When you’re just starting out with search engine optimization – either because you’ve got a brand-new website, or because you weren’t worried about getting visitors from Google in the past – things can seem a little daunting. The more you read, the more questions you’re bound to have (how do I find the right search terms for my audience? What are all these tags about? How much SEO is too much SEO?). And worst of all, the more knowledge you accumulate, the bigger your “to do” list seems to get.
In those instances, it’s a good idea to take a deep breath and then start with the basics. The fact of the matter is that all of your competitors, even the ones who seem to be firmly at the top of Google’s rankings for every relevant keyword your customers’ search, all started where you are at one point in time. And, with a little bit of focus and hard work, you can catch up to them a lot faster than you might imagine.
The trick is to avoid the traps and schemes that hold so many marketers back. Instead of falling for scams or trying to take shortcuts, just commit yourself to following a logical, proven process for making it to the top of the search listings.
A good way to think about Google’s search rankings is a pyramid. There are a certain structure and symmetry to the way things work. You can climb to the top – and see thousands of new visitors flock to your business website every week – but only if you begin building the base and follow an orderly strategy first.
In this short guide, we are going to walk you through the key steps needed to create just such a pyramid. Obviously, we aren’t going to get into every minute detail. However, if you can follow us the next few minutes, you’ll understand why it is some businesses seem to get all the search engine traffic they can handle while others never seem to appear in Google’s listings at all. Better yet, you’ll know what it takes to make your website into a magnet for buyers who are using the world’s most popular search engine.
If that sounds good to you, let’s start our bottom-up approach to SEO with the basics
Lay the Right Foundation
Just like an actual pyramid, your search engine optimization plan has to be built on a sturdy foundation if it’s going to hold up over time. There are marketers (and more than a few so-called SEO “gurus”) who try to skip a lot of the steps we are about to outline. And to be fair, some of them will have success for a limited amount of time. However, it isn’t long before the cheap, fast-track tactics they stop being effective. That’s especially true now since Google is constantly adjusting its algorithm in aggressive ways to weed out low-quality search results and those trying to “game” their algorithm.
All of this is to say that your search engine optimization campaigns need to be built for the long term if you’re going to see consistent results. Luckily, the elements of a good SEO foundation are easy and inexpensive to create.
Know Your Market
It sometimes surprises new clients to learn that the first secret to search engine optimization success doesn’t have to do with the way you build your website or attract links; instead, it’s in knowing the market you want to attract. Having a deep, in-depth familiarity with your customer base will help you anticipate not only what types of searches they are going to prefer, but also the marketing messages they will respond to once they arrive on your website.
If your company has a long and successful history, then you’ll already know quite a bit about your base of buyers. If you’re launching a new endeavor, though, or are branching into uncharted territory, be sure to look before you leap. You’ll want to know who your buyers are, where they hang out online, and (perhaps most importantly) what solution your business can provide them.
Use a Search-Friendly Content Management System (CMS)
In theory, Google and the other search engines can read web content on just about any platform. In the real world, though, some content management systems are more search-friendly than others. For instance, WordPress is known for being very visible to Google’s spiders (automated bits of software that scour the Internet), as are some dedicated tools like HubSpot and Infusionsoft.
Even more important than the underlying code of the CMS you choose is its user interface. That’s because the easier it is to interact with your website, the more likely you and your team are to keep your pages up to date, post new thoughts, and keep your web presence growing.
Make the Most of Your File Structure and CMS Settings
Simply choosing a good content management system isn’t enough to ensure maximum search engine visibility. If you want your content to stand out, you may have to go in and tweak a few settings to ensure page titles, tags, and file names are keyword-rich and easy for Google to decipher.
The good news here is that a reputable web design partner will be happy to take care of these kinds of details on your behalf. Your web design team should configure your website and server properly as well as train your staff how to use your content management system in an efficient and effective way. But, if you cut corners or choose a creative partner who isn’t all that invested in your project, you could sabotage your SEO efforts from the start.
