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5 Steps to a Solid SEO Foundation

Pat Marcello

I love my clients. Every one of them is successful in their niche, and that’s the plan. I want them to be the best person to teach a topic, the coolest person to sell the most awesome stuff or the most loved and followed person in whatever it is they’re doing. I help them to do those things, and have had success, even with people who just started from scratch.

But I do see tons of stuff. One of the biggest mistakes I see is where a new marketer has no focus on what they want to do or on the SEO foundation they need to build for it. I mean, some folks have so many different focus points that none of them work! Don’t let that be you. If you do, you’re doomed to certain failure.

Narrow your niche

First, narrow your niche. That means you should focus on one aspect of the niche you want to market in. For example, if you’re in the gardening niche, just selling all things gardening is a big mistake.

Instead, think about what you love about gardening the most. Is it gardening in a barrel? Is it growing and nurturing flowers? Or, what about a particular vegetable garden? Any of those niche aspects will help you to do better, especially when you’re new to online business.

focus1This is also true in terms of SEO. If you don’t have the funds needed to hire one of us, then you need to pay attention to SEO yourself from the start! Though most folks don’t even know what SEO is when they start, learning some basics and putting them into practice is extremely important!

If you’re not laying an SEO foundation for your business, and building on it over time, you’re totally going to miss the party.

Most people are nervous about SEO. It seems too tech-related, and if the new site owner doesn’t know basic code, they may see SEO as rocket science. But basic SEO really isn’t rocket science. Sure, some advanced aspects or it kind of are, but you aren’t ready for those and may never be. That’s OK. You don’t have to be fanatical like professional SEOs to make your business successful in search. Instead, focus on activities that will provide the most productive path for your business.

Where to start

Ask yourself these questions:

1. Is your niche waxing or waning in popularity? Is it seasonal, or do people search for what you want to sell year ‘round?

2. Who is your perfect customer? If you had a brick and mortar store, what would your customers look like? What gender would they be? What age? How often are they online? What times of the day or night? Where do they come from? How much money do they have to spend, especially if your product will be a “treat,” and not a necessity? (As in the difference between a game system and toothpaste.)

3. What words do people who are excited about the niche use when talking about the subject? Do they have buzzwords that only aficionados use?

4. Which keyword discovery tools work best for you?

5. How do you find the BEST keywords for your focus?

Let’s start from scratch the right way:

Step #1

What is/are your product(s)? Are they hot or cold? If they’re too hot or too cold, don’t bother. A product that’s “too hot” may be on its way out already. You need to think about products that have just started to become interesting.

You can get that kind of information from sites like Google Trends. As an example, today, the World Cup is all the rage. A few weeks from now, it will be sooo yesterday. Right? For a product pertaining to the World Cup, you have to do lots of pre-planning to really do well. If you want to work in that niche, start thinking about it now for next year.

Or what about swine flu? Remember when everyone was terribly afraid about the severity of that affliction?


During the panic in 2009, it surged. But as time went on, the topic became a non-issue. Trying to market a swine flu product now would be a tough row to hoe. What you want is a product that won’t lose its vitality, especially since you’ll be putting your work and heart into it. You don’t want that stuff going away, right?

Let’s think about Facebook:


Facebook has come a long way since 2007. It’s been up and down, but just a little. But I guarantee that if you come up with a Seth Godin “The Purple Cow” (unique in some aspect and totally awesome) product that applies to Facebook, you’ll have something worth considering. You’ll be marketing something that people want.

Step #2

Knowing your perfect customer is one of the biggest hurdles for new marketers, and the most important to understand. If you’re thinking that your perfect customer is “everyone,” “all men” or “all women,” you’re kidding yourself. Think harder.

  • How old will your perfect customer be?
  • What else do they like?
  • What gender?
  • What race?
  • How much money do they make?
  • Where do they come from?

Sit down and figure out all of these things, and even what your potential customer looks like. Create an avatar and figure out how to communicate with them. That’s…

Step #3

First, make sure that your site is hooked up with Google Analytics so that you can get demographic information from there for free. You can also use sites like Wikipedia or niche-centric magazines to figure out the niche denizens’ language. This is HUGE! How do your perfect customers talk about the product you’re getting ready to sell?


