How to improve SEO in 2019 (a guide for small businesses)
So you want to improve your SEO and drive more traffic to your small business website?
Well, in this guide we share the top five SEO areas that Google wants you to focus on in 2019…
Now before we dive in, let’s address the elephant in the room and get one thing very clear…
SEO isn’t a quick-fix solution or a one-time project you can ‘complete’ in a few hours and tick off your to-do list.
There’s no doubt about it, SEO needs focus. Your SEO needs to be monitored, and it needs constant and consistent work for you to see real results from it.
As long as you’re fine with that then let’s get to work..
Jump to a particular part of this SEO Guide:
SEO isn’t rocket science
Search Engine Optimisation has long been a craft that many have thought to be out of their reach and best left to technical bods like us here at Evergreen Agency in Oxfordshire.
But even as a non-expert there’s so much you can do monthly, weekly, and even daily to get your SEO in good shape. There’s also a lot you should be working on to keep it there or build on it.
The good news is, if you’re doing this constantly, you’ll see great results and you don’t always need all the in-depth skills or techniques that we’ve developed over the years.
It’s also not going to necessarily involve inside knowledge on what Google is doing, what the algorithms are looking for, or what the latest news from the geeks in the US on what they’re building into the complex data sourcing tool.
When all is said and done, SEO isn’t about hacking Google or sneaking around the backdoor and tricking it.
So this SEO guide isn’t about that.
SEO is about making your site the ‘best’ option over the other options out there in your niche, area, or search term.
Google just wants to give the Googlers the best results. That’s it.
Since Google was founded in 1998, its main aim has always been to organise the internet into a set of results that best suits you when you search. The last thing you want as a Googler (and the last thing Google themselves want) is a set of results that appear there because they’ve been manipulated to be there.
“You must deserve to rank!”
So, the number one thing you need to focus on with your SEO in 2019 is the number one thing you should have focused on in 2018 – quality content and a great site to present it on!
Getting traffic is one thing, keeping it is another, and getting your visitors to come back again is even more important. Content – the best content you can create – and a great site to display it on is the aim, as it’s what Google wants to show.
Simply put: If you started to get poor search results from Google when you used it and you heard another search engine was doing a better job, you’d check it out.
If it suited you better, you might use it more and over time Google would lose market share.
Google doesn’t plan to do that anytime soon!
Google wants to be the best and to do that it needs to show the best, so to be found… you need to be the best!
What we’ll do now is show you five key areas of your SEO to look at (and audit, if you like).
Take these five areas and then build a plan to focus on in 2019 to maximise your website’s potential.
The reward will be more trust from Google and more traffic in return. If you’re good at converting that traffic it will mean more business too.
The rewards for being top of Google in 2019 are obvious, so let’s get into it and build you a kick-ass SEO plan for the year ahead!
We’ll look at these five key areas:
- Website speed
- Technical SEO
Then we’ll list the proven ways you can help your site tick the right boxes in each area.
And then we’ll give you guidance on making the most of them all!
The Top five SEO Areas That Google Wants You to Focus on in 2019
Newsflash: searchers are using mobile phones more and more, year on year. Smartphones have become more and more engrained into our world. WiFi is more of a necessity than ever. With 5G on its way, now is the time to give mobile traffic a main focus for your SEO.
We start with mobile for one very good reason and it’s this:
Google is now a mobile-first index!
What does this mean?
It simply means that Google will no longer look to the ‘desktop version’ of your site when determining whether to rank it for a mobile searcher. When Google rolled this out last year they explained that mobile first was to give the mobile searcher the best possible results by crawling the mobile site rather than the desktop site.
In their March statement for the roll out, Fan Zhang, Software Engineer at Google, said:
“… our crawling, indexing, and ranking systems have typically used the desktop version of a page’s content, which may cause issues for mobile searchers when that version is vastly different from the mobile version. Mobile-first indexing means that we’ll use the mobile version of the page for indexing and ranking, to better help our – primarily mobile – users find what they’re looking for.”
This matters. It matters A LOT!
If you’re searching on mobile, you’ll be seeing different results. And if you’ve been a mobile searcher for a while then you’ll most likely have noticed the changes in Google Ads, Maps, Google Shopping and the way the results are listed.
Now it’s going to show the best results for the device you’re searching on to give you the best experience when you click and land on one of the websites in the results.
What does this mean to you?
First and foremost, you must have a site that is mobile-friendly, and you should really consider a site that’s specifically designed to show a mobile-friendly version. Gone are the days when a mobile app was ok, and it’s no longer enough to have a ‘mobile-optimised’ site.
