Search engine optimization (SEO) is the practice of improving the visibility of your website in the organic search results of search engines like Google and Bing. Optimizing your website for search engines isn’t a formula. It’s a constantly changing and evolving process that needs to be evaluated on a periodic basis. You may be thinking, “Why do I need to be worried about SEO?” Below is an example that we are going to use to address your question.
Let’s imagine Joe is the owner of an exotic pet shop located in Somewhereville, USA. Joe carries a rare and highly desired type of toucan that very few shops have. A potential customer may want to purchase this exact bird, but none of the local pet shops they’ve visited sells one or can find one to resell. At some point in the process, someone will decide to “Google” for exotic toucans or pet shops to look for the bird. If Joe doesn’t have a SEO strategy or implemented basic SEO on his website, then he will not be identified as a potential match for this customer.
Losing a sale because a customer can’t find your site is just like having a customer walk right into your store while you dive behind the counter so they can’t see you. Well, maybe not exactly, but you get the picture. So in an effort to jump start your interest and point you in the right direction here are five basic SEO principles that everyone can apply to their site.
1. Tracking Your Success
The first basic principle isn’t just for SEO; it’s for your entire online digital strategy. Track, track, track…and did we mention track? If you don’t track and analyze your marketing efforts, how can you know if you’re converting users (or leads) into customers? Using our example of Joe’s Exotic Pet Shop, if he were using an analytics tracking program he would be able to see who is coming to his site and how they are getting there. With this information he would be able to make informed decisions about how users are navigating his site and what changes could be made to improve their interface with it. One of the best analytics programs we’ve used is Google Analytics. After using many different analytics programs, both paid and free, Google Analytics is as good as any of them. Remember, the key to any analytics program you choose is to properly set up goals and conversion tracking with measurable and attainable objectives.
2. Keyword Research
What keywords should you choose to target? How do you optimize your website for those keywords? Both of these questions are great starting places for keyword research. They may seem simplistic, but these answers will be the foundation for your future SEO efforts. Your first step is to select keywords that fit with your business strategy and align with your company’s services. Let’s revisit Joe’s Exotic Pet Shop. His basic keyword list might include: exotic pet shop, unique pets, pet shops in Somewhereville, exotic pets, exotic toucans, rare toucan bird, etc.
Now you have your keyword list and you want to optimize your site for those keywords, but how? Well, they say that a picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a graphic that is modeled after something that Rand Fishkin created at SEOMoz.
Remember that every SEO strategy should include a healthy amount of testing and refining. It’s critical to find the best combination of keywords for each webpage and your entire website.
3. Content is King
Expert content is king. Having relevant, targeted content will help search engines define what each of your pages is about. Whatever you write about, it should contain your targeted keywords and should be informative and entertaining. Being the authority of your industry is one of the best ways to be both informative and entertaining. The more informative and interesting your content, the more likely your users will link to your site and spread your message for you. In our example, how can Joe make his pet shop site entertaining? Simple, since he’s an expert on exotic pets, he might have page after page of interesting facts and articles about the pets he carries. These pages could contain the types of creative facts that only an expert would know and that is a recipe for great, unique content.
4. Site Popularity and Links
As it relates to SEO, your website is engaged in a 24/7 popularity contest. The same “cool factors” that you remember from your high school days hold steady in the online world. In the most simplistic sense, you need to drive your advocates, fans and customers to visit your website, spend time on it and talk about it in order to improve your SEO. Let’s revisit Joe. He’s one of the only exotic pet shops in his area and has lots of people recommending his shop to their friends. However, his web analytics reveal that his site traffic is poor. One tactic he might try is handing out something to every customer to tell them about all the information they can get on his site. If he’s used the other principles we’ve discussed, their visit should result in organic linking of blogs, Facebook, or their own business to his. So, what’s the secret to cool? Having great content that people want to link to and share is one of the primary factors. This is called backlinking and it is the key to increasing your site popularity. Other sites linking back to your site is basically a measure of how many advocates you have that speak to your expertise. Google knows how many sites are linking to you and who those sites are. Joining industry specific associations and organizations that have a link to your site is also great for increasing your authority in your industry. The more the merrier is a great way to describe backlinks, but don’t get caught up in link farms or submitting to thousands of directories. Those can and will end up hurting your site more than they will help.
5. Social Media
One thing that we’ve learned about social media in the last few years is that ignoring it won’t make it go away. Social media can be a very powerful marketing tool if you target your audience correctly and contribute relevant messages and content. Having a Facebook page or a Twitter account doesn’t mean you have SEO gold sitting in your lap. You need to utilize those channels effectively by providing an informative voice into your participating community. For example, say Joe created a Facebook page for his business and requested all of his friends become fans. His business page might have hundreds of fans, but perhaps none of them are making any comments or posting pictures of their pets. Joe’s strategy might be to create a contest for a Pet of the Month and have fans upload pictures to enter. Then, he may ask his Facebook community to judge the entries. Don’t just sit back and wait for your fans to start the conversation. Jump in and engage your community. The larger question for us is, can social media marketing help your website’s SEO? Let’s refer back to Principle #4…popularity. Both Google and Bing take social media into consideration when they rank your site, so don’t get left on the sidelines thinking this fad will pass.
Bottom Line: Don’t be like Joe’s Exotic Pets and skip out on SEO because it takes too long or doesn’t produce results quickly. The long term gain from putting plenty of time and effort into your SEO greatly outweighs choosing to ignore it. Consider these five basic SEO principles, fit them into your business and web strategy and then execute.