When it comes to SEO (Search Engine Optimization), many business owners and even experienced marketers hold their heads. It can seem like an impenetrable topic full of complex and mysterious formulas. It doesn’t have to be.
Two things you need to know about SEO:
- If you understand the underlying principles of good marketing and branding, and you exercise them, you are at least half way to having a solid SEO plan in place.
- When it comes to SEO, we are all living in Google’s world.
In a paternal way, Google works to create a better online experience for of all us and we are not privy to the specifics of just how our search engine parent gets that done. They have stated that is their goal. They are trying to control the forces of the online universe so website owners will be compelled to create the most user-friendly content possible, and these sites will be rewarded with high search engine rankings. They are also trying to prevent (and will even punish) those who attempt to manipulate the system to promote themselves or harm others. Gotta respect Google for that.
What about Bing and Yahoo you ask? They might be your preferred search engine. But I’ve seen estimates that Google is the preferred choice for 75% of searches. The data for websites I work with has borne this out. So you need to get high in the Google search results or forget about it.
So, if someone tries to tell you they have a secret for boosting your website to the top of the search engine rankings, or for damaging your competitors, be skeptical. Even if they have discovered an SEO secret weapon that works, it is likely Google will find a way to disarm them the next time it updates their algorithm, and your site could be punished and suffer a loss in ranking in Google searches. In a recent video, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s web spam team, said he is surprised by how many people continue to be taken in by SEO “snake oil salesmen.”
So, if you don’t want to learn how to maximize SEO on your own, or you don’t have the time, be very careful about whom you choose to work with.
If you want to give it a shot, there are some simple steps you can take. If you have spent some time thinking about how you want to describe your company and products, and you have done some research on who your customers are or who you think are your prime targets, you are already on your way to a successful SEO program.
- Start by creating a pyramid of categories that make sense for your website. This might reflect the way categories are set up on your website. For example, at the top of the pyramid is your overall product line. The next set of categories would be the subcategories into which you could divide your overall product line. The next set down the pyramid might be the actual products themselves which are probably represented in your website by individual product pages.
- Now, think of a few words or phrases (no more than 5 words) that someone might type into a Google search if they were looking for each category or individual product listed.
- Now it’s time to turn to Google AdWords, an extremely powerful tool you can use for free. You just enter the words or phrases you’ve collected into the AdWords keyword tool and it will show you how many people actually use that term when using Google’s search tool. In most cases, you want to use the words or terms that get used the most.
We’ll talk in the next post about how to refine your choice of keywords and phrases. But for now, you can get off to a great start by creating your categories and then creating spreadsheets to document your search results.
You may also decide that this is a project that is going to take too much of your time. But, hopefully you understand the nuts and bolts of basic SEO and are better prepared to select and work with an SEO expert.
Now, where to use your keywords and phrases? If you’ve done a little research into this topic, you know there is a lot of debate about what search engines include in their calculations of your website’s ranking. Don’t worry about this. It’s a moving target anyway, as Google continues to adjust and refine its algorithms.
All you need to do is use your keywords and phrases consistently in all your marketing materials. Isn’t that Marketing 101? Be consistent and clear in your message and reach out with that same message repeatedly to your target audience.
We’ll talk more in future posts about the best way to use keywords and phrases within your marketing materials.
With a little bit of work and practice, I think many marketers find that good SEO practices actually improve their overall marketing program. Focusing on SEO reminds them to be consistent in their message and forces them to think about how their marketing targets think about them.