While many people consider SEO to be complicated I believe that SEO is nothing but an extension of traditional marketing. Search engine optimization consists of 9 main steps
- Market research.
- Keyword research.
- On-page optimization.
- Site structure.
- Link building.
- Brand building.
- Viral marketing.
- Staying up-to-date.
Do you have what it takes to compete in a market?
The first step is to search the major search engines to see what types of websites are ranking for words which you deem to be important. For example, if mostly colleges, media, and government institutions are ranking for your most important terms it may be difficult to rank for those types of queries. If, on the other hand, the market is dominated by fairly average websites which are not strongly established brands it may be a market worth persuing.
You can extend out the research you get from the search results by using the SEO for Firefox extension with the Firefox browser. This places many marketing data points right in the search results, and thus lets you see things like
- site age
- Google PageRank
- inbound link count
- if any governmental or educational sites link at their site
- if they are listed in major directories
- if bloggers link at their sites
What keywords are people searching for?
Keyword research tools are better at providing a qualitative measure than a quantitative measure, so don't be surprised if actual traffic volumes vary greatly from the numbers suggested by these tools. When in doubt you can also set up a Google AdWords account to test the potential size of a market.
In addition to looking up search volumes for what keywords you think are important also take the time to ask past customers how they found you, why they chose you, and what issues were important to them in chosing you.
You can also get keyword ideas by doing things like
- checking your web analytics or server logs
- looking at page contents of competing websites
- looking through topical forums and community sites to see what issues people frequently discuss
Knowing your business's keywords can help you later if you decide to institute a pay-per-click campaign for your website.
How should you structure your site?
- market value
- logical breaks in market segmentation
- importance of ranking in building credibility / improving conversion rates
You may want to use an excel spreadsheet or some other program to help you visualize your site structure.
- your most important categories or pages are linked to sitewide
- you link to every page on your site from at least one other page on your site
- you use consistant anchor text in your navigation
- you link to other content pages (and expeically to action items) from within the content area of your website
If you are uncertain how deep to make a portion of the site start by creating a few high quality pages on the topic. Based on market feedback create more pages in the sections that are most valuable to your business.
On Page Optimization
How should you structure your on page content?
If possible create hand crafted meta description tags which compliment the page title by reinforcing your offer. If the relevant keywords for a page have multiple formats it may make sense to help focus the meta description on versions you did not use in the page title.
As far as page content goes, make sure you write for humans, but also use heading tags to help break up the content into logical sections which will improve the scanability and help structure the document.
When possible, make sure your page content uses descriptive modifiers as well.
Each page also needs to be sufficiently unique from other pages on your site. Do not let search engines index printer friendly versions of your content, or other pages where content is duplicate or nearly duplicate.
How do I build quality links?
Here are a few tips for building links
- submit your site to general directories like DMOZ, the Yahoo! Directory, and Business.com
- submit your site to relevant niche directories
- here is more background on directories and SEO- if you have a local site submit to relevant local sites (like the local chamber of commerce)
- join trade organizations
- get links from industry hub sites
- create content people would want to link at
- here is a list of 101 useful link building strategiesOther link building tips
- try to link to your most relevant page when getting links (don't point all the links at your home page)
- mix your anchor text
- use Yahoo! Site Explorer and other tools to analyze top competing backlinks
- don't be afraid to link out to relevant high quality resources
How does brand relate to SEO?
A high volume of brand related search traffic may also be seen as a sign of quality by major search engines.
If you build a strong brand when people search for more information about your brand other websites will have good things to say about your brand, thus reinforcing your brand image and improving your lead quality and conversion rates.
Things like advertising and community activity are easy ways to help improve your brand exposure, but obviously branding is a lot more complicated than that.
How does viral marketing relate to SEO?
Link building is probably the single hardest and most time consuming part of an effective SEO campaign, largely because it requires influencing other people.
The beautiful thing about viral marketing is that creating one popular compelling idea can lead to thousands and thousands of unrequested links.
In SEO many people create content based around linking opportunities. Many of us refer to this as Link Baiting.
You can search social news or social bookmarking sites like Digg or Del.icio.us to see what stories related to your topic became popular.
How can I tell if my SEO campaign is effective?
Search engines lag market activity though, so it may take a while for them to fully analyze how authoritative your site is after you work to target new markets and build linkage data and brand value.
You can look at your server logs and an analytics program to track traffic trends and what keywords lead to conversion.
Outside of traffic another good sign that you are on the right track is if you see more websites asking questions or talking about you. If you start picking up high quality unrequested links you might be near a Tipping Point to where your marketing really starts to build on itself.
Depending on how competitive your marketplace is it may take anywhere from a few weeks to a couple years to establish a strong market position.
Keeping up to date
How do you track the changes in the SEO market?
If you want to keep up with how the market is changing consider using any of the following resources
- SEO Conferences- SEO Blogs- SEO Forums
For more information on using SEO as part of your online marketing plan, check out our business guide, "A Strategic Internet Marketing Approach to Search Engine Marketing."