[Note: This post first appeared as an article in the Hamilton County Business Magazine. It offers a good overview of the basics of SEO for those who want to learn more.]
As a business, you have probably taken the time to build your website with a goal of converting your visitors into prospects. You have built content that engages your visitors, establishes your company as the expert, and leads visitors along a decision path toward the goal of becoming your customer. But getting them to your website first seems to be half the battle. That is where search engine optimization comes into play.
What is SEO?
Search engine optimization is building your website’s structure, content, links, code as well as external links back to your site, using relevant keywords and strategies, to allow prospects to find your website through a search engine.
For most industries, we are no longer relying on yellow pages to find service providers or vendors. A majority of people looking for a product or service these days turn to the Internet, and search on Google, Yahoo or other search engine directory. Thus, the goal for your business should be to appear in the published search results for your product or service, in your targeted regions.
Starting your SEO Efforts
So how can you go about getting those coveted top rankings for your website? Well, the bad news is that there is no quick process for instant SEO results. You should be weary of any company that suggests otherwise. SEO involves a conscious effort of research, analysis and tweaking of the foundation of your existing website, and other methods to generate increased search traffic over time. However, here are a few tips for getting started along the road to a well-optimized website:
Start by looking at your existing website traffic. If you already have a good analytics program set up, such as Google Analytics, you are a step ahead. Note: If your analytics program does not include at least the last 12 months’ worth of data, or you are not able to view search engine keyword phrases, you might want to check out Google Analytics. Looking at your traffic report, answer these questions:
- From what region are most of your site visitors coming?
- Which external websites are referring visitors to your site?
- Which search engines are generating the most traffic?
- What are the top keywords and phrases visitors use to find your website?
- Are these keywords reflective of your product/service offering and sales goals?
Brainstorm a List of Keyword Terms / Phrases
Using your site analysis results, as well as your instinct, brainstorm a list of every possible combination of keyword phrases that an individual might type into Google to search for your company, product or service. This includes using locations in the search (if that is important to your business), using plural, singular or other variations of a word and more. For example, I would like my company to rank for the term ‘Indianapolis marketing firm’ but I also would include ‘Indianapolis marketing consultant,’ ‘Indianapolis PR firm,’ ‘Indianapolis SEO,’ and so forth. The goal here is to build a master keyword list with which to build your website’s SEO strategy.
Find out the Most Popular Search Phrases
Now that you have armed yourself with some keyword phrases, you need to find out which phrases your potential customers actually use in an Internet search. Otherwise, you are wasting your time optimizing your site for an irrelevant keyword phrase. Google has a good tool, through its AdWords program, which allows you to type in a list of keywords or keyword phrases, and it will tell you the average monthly website traffic on Google. It will also give you suggested keyword phrases based on your current website content. From this research, you will need to build a spreadsheet of all prospective keywords, prioritize based on your needs, and create a master keyword list from which you can begin to optimize your website.
Determine Your Current Ranking
The next step in your search engine optimization effort should be to determine where you currently rank for various search phrases of interest. There are several free or low-cost tools available on the Internet to help you calculate your ranking. One of my favorite tools is Max Rank Tracker by a company called TrackingGuru. Alternatively, you can simply type each phrase into Google and see if your website comes up on the list of search results. Do not be disheartened if you do not appear anywhere on the first few pages of search results for a given phrase. Keep in mind the competitive nature of the keyword phrase, and remember that you can also target certain geographic locations in your SEO goals.
Research your Competition
When developing an SEO strategy, many businesses often forget to analyze their competitors’ websites. Doing so can help you determine which websites are ranking well for a given keyword phrase, as well as provide much insight as to why their sites are ranking so well. You can use competitive research to help build your master keyword list, determine best practices for optimizing your website, and more. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that most of your competitors are not properly optimizing their websites, which means you have the opportunity to capitalize on this fact.
From this point on, there is much more involved in properly optimizing your website from a content, navigation and link standpoint. However, if you start with the proper research first – a review of your own website, your competitors’ websites, and a list of popular and coveted search terms – you will be better equipped to continue the SEO process of altering your website to boost your search engine ranking for your desired terms.
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