Invest in Quality Web Hosting
Business owners and marketers tend to underestimate the power of quality web hosting, both as it relates to search engine optimization and website performance as a whole. From the SEO perspective, Google likes websites that are secure, fast-loading, and always online. That makes for a better user experience, which translates into a “better” search result.
On the other side of the coin, premium web hosting comes with automatic backups, staging areas, security, and quicker server speeds. All of these help you keep the visitors who find your content through Google on your website longer. That’s a benefit all on its own, but it also further improves your standing with Google (as users stay engaged with your website) which leads to even more traffic. It’s a self-feeding cycle that does great things for your business.
Research Keywords and Search Terms
Most of what business owners think of as SEO involves creating content, tweaking on-site keywords, and building links. Before any of that happens, though, it’s important to know that you’re pointing your efforts in the right direction. That means researching keywords and search terms intensively, so you know the ones you are ranking for are relevant to your customers.
Again, this is an area where a committed web design partner can offer you a great deal of guidance and assistance. They can show you which search terms are popular, which a natural fit for your business, and how you can outflank your competitors. For them to give their best advice, though, they need some background information from you about your market and competitive strengths.
Have a Long-Term Vision for SEO Success
If all of this talk about planning and strategizing makes you want to skip ahead to the real work of optimizing your website, we can certainly understand. That’s going to be the topic of the next section. Let us remind you one more time before we move on that the search engine optimization pyramid begins with a solid foundation. Without a good understanding of your market, the right CMS, high-quality web hosting, and solid keyword research, all of your ongoing efforts are going to be hit-and-miss.
Think of SEO as a long-term activity rather than a one-time investment. That will help you avoid the biggest pitfalls, and leave you in a position to profit for years to come.
Optimize Your Business Website
When it comes to optimizing your business website for search, you can expect to get a lot of help from a good web design and Internet marketing team. In fact, they may handle a lot of the heavy lifting (for instance, researching keywords and adding popular searched terms to your headings and page titles) on their own.
However, it’s still a good idea for you to know what’s going to happen as your website becomes more and more visible to Google. That’s because there are some of these tasks you can handle by yourself, and also because you want to have the opportunity to contribute to the process as your site is optimized and the results evaluated.
As we mentioned in the opening, there are a lot of technical details that can go into search engine optimization. However, the basics matter the most. They can usually explain why some websites are more visible than others. Follow a handful of easy steps, and you’ll virtually guarantee your website is going to appear on the first page of Google’s results in time.
Put the Right Search Terms in the Right Places
After you’ve done some thorough keyword research to figure out what it is your customers are looking for when they go on the web, you can put those terms to good use. The key is sprinkling them into your business website in the right places.
In this sense, the “right places” are the ones the Google’s automated search spiders consider to be most relevant. These include page titles, main headings, subheadings, and links. The idea is to work these phrases in, but not in an unnatural or overbearing way. Sometimes what’s good from a pure search engine optimization standpoint is bad from a sales and marketing point of view.
Your web design team can help you find the right balance but know that you’re looking for maximum visibility without going so far that you turn customers off. The last thing you want is to make it seem like your website is built only for search engine spiders.
Create Strong Page Titles and Meta Descriptions
It goes without saying that you’ll want all the content of your website to be strong. However, we want to give special mention to page titles and meta descriptions. That’s because these won’t just be seen by Google’s spiders, but by searchers who were trying to decide whether or not to visit your pages.
You see web page titles all the time, whether you realize it or not. When you’re searching for something on Google, the page title is the bit that comes up bolded within the search results. So, it needs to not only contain search-friendly terms (for Google’s benefit) but also be inviting to humans who want to know whether you have the information they’re wanting.
The same applies to meta descriptions, but in a different way. Google no longer weighs them within its search algorithm, so stuffing lots of keywords in meta descriptions won’t help you. They will show up as summaries of your page within the search listings, though, and any terms that match the ones the searcher used will show in bold. So once again, it pays to optimize these snippets of text while also presenting your content to searchers as something of interest.
