Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has come a loooong way.
When blogging started to catch on, around 2006, many people scrambled to learn the dark arts of SEO: meta tags, keyword stuffing, backlink building, and plugging into networks of virtual friends who would share your posts through Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious.
Those days are gone. Forever.
Google’s Panda and Penguin updates have changed the game for the blackhat SEO artists. As Joe Pulizzi says in this Content Marketing Institute article:
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“Search engine optimization (SEO) is an incredibly important top-of-the-funnel tactic. As Google gets smarter, it’s almost impossible to game the system. Today, getting found through search engines has more to do with amazing online storytelling than most anything else.”
This is a relief to most of us who believe in honest, straight forward marketing. But what does it mean for you?
It means you have to produce epic content that people will want to link to and share with their friends and family.
How to produce epic content is a topic for another blog post. But the basic premise is: create content on a regular basis that your consumers or prospects will find extremely valuable. How-tos, tutorials, thought leadership content, industry overviews, and new concepts fit the bill.
Creating product centric content or content that talks all about you and your products does not.
But I digress.
So, is SEO all about creating awesome content? That’s part of it. But there are some steps you have to follow to make sure Google finds your web pages and landing pages, and makes sure the people looking for your products and services find you.
So here for you today are three steps to basic SEO that can help you get found.
1. Keyword Research
Good SEO always starts with keyword research. You need to identify the words your ideal customers use to search for your product or service before you can optimize for these keywords (to state the obvious).
Always start with the initial words that describe your product or service. For example, if you own a restaurant and brewery, you might start with the keywords “brewery,” “brewpub,” and “craft beer.”
These are your “seed” keywords.
Then you want to dive deeper and start to find different combinations of keywords that your prospects will actually use to find your restaurant/brewery.
When you enter your seed keywords in Google, scroll down to the bottom of the search engine results page (SERP) and you’ll find additional combinations.
With the seed term “brewpub” you’ll get:
- “used brewpub equipment”
- “brewpub finder”
- “starting a brewpub”
- “brewpub equipment”
Then you want to look at long-tail keywords. These are longer keywords, usually compound terms composed of three or more words, that are searched less frequently, but have less competition. You can use check your site’s Google Analytics to find the long-tail keywords that actually bring people to your site.
Finally, you want to look at “keyword phrases.” Keyword phrases are the terms people actually use to search for your product. How do you find your keyword phrases? You can find these on Twitter, Facebook, comments on your blog. You can also read emails you get from your customers to get the natural language they use.
There are many tools you can use to research the keywords your customers are using. The Google Adwords Keyword Tool is free. You can use it when you open a Google Adwords account, and you don’t even have to have a current Adwords campaign running to use this! It is often all you need to conduct keyword analysis. Bing also offers a free keyword research tool.
There are other valuable tools, but they’ll cost you. They provide more detailed analysis of your keywords. Wordstream, Scribe and Wordtracker come to mind, and new player HitTail focuses on long-tail keywords.
If your business has a storefront or provides services within a metropolitan area, don’t neglect the hyper-local market. Add regional or local terms to your keywords, such as your state, city, neighborhood and cross-streets.
2. Use your Keywords Intelligently
If you think I’m going to tell you that you need to add a bunch of keyword “meta-tags” to each page on your website, think again. As noted earlier, SEO has changed. Google’s Panda and Penguin updates rendered obsolete many of the traditional tactics internet marketers used to “game” the system.
Some of the tactics Google is now penalizing are:
- Excessive link-building without regard to quality
- Deceptive doorway pages
- Lots of keyword stuffing
- Publishing lots of meaningless content just to get traffic from search engines
(source: Content Marketing Institute)
“Lots of keyword stuffing.” That means: adding keywords all over your content so that your content doesn’t even flow naturally; adding lots of “meta-tags” to your pages; placing many different keywords in your title; and adding “hidden” keywords (keywords with the same color as your site’s background color, so they remain invisible to your reader, but Google sees it.)
These kinds of shenanigans will make Google very very angry, and it will get you de-optimized. You don’t want that, do you?
Each page has a title tag, but don’t confuse title tag with the title of the page. Your page might have a title, also known as a “headline,” that your visitors see when they hit the page. But your title tag is what shows up on those SERPS.
This is a piece of code that tells Google what your content is about, and it’s probably the most important place for your keywords.
Each of the results on this SERP for “brewpubs” is actually displaying the “Title Tag.” If you want to get into your site’s HTML, it’s the text within the <title></title> tags. However, most content management systems have a way for you customize your title tags so they’re different from the page headline.
Why would you want your title tag and page headline to be different? A headline typically appeals to human emotions. They’re designed to elicit curiosity.
A title tag should be very clear and straight-forward, as it tells the search engine what the content is supposed to be about.
You also want to use your keywords within your content. But be careful: don’t “stuff” keywords all over your page. Make it natural. Write the way people talk. Don’t artificially place keywords all over the place to try to trick Google to list you higher. Google might actually list you lower!
The best way to use keywords in your body copy is to use the keyword phrases you identified earlier. If you did this the right way, the keyword phrases reflect the natural way people talk, so they should fit in quite nicely.
If your pages are product pages, just use the keywords necessary to actually describe your products.
Looking at the SERP image again, the text right below the title is your meta description. Google does not use the meta description to find and categorize your content. It uses it to let human beings see a quick synopsis that describes what that site or page is all about.
Make sure your meta description is short (155 characters or less) and clear. You want to be able to convince visitors to click on your link, not ignore it.
3. Build Inbound Links
If your site has lots of valuable content that contains the keywords you researched, you’re only halfway there, literally. Google places more emphasis on links than on anything else. Why? Because if sites are linking to your content or website, then you probably provide valuable content or a valuable service, and Google wants to provide consumers with quality, valuable sites.
However, be careful about the kind of inbound links you build. Matt Cutts, who heads up Google’s Anti-Spam team, says Google values hard links, not easy links.
Hard Links vs. Easy Links
Easy links are the results of link-farms, comment spam, and indiscriminate registration with directories that don’t have any traffic. Hard links are links that people actually use. They’re usually from authoritative websites with lots of traffic from loyal readers. “Yes, you want links, but links that are hard to get, that take effort to obtain, that you’ve somehow earned, not “easy links.””
How to get Hard Links
The best way to get hard links is actually not hard at all – if you provide valuable content. Jon Morrow says guest blogging is one of the keys to drive high quality links back to your site.
When you submit your article or blog post, always provide a short biography about yourself. It’s customary to provide a link back to your own website in your bio. This should be a link with your preferred keyword as the anchor text pointing to the particular page you want to be ranked for.
Other than guest blogging, just try to write high quality content that people enjoy and want to share with their friends. You will naturally attract links from sites whose owners like your content.
Your next steps
Doing well in SEO is a long-term proposition. There are no quick fixes.
- Research the keywords your customers actually use to find your product or service
- Write valuable content that people actually want to read, with the proper keywords in the title tags and in the body copy
- Attract links from authoritative sites through legitimate means – attract hard links, not easy links
Eventually, you’ll start to see results from your SEO efforts.
But the series is not over. Next, we’ll cover the mechanics of local search using Google Places. And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter so you can get all these posts in your email inbox!