I recently finished a new blog post for the good folks over at iSpionage.com. Check it out over on their blog and feel free to leave a comment or a question!
Did you ever hear the one about the SEO and digital marketing consultant who turned down the client who just wanted to get to no. 1 on Google? This post is a little bit about why I might turn down such a client – and a lot more about why you shouldn’t be that client!
The announcement from Google this week, which dismayed many a marketer, only serves to highlight why you should start thinking about online marketing within a broader context. It reinforces the argument for taking a more holistic approach to marketing your business online.
SEO is Changing
Ok, let’s jump straight in. SEO is changing. I almost feel sorry for all of those agencies who have ‘SEO’ in their name somewhere, as it may be the case that they will be forced into a re-brand sooner rather than later! Why? The reason is that SEO is no longer ‘just SEO’. It is no longer – and can no longer be – a standalone product. SEO is now simply marketing. This is why you need to stop thinking just in terms of ‘doing SEO’, or zeroing in on improving search engine rankings for its own sake.
Specifically, we should collectively start to move away from rankings and organic traffic measurements (although they are still important), and away from over-analysing data in general. Instead, ask – “what does my customer actually want?”. Instead of second guessing them via Google Analytics, why not just ask them about what’s most important to them? Then, you have a framework and foundation on which to build and augment your marketing efforts.
A Digital Strategy That Works
Let’s say you own a bike shop, and you know you should be blogging more – but you are missing valuable data around your top queries in Analytics. Forget that! You know your customers better than anyone. Do you notice a gap in their knowledge somewhere, perhaps around maintaining their bike or knowing which model suits them best (to give but two potential examples). Why not make a blog post out of that and promote via social media? In fact, here is a ready-to-go model for you to run with right now:
- Ask your customer about what they need, quiz them on the gaps in their knowledge (if you aren’t already aware of what these gaps are).
- Formulate some blog post / web content ideas around these topics.
- Write awesome content which addresses their queries – content they will refer back to and instinctively share.
- Share this good stuff on social media – Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook – but don’t forget Pinterest, YouTube, Slideshare…
- Interact with your top sharers – show that you appreciate that they value your content and have taken the time to share it.
If you do all of the above, you will reap the rewards over time in the search engines without even trying. Your authority will increase, your rankings will rise of their own accord – and with the rise of the importance of social in SEO, you will be perfectly positioned to take advantage of it.
If you do all of this, are you really going to be worried about missing keyword data in Google Analytics? Or will you be too busy at the cash register and on the phone?
I would love to hear what you think. As a business owner, have you adopted this type of strategy already? If not, why not?
In Part 1 of a Beginner’s Guide to SEO, we explored five fundamental areas to review when kick-starting your campaign. In Part 2 of this two-part series, we will move towards some of the more strategic elements which, when taken together, could serve as the basis of your SEO strategy for a period of months or years. These are tried and trusted approaches towards excelling as a business online, and are not liable to be affected by any changes in the online landscape in the coming years.
These elements, which work together in a strategic way, will allow you to build on the solid SEO foundation you now have in place, after reading and implementing the recommendations provided in part 1.
Create Compelling Content
When it comes to content, think of what I like to call the three ‘Cs’; ‘Create Compelling Content’. As we saw in part 1, search engines like Google exist to match searches with the most relevant and useful content online. In practice, this involves prioritising those websites which have a reputation and a track record for providing high quality content on a regular basis.
A simple example could be a tax consultant who frequently posts useful original content to their blog on topics relating to tax issues for self-employed people. If this content is valuable and shareable, it becomes reputable in Google’s eyes, and so Google can ‘trust’ this content enough to start showing it in top positions in search results.
Another example could be a mechanic who posts useful car maintenance or motoring tips, a driving school owner who blogs about how to approach your driving test, or a personal trainer offering nutrition tips.
The level to which you can appear in strong search engine positions of course depends on the competition levels for your sector, which you will be familiar with having read part 1 of this series. If the competition is high, it means there is an even greater need for you to focus on content, especially if your competitors are active in terms of blogging and content development.
