5 Ways to Improve your SEO Today

Now that you have a website, the next natural question is “How do I get people to come visit it?”

Your options are quite large, although your budget probably isn’t.  Therefore one of the most popular and cost effective tactics is targeting the search engines to position your website higher for a specific keyword phrase. Yes, I’m talking about SEO, or search engine optimization.

SEO is less of a demand creating technique and more a demand capture technique. For example, being ranked #1 in the search engines for the keyword phrase “Blue Dog on Mars” doesn’t mean you’ll get an influx of visitors. Unless of course one was discovered or it becomes a popular Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream flavor.

My point being, you should attempt to optimize your website for keywords that actually get searched. A great tool to help with this is Google Trends. This tool allows for you to enter one or more keyword phrases and it will show you the popularity of that search over time against each other. For example, we’ve created a comparison between the keyword “newspapers” and the keyword “tablets.”

Another tool, called Google’s Keyword Tool allows you to enter the keywords and  provide you with a global and local number of searches that specific keyword gets on average. Keep in mind that more searches typically means that your competitors have likely figured it out and are competing for attention there. Taking a step further with the first example, we’ve looked up the metrics on the keyword “newspapers” and the keyword “tablets” to see their search demand.

Take some time to research a broad range of keywords. Compare keywords about products, product categories, industry terms, and your own brand name.

Another option that can advance your learning a bit quicker is getting immediate feedback through Paid Search. Paid Search refers to the sponsored advertisements that appear above and to the right of the organic listings. Those advertisements appear after a company bids for clicks for that particular search term. With a Paid Search campaign, your website for a particular keyword phrase can appear within minutes. Watching for these results allows you to0 quickly gauge the popularity of the keyword and also your conversion rates once they get to your site. Conversion rates are measured by comparing how many people purchased something after clicking those advertisements.

Now that you’ve identified the keywords you’d like to rank for, below are five quick things you can do today that will put you on the fast track to increasing your ranking.

1) Update Your Title Tags – Every single one of your pages should have completely unique copy between <title> and </title>. Just as important, you should have the 1 and only 1 keyword phrase that page is attempting to rank for in the Title Tag. Finally, it should be no longer than 70 characters.

2) Update Your Description Tags – Similar to the Title Tag, every single one of your pages should have completely unique copy between <meta name=”description” content=” and >. The description should be your most compelling call-to-action for that page. Meaning, you should explain exactly what the visitor will gain by clicking the link to visit that page. The Description Tag should be no longer than 156 characters.

3) Sign Up for Google Webmaster Tools – There are many advantages to adding your website to Google Webmaster Tools and verifying your ownership of it. Verification normally only takes a few minutes and you have a number of options depending on your website. Methods include adding a Meta Tag, adding a file to your root directory, or creating a DNS (Domain Name System) record.

4) Submit Your Sitemap – A sitemap is typically an XML file that is used to tell the search engine the exact URLs of every page of your website and how often they get updated. Historically search engines only used robots, also known as spiders, to navigate around your website and index every page they find. This is limiting as some pages may get missed if there are no links to those particular pages. After you’ve signed up and verified your website on Google Webmaster Tools, you should navigate to “Optimization” > “Sitemaps” and click “Add/Test Sitemap.” Finally, paste in the name of your sitemap file.

5) Optimize Your Navigation – Your navigation is a very effective way to communicate to search engines which pages should be prioritized. Also, search engines give a lot of weight to the keywords that appear in those links. Therefore there are 2 quick opportunities here. First, link to the most important pages that you’re trying to increase the ranking for in your navigation. Linking to those pages and limiting the number of links to other pages will give these pages more weight and influence. Second, add your most important keywords as the text in these links. If your links are images, make sure to add the keywords in the ALT tags of the images.

The algorithm that determines which websites get ranked higher than other websites looks at hundreds of factors. However, if you’re looking for the low-hanging fruit that can begin to drive your website upward then tackle these five things today!

The Difference Between SEO & SEM

It’s hard to keep track of all the digital marketing buzzwords that are flying around the internet today. Especially, if those words are thrown into acronyms that further decode their meaning. For those of you just starting to dabble in online marketing, we wanted to provide a quick explanation as to the difference between SEO and SEM.

First off, what do they stand for? That would certainly help. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, and it refers to the process of increasing your website’s search engine ranking for a specific keyword or set of keywords. Said another way, search engines look for specific things on and off of your website that determines whether or not it’s relevant for a specific query, and SEO is the goal of doing those things.

