In SEO the Details Matter

Background

This post is more about why the details matter than a tutorial on what they are, although I summarize the major SEO details at the end. This question came up after I recently finished a major tune-up of a client’s restaurant website that hadn’t received much outside attention for several years.

The client had been performing his own maintenance, regular posting on his blog, written new articles, updated menu items, and every week there were new events. In other words, the website met one of the basic rules of SEO – regular fresh content – and it was rewarded for that with top ranking for local search.

The question becomes whether continuing business as usual is good enough to maintain his high ranking for local search. Does it make business sense to invest time into additional SEO details? After all, time is precious and the website is not the most important priority for the small business owner.

The simple answer is yes.

The Local Search SERP

Local search is like any other search, except it is tied to a specific region or city. Most small business websites only need to rank high for the local geography they serve. Therefore, they only compete with other businesses in that area to get on page one. It is a much smaller pool of competitors, and for the most part, everyone is fairly similar in their ability to invest time or money in SEO. In other words, nobody has a ton of time and/or money to invest in it.

However, always remember that you are not just competing with your competitors’ websites. You’re competing against the business directory listings too – Yelp, TripAdvisor and others as well as Facebook reviews. Therefore, your competitor’s website might not be a threat, but their Yelp or other directory listings can be. These competitors are different.

Also, remember that Page One of the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) has lots of slots to fill and a single local business is not ever going to fill them all. As with all local searches, my client shares page one with a variety of competitors that range from those having websites ranking near his own, to those not ranking very high, as well as Yelp and TripAdvisor listings.
The other restaurants in his city can compete on fairly even footing with him, but services such as Yelp and TripAdvisor do not. They invest heavily in SEO because it is their core business. A small business website can beat them fairly easily with best practices, but many local searches where the local business websites are poor, the Directory Listings – Yelp, TripAdvisor, etc. – predominate page one.

Therefore, you might beat your competitors’ websites, but it is a hollow victory if there are Yelp listings above you – even yours. That’s an important point. You absolutely want to beat your own Yelp listing. You can control your website, but you can’t control theirs.

Even with a 5-star review, you want customers to go to your website first where you control the messaging and it’s not just about reviews. If they’re plentiful and they’re positive, then feature them on the home page, but there they are combined with other content and messaging or calls-to-action.

SEO Tune-Up

For this project, the SEO part of the tune-up consisted of several things:

  • Educating the client on the next level of SEO best practices
  • Fixing the most glaring SEO issues
  • Formulating an SEO plan moving forward.

Best SEO Practices for Small Business Owners

The beauty (and popularity) of WordPress is that with a reasonable learning curve, even the most non-technical small business owner can learn enough to keep their content fresh and up to date. This is where a website becomes a significant contributor to the bottom line. Having an up to date menu and event calendar made this restaurant website far more than an online brochure with static content. It accumulated 100’s of pages for these weekly posts and the images they contain.

Unfortunately, some of the details were lacking and this required a fair amount of time to correct. This is part one answering the questions “Do Details Really Matter?” One or two pages lacking the details do not, but over a period of time, you either end up with 100’s of sub-optimum pages or 100’s of pages done the right way. Most details take a short amount of time to complete at the time you create the page. Multiplied by 100 though it becomes a major project that begs procrastination and waiting until it’s too late – when you’ve slipped in the rankings.

So once again, yes, details matter because the major ones don’t take much time and the aggregate effect can be significant.

What are the basic SEO Details?

  1. URL: When making a post, the URL automatically incorporates the title of the post. (if you’ve set the permalink to do so). If your title is “In SEO the Small Details Matter”, then the URL becomes imagineerdesign.com/in-seo-the-small-details-matter. Long URLs are not good. They should NOT contain “stop words” such as “in” or “the”. They should only have the major keywords. So this post needs to have the URL manually changed to imagineerdesign.com/seo-details-matter.
  2. Title and Meta Description: The title needs to be similarly trimmed to the most important keywords that fit into 70 characters, and the description needs a hand-written excerpt of no more than 156 characters. It should be written for your customer so they’re compelled to click thru to your website when they see you on the search results page. Descriptions should not be written specifically for Google, but of course, naturally weave your keywords into it. The Yoast SEO plugin is a great tool for constructing proper titles and descriptions
  3. Images: Images need a descriptive file name and an alt tag. Do they need titles and descriptions? Not a bad idea either. “But that’s a hassle!” Not if you use a plugin such as “Format Media Titles”. It will fill those in automatically using the file name. So for this post, if I had an image, I would name it seo-details.jpg and the rest happens automatically. Sure, it would be better to have a real description because remember, the image gets its own page and a content-free page is not ideal, but at least doing the above will make an impact and it is quick and easy.
  4. Heading Tags (H1-H6): Heading tags make the content more readable, thus a better user experience, therefore a contributor to a better ranking. Use only ONE H1 tag per post. It is the title of the book. Use H2 tags for the chapters and H3 for sections in those chapters, and so on.

What are the more advanced SEO Details?

Above are the most basic SEO details, but there are many others. I’m going to use an example of one that came during this project. The question was how to mark contented quoted from another source correctly. It is a widely known fact that duplicate content can harm your ranking – whether it is on your site in multiple places, or plagiarized from another source.

Google wants fresh, original, quality content. They like to see that content used by others (which can indicate to Google that it is good content) but with the proper citation. This is easily accomplished with the Blockquote tag, and will be detailed in a subsequent post.

Back to the subject of this post though – do such details really matter that much?

In this case, you probably won’t have more than a few isolated instances of this – not like the 100’s of images or other posts. So what’s the big deal? The answer is, probably not much but why take a chance. It’s a small detail to avoid one of Google’s pet peeves – plagiarized, duplicate content. You will never know how much this matters in the scheme of things, but when your competitor overtakes you on page one, that’s when it might matter. Not because it was absolutely the cause of that, but that you won’t know how much it contributed so you will fix it along with other shots-in-the-dark.

The truth is, quoted content is good for the user. You’re doing the research for me and bringing in color commentary, supporting facts, interesting history and more. It makes your post more interesting, compelling and engaging. And you save me the user a trip to Wikipedia or a Google Search to find some obscure fact. You’ve made the post more authoritative and saved me the chore of doing the research.

So you SHOULD quote more outside content, which means you have more chances to get dinged by this if you don’t do it correctly. You should have more than a few scattered posts that incorporate outside content.

Conclusion

So yes, the details matter. In some sense it’s like taking your vitamins or brushing your teeth. In another sense, the tail can wag the dog and result in an even higher quality content. No need for an alt tag because you didn’t include an image? Maybe you should stop and think if that would enhance the post and find one. No need to use the Blockquote tag? Maybe you should think about that and Google search for some interesting material you can add.

Hmm, what does an SEO Detail image look like?

Maybe I should bring in some outside material. I’ll do that in the Blockquote post. For now, everything for a reason, even if it’s not the best one. In this case, I’ve made a conscious decision not to find the image and follow my own advice about outside content on a separate posts where it will be more warranted. Today I’ll skip taking my vitamin.