Demonstrate your expertise
You may be tempted to think that blogging on topics related to your area of expertise amounts to ‘giving away’ your information. On the contrary, the internet is full to the brim with free information in any case. What you are doing is demonstrating your expertise and experience, so that potential customers are drawn to what you offer, and have confidence in dealing with you.
What does all this mean? It means that simply by harnessing the power and potential of the internet, a business owner with limited resources can still command a healthy share of traffic for searches on Google relating to the products and services they provide. It means they can enjoy the reputation-building benefits which stem from this, as well as the leads and inquiries which will inevitably follow.
How often should I create and post great content?
The short answer to how often you should get into the habit of creating content is; as regularly as possible. Certainly, for best results, a blog requires updating preferably at least 2-3 times/week, or at least once a week, depending on your goals and your current position as regards your own SEO performance. Note that ‘compelling content’ means just that. Developing excellent content requires thought and an investment of time and effort in order to produce material that peoplewill find valuable and which they will want to read and share with others who can learn about what you do.
If you can develop a reputation for crafting great content, then not only will Google love your content and reward you, your readers and prospective new clients will too.
How do I create compelling content?
Here are some ways that you can create compelling content in an easy manner, which when carried out regularly, will give you a strong bang for your buck:
- Blog on your website – provide useful information for potential customers and share your expertise with everyone
- Post your email newsletters on your website
- Post latest news in your ‘Latest News’ section, or on your blog
- Post company whitepapers to your website
- Post client / customer case studies on your website
- Post ‘Top Ten Tips’ type articles on your website, or frequently asked questions
- Hold ‘Whiteboard’ days on your website or blog, to field and answer common questions
- Post testimonials or customer reviews on your website
- Post instructional guides or manuals on your website – these are very shareable
- Take note of common questions from customers and prospects and base blog topics around them
We are all busy people, but remember – you get out what you put in. The more effort you put into crafting quality, highly-readable, highly-useful content – and the more often you do it – the greater the return you will get. And in more ways than you may imagine.
Networking – the new link-building
Creating great, original content is important, but what if you are really short on time, perhaps don’t particularly enjoy it – or just want to explore other ways of boosting your SEO and expanding your digital footprint? You’ll be delighted to hear that content is not – and should not – be the only option.
One of the most important factors in terms of improving your SEO and increasing your search engine rankings – and therefore your traffic and inquiries – is increasing the number of links directing to your website from other high quality websites. Securing links from reputable websites in sectors related to your own is of the utmost importance if you are taking your SEO efforts seriously. The good news, however, is that it need not be a complex and difficult task – quite the opposite in fact.
Link-building is really relationship building
The easiest way to approach link-building is to think of building links as a mirror reflecting how you build relationships and interact with others in the offline world. Link-building should be much more a product or result of how you do business and work with others than a task to be completed, or a check-box on a spreadsheet. Websites with a strong, natural link profile are sometimes those where the owner had little idea of what SEO consisted of, or who invested very little time in understanding online marketing.
Quite often, the business owner would have built up a rich and diverse set of inbound links (links pointing to their site from other sites), simply because other sites linked to them as a result of the business relationships that were already in place. A business might have listed them on their own site due to the fact that they were a partner, or because they had a testimonial from them, which they then posted on their site.
In practice, what this means is that you can start by looking for existing opportunities to secure new links for your website. Here are some examples for you to think about right now:
- Offer to write a guest post on a blog that is relevant to your industry / sector.
- Contact the representative association for your trade or industry to get listed on their site.
- Contact your suppliers, partners and those in your industry with whom you have a good working relationship, and ask them to link to you. Ensure that this is done in a natural way and has relevance, i.e. not just a link for the sake of having one.
- Review past and existing clients with links to your industry, and ask them to recommend you on their websites via a ‘recommended partner’ or ‘recommended supplier’ feature. For example, perhaps there is a client for whom you carried out a project that was very highly praised. It may be that they could recommend you via a testimonial or mention on their site, with a link out to the relevant product or service on your site. Or, perhaps they could add a case study relating to the project on their site.
