If you’re the person in your organization that is responsible for getting more traffic to your website, you’ve likely heard about SEO — or, Search Engine Optimization.
You probably did some research to figure out just what this “SEO” thing was and how to apply it to your site. And if you’re like most people, your eyes may have started to gloss over when you started seeing phrases like “algorithm” and “latent semantic indexing” and “canonicalization.”
You’re not alone! SEO is a complex process with many moving parts. There is no simple “push-this-button-and-get-to-the-top-of-the-search-engine” button. Looking online, you’ll find thousands of posts with seemingly contradictory points of view and strategies on how to optimize a website.
This guide and action plan exists to cut through all the hype and confusion so that you can start optimizing your web presence immediately.
We’ve boiled down the most important, most critical elements of search engine optimization. Then we’ve explained them in a way that is simple to understand and easy for you to dive in and to implement.
Before you get into the individual lessons, it’s important to understand this overarching concept of SEO…
Search engines are a business.
- Their customers are the people that use search engines to find things.
- Just like any business, their success relies on pleasing their customer.
- Therefore, the #1 goal of a search engine is to position the most relevant and useful sites at the top of the results page.
Keep this in mind as you work through all of the steps of search engine optimization. Your goal is to create a website that is useful, helpful, and interesting to PEOPLE. Those are the types of sites that search engines want to present first to their customers.
You cannot “trick” search engines — at least not for long. Companies like Google, Yahoo, and Bing have some of the smartest people on the planet working for them. Their job is to understand what people like and to create systems to evaluate a site in the same way that a person might.
This is great news — because if you build an online presence that search engines find valuable, then you’re also building an online presence that your target audiences finds valuable. And that’s likely your ultimate goal anyway. Practicing search engine optimization is a win-win situation, both for you and your customers.
Keyword Research: The Cornerstone of a Profitable SEO Campaign
When you’re beginning your SEO campaign, keyword research is the very first thing that you need to do. It may not seem exciting or thrilling or glamorous, but if you skip ahead before identifying your keywords, you may end up re-doing all of the work you done. Keyword research is the cornerstone of SEO.
What is a Keyword, Exactly?
The term “keyword,” is a bit misleading, because keyword essentially means a word or phrase that people search for when they need your solutions.
Think about it… if you were a diabetic that worked 40 hours a week and needed some recipe ideas to feed your family of five, what might you type in to Google to find what you were looking for?
The top five mistakes people make when choosing keywords are:
- Thinking too broad: For example, “recipes” instead of “quick recipes for diabetics”
- Picking “category” terms instead of specific terms: For example, “food” or “health” vs. “diabetic recipes.”
- Not doing research: Guessing usually means leaving lots of opportunities on the table.
- Choosing volume over relevance: Let’s say that you sell blue suede shoes. While doing keyword research, you find that there are 1,000,000,000 searches for the term “shoes” and 520 searches for the term blue suede shoes. Don’t be blinded by the big number! The more relevant keyword with the lower search volume will likely be a more profitable term for you.
- Not realizing that web PAGES rank in the search engines, not web SITES: If you are a real estate agent in Chicago, you might assume that “Chicago real estate” would be the keyword for your website. However, you probably offer multiple solutions that people would search for differently such as:
- Chicago homes for sale
- Chicago real estate agent
- Chicago homes for rent
- Sell a home in Chicago
Keep in mind that every page on the site is it’s own entity. Unlike a store where everyone walks through the front door and then proceeds to individual sections, a website allows you to enter on — any page, ideally, the specific section relevant to your needs.
You could probably take an entire weekend course on intricacies of conducting and applying keyword research. However, more than 80% of the benefits of keyword research can be achieved by applying less than 20% of all the details by following the steps below:
1. On a blank Excel document, list out each PAGE of your website and jot down the solution that each page solves for your target audience.
2. Using a keyword tool such as Google Keyword Tool or WordTracker, enter a keyword that you assume someone might be searching for to find your solution. Then look at the suggested search term to find other, perhaps more relevant or popular terms that people are looking for.
3. Beneath where you listed each page of your website on your Word doc, list the two to three keywords that have the ideal balance between most relevant and most searched for, according to the keyword tool. Choose different words for each page.
4. Apply the terms in the following places on your webpages:
- The title tag
- The meta description
- The website body content
- Header and sub header tags (H Tags)
5. Publish different types of useful content on other sites (such as articles, press releases, guest blog posts, etc.) In each piece of content, embed a link to your page in the keyword assigned to that page.
