A good SEO strategy is the difference between your business easily being found online and getting lost in the noise of thousands of other businesses trying to stand out. With Google's ever-changing algorithm, it can be difficult to know what's effective here and now.
In 2013, success in SEO hinges on businesses putting together a robust combination strategy that brings together an integrated web of great content, credible links and social signals. Each of these pieces supports the other, providing tremendous value to readers, building your authority and brand value and distributing your content across new channels. Here are the highlights of what to think about in terms of each of the three pillars of great SEO.
Content (Pillar #1): Make The Most of What's On Your PagesThe first pillar of an effective SEO strategy is your onsite content and structure. From the way you organize your site to how you optimize your content, there are five key aspects that will ensure that your content is doing its job. A strong on-site SEO plan includes keyword research, content optimization, user experience, site design and the presence of a blog with great content that's updated frequently. Let's take a closer look at each one.
Keyword researchThe foundation of your SEO strategy is keyword research. The concept is simple: you can only optimize your site once you know how your target market searches for the products/services you have to offer. Google's Keyword Tool is designed to help advertisers in the Adwords Program target effective keywords for their paid advertisements. But it's a free, robust tool that can be used by website owners that want to better understand the range of keywords people are using to get to their site. Try these three strategies to get started:
- Brainstorm a list of phrases related to your business, brand, products, industry, location and customers. Once you've developed that list, enter each of these words into the Google Keyword Tool to see what related terms are recommended by Google. Google's suggestions will greatly expand your keyword list. Pay attention to long-tail keywords (e.g. "apartments in West Hollywood near beach" vs. "Hollywood"). They're easier to rank for and just as important as your major keywords.
- Enter your site URL into the website box in the Google Keyword Tool. It will scan your site and come back with a list of recommended terms that you are currently ranking for or could target. Many of these suggested terms are will be great keywords for your site.
- Create a list of competitor sites and enter each of those URLs into the Keyword Tool. Your competitors may be ranking well for specific terms that you hadn't thought about. While you never want to directly copy a competitors' keyword strategy, it can often inform your approach and round out options you hadn't thought of yet.
Keyword structureOnce you've developed a list of keywords, take the time to organize them. One simple way to do this is by taking a look at your website structure and mapping keywords to the major sections. For example, if you're an SEO firm serving customers in New York and New Jersey, you might have pages with different options for travel rates for in-person meetings and other details by location. That way, when individuals are searching for "SEO Firm Manhattan" they're likely to find your site. Knowing what sections of your site are targeting specific keywords and gearing your content optimization toward those goals will move your SEO efforts forward more quickly.
Content optimizationOnce you've researched your keywords, you'll need to optimize your content for those terms. Content optimization is not about stuffing keywords into every available opportunity or even meeting a specific formula of "keywords must appear X times per 500 words". Instead, just remember to include your primary keyword in your article title and meta tags. Remember that each page (or unique URL) represents an individual piece of content that can be optimized for different, specific phrases and conversion goals.
User experience (UX)User experience is simply a way of encapsulating the question: when people visit your site, are they able to quickly and efficiently do what they want? For example, if they're trying to make a purchase or find specific information, is it easy to locate the menu or complete the task? If the answer is no, it may be hurting your search rankings.
One easy way to figure out if your user experience needs to be improved is to look at your bounce rate on Google Analytics. A bounce is a visitor that leaves your site without visiting more than a single page. If a high percentage of people are bouncing from your site, you may be ranking for irrelevant terms or your site design may be too complicated. Ask yourself what people are trying to accomplish, and look at ways you can make that easier.
Initial things to look at are making sure your navigation is easy to use, that your site design is as clean and uncluttered as possible and that big actions are highlighted in clear and effective ways. Consider hiring a professional UX designer to help you evaluate your site if you're having trouble breaking through on this point. It's possible to design your site in such a way that you not only achieve optimal SEO, but also optimal conversion rates.
Site designIs your site design clean and professional? There's an assumption, by both search engines and visitors, that a site that looks spammy is spammy. If you're trying to build an authority site but are working on a highly out of date design, consider upgrading to a simple website on WordPress. WordPress is an easy to use content management system with many excellent designs (called templates) available for free. Premium templates range anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars, and allow you to specifically customize your site. Some of the best templates can compete with world-class designs.
Regularly updated blogSince Google's Freshness Update, there's a ranking premium for sites that are regularly getting new content. The easiest way to do this is through the addition of a blog. By regularly adding articles that are valuable for your readers – from timely pieces that comment on trends and news to evergreen pieces like how-to's or product reviews – you'll build your authority and improve your search rankings.
Another benefit of regularly blogging is that it quickly builds the amount of content that you can rank for in the search engines. A well-developed strategy can help you target many of your keywords through ongoing blog development. Think of each blog post as another raffle ticket you throw in the hat for being listed in search engine results pages.
Inbound Links (Pillar #2): The Infrastructure of ConnectionsLinks give Google one very important signal: another site or reader found material on your webpage valuable and relevant enough for them to link to it. The more links you get, the more valuable your content is deemed to be by search engines. More likes also builds trust and authority, causing your pages to rank higher, driving more traffic.
In the past, link building was a numbers game. Links came from simple tactics that included listing your site in a bunch of directories, linking to your site from comments on blogs and other transactions that focused more on having someone dedicate the time to "link building" than actually focusing on creating value for readers.
Today, link building is still critically important, but there's more pressure to build high quality links. Sites that you're linking from need to be reputable and relevant to your industry. Here are some strategies to build links that also build your brand and authority in your niche.
Guest bloggingThere's an increased focus today on guest blogging as site owners look for organic ways to build links. Guest blogging is simple: you find and pitch an appropriate blog with an offer to write a post geared toward their audience. When you're guest blogging, look for reputable blogs that are relevant to your industry and subject matter. Here's an article that describes a step-by-step process for guest blogging.
Press release distributionPress releases are another way to build links to your site and help build brand recognition for your business. There are two keys for effective press release distribution. The first is to find a newsworthy story to write about in your release, or to find a relevant hook in the broader news landscape. For example, if you are a coach for administrative assistants looking for new opportunities and its Administrative Professionals Day, your press release is more likely to be widely picked up.
This syndication effect will help you build inbound links. It may also lead to valuable news coverage with publications running your story or reporters asking you to act as a source. The second piece of leveraging press releases is to use an effective press release distribution service. It doesn't have to cost you hundreds of dollars. In fact, many are free. But make sure that whatever you choose is active and reputable. A popular choice is PRWeb.