Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide
On any given day, Google services 3.5 billion searches, or 40,000 searches per second5. Google is in the business of indexing all of the content they can, and making relevant content available to people as they search. Once people find what they are looking for, they naturally click to learn more, and this generates a massive amount of traffic to websites all over the world.
The search engines provide this as a free service for both the searcher and the website, because they make a tremendous amount of money on paid ads. We call the free search results “organic” or “natural” search, since they are a natural result of the search engine’s work and not influenced by paid advertising.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art and science of making your website look like what the search engines want to see for a particular keyword so that you show up as high as possible in the organic search engine rankings. The important thing to note is that it’s not about tricking the search engines into thinking you are more relevant than you really are; it’s about making your website as relevant as possible based on their criteria.
Since the search engines don’t actually publish their search algorithms, it’s only possible to understand how to make your website more relevant by trial and error. Fortunately, there is an entire industry of SEO specialists who focus on this problem every day, so after years of study, we have a very clear understanding of what works and what does not.
Here are the steps you should take to create an effective SEO program.
When you get started on an SEO program, the first thing to do is to consider is your goals. Are you interested in the visibility of certain keywords for their own sake, better branding, sales, or more leads?
Whatever your goals, make sure that you focus on them and then track the results of your activity. Most of our clients consider SEO to be an important tool to help them become more visible in the search engines in order to generate more traffic to their website, which in turn creates fresh leads or sales.
Remember that in order for the new business to happen, your website needs to be set up to catch and convert the traffic, which will require a good design, sound architecture, and a strong call to action.
All keywords, of course, are not created equal. It will be much easier to rank #1 on your company name than for a keyword like “financial services.” Not only do more general keywords have more traffic, they are also much more competitive, which makes it more challenging to rank well on general terms. If you are successful getting on the first page of a keyword with high traffic, it can make a big difference for your business. If you are successful in being visible on a keyword with little or no traffic, you might not even notice.
Remember that your end goal is not just visibility, but traffic and ultimately sales or leads, so choose your keywords carefully. If you end up ranking on a keyword that is not relevant to your business, you may increase traffic to your website, but you may also increase the bounce rate from your website, since people clicking to your website from that keyword will leave seconds after they arrive.
Traffic, of course, is a result of clicks to your website, not just being visible on a search. Once you search for something, you’ll naturally read the search results to find the content that is most relevant for you. This means that you’ll need to work on the copy that Google shows as part of the search result to make it enticing for the user so that you’ll actually get a click.
Most of the time, the search engine will get this copy from the meta description tag content in your HTML page, so take care to write the copy so that you’ll encourage the reader to not only see it, but also to click.
Then look at the page you link to in order to make sure that there is an offer there that is relevant to the searcher. Only if you connect all of the dots will you be able to make sure you’ve done all that you can to turn your visibility into clicks and ultimately leads or sales.
What’s Important to Google
There are really only two things that matter to Google that will determine how you rank on the search engine’s organic results. This is their “special sauce” and the reason they dominate the search market and are worth about $546 billion6.These two things are “on page” factors and inbound links.
On page factors are things about your site that tell Google that you are relevant for a particular keyword. These are keywords in the body copy, URLs, other HTML tags, and the quality of your domain.
Inbound links aretotally different and much harder to control. These are typically links from other websites to specific pages on your website. Linking is essentially a popularity contest where Google gives credit for the most popular pages as determined by the links.
Do other websites link to your site with keywords that are relevant? Are these important websites? It makes a big difference if CNN or IBM link to your website vs. getting a link from a non-relevant site with very little traffic.
You should begin your SEO program by determining the most effective keywords for placement on your website—words that have low competition and high traffic, and that are highly relevant to your business. It’s advisable to start with dozens or even hundreds of potential keywords and then get data on keyword traffic and competition in order to make decisions about the best keywords to focus on.
You can also get data from your website analytics program or a paid search marketing program to see which keywords are not only driving traffic, but are also driving leads or sales. You can also see which keywords you are already ranking on, and focus on improving existing organic search term visibility.
For example, if you are showing up on the middle of the second page for a particular keyword, it will be much easier to improve visibility and get on the first page than to take a keyword on which you are not ranking at all, and become visible.