Link From One Page or Post to Another
Most business owners realize links are important to search engine optimization. Unfortunately, they often become confused about how and why they factor into the SEO mix. Specifically, they tend to think links from other websites to their own tend to hold more value than they do (more on this in a moment).
On the other hand, they overlook the fact that internal links – links that point from one page on your website to another – can be extremely important. The keywords used to link between sections carry some weight with Google’s spiders. So, this is a good place to use searchable terms. Also, Google software will follow links from one page on the site to another, helping the engine to form a better picture of what your content is about, and which pages are most important.
Keep Adding New Content to Your Website
It might seem anti-climactic to say so, but perhaps the best thing you can do for your search engine optimization campaigns is to continue to add new pieces of content to your website on a regular basis. These might take the form of static pages, but they are more frequently going to be blog posts and informational guides (like this one).
Keep in mind that, for Google’s purposes, every new post is a brand-new page on your site. So, if you add fresh content to your blog every week, at the end of each year, you’ll have 50+ new pages of content to crawl. That makes your website more of an authoritative source of information, and greatly increases the odds you’ll rank well on the search engine for the terms you highlight in your posts.
Additionally, Google places a premium on website results that are current and up-to-date. If you are continually adding to your pages, that’s a positive sign. Searchers always want the latest facts and information. Continually growing your website positions you as the resource they need.
Generate Links That Point Back to Your Business
To revisit a point we made a moment ago, links from other websites to your own do improve your search engine positioning, but only if those links come from reputable websites that are relevant to your industry. The days when you could buy hundreds or thousands of junk links and shoot up Google’s rankings are gone. Now marketers have to do things the “natural link-building” way, the hard way.
Sometimes, just posting lots of great content will be enough to earn the links you desire. People might read your articles and share them on their blogs or email newsletters. You could also get some social links this way. Generating local or industry-specific news coverage is a good way to get reputable links, too. Plus, it has the added benefit of generating goodwill toward your business.
You could even ask colleagues or vendors to link to your company. Just don’t fall into the old trap of trading links with everyone you know. Google and the other search engines can see right through this, and won’t reward you for reciprocal linking.
End Each Optimized Page With a Call to Action
Take the steps we’ve outlined so far, and you’ll have a growing site that’s highly visible to Google (and its millions upon millions of users). The final step in the puzzle is making sure that the growing number of visitors who come to your website know which steps to take next.
For that reason, every piece of content you post online, from your static pages to your blog updates, should contain a call to action. Ask visitors to read another article, make a purchase, or pick up the phone. Give them a next step that brings them closer to their goal while increasing your odds of winning a customer.
It’s easy to forget, amidst all the technical details and content strategies, that SEO is about winning new business. A clear and compelling call to action on your pages makes it easier for potential buyers to figure out what they should do next.
Work the Edges of Your SEO Campaign
If you were only to follow the advice we’ve given you so far in this short guide, you would have everything you need to establish yourself as a force on Google and begin attracting new customers. Over time, you’d be very likely to reach a top three to ten search position for your market or industry for some important keywords.
However, there are some steps you can take to shorten the curve, make the process less stressful, and get more and more efficient over time. That is, you can accelerate your SEO results and make your strategy more consistent, all while spending less money and effort.
The way this happens is through constant refinement. We like to call it “working the edges” of search engine optimization, but it’s just a matter of continually reviewing your activities and looking for new opportunities. These steps won’t help if you don’t have a strong foundation, and they can’t replace the middle of your pyramid, which is the new content and optimization strategies you’re putting to work. What they can do, though, is help you build on your success and take the final step.
Test Ideas With Paid Search Ads
Marketers tend to prefer organic (or unpaid) search engine optimization to running ads that cost them money for every click for obvious reasons. But, if you use paid search marketing correctly, it can help you spend less on your other efforts going forward.
