Before you even consider doing SEO, it's important to have a fundamental understanding of how search marketing works. For starters, it has a lot to do with keywords and I am sure you have all heard that term before. Keywords are basically just search queries; some search queries are popular like "insurance company" and others are not so popular like "business insurance agency in Hollywood, Florida."
Understand How Search Marketing Works
The popularity of keywords can be defined in many ways, but the most commonly used metrics to determine a keyword's value lies in the monthly search volume and cost per click; this can translate into competition with some additional data. Monthly search volume is the number of times the keyword is searched for on a specified search engine (like Google) each month, and CPC is the cost per click that you would pay if you were paying the search engine company on a pay-per-click advertising model.
So whether you are a plumber looking to show up on Google for keywords like "plumber in Miami" or "plumber in Seattle," it really doesn't matter. It all boils down to keywords, keywords, keywords.
Obviously, some keywords are going to bring you visitors who convert into customers. The rate at which visitors turn into customers is referred to as the conversion rate. The best keywords are not necessarily the ones with the highest search volume, but rather the ones that have the highest conversion rate and a balanced amount of search volume.
Once you know which keywords you want to show up for, you will need to either do SEO on your own or outsource to a professional SEO company. Ensuring that your website is up to date and capable of converting those clients into customers at an acceptable rate is also crucial.
What Are Conversion Rates?
Once you start getting traffic to your website, you can monitor the conversion rate with tools like Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a tool that can break down data for you to see how your traffic performs. Performance can be based on conversion rates or other metrics, like average time on site or pages per visit.
Conversions can include things like phone calls generated from your web traffic or contact form submissions. You can do things like see which keywords are providing you with a higher conversion rate, you can also check the conversion rate of different locations, landing pages, traffic sources (i.e. Facebook referrals, Google traffic, Bing traffic) so you can make educated decisions on how to improve upon your search marketing efforts.
Needless to say, if you are not experienced with SEO, it can be quite a time consuming task to learn the ins and outs of SEO. If that's the case, you may just want to consider outsourcing your SEO work to a service provider. Be wary of just choosing any old SEO company; many times they are spammers just trying to make a quick buck.
How Search Works
Ed. note: While this video was uploaded in 2010, it's still a good introduction to how Google works.
Is SEO A Good Fit For My Business?
Over the past decade, search engines like Google have been taking the lead as the top places to market your products or services online. It doesn't matter what kind of business you have; if you are looking to grow your business you should be growing your online presence on the search engines.
Whether you are a local contractor or a brick and mortar store that sells products, you should have a website. More importantly, you should be getting traffic to your website via the search engines. Having a website without getting any traffic to it is like having a car without any gas in it. You can get more traffic to your website by optimizing it in a way that allows the search engines to display your site for search queries that are likely to bring you high quality customers.
There is no doubt about it: consumers turn to Google when they don't know where to find the products or services they are searching for. Google makes it extremely convenient to find what you are looking for with their extremely robust search engine.
So if you think you can outperform your competitors without doing search engine marketing, chances are you are wrong. Businesses all over the world are rapidly growing because of how popular search engines have become. If you have a one of a kind product that is well known for its brand, then you may not be interested in using SEO for lead generation — but in most cases, a business that has competitors needs to be found on search engines in order to stay ahead of the competition.
Below I will discuss some SEO basics and show you how to get your website to generate traffic from the search engines with a few easy steps.
On Page Optimization
Whenever you get into optimizing a website for the sake of getting more traffic from organic search, you don't want to put the cart before the horse. First, focus on your primary marketing asset — which is your website — and then worry about links, social, etc.
The processes involved in optimizing your website are referred to as "on page factors." The search engines analyze many things that you may not even know exist on your website such as code, htaccess files, sitemaps, etc.
It may require a lot of work, but getting your website into top shape before starting anything else is crucial. "Off page factors" are things like referring domains or pages (back links) and social signals. Depending on how many pages you want to promote, this can be an ongoing task that you will work on for a long time — or maybe you have a small website and only a few pages that need to be ranked.
For example, if you have a shopping website and you are looking to do some e-commerce SEO, you might have thousands of products. If you do own a shopping site, you may want to just start by optimizing the pages that have the most profitable products on them so that when people search for the products you have a chance of showing up in the results of the search engines.
There are three things which I consider to be the most important factors of on page SEO. I encourage you to focus on these critical on page components if you want a chance at ranking well:
- Ensure each priority page has sufficient content that is optimized for focus keywords along with several long tail variations.
- Get the focus keywords in the image alt tags, headers, title and description.
- Create an SEO-friendly URL structure for each new page.
These are the SEM (search engine marketing) basics. If you are not educated on these topics, I encourage you to become familiar with them quickly. If you can work on getting all of your pages on your website to meet the mentioned requirements, then you are going to have a fighting chance at ranking depending on the keywords you want to rank for and the corresponding competition. Below is a video that gives a basic explanation of SEO best practices.
