In the last years I’ve done a lot of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) projects. What keeps surprising me is that most people think it’s some kind of black art. Basic SEO is actually quite straightforward: hence my 3 steps to SEO Success. Agreed: I had to simplify some things, so please don’t bash me on that. My goal is to expose the basic principles of SEO, not to provide a comprehensive cookbook.
Side note: I mainly write about Marketing Automation, but I’ve come to believe that Inbound Marketing (which includes SEO) should go hand-in-hand with Marketing Automation. Inbound Marketing adds more leads to your database, and Marketing Automation manages those leads.
How Search Engines Work
All search engines have approximately the same approach: they rank based on relevant content and page popularity. Relevant content means that the keywords from the search query appear frequently on the page, and in the right places (Title, URL, Headings). Popularity means that many other sites link to this page, ideally using the same keywords in the link text. So let’s look at the 3 steps.
3 Steps to Improve your Search Engine Ranking:
(1) Choose your keywords wisely
(2) Create exactly 1 page for each keyword or keyword group
(3) Get links to these pages
(1) Choose the Right Keywords
First, pick approximately 10-20 keywords that you want to optimize for:
- Choose keywords with enough search volume, but not too much. Too little volume means only few people will see your site, too much volume means that it’s going to be hard to get on page 1. You can find keyword search volume with the Google Keyword Tool. This tool also provides keyword suggestions
- Choose keywords that are relevant. For example, for a company selling Portal software the term “web portal software” is more relevant than “news portal” (= people looking for a news website)
- To start, choose keywords that are relatively specific. “Web Portal Software” rather than “Business Software” and “Web application usability” rather than “usability”. This ensures that you have a reasonable chance of getting on page 1 of the search results, and that you attract the right audience. Later on you can optimize for more generic terms.
(2) Optimize Your Website
Once you’ve created your keyword list, you can start optimizing your site:
- Just to be sure, check if the search spiders can find your site. Type the following into the Gooogle search box: “cache:http://www.yoursite.com” without any spaces (click here for an example). You can use SEO Browser to see how Google sees your site: check that all content and links are visible in this text-only view. Do this for each page.
- For each keyword term, create exactly 1 optimized page (or choose an existing page)
- For each of those pages, put the keywords in the TITLE, URL, H1/H2 and in the content itself (example: a page optimized for “SaaS Analytics“); in the URL, use dashes (“-“) to separate words; if your website doesn’t use <h1> and <h2> tags (do a ‘view source’ to find out), ask you web developer to add them.
- Use unique content on each page: if you use the same or similar content, you run the risk that the Search Engines think they are duplicates (and only show one of them)
- Add an ‘elevator pitch’ in the META description tag, so Google will display this as a summary on the results page. Example: search for ‘Good Data’ and Google shows a summary written by Good Data’s marketing team: “Good Data brings easy, flexible, affordable analytics within reach of every company”.
(3) Get links
The search engines think your page is more relevant if other trusted sites link to it (“trusted” as opposed to “spammy” sites). The key is to write interesting content, and to network with bloggers and site owners so they want to link to your pages. You can still ask them, but an excellent ranking is only attained when other people link to your site without you having to ask for it. That means: create great content that is educational rather than necessarily promoting your products. So in short:
- Write appealing content, so other people want to link to it. Consider creating “link bait”: popular topic formats are “top 10 rules for…” or a list of blogs or Twitter accounts that cover your space. Always keep in mind: write about the interests of your target audience, rather than pushing your wares.
- Links (internal and external) should have descriptive link text. Use “business intelligence software” instead of “click here“. Google uses the link text to figure out what your page is about.
- Ask other people to link, and already give them the HTML code for the link, so you can optimize the link text
- Add your pages to directories that accept link submissions (e.g dmoz.org or industry-specific lists)
- If you have a blog, put it on the company domain (http://blog.company.com) and ask other bloggers to add your blog to their blogroll (and do the same for them).
- On your home page, include links to the keyword-optimized pages, so Google easily finds these pages (example: the links on bottom of Rightnow.com). The link text should be the same as the selected keywords.
As you go through these steps you will find out what works for you. You should monitor the ranking for your selected keywords weekly or biweekly: just type it into the search engine and see if your site pops up. Then check your web analytics tool to see which keywords bring most traffic. If you monitor conversions (e.g. a whitepaper registration) you’ll see that some keywords convert better than others. Focus on link building for the keywords that work best for you, and keep adding new keywords. Also, as your ranking improves, you may take on more challenging keywords: the ones that are really popular.
I hope this article was useful for you: let me know if you have question, or if you want to suggest changes to the approach I described. And keep up the optimization effort: it will take at least a couple of months before you start seeing results.
PS. You may have noticed that I’ve optimized this post for “SEO Optimization”