That’s because paid campaigns (both search ads and their corresponding landing pages) can be put into place very quickly – in some cases in an hour or less. That makes them ideal for testing new search terms, marketing messages, and calls to action. By writing a few ads and spending a few dollars, you can find out whether the bigger search engine optimization campaigns you are planning will be profitable in the long run.
Get to Know Your Customers Through Web Analytics
Many marketers will find success with search engine optimization and then simply leave their campaigns to run indefinitely. That’s not necessarily terrible, so long as they keep adding new content, but it’s not the best way to maximize profits, either.
A much better approach is to keep a regular eye on your web analytics package. Then you’ll know who is coming to your website, which pages they are visiting, how long they are viewing specific pieces of content, and even where they are exiting your site. Put these insights together, over time, and you’ll learn a lot about your customers. You’ll also figure out where the bottlenecks and opportunities are in your search engine optimization campaign.
Keep up With Bigger SEO Trends (While Ignoring the Fads)
Google search algorithm isn’t a static or fixed index of websites. In fact, it’s constantly adjusting on a weekly and monthly basis. Your average marketer will never notice many of the small changes. Others are seismic in their effects, building some businesses up while damaging the SEO campaigns that have been instructed by others.
For instance, in 2017 we are dealing with some relatively new phenomenon in search engine optimization. Google is currently prioritizing geography more heavily than it has in the past, and is giving preference to websites with SSL hosting. In the past couple of years, businesses without mobile web functionality have all but disappeared from some search markets.
Naturally, your web design team will keep you on top of these types of big events. But, it’s not a bad idea to scan your favorite online marketing newsletter every once in a while so that you have a sense of what’s out there. Just remember to keep a cool head. Sometimes, items that seem like “huge trends” turn out to be short-term fads. Stick to the basics, work with a partner you can trust, and prioritize the experience you give your customers over all else. Keep that perspective, and you’ll be just fine.
Combine Search Visibility With Other Strategies
Search engine optimization is such a big part of Internet marketing that a lot of business owners consider them to be the same thing. In reality, though, SEO is just one way of bringing customers to your website. Besides, you should never be overly dependent on any single source of traffic. Google might send you more buyers than anyone else, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore the other search engines – or Facebook, Twitter, and social media channels for that matter.
When you have a good Internet marketing plan in place, things like search engine optimization, social networking, online advertising, and email messaging are all working together. Each one makes the other more efficient than it would be on its own, and you have multiple points of contact with your prospects and customers. That’s when great things start to happen for your business, and what all your work comes to fruition.
SEO Isn’t an Individual Event
You may have noticed we have referenced the help of a web designer or creative team at several times throughout this short guide. That’s intentional. It’s not because you necessarily have to work with our firm. Instead, it’s a reminder that you should work with someone you can trust to has a track record of success.
It’s certainly not impossible to manage search engine optimization and Internet marketing on your own. We know there are business owners out there who juggle it all successfully. For most, though, researching keywords, optimizing pages, and creating new content can get to be overwhelming. And that’s before you add on the responsibilities of generating social posts and email newsletters.
If you want to make the most of the opportunities that are out there – and do it without losing your hair or letting the rest of your business go untended – your best bet is to get backup from a team of professionals who will support you. They can provide help when you need it and get out of the way when you don’t.
Obviously, we hope you’ll consider us for that role. So, if you think it’s time to start climbing the SEO Pyramid and getting more from your website, we encourage you to call or email us today to set up a free consultation.
Will be happy to look at your current site and let you know how we would proceed.
It’s a conversation that could change your business forever!
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About Glenn Brooks
Glenn Brooks is the founder of WebWize, Inc. WebWize has provided web design, development, hosting, SEO and email services since 1994. Glenn graduated from SWTSU with a degree in Commercial Art and worked in the advertising, marketing, and printing industries for 18 years before starting WebWize.