The sites that will win this new battle in the search results on Google will be those who have a more tailored experience for their mobile customers and one that’s fast, reliable, and – more importantly – easy to navigate on a smartphone!
If you have a mobile version of your site then you may well have had an update from Google to say that they’re now migrating you to mobile-first indexing and depending on your site and the way it’s built this could mean one of a few things currently, depending on the way your site loads the content to mobile users:
- Desktop only – if your website is a desktop only website and doesn’t have a mobile-friendly version then you’ll see no change.
- Responsive web design – this is when your site adjusts for screen size or ‘stacks’ the content for mobile users. If this is you, then you’ll also see no change.
The real benefits for this change are those website owners using dynamic serving or those serving both AMP or non-AMP versions.
When you’re showing content specifically for mobile, Google will prefer the mobile optimised content for its index and they suggest you follow their best practices to make the most of these changes, although these are a little technical and best left to an SEO expert.
2019 – the year to get serious about mobile.
It might be time to speak to your web developers about your site if you’re merely optimising the content and adjusting the screen size for mobile users. The evidence is stacking up that sites that offer specifically designed sites for mobile will be indexed differently and potentially then shown above yours.
Attention is what we’re after essentially when we’re trying to rank online, isn’t it? You want to appear high in the results so people notice you and click through. Getting your meta titles and descriptions on point is important but then you must back it up with a great experience.
One of the reasons to have a mobile-specific site or dynamic serving is to continue the attention game with your visitors. Mobile are used all over the place and the strength of connection varies a lot. From 3G or 4G to weak internet café WiFi and the superfast home or office broadband, a mobile viewer searching the internet is going to have a better experience on your site if it loads fast and scrolls easily.
This is also true on desktop versions, too. Research shows that you have between 5 and 10 seconds to capture the attention of your visitor and that your website design needs to be simple, easy to navigate, and of course – fast!
Speed is the next area to work on with your SEO in 2019. The speed of your site might well be holding you back and that’s a shame if you have great content and good authority in your field.
We like to aim to get the speed of a website right down to sub 3 or 2 seconds!
Yes, that’s right, ideally your website needs to load within 3 seconds or ideally 2 seconds!
Once again this comes back to the user and what you’re asking them to do on your site. It’s not enough to have the best content, it also needs to load fast and of course look great on mobile. People just won’t wait around for it to load.
There are some key areas to look at with your site speed
- Server speed
- Offscreen images
Let’s look at these areas of your website speed in more detail
The simplest way to create more speed on your site is to make sure you have the best sized images for your site. Images tend to be the largest part of your site to load. They’re often the parts you add to it after its built and therefore could well be a problem as you might not be focused on the best sizes when you’re adding blogs or updating your pages.
Images need to be web-sized at all times and they need to load fast. Adding too many images and certainly using large files in the header of your website are going to slow down the load speed and that will decrease your score and your chances of ranking well.
To do: Make sure your images are the right size.
Code and plugins
One of the major areas here though is plugins. You can change your site in seconds with plugins for WordPress or similar, but these plugins are all built in code and alter the way your site loads.
To do: Remove any plugins that you’re not using and only add well-built plugins that don’t overload your site.
Obviously where you host your site has the biggest bearing on the speed. It’s well worth investing in some solid hosting that promises a good ‘up time’ and great speed. We can’t emphasise how important this is, and if you’re choosing cheap hosting over faster slightly more expensive hosting then please reconsider. Don’t let a few hundred quid pull your site right down the rankings after all your hard work!
To check your site speed, you can use the FREE Google PageSpeed Tool right here which will also tell you how to fix your site speed and list the areas that need attention.
To do: Check your server speed and move if it’s having a negative impact.
You can’t get away from the fact that websites and Google are technical tools. They’re all data, they’re binary, they’re matching records with code and in lightning speed, too. SEO is technical and although we try to make it approachable on our blog, we couldn’t focus on your 2019 SEO without getting a bit technical for a moment.
Firstly, let’s look at the best place to see how your site is doing – Google Console.
If you’ve not set up your Google Console yet, then you really should. If there was a Google SEO 101 Handbook then Google Analytics and Google Console would be right at the start! As a website owner, you should have access to this incredible data and insights.
Both of these tools offer you great insights and data with some key differences. To summarise, here’s what the tools do:
- Google Analytics: What happens on your site when visitors arrive. Data and analytics for page views and what happens when they get there separated into the core areas of Audience, Acquisition, Behaviour, Conversions.