Link Building: Proving Your Site’s Value
There are estimated to be over 200 factors that Google evaluates about a page to determine ranking. Of all of those 200, link building is one of the most important factors.
Remember, a search engine’s goal is to position the most relevant and useful sites at the top of the search engine results page. But if you’re a computer, how do you determine human perceptions like “relevant” and “useful?”
In studying relevant and useful websites, the folks at Google realized that lots of sites linked to them. Humans created those links — so they served kind of like “votes” on the usefulness and relevance of the website.
In very simplistic terms:
More links pointing to your site from other sites
But not all links are weighted equally. NOT being aware of this often leaves beginners to SEO prey to scammers and smooth talking sales people who promise to produce “thousands of backlinks” in a short period of time.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when building links:
- Use keywords as anchor text: If I place a link in the term funny dog videos, what do you think you’ll find when you click the link? You can assume that you’ll find funny dog videos. Search engines can make that assumption too. Whenever possible, use keywords or variations of keywords instead of placing links in your company name or in words like “click here.”
- Diversify the anchor text in your link portfolio: When bloggers, journalists, and customers mention (and therefore link) to your site online, it is highly unlikely that they are all going to place that link in the same anchor text term every time. If every link to your site is anchored in the exact same keyword, it starts to look a little contrived to search engines. While you want many of your anchor text links to be in keywords, you’ll also want some in variations of that term and in your company name as well. The goal is for the anchor text to appear natural.
- The quality and “trust” of the linking site matters. For example, a link in an article from on Washington Post online holds more value than a link from a free blog that was just started yesterday. Links from spammy sites can actually hurt your ranking.
- Links from sites in your niche are more relevant than general sites. If you sell a cooking tool getting a link from the International Association of Culinary Professionals holds more weight than a link from a general business directory.
- Don’t devalue social media. If you start researching more about backlinks and how they work, you will likely discover talk and theories about calculations and algorithms and measurements. No doubt, there is definitely a “method” to the way that search engines value links. However, links from social media sites often don’t factor into the old equations. Regardless, they are important and will only grow in importance. After all, the entire point of a search engine evaluating links is to understand what PEOPLE find relevant and useful — and social media is all about people sharing information.
As you’re doing your link building keep in mind this one very important thing… Search engines want to show their customers what the most relevant and useful results first. That means your site’s content and the information you publish online needs to be relevant and useful so that people will naturally want to link to you.
How Real People Use Search Engines
Curious…. When was the last time you cracked open the Yellow Pages to look for a solution?
Search engines have turned the pre-internet days upside down. Now the vast majority of adults turn to the Internet for almost everything.
Remember back in the ‘old’ days, when you and a friend might debate about something like a song lyric or a historical fact? Back then, you had to agree to disagree until you could get home or to a library and properly research. Now, we just turn to a search engine on our smart phones and squash the debate right then and there.
To see how “real” people use the Internet, take a look at your own history in your search engine. Looking back on our family home computer I find things like:
How to do the splits
- Dance studios in Naperville
- Everglades kayak camping
- Thai food restaurants in Naperville
- What kind of dog is Spuds McKenzie
- Chicago to Miami flights
- What does YOLO mean
Looking back on these searches, many of these resulted in a purchase:
- How to do the splits = resulted in the purchase of an over the door contraption designed to stretch leg muscles. ($35)
- Dance Studios in Naperville = Resulted in signing daughter up for dance classes at a local studio School Of Performing Arts and “liked” the page on Facebook. ($150/month)
- Everglades Kayak Camping = Camping trip planned for next Christmas vacation with an Everglades kayak outfitter, I’ll most likely purchase a package that includes 2 kayak rentals and guide service. ($950)
- Thai food restaurants in Naperville = Resulted in lunch at a local Thai food — and probably many future visits. ($15)
- Chicago to Miami Flights = Resulted in the purchase of an airline ticket ($337)
- What kind of dog is Spuds McKenzie & What does YOLO mean? Solved two nagging questions that arose during various conversations. (Priceless)
Being visible on search engines is profitable for businesses. Never before in history has a business been able to position it’s message AND a way to purchase at the exact place at the exact time that it’s customer is looking.
Your customers are looking… are they finding you? Contact Us to help get your website more find able.