Guidelines from major search engines like Google are actually pushing businesses to be better and that’s a good thing!

It may feel as if the rules of SEO are constantly in flux or open to interpretation, but the insistence on white hat SEO practices is making the internet a more pleasant place. Rather like a much-revered Google campus, the internet is becoming a creative space to feed on rich content and free food (well, maybe not the free food!)

But the point is the same. Raise your game, become better and you’ll be rewarded. Continue to associate yourself with spammy websites, offer thin and uninspiring content and a slow, frustrating user experience and you’ll be pushed down on the visibility scale. It can be daunting for many a business owner to keep up with all the latest recommendations in SEO. From SSL certificates to snippets and AMP, there’s an awful lot to keep tabs on.

According to Dan Sevigny, CEO of Spooky Digital, if you fail to stay on top of these rapidly changing developments, the competition will leave you in the dust. But how do you optimize your website so that it works like a well-oiled machine both on-page and off? How do you earn your necessary stripes with Google, while still appealing to a human audience?

There are at least five ways to convert visitors into leads, Dan says, and he walked me through them in order of importance. Here goes:

  1. Make sure your website loads quickly and is secure

If there’s one thing that people are short on these days, it’s time. There’s nothing worse than landing on a website and waiting for it to load. People’s level of patience on the internet is pretty much non-existent. In fact, according to research, as many as 40 percentof people will abandon a web page if it takes longer than three seconds to load. Because in cyberland, three seconds may as well be thirty minutes waiting in line in a bank.

Use a site like GT Metrix to test your site load speed, and resolve any issues that come up. There are a ton of things you can do to make your website faster, from minifying HTML code to optimizing your images. Reduce the number of videos you have on your site, as they take up bandwidth. And if you work in international markets, think about using a CDN (Content Delivery Network) to improve speed at each location. A CDN uses local servers to ensure your site loads quickly around the world, so you’re no longer bound by local internet speeds.

Site speed is more than just one of Google’s ranking factors. It enhances user experience and stops your customers clicking away to the competition. But your site also needs to be secure.

Add SSL technology to secure the user data you collect. Adding this to your site is easy, and makes sure that the information submitted over it is secure. This is especially important if you have an ecommerce site, or deal in confidential information. If the CEO of a medical practice or law firm sees you don’t have basic https:// installed, you won’t get them to convert, no matter how convincing your copy.

  1. Improve your user experience (UX)

With this plethora of ever-changing rules and best practices has come a host of new positions to fill them. If you aren’t already familiar with what a UX Manager does, it’s time you got with the program and did a little research. Sevigny says: “Jared Spool has an awesome newsletter I subscribe to that talks about this subject in detail. Also pay attention to blogs like Moz or Neil Patel.”

There are many facets to a good user experience, from functionality, to speed of page load, actionable content and compelling CTAs. The main thing to be aware of is that your website design is easy to navigate and user-friendly. If your customer can’t find what they’re looking for immediately, they’ll lose patience and your bounce rate will soar.

You need to ensure that every link they click on leads to a functional page that works well and looks good. Never greet a site visitor with an “under construction” message, a redirected link, or a broken form. If you work in different markets, be sure to localize your content. Targeting your website promotions to local consumers will boost your SEO and improve the user experience.

This means that if you’re talking about a winter promo to customers in Florida, you’ll need to adapt your content for customers living in year-round heat. If you do business overseas, you’ll need to capture the regional voice in the right language, and make the user feel as if they’re reading a website designed for them (not a translated version of the original). The Common Sense Advisory found that 87 percent of people who can’t read English won’t buy from English speaking websites. If you fail to cater to this overwhelming majority, you’ll fail to convert foreign site visitors.

  1. Hire a stellar copywriter

You can think of ‘copy’ as any written word that’s meant to persuade someone to take an action (sign up for your newsletter, purchase a product, etc). You might think you have a way with words, but there’s an actual science to writing persuasive copy. Sevigny explains: “A good copywriter knows how to use strong, powerful language that speaks to the reader’s emotions.” Not only do you need someone skilled in the art of persuasive sales copy, but you need an experienced professional who knows about SEO best practices as well.

The most finely crafted message may read beautifully and draw the reader in. But if the visitor doesn’t reach your website in the first place, you will have missed the mark completely. Your copywriter needs to know the right keywords to use, content length, and use of H1 and H2 headers to tick all the right boxes with Google. This is definitely not a place to cut corners. Copywriting is a balancing act. Keyword stuffing, thanks to Google’s like Penguin and Panda can lead you to a penalty.

  1. Start building an email list

If you thought that email marketing was redundant in the age of social media and remarketing, think again. According to Sevigny: “If there’s one thing I wish I knew at the start of my career in 2008, it was how important email marketing would be. Email is by far the most cost-effective way to reach an audience these days. It’s incredibly cheap, and most companies are doing it wrong. If you can do it well, you have a huge advantage.”

So, how do you do it well? The easiest way to build a list is by offering content for free in exchange for the visitor’s contact information (often called a ‘lead magnet’). This offer should be something irresistible and unique, so get creative with it! Make it relatable to your industry.

If you trade in content, give them useful tips on how to make theirs better. If tax compliance is your racket, provide a step by step guide on how to file a basic tax return. Give them a reason to want to give you their email. And then target them with messages and offers that really interest them. Don’t over-email, though, emailing too often is the surest way of encouraging unsubscribes.

  1. Use Analytics and A/B split-testing

This is basic marketing 101 taken to a new level. Test your results. Measure your campaigns. See what’s working and what isn’t. As Einstein said, the very definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. And the same is true when it comes to your email campaigns, landing pages, and website copy.

You need to track how users are engaging with your website, see what they’re clicking on, and what they’re staying away from. Try different versions of the same page (A/B

testing) and see which one gets more results.Tools like hotjar and heatmap give you instant feedback on what’s grabbing your users’ attention and what isn’t.

“I am a huge nerd when it comes to split-testing. It’s fun to be able to have a marketing theory and test it to see if it works,” Sevigny says. “We split test everything: the offer, the landing page design, the copy, the lead magnet, the opt-in form, and everything in between. I’ve found something as simple as changing the phrasing of one sentence can increase the number of people that sign up to receive email from a client by 1000%. It’s unreal what you can find out with the tools that are available today.”

There are almost 2 billion websites on the internet today and high competition in all areas. If you aren’t doing your level best to optimize your website and turn your site visitors into converted leads, you can bet your life that someone else out there is. Integrate best practices like SSL technology, and worry about your site speed. Focus on user experience or crafting an irresistible offer to hook your new site visitors. And constantly test what you’re doing and try out new methods. If you’re not prepared to implement these practices, you won’t convert visitors into leads.

Formerly a Vice President of Content Marketing, Molly is the Co-Founder of The Unicorn in the Room, as well as a Marketing & Business Columnist for INC and The Huffington Post.

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