- Offer to help someone. Could you contribute valuable content to a relevant business for them to post on their site? Consider approaching a business to ask if there are frequently asked questions their customers have, which you can answer. Then, you could write up an article offering advice or guidance on these issues, which the business could then post on their blog, with a link back to you. Or, perhaps you could give an up and coming start-up some free advice, and then have them write up a post on their blog or website, describing how your advice helped with their marketing plan or website launch.
Once you realise that opportunities abound when it comes to building inbound links and boosting your search engine rankings, it becomes a more natural process, far removed from the dated and ineffective methods of old.
Social media does not play nearly as big a role in terms of SEO as content and links, and this is likely to remain the case. However, the importance of social media for business is evident, and for most businesses, it should be an integral part of any SEO campaign. The reason is because search engines such as Google do take into account signals such as the level to which you are seen as influential on social media channels, e.g. Twitter.
If you are a brand or business that is perceived as influential and authoritative on platforms such as Twitter or Facebook, then a search engine can feel more confident that your content – and your overall online presence – is also authoritative and of benefit to its users.
In other words, if your content is shareable, then more people will hear about it and find out about it on social networks. This leads to further sharing and distribution of your content, including shares from those already perceived by search engines as influential. As word spreads and your reputation grows, this can then add up to stronger search engine rankings and an overall boost in terms of your SEO efforts.
How to leverage social media for SEO
Social media for business is of course a topic in its own right, but there are some simple ways that you can be active on social channels with your SEO campaign firmly in mind. The idea is that your presence on social media channels can act as a great way to drive visitors back to your website and to the content you produce. Think of content as the value you produce, links as the relationships that you build, and social as the way of showcasing all of this to the world.
Best of all, it is free to do so. Here are some easy ways to gain value from social media to maximise your SEO success:
- Share other people’s content on social channels. This can include liking, sharing, re-tweeting and re-pinning other people’s content and messaging. In many cases they will return the compliment by sharing your content and re-tweeting you, etc. In this way, you build relationships and currency, and you may receive an inbound link or reference from a very valuable source, e.g. a quality website or blog in a sector relevant to yours.
- Comment on blogs that have synergies with, or are relevant to, your sector or niche. Take a little time to give feedback on other businesses’ blog posts and content. They may return the favour by commenting on your own blog and offering their thoughts and feedback. Potential customers and prospects will see these type of exchanges, and in many cases view it as validation for your own business, and what you offer.
- Again, offer to help someone. Carry out a Twitter search to see who may be looking for help and advice on a particular topic or issue that you can help out with. Do this not with a sale or deal in mind, but because you want to help out. If you do this without expecting anything in return, good things can come your way.
- Host a Twitter chat using a hash tag, and invite others to participate. The chat could relate to topics that business owners often require help with, and you and others can step in to provide advice – linking out to relevant content, e.g. help articles on blogs and websites, as appropriate. Do this sparingly. Again, approach this not with the sale in mind, but in the spirit of engagement with others first and foremost.
I hope that this post will help you take your SEO campaign to the next level, building on the key steps outlined in part one of the beginner’s guide to SEO. The key question to ask at all stages of your ongoing efforts is ‘am I adding value’? If you can answer this in the affirmative and continue to do so, then you can leave the SEO myths behind and be confident you are on the right track as regards your own SEO success.
What are your top tips in relation to SEO? What has worked particularly well for you and your business?
Feel free to leave comments or ask questions in the section below.
SEO can be complex, and despite the huge volume of online resources devoted to the topic, as a business owner you may still be left scratching your head as to how you match up when it comes to your own website and online presence. All is not lost, however. To start driving your online presence forward, I believe that the best way to learn and improve is to start by obtaining a firm grasp of the basics. Then, once you have a strong understanding of these basic elements, you can use this as a strong foundation on which to build your knowledge and expertise on the topic.
Getting found on search engines is of immense importance if you wish to do business and be found online, and so a relatively small investment in learning about SEO will repay you many times over.
This is part one of a two-part beginners guide to SEO, designed for those who wish to get started with their campaign, and who want to start seeing the benefits of their efforts sooner rather than later. Part 1 provides a simple five-point plan for getting started with some of the more fundamental tactics, while Part 2 will introduce you to some of the more strategic and creative elements which will help drive your SEO efforts over the medium to long term.
