Jun 12, 2013 12:11:00 PM
No matter how you approach a search engine optimization (SEO) project, the ultimate goal is to increase your brand’s online visibility in the search engines. This visibility will help increase traffic, conversions and sales.
Over the past few years I’ve seen SEO evolve into many shapes and forms. On-site content optimization, link building, local search optimization, mobile search optimization, social media optimization are some of the forms it takes today. Leveraging the possibilities of internet marketing can be overwhelming for small business owners who are already wearing many hats within their company. If hiring a professional SEO agency doesn’t fit into your company’s current budget, there are still some things you can do on your own to jumpstart your website’s online presence.
On-site optimization – the foundation of all things SEO
Even after the several makeovers search engine optimization has experienced, the foundation of any SEO effort should be your website’s content. Site-side optimization (or on-site SEO) is the process of analyzing and editing a combination of elements that affect your site’s search engine visibility, usability, navigation and content. In its simplest form, this means focusing on the primary content types of your site such as:
Page title tags
Meta description and keyword tags
Image alt and title tags
Videos and other rich media content types
However, before you can begin to improve these fundamental pieces of your website, you’ll need to make sure your site is included in each major search engine’s database.
Ensure proper indexation in the search engines
Making sure your site is properly indexed in the search engines should be a very high priority in any SEO project. Your site won’t do you any good if no one can find you! Follow these steps to make sure that all of your site’s important pages are included in the search engines and to make sure any sensitive or privileged content is excluded from Google’s index: Once you’ve ensured that your site is properly indexed in all of the major search engines, you’ll need to recognize the keywords people are using to search for your type of business.
Create a robots.txt file – This is simply a statement of which pages should or should not be crawled by search engine bots (i.e. pages behind a login or pages from a web development environment should NOT be indexed)
Create an XML sitemap– This is a list of your site’s URLs which helps Google index your site quickly and efficiently
Once your XML sitemap is successfully uploaded to your server, create a Google Webmaster Tools account for your business’s website and verify your XML sitemap file.
Create or update your site’s native (HTML) site map – A website’s native site map is usually found as a link in the footer with the clickable text (anchor text) as “Sitemap”. This page should be a list of links for all your site’s most important pages. This is a useful site navigation tool for users and search engine crawlers alike.
Once you’ve ensured that your site is properly indexed in all of the major search engines, you’ll need to recognize the keywords people are using to search for your type of business.
Conduct keyword research
Keyword research is one of the most crucial tasks in any on-site optimization project. Not only does it help build the foundation of on-site optimization, it helps you better understand the behavior of your customers and clients. You need to identify your target audience and determine how they search for your site. Finding the right keywords is a balance between search volume, competition and most importantly relevancy to your business. Most of the time, you’ll be surprised by what you find when conducting proper keyword research. Usually, the keywords that you thought would be key traffic drivers to your site are not what prospective customers and clients are actually searching.
The most well-known keyword research tool is Google’s very own AdWords Keyword Tool.
Google AdWords Keyword Tool gives the information you need to choose the right keywords for your website
Use this tool to gather valuable information needed in order to choose the best keywords for your site. You can start off by simply typing in a few words that relate to your business’s services and see what keywords Google serves up. Remember, you’re looking for keywords with high search volume (small businesses should focus on Local as opposed to Global) and low competition, but you really want to focus on the ones that make the most sense for your business.
Use your keywords to optimize your content
After spending several hours hunting down the right keywords for your SEO efforts, you will need to figure out which ones to use on each page of your site. Avoid excessive “keyword stuffing” and focus on no more than 3-4 keywords per page. You’ll want to designate a “primary” keyword, which should be used as the main focus of each page during your optimization efforts.
Now for the fun part! Use the 3-4 keywords you’ve assigned to each page to re-write each pages’ tags and content. Here are some quick tips to get you started:
URL filenames – When rewriting URLs to include your keywords, it’s a best practice to separate each word with a dash (or hyphen) to help the search engines clearly depict the separation. An example of a properly written URL for a page showing “red tennis shoes” products would be http://www.example.com/shoes/red-tennis-shoes.
Page title tags – Page titles should always include the primary keyword as close to the beginning as possible. You’ll also want to avoid writing page titles any longer than 65 characters, as any page titles longer than that will most likely get truncated in the SERPs (search engine page results).
Meta description tags – Although it’s crucial to plug your keywords into your Meta descriptions, make sure your descriptions read naturally and that there is a strong call-to-action that will draw searchers to visit your site. Similar to page titles, be aware of the length of your descriptions and try to keep them under 165 characters.
Heading tags – Use headers to better organize your site’s content. Not only does this help give site visitors a better understanding of the content, but by plugging keywords into your header tags (H1, H2, H3) you give the search engines another element to analyze when determining what your site is all about. It’s important to also point out that your header tags should follow a hierarchy similar to when writing an outline for an essay. For example, the H1 tag should be used first, then the H2 tags, then the H3 tags under each H2 tag, and so on.
Internal linking – One of the biggest signals that search engines use when ranking webpages in their search results is the amount of links pointing to that page and the relevance of those links. To help increase the relevancy of your site’s pages, be sure to include your keywords in the clickable text (called “anchor text”) of links pointing to any pages on your site.
Image alt and title tags – Search engines have a tough time crawling and identifying the content of an image. Alt tags and title tags take care of this issue. When writing the alt and title tags for an image include your keywords, keep it short and use the same text for both the alt tag and title tag of a given image.
Although keywords are an important piece of the puzzle, it’s not just about plugging them into your tags (page title, description, headers, etc.) and hoping for the best. It’s about creating content that’s interesting and useful for your visitors. It’s essential that your site’s copy content is optimized to include your keywords in a natural and understandable manner.
Ongoing SEO efforts
SEO is not a “set it and forget it” type of project. As search engines constantly change their algorithm’s ranking factors (Google makes 500-600 changes a year) it’s important to keep your site up to par with best practices and any new ranking factors that may affect your site’s web presence. It’s also essential to continue to grow your online reach by constantly expanding your keyword universe and adding resourceful content. The more good content your site has, the better.
Measurement of your SEO efforts
Measuring your SEO efforts’ successes and failures is critical in building more efficient ongoing optimization strategies and processes. Review and analyze key statistics such as:
Recognizing which URLs get the most traffic
Identifying which keywords are bringing in unqualified leads with high bounce rates
Keyword search result ranking increases and decreases
These are all valuable assets in identifying any missed opportunities and where further SEO work may be required.
Local Search Optimization – the Next Frontier
Google introduced their local business center, Google Places, back in 2010 and it aimed to better connect local-based searches to actual business locations. When a user enters a search query into Google’s search bar which triggers local intent (i.e. “pizza in new york city”) an entirely separate set of search results for Google Places is presented on the first page.
Local search results for Google Places listings are displayed on the first page of Google
Small businesses can really see the benefits from creating a Google Places page. Aside from the prime real estate on page 1 and the direct connection to people searching within your reach (especially mobile searchers), it’s free! Optimizing your Google Places page is a yet another exciting adventure. Taking advantage of this new resource can be a major benefit to your business. Stay tuned for more information on optimizing your Google Places listing for local search.
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