It’s challenging to make decisions about the best keywords to use with all of this data, but since these decisions will drive the success of the rest of the program, it’s critical to do it well.
A Keyword Plan for your Website
Once you’ve chosen your keywords, you’ll need to develop a plan to build them into your website. In this process, you will need to insert the keywords into the HTML and body copy of the page. The common HTML tags to focus on are the URL, the title tag, description tag, alt tag, H1 tag, and body copy.
It’s important to insert the keywords enough times to make the content seem relevant, but not enough times to seem to be “spamming” the search engines. If Google decides that you are trying to trick them, they could blacklist you so that you don’t show up at all on the search engines.
One way to see how many times to insert the keyword into each tag is to look at the top organic results for that keyword and see how long their copy is for each tag and how many times they’ve used the keyword in each tag. This will give you a sense of what the search engines think is important for each keyword.
If this sounds like a very detailed process, you are right. To do this well, you need to match at least one web page to every keyword you are focused on, and then write copy for all of the different tags mentioned above that include the keyword. This SEO copywriting and HTML implementation can take time, but it is a critical step in the process of making your website more visible to the search engines.
Website SEO Analysis
Once you’ve built keywords into your website, you’ll want the search engines to index the content and update your website in their search engine rankings. Google has a very helpful tool called Google Search Console, which allows you see your website the way that the search engines do. It will help you identify broken links or other factors that may be preventing them from seeing all of your web pages.
You can also tell the search engines not to index certain content on your website if you don’t want them to see it. These would be pages like landing pages or ads, which have duplicate content or even pages you, don’t want searchers to see.
Fresh content is a very important factor in keyword visibility. If your site is updated frequently, the search engines will index it more frequently and it will help you get better keyword visibility.
A regularly updated blog is an excellent way to provide fresh content. It can also be helpful to make small updates to your product or service pages each month.
Press releases on your site are another easy way to make your content fresh. As you add new content, make sure you use all of the same principles mentioned above to make sure that the new HTML page body copy as well as the tags and links are fully optimized.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this discussion on SEO, inbound links are a very important part of the search engines’ algorithm, which determines how your keywords will rank in the organic search results. Each link is essentially a vote for your site’s content. The more votes your site has, the more popular you’ll be in search engine results.
It is very important, therefore, to get as many high-quality inbound links as possible pointing to the most important pages of your website. When you build links, make sure that you use keyword-seeded anchor text across multiple websites to increase your inbound links. You can get links by signing up with directories, issuing press releases, getting partners to link to you, linking from your own microsites, and posting on social media sites.
There is an almost limitless number of ways for you to get links, but all of them take time and effort. As you build links, keep track of how Google views your link-building progress through Google webmaster tools to make sure you are focused on getting links that will make a difference.
Don’t forget to include internal links to your most important pages to help search engine spiders easily identify which pages they should pay closer attention to. Visitors will also benefit from internal linking since you’ll be promoting related or more in-depth information on a given topic. And don’t forget to optimize your anchor text on these internal links as well.
SEO Reporting and Analytics
After you set up your goals, SEO optimize the content and tags on your website, and build all of the internal and external links you can, you’ll want to know what parts of the program are working and what still needs improvement. And you’ll need a way to quantify the business impact of your SEO work.
To get a good understanding of the effectiveness of your SEO program, you’ll need to understand how your keyword visibility has changed over time, how much traffic that visibility is driving to the website, and what is happening to that traffic.
There are many tools that will give you data on keyword visibility. Tools such as HubSpot, MOZ, Keyword Spy, or SEM Rush can quickly tell you how visible your keywords are. If you keep track of your results from month to month, you’ll be able to see the impact of your work on visibility over time.
Keyword visibility, of course, is only the first step in the process. What you really want to know is how your visibility is impacting traffic and leads or sales. To get this data, you’ll need to use a website analytics program like Google Analytics.
This tool will tell you how much traffic and how many goal conversions you get from each keyword. By tying your visibility to traffic to conversions, you can get a complete picture of the business impact of your SEO work.
Search engine optimization should be treated as a living and breathing organism—it needs constant attention in order to be truly successful. By conducting ongoing analysis and identifying new and inventive ways to continuously improve your search engine visibility, you can stay visible, drive new traffic and stay a step ahead of the competition.