SEO & the Never Ending Process
A while back we analyzed and compared SEO (search engine
optimization) to that of maintaining a lawn. It's
not a quick one-and-done process. It takes time and nurturing
on a continual everyday basis to achieve the neighborhood's top
lawn. The same principal applies to SEO. Give it nurturing on
a regular basis and your rankings, traffic, and leads/sales will
But what goes into the nurturing process? Why isn't it a one-and-done process? To find that out, you need not look any further than search engines themselves. Are you still optimizing for Alta Vista or Excite? No. Today, it's all about Google. Yahoo has come and gone, for the most part, and Google has taken the reigns for now. Bing, you can keep knocking on the door for awhile.
Google has reinvented itself several times over the years. The approaches used to rank well back in the year 2000 really don't apply today nor do many of the approaches from 2006 for that matter. As Google reinvents itself to improve search results, websites need to adapt as well. SEO professionals must stay on top of changes, or they're liable to get hit with a large drop in rankings, traffic, and leads/sales.
In today's SEO world, there are really six main steps every SEO professional must take. Under those steps there may be a thousand or so other actions to occur, but it starts with six. As you can see from the chart below, it starts with Keyword Research and Competitive Outlook. This is because if you start in the middle of the cycle, you'll most likely be fighting an uphill battle throughout your optimization.
Keyword Research & Competitive Outlook
Everything must start with keyword research to understand what is worth your effort and attainable.
- Identify your industry and your offerings. Look over your website, and notice the keyword choices that describe products and services. Listen to your internal conversations with coworkers, and list out all those keywords that are used often. Then, start creating a list.
- Now run a few queries on your competitors' sites. When I say competitor sites, I mean your offline and online competitors. All too many times companies only look at their offline competitors when in reality their main competition in search engines lies strictly with online presence.
- Put that final list of keywords together. List them by priority level: high, medium, and low. Next, run a query on Google's keyword tool to understand the search volume for each of those keywords. Be sure to use the exact match checkbox to identify this data. Now run a ranking report on each of these terms to see where you're ranked today and what pages are ranking for each of those terms.
- Finally, once the keywords are examined to decipher which keywords potentially can draw the most users to your site, you'll want to drill down and identify how much competition there is for each keyword. When comparing your SEO value to your competitors for any given keyword, make sure to look at items such as fresh and historical links, where they're coming from, and the many other on and off page factors.
From here, you'll be able to understand your placement today with search engines and how tough it will be to rank on the first page as well as the top spots, thus, giving you an outline or strategy to pursue.
Site Structure & Foundation
If optimizing for search engines is at all a goal of your site, it is vastly important to make sure all pertinent pages are readable by those search engines. Search engines read websites much differently than humans do in that search engines can't see any aesthetics. If you have text on your images, Google won't know about it. Video is great, but it needs a description. The site can be written in many languages, but each page must be readable upon page load for search engines to understand them. If you don't know if your site is readable today, verify your site with Google Webmaster Tools, and click to Health > Fetch as Google. Run a test on any page, and you'll see what Google can read on that page. If you're content isn't showing up correctly, then it's time to change the coding of your site.
In the end, you'll want to make sure each page has its own meta title and description, headline, and content. The site needs to be readable, as said before, and easy to navigate for both users and search engines. Nobody likes a tangled web; so, keep your foundation similar to that of a tree with many branches.
Internal Keyword Optimization & Keyword Research
Each page has its own identity. Some value will carry over from the rest of the site. However, if page A is optimized for the term 'picture frame' and page B is not, then page A will get a lot more value for that term and will typically rank higher. When it comes to internal optimization, there are a number of areas to consider:
- meta title
- meta description (for users)
- body content
- image description
- video description
- content layout
- keyword choices
- word count
- and so many more
When optimizing each page, you'll want to identify first "what is the page about?" Then, go back to the keyword research you did in step one, and find those keywords that you believe hold some value. These may be keywords with low traffic volume but very little competition or keywords with high competition and high traffic volume. Either way, these keywords should be chosen based on the strategy chosen previously in step one. Now add the keywords that pertain to this page to the content. Don't overdo it, though, as keyword stuffing is one practice Google has recently cracked down upon. Instead, we recommend you start by writing the content for a page freely based on your goal for that page. Then, come back, and find a few instances where you can alter the text to better optimize for the keywords of value. This includes editing video and image descriptions.
