HomePostsDec 16, 2008

Getting started correcting your search engine problems.

Search engines are complicated, proprietary, heartless machines that chew up poor, unsuspecting websites and spit out a category based on what it tastes like. These categories are used to literally rank a site’s individual pages based on their relevancy for particular word or phrase. The rank, as it is referred to, is the key to getting more people coming to your website (called traffic) which can lead to more sales/appointments/contacts (called conversions).

Unless you don’t actually care if anyone goes to your website, you should be concerned with how findable you are on-line. Studies show that unless you’re on the first or second page (mostly just the first), you won’t get clicked on very often, your page will get minimal exposure, and your time and effort creating the site in the first place will be for naught.

Your rank in a particular search engine for a particular word or phrase is, simply, a combination of the following (more or less in this order):

  1. How many other sites point to you as a reference, particularly for that word (known as incoming links)
  2. How regularly that word is used on your page and where it appears (page titles, meta information, content)
  3. How “good” your site is (lots of focused content, continual updates, age of site)

If you want people to see the information you have, if you want to turn web browsers into customers, and if you want to take advantage of the biggest marketplace of potential customers, you’ll give more than a second thought to how you are seen by a search engine.

Why is SEO important?

Consider what it would be like if no one could easily find your place of business, or even your telephone number. Most businesses could not continue for long in such a situation. The same thing can happen with your web site if people cannot easily locate it. Traffic volume, if it existed at all, slows to a crawl. Potentially valuable customers never even know you are there.

Key word strategy & generation

I’ll start off by saying that this is the single most important thing that needs to be done for a site… and, of course, it’s the hardest thing to do, the easiest to get wrong, and the most lengthy process. There is a lot of information available online about keyword strategy so this description will be brief.

Keywords are the words for which people are searching. Keywords for your own website are the words that people are searching to reach your website. Picking the right keywords is partially an exercise in putting yourself in your customers’ shoes and partially in avoiding words that are too common. Putting yourself in your customers’ shoes means that you’re thinking about words that your customers would use to find you. Avoiding common words means that you’re not competing directly in search results with sites that have a very strong presence and might be in a totally different industry.

Here are three simple steps towards picking keywords that can work for you.

  1. Choose words that you think people might be using to find your site. Come up with about 20. These are probably not the words you’re going to use.
  2. Go to google.com/keywords, type in your words, allow synonyms, and search. You should have a list of potentially hundreds of different words.
  3. Pick about 5-8 words that have low-ish advertiser competition (under half), a good amount of searches but not too many (different for every situation but I usually pick words that are under 10K monthly searches), and a flat or upward trend (current month is higher or the same as the average).

These keywords should be used as-is throughout the site, it’s structure, image descriptions, and the text content.

Each step comes with it’s own set of complexities but, if you’ve walked through these steps, even if you’re confused by the end of it, you’re a step ahead of many, many people on the web.

Building a functional keyword strategy is not something you just do once. Search engine optimization is something you need to do on a regular basis. I see it as a scientific process. You start with an idea, a hypothesis (“my clients will find me by searching ‘eye care’ and ‘cataract correction'”). Then you design an experiment to test your original hypothesis (“We’re going to write a few pages of content, each one concentrating on a different part of the keywords we chose”). Data is gathered and analyzed and a new path is chosen (“Our traffic went up 30% with these keywords… are we getting all the benefit that we can?”). Time and culture will change search patterns so what used to be a golden word for you, may become stale and unpopular. Keep checking those analytics reports!

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