The ‘Why’ Behind Search Engine Optimisation
Why should we optimise our website so that is as ‘friendly’ towards Google and other search engines as possible? A rudimentary understanding of the ‘why’ behind SEO will help you to appreciate why you should follow the tactics and strategies in this series, as well as helping you to be mindful of the ways in which you can make it easy for Google to start moving you up the search results in a relatively smooth and uncomplicated way.
One of the best ways of building a relationship with or appealing to another company or individual is not to look at what they do, but why they do it. In business, you may frequently find yourself leaning towards working with businesses that share your values and aspirations – or which exist for the same reason you do. You work with such businesses as you have shared goals and outlooks, and because there is a mutual benefit in doing so.
It is no different with Google. Looking at a company’s mission statement is a great way to find out if they are compatible or a good ‘match’ – and you need look no further than Google’s own mission statement to find out how you can be a good match for them:
Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.
(Highlighted words my emphasis)
Google’s mission – their reason for existing – is to work with you to organise the world’s information, make it easy for everyone to access, and help ensure that this information is useful to those who access it.
Therefore, to excel at SEO, it is essential to start by looking at your own business, your own website, your own online presence, and ask these two simple questions:
- Can people (and search engines) find my website and the information on it easily?
- Is my website and the information I am putting out there useful and valuable?
Google and other search engines will reward you for working to answer these questions with a resounding ‘yes’ – and this is the bedrock on which all of your SEO efforts should develop and evolve.
Getting Started with your SEO Campaign
Now that we have helped to establish what Google is looking for – and why it makes sense to align your efforts with Google and other search engines, we can introduce five practical steps you can start taking today to kick-start your own SEO campaign.
# 1. Research Your Keywords
Keywords are the fundamental ‘unit’ of SEO. Keywords are what people use to find you online, and until people start using voice technology or mime to find what they are looking for, it is imperative that you give them some thought. Selecting the most important keywords you wish to appear for on Google will help inform the other steps you will take throughout your campaign.
In simple terms, Google matches keywords typed into its search engine with pages it feels are most relevant to users. The greater the relevancy factor, the higher in search results you may appear. Keyword research involves you researching the keywords that people are using to find the products or services you provide, so that you may align your website and content with what people are looking for.
Once you know what people are searching for, it is much easier to find out how to give them the useful information and content relating to the products and services they are looking for.
Your go-to resource here will be the Google Keyword Tool. Simply enter the keywords which are most relevant to your business, select your target country, and review the results.
To select say the top ten most important keywords for your website, you will be looking for the following:
- The number of ‘Local Monthly Searches’ for each term (number of monthly searches in your target country or market)
- The ‘Competition’ for each term (a measure of how many other advertisers / businesses are competing for this term, indicating the level of competitiveness for this term on Google)
In general terms, you should choose up to ten keywords (or as many as are relevant) to serve as the keywords that are of the highest importance to what it is you do or sell. These keywords will guide the content that you place on your website, the SEO tags that you will add to your website pages, and the topics you write about on your blog – so they should be considered carefully.
You may know what these keywords are instinctively, but it is a good idea to reference them, perhaps by listing them out somewhere. Tip: choose keywords for which there is good search volume, but which are made up of at least two words, and which ideally have low-medium competition.
The trick here is to choose keywords which people are using to search, but where at least some of the keywords aren’t high-competition ones. In short, it will be easier to increase your search engine ranking for terms which are not highly competitive. Therefore, ensure that you have some diversity in your keyword list.
# 2. Map Keywords & Content to Web Pages
The second step is to take a look at your website and ask yourself this question:
- Does each page on this website have a clearly defined topic or theme?
Let’s say you are a company offering legal services. If you offer a range of different legal services, each corresponding to a particular area of law, wouldn’t it make a lot of sense to have a unique page for each service? And wouldn’t it make sense to have well-written, descriptive and unique content on each page – matching the overall topic or theme of each page? After all, the more relevant and useful content and pages that you have on your website, the more content there is for Google to gather – and the more content there is to be found by the people searching for your services.
In this way, you can ensure that your website follows a very logical, clearly-defined structure. Think of it as arranging all of the different pieces of content and all of the different pages on your site into compartments. This also means that you can link from one page to the next in a simple and sensible way. Your ‘About Us’ page can include links to each of the different services that you offer, for example.