So then what is SEM? Search engine…? Marketing? Exactly. Search engine marketing is the strategy to increase your traffic and sales through the search engine channel. Search engine marketing includes the tactic SEO and the tactic Paid Search. Paid Search refers to those “sponsored” advertisements you see at the top and right side of Google, Bing, and the rest. Businesses are in a bidding war for every click that drives them to their website. The more relevant your website landing page to the query and the more you pay, the higher you’ll appear on the search engine results page (SERP).

Should you even care? Well, yes, because 93% of all online experiences begin with a search engine (Forrester Research, 2006). That means that your customers and prospects are likely finding or not finding you by first visiting sites like Google.com and Bing.com. They type in a search query such as “brown leather office chair” and start visiting the websites that appear. What’s even more important is that you want to appear first. That’s because 97% of searchers never look beyond the first three results. It’s more likely that they’ll change their search query before hitting that “next >” button at the bottom of the page.

A few years ago those top coveted results of the search engines were known as the “Google Golden Triangle” as they get all of the attention and clicks. That triangle has become even more competitive as Google and Bing have introduced other content such as news, images, videos, and social feeds. That and every sixty seconds 70 domain names are registered and 60 new blogs are created, makes it even harder to compete.

The best thing you can do as a company is to get in the game. If you’ve got a website, then you need to understand how people come to it. Take a look at your website analytics. You can set up an account with Google Analytics for free. See how many people are coming from search engines and what they’re searching for. Try out some paid search advertising and follow the SEO best practices [PDF].

Social Media Helps SEO [Infographic]

Tasty Placement, a search engine optimization and digital design company, attempted to solve the question “Can social media activity boost organic search ranking?” with an experiment. This infographic is a result of that experiment and shows very interesting results. Although maybe not the most perfect experiment, it appears the answer is “Yes”.

Read more about this infographic from the great blog post by Mind Jumpers.

Summary, in order from least effective on SEO to most effective:

  • 100 Google+ Followers yielded a 14.63 rise in search engine ranking position.
  • 300 Google+ Votes yielded a 9.44 rise in search engine ranking position.
  • 60 Facebook Shares & 50 resulting “Likes” yielded a 6.9 rise in search engine ranking position.
  • 50 Tweets yielded a 2.88 rise in search engine ranking position.
  • 1,000 Twitter followers yielded a 1.22 fall in search engine ranking position.

Social Media Influences SEO

In recent years, many people have started to use social media on a daily basis. Some of the more popular social media sites in the world receive millions of hits daily and their users sometimes spend hours every day using them. Because of this, search engines have started to pay more attention to the social media craze and it has even begun to affect search engine rankings. As a webmaster, it makes sense to become aware of social media trends and how they affect search engine optimization practices.

Social Buzz

Search engines have used hundreds of different factors to determine how to rank pages in their results. While factors like keywords and inbound links will still play a role, many search engines are now starting to put increased emphasis on what is happening in social media. This is sometimes referred to as “social buzz” and it can have a direct impact on how your pages are ranking.

If a page on your site is being linked to in many posts on social media sites, it can increase that page’s search engine rankings. If people are mentioning your site or brand name on social media sites, this can also be picked up on by the search engines in a short period of time. Search engines realize that when people talk on social media sites, these topics are often important. Because of that, the search engines tend to bump up sites that reference these topics in the search engine rankings.

Getting Involved

As a website owner, it is important to get involved in social media as quickly as you possibly can. Because of the added importance of the effect that it can have on search engine rankings, you need to sign up for accounts with all of the major social media sites. Once you do, you can start interacting with other people on the site. This can be a very effective way to develop relationships and get people talking about your products, services and brand. Once you start to get involved, you might be surprised what kind of an effect it can have on your site’s traffic and search engine rankings overall.

Quality Content

Ultimately, you cannot control whether people talk about your site or products on social media. You can do your best to get the conversation started, but after that it’s up to the community. Because of this, you have to do put an emphasis on creating quality content that will get people talking. It’s your job to create the best content and then get it out there to people through social media sites. If you do a good job in creating content, it can get people talking and then help your search engine rankings.

Google Algorithm Changes Affect SEO

Google has been one of the leading forces in the search engine industry for several years now and it seems like everything they do tends to set the trend for other search engines. Over the years, they have implemented several new algorithm changes that have effectively slapped webmasters down the rankings when they engaged in things Google didn’t approve of. The latest Google slap dealt with individuals who used unnatural linking practices to achieve higher rankings. Many webmasters in this category have been negatively affected and are unsure of where to turn from here.

