First, you need to know what people are searching for online. How do you do that? Well you might ask your customers. You could guess at it. Or you could do keyword research.
If you can predict what people will search on — and know in what volume such a phrase is searched — and how few competitors are trying to rank for that term – then you have a tasty piece of low-hanging fruit within arm’s reach.
To do solid keyword research you can 1) check your old site’s statistics on visitor’s entry phrases and 2) put your website’s URL into the Google Adwords tool (free) for their suggestions and 3) subscribe to a proprietary keyword research tool like Wordtracker that gives detailed information on search volumes and active competition.
You’ll be surprised by what is keeping people up at night! Keyword Research is like mind-reading and is a miracle-marketing tool. Never before have you been able to peer into the populace’s psyche and determine exactly what they want. And then sell it to them. You might think your customer wants a retirement home, but what he and his fellow baby boomers are seeking, as revealed by the search data, is a place that can help “when Alzheimer’s turns violent.”
Doing this keyword research you might find new services or products to offer. Many online businesses depend on tools like Wordtracker’s to tell them the next item they should sell online – even items like “bamboo bird cages.” And even if you don’t let these sort of insights suggest your next product or service offering, the keywords can certainly help you organize your website.
Once you have 20 or so target phrases to use on your website, you will then apportion them to individual relevant pages. It’s a vertical stacking, not a horizontal spreading of terminology. This is when you let the keywords guide your navigation.
Let’s go back to the concern that surfaced about aging parents in our research example for the retirement home. With the high search volumes that we saw on Alzheimer’s and violence, a top-level navigation tab might be labeled “Coping with Alzheimer’s.” Keywords help you know how to organize your website logically. You find out what people are concerned about and you provide useful information addressing specifically that.
So you’ve got your targeted keywords and your site is organized to provide the highly searched information in a logical structure, letting the keywords guide your sections and pages. Now you’ll need content. Words on the page. Text.
Google’s search algorithm (the formula, essentially, that they send their robots out with to discover and prioritize websites) is based on a few hundred criteria. But five are crucial. They are:
• Content. Lots of text.
• Inbound links. That is relevant links from other websites pointing to your website.
• Tags – the title and description fields in your source code.
• Constantly updated content.
• Engaging websites.
You might be wondering – why is Google so exacting with their criteria? Well, if they send people to spammy sites or what are called “Made for AdSense Sites” – sites just existing to sell ads and lots of them – then searchers will become dissatisfied with the juggernaut of search, with its 70 percent market share, and try Bing or Yahoo, putting Google’s revenues at risk.
So here’s the secret to SEO in Google. Write more than your competitors. That’s a bit facile – but not far off. Google grades on a curve. So if your competitor online is verbose – then you need to be “verboser.”
But be sure it’s relevant, cohesive, on topic and useful text. Believe it or not, Google can tell if your language throughout the page is pertinent. It’s called LSI – or latent semantic indexing. They seek synonyms in the word array and want tight integrity throughout the paragraphs.
After your website is live, you don’t want to set it and forget it. Google will be watching. Just like a retailer wouldn’t leave her window dressing the same throughout the seasons, for fear of appearing to be out of business, so Google expects to see you add a caption here or there, upload an image once in a while, or write a regular blog. If you are active on your site, demonstrated by your “touching it” once in a while, then you are likely not a spammer but an invested business who recognizes the value of a website and its upkeep. Your site is worth ranking highly.
Google is also seeing how engaging your website is now – as determined by real humans. They put a battery of people at screens to click around on sites and then they model that click through and click back behavior into their algorithms. This puts an increasing emphasis on a website being captivating – keeping people on the site and not clicking back to Google for a refinement of the original query. The site then needs to be visually clear and guide the visitor via crisp graphics and compelling text to go deeper into the site – and not back to the search engine.
Tags are the only geeky things I talk about. The two that Google cares a lot about are title and description tags. These are, effectively, the bold headline and the short blurb beneath it that you see on the results pages of Google. Hint: Google doesn’t write these – you do! And the better they are written, the more likely someone will click through to your website. Don’t leave the writing of these two crucial tags to your website developer – they have to work hard and “get the click.” That means they need to be written by a copywriter or brand manager. PS: Don’t worry about the meta keyword tag. Google doesn’t pay attention to those and by providing that string of single words in the visible code, you are letting your competitors know what you are optimizing for.
Finally, there’s inbound links. It’s a popularity principle. If you go to a networking event and see a huddle around someone, there’s a good chance that is a kingpin in the community.
Same with Google’s thinking: if your website is pointed to a lot, then it must be worth knowing – and worth showing.
You can ask your vendors, the media, associations you belong to, directories that want your listing, even friends and family, for links – but work with these two guidelines: the most treasured ones are the ones that are themselves popular (like this newspaper’s) and those that are highly relevant to your business or industry.
That means that if you are selling bamboo bird cages, a link from a retirement home won’t be worth much in Google’s eyes. But a link from “Cage and Aviary” magazine online would put you in perfect company.
Laurie Macomber, owner of Fort Collins-based Blue Skies Marketing, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-689-3000.