If a certain page is already ranking well for terms, make sure to weigh the positives and negatives of changing the content as changing some content may lower your ranking for previously ranked terms.
Link Building & Marketing Content Creation
One of the largest areas of SEO concern today is how to link build properly. Link building in its intent really hasn't changed much over the years no matter what your practices were. The idea is to produce content so good that websites interested in your subject matter will want to link to you to help their users find pertinent information. Sounds easy, right? Well, it can be, but usually it's simply a matter of brainstorming and producing a good product regularly. Once again, it's not a one-and-done process.
Search engines will evaluate the links pointing to a certain page and give it a value based on a number of factors such as freshness, anchor text, quality of the site linked from, and surrounding page content. There's more, but let's work with these. If a site received thousands of links a year ago but is barely receiving any today, then search engines will think the site is not as valuable or authoritative today as it was a year ago. Thus, its value will lower and eventually so will its rankings. At the same time, if the site has thousands of links from random non-industry websites, search engines will knock them that way as well. Think back to the picture frame example: a link from PictureFrames.com would have much more value than a link from cylinder company because the content and industries are similar from site to site.
So, how do we create good, quality content to market and build links with? That's a great question and truly must be defined by yourself and your organization. A few techniques include case studies and testimonials, slideshows, video, and documents, but all of them must be good, quality, and relevant industry information. If you're really aggressive and believe you've found the next hot item, you can always try and go viral with something. Be warned, however: going viral with something comes with a lot of luck as you never know what will catch on.
Relationship Building & Social Sharing
Now that all this great link building content has been created, what do we do with it? How do you get users to see it? Well, it starts with relationships. Share it with your organization. Ask them to share it with their contacts. Then, reach out to your peers, and build a following to share with regularly. Of course this article wouldn't be worth anything if I didn't mention all of the social media outlets. Obviously, you must think about your industry and which avenues your users are using, but create Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts. Look into all of the other social platforms as well, but don't waste your time on any that really wouldn't apply to your business. Create relationships via each of these networks, and start sharing regularly.
But that's still not enough. Jump into forums, local profile pages, and directories. Start posting this information there as well. Give all of your potential visitors opportunities to read up on your content.
Finally, start reaching out to some of the larger players in the social atmosphere in your industry. They may be PR personnel or just knowledgeable resources. Send the information to them to share with their network of contacts. Many times this comes with a price (reciprocation, money, or other online favors) so make sure to weigh the values.
In the end, you're doing nothing more than creating quality content for your users and sharing it to reach the largest crowd in your industry. This will not only give you links that point to your site but also referral traffic from several sources. Some will catch on, others will be subtle, but together they should create the traffic you're looking for.
Analysis & Measurement
The final step in this cycle is to dive into your analytics. Start researching what is happening on your site and what keywords are driving traffic. It starts with a traffic source report that analyzes the visitor totals, pages/visit, time on site, bounce rate, and conversion rates to measure the effectiveness of each source of traffic. Then, move on to the keyword reports to get more granular. Compare your rankings to the traffic you're receiving. Are users from one keyword coming back to your site again and again, or are they one time users? Do they complete any goals? What type of engagement do they offer?
If a keyword really doesn't have much value, then you may want to move on to the next keyword. However, if there is a lot of traffic with a certain keyword, you may want to look at your landing page, and decide what you can do with it to improve the users' experiences. It could be that the user was just looking for picture frame ideas rather than to buy a picture frame. If you changed the landing page a bit to share ideas, then you may end up with improved engagement rates and eventually higher sales.
Now you're back to the beginning of the cycle. You've identified which keywords are valuable and which are not; so, it's time to do more keyword research to optimize for that next set.
SEO is an ongoing process that when done well, can be a highly effective way to drive traffic. Once one keyword has rewarded you with top rankings, one may think it's time to stop there and move on to the next, but it's quite the contrary. Often times it's much harder to maintain top rankings than it is to get top rankings, due to the competition and continual algorithm changes. Keep on with your SEO efforts, but gingerly expand your keyword list as time goes on and rankings improve. Study your efforts to know what works in your industry and what doesn't. Test and analyze to share with your organization all of your success.
Now back to some more keyword research...