Blog Networks

Many webmasters were using blog networks as a way to achieve high rankings in the search engines. A blog network is a system that people pay to be a part of. Once an individual is a member, he can write short articles and include a link back to his own site within the article. Then when he submits the article to the blog network, it is posted on one of the blogs owned by the network. The blogs are all high PageRank sites and they try to give the impression that they are legitimate sites. This made it look like a page on the webmaster’s site was being linked to by one of the blog sites in the network, which usually helped improve its ranking. Recently, Google decided to de-index many of these networks, which also affected all of the sites that the blogs were linking to.

Notification

Webmasters who engage in unnatural linking practices recently started receiving notices from Google in their Webmaster Tools account messages. The message tells the Webmasters that Google has detected unnatural linking practices associated with their sites and that something must be done to fix this issue within in a certain amount of time.

Affect of Unnatural Links

There has been some confusion and debate about the impact of having these types of links associated with your account. At the very least, Google has discounted these links and made it so that they do not carry any weight in helping other sites rank. In some cases, webmasters claim that having these links actually lead to some sort of punishment by Google. Many of their pages went way down in the search engine rankings and some of them were actually removed completely from Google’s index. Regardless of whether the bad links just lost their value or actually ended up leading to punishment, they definitely had an impact on search engine rankings.

What to Do

If you are a webmaster and engaged in something that Google considers to be unnatural linking practices, you should do your best to alter toxic links as soon as you can by either changing the anchor text or removing them completely. Go through your inbound links report and remove any links that come from questionable websites. While it might be a lot of work, it will help your search engine rankings rise again. This recent act by Google proves that nothing beats high quality, contextual link building strategies to further your site in the search engine results.

Overly Optimized Websites Hurt SEO

In a great article by Barry Densa on his blog MarketingWitandWisdom.com, Barry identifies the concept of Google penalizing, a.k.a. “slapping”, your website for being overly optimized. He also goes into detail about what that means and would be worthwhile to read the entire post.

My (still true) philosophy is creating great content and value on a website that people naturally want to link (vote for) to your website. You can increase site rankings in the search engine if you do this. You can’t trick your way to top anymore and buying links or paying someone to make a bunch of irrelevant posts on other websites is the fastest way to get “slapped” by Google.

Many people don’t understand SEO or are knowledgeable enough to be dangerous. They think they can write a bunch of Title Tags, Meta Descriptions, and add the keyword 5.7% of time on their website. The artistic side to the equation is balancing those tactics with a strategy of adding value to the website visitor. If you’re #1 in the search engine, are driving 100,000 visitors a day, and every single visitor leaves the first page they hit because the content is not helpful. You’re going to eventually get penalized.

The Google “Slap”

Matt Cutts, head of the Google Webspam team said this at SXSW in Austin.

…We don’t normally pre-announce changes but there’s something we’ve been working on over the last few months and hope to release it in the next few months or few weeks. All those people doing, for lack of a better word, over optimization or over SEO – versus those creating great content and a fantastic website – we’re going to level the playing field. We are trying to make GoogleBot smarter, make our relevance more adaptive, and, we are also looking for those who abuse it, like using too many keywords on a page, or exchange way too many links, or go well beyond what you normally expect. We have several engineers on my team working on this right now.

B2B Long Tail SEO Keywords

Before you start making radical changes on your website, in an effort to rank higher in the search engines, you first need to decide what keywords you’re going to rank for.

There are two types of keywords. Short-tail and long-tail keywords.

Short-tail keywords are the most popular, most searched, and therefore most competitive.  These are short one or two keywords that define an industry or product. If your company sells shoes, the single most popular short-tail keyword is “shoes”. This keyword would be very difficult to rank your website to the number one position.

Long-tail keywords are more specific versions of the short-tail keywords. These are less popular because they are more niche. If you sell shoes, but specifically athletic shoes, you could aim to rank your website for the keyword “blue athletic shoes”. Develop a strategy to rank for many long-tail keywords over going for the more difficult (sometimes impossible) short-tail keywords.

Long Tail SEO

Although this image above is a few years old, it still holds true. It also doesn’t only relate to B2B. It works just as well for B2C.

The point is to focus on the most descriptive phrases that have lower search frequency. They have low competition and are easy to rank for. If you develop a large number of long-tail keywords, you’ll be able to start driving traffic to your website quickly.