SEO Basics Video Explanation
Creating SEO-Friendly Content
SEO-friendly content is grossly misunderstood by many. It does not mean just including keywords in your content — that is one part of it but certainly not the only part. To understand what high quality content is you need to think like a search engine. A search engines responsibility is to provide relevant results for search queries. You want a search engine to give you a result that contains relevant and engaging content that most importantly provides you with the best answer.
In order to have high quality content that ranks, you will need it to be 100% unique and written in a way that will engage the reader/visitor. If the content is boring and not interesting, you are not going to retain your traffic and Google will most likely not consider you as a top ranking result, especially if there are hundreds of other websites trying to rank for the same keyword with much better content.
As a general rule of thumb, your content needs to include keywords and maintain quality. In other words, don't just include keywords for the heck of it, only use them when necessary.
Below is a great video by Matt Cutts (head of Google Search) explaining what to do and what not to do when it comes to writing content for SEO purposes.
Matt Cutts Explains Content
Titles, Image Alt Tags and Descriptions
Titles - Having a well optimized title is the first thing Google looks at on a page, so its important that you use this space to include a focus keyword or two if possible. Remember that the title is used as the title for the ad that shows on the search engine results (as shown in the image below) so its important to use compelling titles. Titles tell the users and the search engine what your page is about, so if you don't know how to change the title of your pages you may need to contact your webmaster.
If you have a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, you can easily manage your page titles with SEO plugins like Yoast or All in One SEO. If you don't have a CMS, you may have to manually change the code of your pages to adjust or add a new title which is a piece of cake.
Image alt tags - Ensuring that your images have alt tags are crucial to SEO because search engines cannot see what a picture is about without having content assigned to it. An image alt tag is a way to show the search engines what your image is about. An image alt tag will show if the image does not display for what ever reason as shown below. The code looks something like this:
<img alt="image alt tag goes here" src="http://www.yourdomain.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/" width="534" height="445">
Descriptions - Use meta descriptions to show visitors and search engines what your page is all about. It is another great place to include keywords and compelling messages to your viewers and visitors. Google may use other snippets of content that are on your page if they think that your description is not as relevant as some of the content on your page. Its important that you try and accurately summarize your pages content in your description and you should always try to include your focus keyword as well.
SEO Friendly URLs
SEO friendly URL structure - Your URL structure is a very important part of the SEO puzzle. If you can optimize the URL structure of your site to include keywords, it will greatly increase your chances at ranking for those keywords. Aside from that, having descriptive categories or file path names will also help your URL structure increase your organic search presence and crawl rate.
Aside from having a better chance at ranking, a clean URL structure will allow your visitors to remember your URLs better, too! Google weighs the URL of a page heavily when it comes to evaluating whether or not your page is worthy of obtaining the top ranking positions for a given keyword. You can even see that Google makes the search query bold in the URL of a result when it is contained in the URL as shown below.
Off Page SEO
As far as off page SEO goes, there is a great deal to learn. I would like to summarize what good off-page SEO consists of by covering two things: back links and social media.
Backlinks are a huge part of SEO, but recently (during the Penguin Algorithm Update) the way backlinks are evaluated by Google has changed dramatically. Before, it was all about the quantity of backlinks, now it is all about the quality of your backlinks. A backlink is just a link from one site to your site, a back link from the Miami Herald's website is a very powerful link whereas a backlink from a website that is brand and solely created for obtaining more back links is virtually worth nothing.
The best practice when it comes to backlinks is to ensure that you are getting links from high page rank sources or websites that are not solely created for the sake of getting more backlinks. If you can earn links from places that are related to your industry then that is even better. Google likes to see backlinks coming from relevant websites. For example, since I do SEO for a living, I get backlinks from SEO software sites like the SEMrush blog.
Social Media - Another very important aspect of SEO is your social audience and engagement. Its obvious that social media has grown to become a huge part of online marketing and Google has also noticed this. It's very hard to find a website that ranks for a competitive keyword without having a strong social presence. This is because a company with a strong social presence is typically a legitimate company and not a fly-by-night "churn and burn" operation. The best practice when it comes to your social audience is to try and grow your audience on the major social networks like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.
You can also focus on is getting your site's inner pages shared and engaged (plus one'd, liked, retweeted, reblogged, emailed, etc.) so Google can see your pages are popular. This is rumored to be a part of the algorithm and it is something that I have been doing for my websites (and they rank really well). I recommend adding a social sharing button on your blog posts and product pages or landing pages so that you can get shares from your existing traffic.
You can obviously spend a lot of time on social media and go a long way, but I recommend building your community and getting your most important pages to start.
Monitoring Your SEO Progress
If you have followed all my tips, you should be well on your way to ranking and getting a decent amount of traffic from the search engines. The only thing really left to do now is to track your traffic increase or your rank increase with tools like Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools. These free tools allow you to check the traffic stats and ranking stats of your website. There are many great learning resources for learning how to use these tools which I will list below:
All in all I hope that you enjoyed reading my post and that I have encouraged you to start generating some high quality traffic to your website via SEO. If you have any questions or comments please feel free to drop a line in the comment section below!