- Google Console: Google Console (previously Google Webmaster Tools or WMT) is the place to go to measure your site’s search traffic and performance and then see where you need to fix issues.
Google Analytics is a superb tool and one you should really get into but let’s take a look at Google Console and your technical SEO for 2019 as this is going to be really important.
Google Search Console made some BIG improvements recently and it will continue to do this in 2019. Essentially, Google is giving us as users more data and information on our sites to encourage us to fix issues that are holding them back.
When Google encourages us to do something – we do it! They don’t always tell us what they’re looking for but when they do you must action it!
Google wants us to act on the advice and data in Google Console and help you to reduce errors and problems with your website. In turn, it will have a better site in its index, and we don’t need to tell you that will mean a better chance to rank, do we?
Google wants the best, and this tool is nurturing you towards being the best. Why wouldn’t you listen?
Google Console shows you:
- Your performance over time with impressions, clicks, your CTR (Click Through Rate) and your average position on the search results based on all the times your site was shown in the results from the searches that triggered it.
- Your index status with results for any errors that need fixing, how many pages you have indexed, and how many have been excluded for reasons like redirects or duplicated pages.
- Sitemaps and their status as well as a place to upload yours which you really should if you want to make it easy for Google to index your site.
- Mobile usability which will display the pages that have few or no errors on mobile.
- Manual actions are also listed to help you see where you have bigger problems to fix and how to fix them.
- Links to and from your site including internal links are also shown, and if you’re working on building your links then this data will make interesting reading for you.
What this completely free tool shows you is that Google wants your site to be technically sound. You really should invest some time looking at the most viewed pages and the most linked pages, and then make improvements based on any alerts you’ll get there.
Google is currently rolling out a new version of this tool and is looking to add to and improve it in 2019. Their focus is on technically well-built sites, so get yours in the best condition it can be.
To do: Check your Google Console and action any errors, 404s, broken links, or improve pages that are performing well and internally link them to other areas of your site for a great crawling result from Google.
Content will be king in 2019 just like it has been for… well… forever! The content on your site is the oxygen in the blood of your SEO. This is what they’ve all come to see and when you’ve sorted the mobile experience, the speed, and the technical aspects of the site, this is your chance to shine and give people a great reason to come to visit.
Content needs to be the best it can be. If you’re trying to rank online then the quality of your content, the advice, the tips, the guidance, and the step-by-step blogs and articles you create need to be written for your visitors to help them become better at what you do.
This does many things, including:
- Building authority in your field
- Maintaining visitor times
- Reducing bounce rates
- Increasing returning traffic
- Improving your share-ability on social media
- Adding solid content for Google to index.
Content is the basis of great SEO and although it goes hand-in-hand with a well built and high authority site, without it you don’t really deserve to rank. So you won’t!
What types of content should you have?
The best place to start is with you and your customers. What do you do? How do you help them? What do they ask for help with? What type of content from your niche or industry is often searched for? Where can you add some serious value and raise your authority?
Content is all about building trust:
- Building trust with your customers and visitors with expert content, thought-leadership pieces, and well-shared content that people love to come back to and bookmark, reference, or share on social media.
- Building trust with Google. Google ranks high authority content and you need to prove that you know your onions. Great content gets links, shares, and keeps people on the site while they consume it. Go to your Google Analytics or Google Console for an idea which content on your site does this, and create more of it.
How can you come up with ideas for content?
Creating blogs, articles, and case studies might not be your thing but your site needs it. If you’re tasked with getting more traffic or improving the SEO of the site in 2019 or you simply want your site to get more leads and sales, then you need to get a handle on this content generation.
So where do you get the ideas from? Well you should head over to a recent blog post by us Creating Great Content for your Blog – 6 Ideas and Tips for More Traffic in 2019 for somekiller ideas and content inspiration for your website, of course.
How often should you create content for your site?
Honestly? As often as you can – but be consistent.
Content needs to be good quality. Long-form content works best so don’t rush it and just bang a load of nonsense on your website. In 2019 commit to doing more of it and in a more consistent manner.
- If you’re blogging monthly, blog fortnightly.
- If you’re posting fortnight, upload weekly.
- If you’re a weekly blogger, post twice a week!
Push yourself, build that site with high authority, expert content and you’ll be rewarded highly. It’s simply what Google spends its time looking for and serving up so go create some!
The key to great content is this: Relevance + authority.
Make sure you’re adding content to your site that is highly relevant to your niche and aims to be the authority in it.
Think about it: who would you want to work with? The rookie or the main player? Build the content to back it up!