Next steps:

  1. Make a list of your ideal short-tail keywords that describe your website and brand.
  2. Add to that list be expanding each short-tail keyword to get more specific.
  3. Prioritize the keywords and order them for what keywords will drive the most business.
  4. Assign each of the specific keywords (1 or 2) to a single page of your website. If you don’t have a page that describes that keyword, plan to create one.
  5. Search each long-tail keyword phrase, observe the competition, and continually check to see if you’re content is showing up.

SEO Website Audit

Before you begin implementing major search engine optimization changes, it’s important to know where to start. The first step is to follow the “rules” as outlined by the search engines. As SEO has become an entire industry in recent years, search engines such as Google have been communicating what they expect from your website. Basically, they expect you to be honest. Don’t try and trick the search engines into making you seem more relevant and popular than you really are.

If you’re a company with a website that sells shoes in a small town and don’t have the infrastructure or resources to ship hundreds of thousands of orders nationwide, do you think that your website should really be ranking higher than Zappos.com, DSW.com, or Shoes.com? Probably not.

  • Don’t buy links. Build them naturally.
  • Don’t show the search engine a different page than your real visitors. Show everyone the same content.
  • Don’t load pages with tons of irrelevant keywords. Write content with the keywords that make sense to your visitor.
  • Don’t think you can buy your way to the top of the organic search engine results. You can’t.

What you should do is find out what makes your website unique. Why do people want to engage with you, your content, and your site? Identify that special niche and you’ll be on your way to optimizing your website to the best it can be.

Here are some basic areas of your website to focus on:

  • Website URL – Your website URL should be unique to your brand, however you have an opportunity in the URL to specify what your website is about. You can’t always get your keywords in the domain name, but try and put your most popular keywords in the file names and folder structures. The closer the file is to the root directory of the domain, the more weight it will hold on the website.
  • Title Tag – Be consistent with your brand for your user but also try and add keywords relevant to the content on the page. Choose 1 or 2 keywords per page and make a unique title tag that represents the content.
  • Meta Description Tag – This tag displays underneath your title on the search engine results page. Create a call-to-action that encourages your users to want to click on your website link. Place keywords where appropriate toward the beginning of this two or three sentence description.
  • Image Alt Tags – Search engines can’t see images. Tell spiders and people with disabilities what is contained in the images on your website. Don’t stuff every tag with your most popular keyword, but use them strategically.
  • Navigation – Spiders won’t index every page of your website unless they can follow a clear path of links. Utilize breadcrumb navigation so the visitor and the spider both know exactly where they landed. If you have a website that is more than three levels deep, you should have links back to the higher level pages.

After you’ve determined your weak spots, per the areas above, you are now ready to begin identifying what keywords your website has the potential to rank for.

No matter what your brand, you can build credibility and popularity in the search engines for specific keywords. They may not be the most queried by volume, but if you choose correctly and focus on providing valuable content, you’ll be able to increase your visibility and drive conversions on your site.

Website Search Engine Optimization

Before you begin with the cultural and strategic “buy-in” of Search Engine Optimization, it’s important to start at the beginning and understand how you got here and why you need it.

It’s likely that your website was created by designers. Either an individual designer on staff, a free-lancer, or a company. Designers (I’m generalizing here) know how to make a great looking website but don’t always know the most efficient way to code the website. It’s important to note that my definition of “most efficient” includes the best user experience for your human visitor and the search engine spider.

Your website designer probably did some very cool things. They give you flashy navigation, eye catching call-to-actions, and a well rounded Web 2.0 looking website. What they are typically lacking is a deep understanding of how search engines work, how they get indexed, and how to give you the best chance of ranking on the first page for most popular queries.

Do you really need the most visually appealing site ever created if people can’t find it?

Advantages of a well optimized website:

  • Competitive advantages – having your website show up before your competitors allow you to capture their market share and defend your own.
  • More traffic – higher ranking in the search engines correlate to receiving more clicks and visits to your website.
  • Brand awareness and retention – searchers look first to the websites listed toward the top left of the page and then scroll down. Being in that prime spot ensures that your website and brand get noticed.
  • Better reputation – organic search engine results can’t be faked. Customers view high rankings as a key to determine how credible and reputable your brand is.

SEO isn’t about misleading or tricking the search engine to give your website a more prominent placement. They’ll know if you try. Google has an entire department, led by Matt Cutts, that is dedicated to finding the websites that are trying to manipulate the system and then removing them.

SEO is about making the right decisions for your customer first and then the search engines second. If you have a great site, great product, and great service and believe that your website isn’t getting it’s fair share of search engine visibility or traffic, click here to see how to get your website ranked.