It is also important to think of the variety of relevant content that you can add to each of these pages. If you offer a particular service, instead of just writing a short blurb about this service and what you can offer, why not add a video where you describe this service (another chance to appear in Google search results), a client testimonial, or a case study where a company hired you with positive results?
Think in these terms:
Relevant Keywords + Useful Content + Well-Presented Pages = Google-Friendly!
# 3. Make Your Website SEO-Friendly
It is now time for a fresh look at your website, and some simple steps you can take to make it more SEO-friendly and accessible (remember the Google mission statement?).
There are a number of actions I recommend here.
One of the easiest ways you can make your website instantly more accessible to search engines like Google is to ensure that the URLs on your site are as simple, clear and descriptive as possible. How many times have you seen a URL which looks like this?
If you had written a song, and wanted to slap a title on it so that it could be easily found by anyone, would you be happy with the link above as the location for your song online? Or would you be happier with the following link:
Why be happy with jumbled up links when you can have well-formatted links that are easily accessible to both Google and search engine users? It is more difficult for Google to find your website pages and content with complex URLs, so ensure that you implement SEO-friendly URLs from the outset – or ask your webmaster to review this for you if they are currently much more complex than they need to be.
You may have heard of ‘SEO tags’ or ‘meta-data’, when people talk about optimising their websites. Probably the most important element in making your website more SEO friendly, and therefore increasing its ability to move up the rankings, is the title tag. The title tag is the text label which appears when you hover over a browser window containing an open web page, and it is also the piece of text which acts as the title for your page as it appears in search results.
The title tag is one of the most powerful indicators to search engines as to the relevance of your page for a particular search query. If I have ‘bike shop London’ added as the first few words of the home page title tag on my bike shop website, then this is a strong signal to Google that my website is relevant to people searching with that term – and will definitely help me to maximise my ranking for that particular term. While the extent to which it will help will depend on the competition levels for that term, as well as other factors, it is still very important to take advantage of the title tag in maximising what it can do for you.
So, you can see where your keyword research comes into play here. Choosing the right keywords in step 1 will help you to choose the optimal keywords for inclusion in your title tag.
A key consideration here is that if the keyword search a user performs on Google matches up with the keywords in your title tag, you may be eligible for extra attention, since the keyword will appear in bold in your title tag. See an example below, where ‘case studies’ and ‘social media customer service’ appear in bold in the title tag, since they match the search query entered on Google.
Tip: the most important keywords should appear closer to the start of your title tag, and your title tag should be no more than 70 characters in length. This helps prevent the tag becoming cut-off in search results, and will help prevent Google substituting your tag for a shorter one of their own (undoing your hard work).
When you search on Google, you get a list of results with a small piece of text (or snippet) under each result, which lets you know a bit about each result. You review each snippet in deciding which listing may be most relevant to your search, and then you click on one of the results. How relevant the snippet is to what you searched for is a key factor in the number of clicks your search results listing will receive. If people believe that your particular result is a good match for their search by looking at the snippet, then it follows that they will be more likely to click through to your site.
The key to creating well-written and highly-relevant meta-descriptions again goes back to the previous points on keyword research, content, and mapping both of these elements to particular pages. The meta-description should be 1-3 concise sentences which read naturally and incorporate the most important keywords for that page of your site. Again, I recommend adding the highest-priority keywords or phrases nearer the beginning of the tag. As is the case with the title tag, keywords in the meta-description tag which match the search query the user entered will also appear in bold font– again giving more prominence to your listing and increasing the likelihood that the searcher will click through to your site.
Image alt text
Another important addition to your website will be the image ‘alt’ tag. This tag is an area where you can add some ‘alt text’ (alternative text) to describe what an image on your site is about. It is much easier for Google to read text than images, meaning that if your images do not come with alt text, you are missing an opportunity to give Google more information on what these images are about.
This is a missed opportunity to help your rankings, and so I recommend adding some short, descriptive text within the alt tag for the images on your site. For example, if there was a picture on your site of a person fixing a computer, you might add ‘computer repair’ as the alt text for that image.