To do: Start creating and sharing good quality, helpful content. (Or get someone to write it for you.)
Building links is an important area of SEO and one that you can look to work on in 2019. Link building doesn’t mean getting someone to add a load of spammy links from spurious places though. No, it’s more relevant than that.
Building links is a discipline and as you work on it you’ll attract more great links if you have a great site and great content to link to.
The main thing to remember with links it that they must be relevant, ideally from great sites. Look to get links from sites with high authority and then you should aim for a mix of links from the following
- Local – local SEO is powerful so get some local listings, organisations and businesses to link to you.
- Niche – get some highly relevant links from content in your niche
- National – national links are big for your SEO, but you can get some simple ones from listings and directories as well as events, partners, and more.
- Digital PR – PR is huge for SEO but not as common as the other links. Work on your PR with some high-quality link juice from some big name digital magazines and industry leaders.
- Blogs – blog links from other blogs to you are usually fairly easy to get and with a guest posting strategy you can create some of your own, too.
Links are one of the major factors that Google looks into to decide whether to rank you or not. Google uses your ‘link profile’ to decide how trustworthy you are, what niche you’re in, and whether or not you’re an authority in your niche.
When you look at this, it all makes complete sense for Google to rank sites with good links over those with inferior ones and it’s purely a high-tech word of mouth system! More links from high places? More word of mouth and more trust!
If you’re going to work on your SEO in 2019 then the links you’re gaining and the links you’ve missed out on are a key areas to work on.
Some quick wins for link building in 2019:
- Often a simple Google search will find you results that mention you that haven’t linked back to you. Find them and ask for the link.
- Use Google Console to find sites that link to you and reach out to them for more.
- Set up your local directories for some easy local and national links.
- Audit your memberships with networking groups or local chambers and ensure you’re linking to your site from them all.
- Audit all your social media and check you’re linking from them.
- Build a list of sites you could offer guest posts for. Keep them relevant and high authority if you can.
- Add links to any online profiles that you have and make sure if you’re exhibiting this year or speaking at events that you get a link back from the websites.
Links need to be quality and niche relevant. Local listing and organisations aside, try to gain good PR and blog links that bolster your SEO. Don’t hinder it with spammy, irrelevant links that will look odd to Google.
Yes, you need more links.
No, you don’t need loads of rubbish ones!
To do: Use Google Console to keep a track of your links and build in a system to check monthly for missed chances to get links to you and view those pages that are gaining links so you can do more of the same.
SEO isn’t a trick. It isn’t a dark art, and it isn’t only administered by a ‘ninja’ or someone with highly technical skills.
SEO is the art of showing Google that you deserve to be shown in the results and that you deserve to be shown higher and more of the time.
Google shows the best, so your aim should be to be the best!
Here’s a quick summary of the five areas above to keep you focused on being a great website owner and helping Google to help you rank.
What’s important to Google?
Google wants to serve its users the best, fastest, most useful and most valuable content. This isn’t new for 2019 as it hasn’t changed that philosophy in 15+ years!
What can you do to benefit from Google search results?
Do what makes sense for your business. Show your expertise and treat your website like you do with all the other parts of your business. Treat it like an asset and something to care about, not something you do because you have to!
Use your website as a window into your business and above all provide value however you can. Use the competitors as your benchmark on what you MUST improve on so you deserve to rank.
Be consistent and always raise the bar. Go big or go home!
Will the importance of these five areas change over time?
Not really! Google has been saying the same thing for years, it’s just getting better at identifying those trying to manipulate the system! Google now demotes those who don’t deserve to be found in their search results and this won’t change anytime soon.
Now you have the plan, where’s the best place to start?
Simple – Just get started!
Work out how you can add value, what you can write, say, or show that makes you stand out and start creating it.
But always remember this: Whatever you choose, Google it before you start to see what’s currently ranking at the top and then review the top 5 results.
This is your barometer. This is your benchmark to beat!
Google is telling you, “that’s the best content I have for that query or topic right now”.
Can you do better?
If you look at it and can’t do a better job, you can’t make it more valuable or more useful and informative then don’t bother! Just move on and try another topic until you find an area you can add value in.
When you find something you know you can do so much better, go to town on that content and be the very best you can.
Success with SEO in 2019 comes down to five key areas on your website:
- Mobile experience and indexing.
- The speed of your site on desktop and mobile.
- The technical state of your site and fixing problems.
- Great content – superb content if you can.
- And high authority, relevant links.
Get your SEO rocking in 2019!
Good luck with implementing these tips.