Search for the niche in LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest and Facebook, and look at what’s going on in regard to the topic. All of the information you gather will help you to figure out where to start searching for keywords. So, take notes! Or use a program like Evernote or MS OneNote to keep all of your research together. Highlight words that you find a lot. Those will be the starting point for your keyword research.

Step #4

Find a keyword discovery tool you’re comfortable using. There are so many — Google AdWords Keyword Planner, SEMrush’s keyword tool, WordTracker and many more. Figure out which one feels the most comfortable for you, and then, start plugging in words you found in your “learning” expedition.

Gather as many keywords as you can, but remember, not all keywords that work for PPC will work for organic search. PPC pulls in words that are complimentary so ads will show up on simpatico pages. You aren’t doing that, and certainly aren’t ready, so keep keywords to those you know people will use to find your product.

Organic SEO is meant to reach people who type words into search forms to find your site.

Step #5

After you have gathered as many keywords as you can, it’s time to weed out the losers. So, any keyword that gets little traffic — say, less than 3,000 searches a month, if you have an international audience or less than 1,000 searches a month if you’re looking for local searches — probably isn’t worth working toward ranking for.

I mean, you’re going to rank for keywords with less searches, but you don’t want to concentrate on them. Search engines will just pick them up for you, simply by analyzing your content. Put your effort behind keywords that will have a better payoff.

And keywords with high competition should go, too. I mean, you’ll probably NEVER rank for a keyword that’s generic, like golf, music or clothing. You just won’t. The people in those prime spots have big mojo behind them, and if you’re starting out, you’re a flea.

They’re the big dog. You’re the flea. Remember that. People won’t find your site, if you don’t go about doing this the right way.

So, pretend you’re that perfect customer. In your mind, BE that person. And pretend you want to buy the product you’re trying to sell. What would you type into a search box to locate it?

Here’s the tedious part:

Go through each remaining word individually and analyze it. Would your perfect customer type in “dog training” and come to your site, if you’re selling “dog food”? Maybe, but probably not. They’re looking for something completely different and at some point, they may want their dog to be trained, but they aren’t buyers. At least not yet. It’s important to think about the user’s intent. Are they really looking for what you have to sell or something else? If it’s something else — chop it!

When you’re ready

Once you have narrowed down your keyword list, find three to five keyword phrases that are MOST likely to bring people to your website. Use one or two in your <title> and Meta description. Use one in your headline on the front of the page, and sprinkle your page with the words you chose, without stuffing. We all know by now that keyword stuffing is the kiss of death, so don’t overdo. If it makes sense to use a keyword and the sentence reads well for visitors, use it! Just don’t go overboard. Think about synonyms and use those, too. Semantic search will do the rest for you.

SEOquakeOnce you have all that done, you’re ready for your next steps, but your first job should be to FOCUS on building your foundation the right way. Keep your navigation simple (as in no more than three clicks from the home page to get to any other). Complete your image ALT tags, and just be sure that everything you can do in terms of SEO has been done on each page in your website. Yes, page. Search engines rank pages, not entire websites. This has to be done one page at a time.

I use SEOQuake to double-check myself, and have for years. The free browser tool will tell you what you’ve missed in their “Diagnostics” tab, and it’s an easy way to quickly see what still needs attention on the page you’re analyzing.

The Bottom Line

Until you focus on making your website search ready, forget everything else, (especially PPC until you understand how keywords work, or you’re in for losing a bunch of money). Focus on getting things ready! It will take time, just as it does in the brick and mortar world, but it will totally be time well-spent. Don’t be impatient. We all get that way, wanting to move forward. But building a solid foundation when it comes to search and client experience is the right way to go.

You know what they say, right?

“Just do it!”

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Pat Marcello is President and SEO Manager at MagnaSites.com, a full-service digital marketing company that serves small- to medium-sized businesses. Follow her on FacebookTwitter or Google+. Pat’s last article for SEMrush was "Google's Fetch and Render: Why It's Important."
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