Read more about image alt text and best practices for adding this text to accompany your images.
Be sure not to over-use the same keywords or phrases in your title tags, meta-descriptions and image alt text. Diversity, variety and relevancy is key.
# 4. Add Google Analytics
This is an obvious but often overlooked action when it comes to optimising your site and setting yourself up for success.Google Analytics is a free tool which allows you to access a huge range of data on your website. I recommend installing it as your site goes live, or as soon as possible for your existing website. It will give you a superb level of detail on where your visitors are coming from, how they are finding you, how long they are spending on your site, where they are dropping off, which content and pages they are viewing, and lots more.
It will also provide you with valuable information and statistics via the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ report, which you can access without leaving the Analytics interface. This report allows you to view your current positions in search results for a range of terms, the number of impressions your website pages are receiving (impressions are the number of times your site appeared in search results), the number of clicks, and the percentage click-through rate to the pages on your site.
Read more about the Search Engine Optimisation reports in Analytics, and note that to access your Search Engine optimisation reports, you first need to set-up Google Webmaster Tools. Read on to find out more about Google Webmaster Tools.
# 5. Add Google Webmaster Tools
Google Webmaster Tools is a fantastic resource for your website. Google Webmaster tools is a free portal provided by Google which monitors your website and provides data on any actions that you need to take around issues which may be affecting your website. These issues may include errors which Google has found during its crawl process, for example broken links or issues with the speed at which your pages load. Think of it as your website’s doctor – only instead of only being available from Monday-Friday during certain hours, it is there for you 24/7! Not only that, but it is also there working in the background for you 24/7, gathering data on your website’s performance and overall health.
The easiest way to get set-up with Google Webmaster Tools is to first set-up Google Analytics. The reason for this is that once you have Google Analytics installed and have Administrator access to your Google Analytics account, you can then set-up and verify your Google Webmaster Tools account within minutes.
Read more about Google Webmaster Tools and how to get set-up with an account. Be sure to combine both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools to get all of the data available to you on your website’s performance. This data will prove indispensable in helping to guide your overall SEO and online marketing strategy.
Thank you for reading part 1 of this two-part beginners guide to SEO. What has worked well for you in terms of kick-starting your own SEO campaign?
Feel free to leave comments or ask questions in the section below.
I am posting for the first time in a while, mainly because I have been blogging elsewhere here and there. Right now however, I am open for business and available to take on some new clients. I am looking to speak with businesses who are keen to improve their online presence and get more out of their website. If that’s you, feel free to contact me. Also check out my About page to learn more about who I am and what I can offer.
In a nutshell, here is what I can achieve for your business / website:
- Get you into top positions on Google AdWords (you need to be in the top 3 paid results).
- Increase your rankings / positions on Google, so that you start to generate more traffic and attract more leads and sales (SEO).
- Improve your visibility on Facebook, Twitter and other social channels – and improve engagement with your fans and followers.
- Improve your website and provide advice on how to optimise it for conversions (leads, sales, inquiries).
- Provide general marketing strategy advice and training on how to ‘do it yourself’.
I am a former Google employee with 8 years experience in digital marketing and online project management. Here are some sample clients I have worked with to date:
- Pizza Hut
- BB’s Coffee & Muffins
- Kia Motors
- One Direct
- Multiple SME clients
Contact me to get started.
If you work at an SEO agency – or you’re an SEO practitioner – and still believe in outsourcing your link-building to India for $5/hour, you may want to read the latest soundings from Matt Cutts on the next Penguin update. Read all about what Matt had to say at SES San Francisco last week.
Yet another good reason (if one were needed) to invest wisely in SEO – ensuring you are creating great content and making use of viable, sustainable SEO link-building strategies such as guest-blogging and building relationships with relevant partner websites. It’s a marathon, not a sprint (although get the right person on board and the results can come faster than you think).
Hope this post finds you well. I recently wrote an article on optimising your Google AdWords campaign through lesser-known techniques for the cool folks over @Shopify, for their ecommerce blog.
Check it out and since everyone seems to run an AdWords campaign at some point, hopefully it gives you some helpful tips.