawed, you’ll be going nowhere fast.

A good audit will carefully study every web page, highlighting areas such as Page Titles, URLs, Meta Descriptions, Headers, Alt tags, keyword placement, anchor text, etc.

Ultimately there are some 200 ranking factors that search engines look out for when gauging the quality and usefulness of your website, and you want to tick as many boxes as possible.

Once the technical aspects have been tightened up, you can then focus on the quality of your content, ideally creating blog posts that answer the very questions people are asking of Google. To help you achieve this, Answer The Public is a fantastic free tool, giving you fantastic insight into the content your target customers are after.

You can then look to embrace an outreach marketing campaign, submitting articles to targeted websites within your business niche, extending your brand awareness while also aiding your offsite SEO.

If your business has a local focus, it’s also essential to complete your Google My Business profile, and highly advisable to list yourself on local directory sites, ensuring your Name, Address and Phone number (NAP) is consistent throughout (so as not to confuse the search bots).

In short, you need to get your website up to scratch first and then capitalize on your gains with well-executed off-site activity.

Which SEO tactics should businesses focus on for consistent growth?

Once the foundations are in place, it’s essential to have good content to attract custom.

There are multiple benefits of blogging, but it’s essential that you focus on creating meaningful output that helps educate, inform or in some way entertains. If you simply churn out sales messages, they’ll never gain traction, whereas producing insightful posts will subtly frame you as a voice of authority, building a sense of brand loyalty.

Logic dictates that the more content you have, the better chance you have of ranking highly but make sure your blog with a purpose in mind rather than waffling on.

Each post you produce should have a strong keyword-focus, but be sure to use variations of your target phrases rather than stuffing the same one throughout the copy, which is a negative signal that you’re trying to manipulate search results.

As previously mentioned, conducting an outreach campaign is also essential for consistent growth. Essentially, acquiring backlinks (links pointing back to your website) from highly-authoritative publishers will benefit your SEO, as some of their authority passes onto you.

Search engines regard links as a form of recommendation, so if you contribute good content to another site and they allow you to link back to your site, they’re effectively vouching for the quality of your work.

However, Google has issued strong warnings on link-building activities, so make quality your policy and don’t break the guest posting rules.

SEO is constantly changing. What can small businesses do to stay ahead of their competition?

You can use tools such as Majestic’s Site Explorer to track your competitors and see where they’re obtaining their backlinks from, guiding your outreach campaign by highlighting new publishing opportunities.

You should also follow updates on Search Engine Land, a community of well-respected SEO professionals who are among the first to report developments on the search landscape.

What big SEO changes should businesses expect in 2018?

Google is highly focused on quality, so making sure your web content is in line with searcher intent will continue to be of utmost importance.

Voice search has been huge in 2017 and will continue to rise, so make sure you undertake thorough keyword research to identify long-tail phrases people are searching for and weave them into your content accordingly.

Moving from ‘http’ to ‘https’ will also be essential, as security comes into the spotlight. Search engines value user experience above all else, ensuring searchers keep coming back to them, which is why the more secure ‘https’ sites are now outranking ‘http’ competitors.

However, when making the switch, be sure to set up consistent 301 redirects, updating any links pointing to the legacy ‘http’ URLs to now take people to the new structure.

I’m currently offering a FREE Digital Health Check, a one-page report highlighting issues that could be hampering your website performance, and suggesting easy-to-implement fixes. If you’d like to hear more, please email enquiries@bespoke-digital.co.uk with the subject ‘Free Digital Health Check’ and of course tell us that you read our article on alltopstartups.com

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