The words “search engine optimization,”or SEO, can often be the bane of existence for many a marketing, creative or public relations professional. These competent folks can – and do – regularly develop marketing strategies, create content, develop branding and messaging and handle social media for brands large and small. Yet when it comes to search engines and their importance in the marketing equation, many struggle to understand why it’s a critical component of success for their clients.
I had a client once who scoffed at my suggestion of having their web content written by an SEO copywriter and was insistent upon writing it himself. I ran into the writer a week or so later – a seasoned, accomplished writer and asked how it was going. He said, “What’s all the hoopla about this SEO business, anyway? A writer friend of mine told me that it’s not such a big deal. He said all I need to do is put a bunch of those keywords in there and the copy will be fine. I’m not going to have any trouble with this.” I smiled and nodded.
That former client’s web traffic – right next door to nonexistent. Yessireeeebob, it sure doesn’t matter. Not one bit. And, for the record, it wasn’t the fact that they wanted to write it themselves that was such a big deal – I can understand pinching pennies. What bugged me was the arrogance – and the ignorance – of the writer. And it’s often that kind of attitude that sinks a business – or at the very least, handicaps it from an online marketing performance standpoint. SEO isn’t only about keywords; it’s about keyword strategy and also about an overall SEO strategy. It’s about understanding the competitive landscape, where your opportunities lie, and what you can do to take advantage of them.
Wonder How the Web Really Works?
If you’re curious as to how a web search actually works, let’s go straight to the source. This is Google’s Matt Cutts, explaining all you need to know about web indexing and spiders. Now, let’s talk about SEO and how to use it to power your business and drive more web traffic.
First Do Your Homework: Keyword Research
SEO isn’t only about keywords, but keywords are certainly a factor when it comes to thinking in terms of what consumers are searching. Wondering where to start? It’s easy. Keyword research. First, pick out primary keywords and what you think consumers might be using for when they’re looking for the product you sell or the services you provide. Do a few test drives with your local searches to see what it pulled up to find popular topics, and develop a hierarchy of keywords (spreadsheets, anyone?) And, without getting too nerdy, understand that there are different kinds of keywords. Competitive keywords are differentthan mid-tail keywords. The hierarchy approach will play into page rank, as well as how often a brand comes up with different searches in its specific sector. Sounds complicated but it’s not. And once you dive into a little keyword research, and start seeing the words people use to search for what they seek, you’ll probably geek out a little. We do – on a daily basis.
Plant Your Flag: Claim Your Business on Google, Yelp and Bing
Local search is incredibly important these days. My friend John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing and author of The Referral Engine has written a fantastic white paper on how to use local search to drive business – and once you’re ready to focus on this, you should definitely check it out. Local search is really important, because Google (and other search engines) want to serve up searchers the most relevant results – and relevant results are often location-based. Google, Yahoo! and Bing have made it easy for businesses to provide detailed information, including addresses of locations, descriptions, images and even videos, so that their locations will show up when a user enters in a matching search phrase. Smart businesses create pages that share information specific to terms consumers might search for. For instance, “Italian Food, Northwest Houston” allows a search engine to match the searcher’s request by category and location. Google Local will also show information around hours of operation, services offered, user ratings and location. Make sense? I’m thinking you’re nodding about now. If so, scoot over and claim your business listing on Google Places.Then do the same thing with Bing and Yahoo.
Don’t Be a Tease: Provide Full Contact Information on Websites—And Be Specific
One of the key factors search engines look for in results returned is the website header and content on page. The header is important because it should always include the address of the company, and the header should be included on every page. Why? Search engines can easily pull results through address, and more specifically, zip code. This will help send customers in your vicinity to a specific location, especially if they search for terms that are heavily present in the content.
The second most difficult SEO tactic behind link building is content creation. Content creation requires knowledge of not only the consumer, but of the industry. Why are people buying a specific product? What drives their brand loyalty? Do they only buy products that have X instead of Y? Marketers often lean on surveys (or their own opinions), which don’t always generate the best results. And sometimes small business owners don’t do any research. They often don’t know what their customers are interested based on keyword research, they guess. Instead of either of these approaches, why not do your homework, and also empower your sales force, employees and even brand ambassadors to do some listening. Have them observe, monitor, ask questions of and interact with your target demographic. It’s amazing what you can find out when you listen and ask questions. This is where social media can play a big role. From an analysis standpoint, consumers love to talk and share huge amounts of information on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. It’s relatively easy to create search lists around specific topics and keywords, join the conversation and see what topics are most popular and heavily discussed? By doing this, you can create a list of 30-35 topics that can be covered in the earned, owned and paid spaces, ensuring that you’re creating an adequate supply of content and coverage across a variety of platforms, extending your online reach and enlarging your prospective customer base.
So, do tell. How do you use SEO to power your business? And if you’re not yet using the strategies outlined above, do you think you might start? These things take a little bit of time, but the payoff can be huge. Our recommendation – get going! If you don’t, your competitors will. Or already are.