Whether you subscribe to the notion that search engine optimization (SEO) is the marketing equivalent of the meaning of life – or not – there is strong evidence that it needs to be an active part of your ongoing marketing strategy.
Marketing Sherpa recently published their 2012 Search Marketing Benchmark Report – SEO edition (download an excerpt here) and the results are telling:
“In a recent survey of 1,530 B2B marketing professionals, we discovered search engine optimization (SEO) to be one of the most effective lead generation tactics for 2012. In fact, it came in just slightly behind website optimization (42%) with a compelling 38% of respondents ranking it as a ‘very effective.’”
There is a whole science around SEO and many tactics that can be employed to get that ranking where you want it to be. But for many of us mere mortals, SEO can be a confusing and time consuming process. Well no more. Read on for some of the most important and effective ways to boost your SEO juice.
Simply stated, the goal of SEO is to help your website rank higher in organic search results so that it is more visible to people looking for products or services like yours. A critical component of this is using the right keywords, so investing some time here is well worth it. Your goal should be to develop a list of keywords that are relevant to your business and have a decent search volume. Beware of using keywords with a very high search volume; the higher the monthly search results, the broader the term and less likely it is to be relevant.
Keyword tools abound, but an easy (and free) one to start with is the Google Keyword Planner. Once you put in a list of keywords in the keyword tool, Google will offer similar or alternative keywords to consider. If you’re struggling to come up with good keywords another tactic is to type a keyword into a search box (Bing or Google) and see what is automatically populated. Since the response is based on previous search data you can get some insight into how people are looking for something, and how the search engine is driving people to a particular destination.
When considering what SEO tactics will bring the biggest bang for your buck, descriptive and concise title tags rank right up there with keyword research.
When writing your title tags take into consideration that they not only show up in browser windows and tabs, but in search results as well. It’s a good best practice to limit the tag to just 70 characters as anything more than that is displayed with an ellipsis.
Because of this, you’ll also want to make sure that your primary keyword is at the beginning of the title tag, not the end. A couple of good formats to use are:
- Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
- Brand Name | Primary Keyword and Secondary Keyword
Be sure to avoid boilerplate or same title tags for every page on your website. And note that while dashes, pipes, commas and spaces all work in a title tag, search engines seem to prefer hyphens and underscores. As a side note, working the keyword into the page URL is a great tactic as well.
Along the same line as the title tag, the lowly meta description really does have an impact on your SEO results. While its ability to directly affect your page ranking may be debatable, the description does matter as search engines will sometimes opt to use it instead of pulling from a page’s content for the search snippet. It’s also important because a well-crafted description demonstrates that your link has legitimacy to end users, and can make a difference on whether they click it or not.
If you’re not convinced, consider this – a recent Google Webmaster blog post stated that Google ignores the meta keywords, but does take into account the meta description. Just keep in mind that descriptions made up of long strings of keywords won’t really accomplish anything, as they are likely to be perceived as not useful and thus, not displayed.
Meta descriptions do not, however, need to be in a sentence format. You may, in the interest of providing the most relevant content, want to list the author and date of publication for news or blog postings. Likewise, product page descriptions could contain the price, quantity or other bits of information someone would find useful. Either way, make sure your description contains the keywords relevant to the page it is describing, and that those keywords are in the body copy on that page!
In the early days of SEO, keyword density was king. This led to web page copy so full of keywords it was awful to read. Times have changed, however, and pages stuffed with keywords are no longer the way to go. Instead, copy should flow naturally and be succinct. If you are clear about what you’re trying to convey, and it’s on topic with the keyword(s) you’ve chosen for that page, you should wind up with copy that has an appropriate amount of keywords peppered throughout.
You do, however, want to make sure that the keywords wind up at least once in some strategic places such as the h1 header, body copy, and alt-tag if you are using any images. Other places less critical but still helpful are the subheaders and bolded or italicized text.
The experts at HubSpot recommend not repeating the same keyword over and over again; instead you should use related words which will help you rank for long-tail keywords (key phrases that help to drive more relevant traffic to your site). Some keyword variations to consider include:
- Using a plural version of a word
- Finding the word’s synonym or acronym
- Alternating your word order
When writing your copy you can begin with a keyword in mind, and blend it in as you go. Or, you can simply write the copy first and then go back in and insert the keyword where it best fits.
Last, but not least, remember that people usually skim a page so a best practice is to break up your copy by using short paragraphs, bullets or lists, and subheaders.
Linking is one of the most important factors in an SEO strategy, and you’ll want to pay attention to both kinds – internal and external links.
Internal links are the hyperlinks on a web page that point to other pages on the site. They are essential because they help to establish the website structure by giving the bots a path to crawl and they can further establish a page’s authority.
External links are hyperlinks that point to a different domain than the one the link resides on. Simply stated, if another website links to you or you link to another website, these are considered external links. Most SEO experts believe that external links are the most important source of ranking power. This belief primarily comes from the fact that external links are the hardest SEO tactic to manipulate and therefore, the most credible among all the factors search engines consider. Attaining these links, however, is a bit of an art form and too lengthy to cover here. But, if you’re ready to dive in, SEOmoz offers a great Beginner’s Guide to SEO that discusses link building in depth.
In the case of both internal and external links, using anchor text – the practice of using keywords as part of the link’s text – is a “must do.” SEOmoz says it best:
“One of the strongest signals the engines use in rankings is anchor text. If dozens of links point to a page with the right keywords, that page has a very good probability of ranking well for the targeted phrase in that anchor text. You can see examples of this in action with searches like “click here,” where many results rank solely due to the anchor text of inbound links.”
Research has found that content creation is by far the most effective tactic to push page rankings up (53% according to Marketing Sherpa). It’s pretty obvious why – good content gets discussed and shared, thus attracting links. However, content creation is by far the most time consuming and difficult for companies to accomplish.
The effort is worth it though. A thought-provoking article in Forbes magazine by Ken Krogue talks about the death of SEO, asserting that traditional SEO practices are going to be replaced by content primarily distributed and consumed through social media channels. Like the earlier point on the credibility of an external link, Google is constantly looking for ways to serve up unbiased, authentic search results. As Krogue says, “The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one: writing, designing, recording or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.”
Daunting perhaps, but don’t forget that you can leverage that content beyond just getting more SEO juice. Good content, effectively shared, can positively affect your company’s brand, establish thought leadership, and support other marketing tactics like social media and lead generation campaigns.
A Parting Thought on SEO
One last tip – the search game is always evolving so it’s a good idea to stay abreast of the trends. The Google Webmaster blog is a great place to get updated. Other sources include blogs by the super smart folks at SEOmoz, Search Engine Watch, and Search Engine Land. But, if you don’t have a lot of time to invest in SEO, look for someone who can help you with it. It’s simply too important to ignore.
Graphic Source: http://www.seoteric.com/seo-process/