For those just starting out, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be daunting. The algorithms engines like Google and Bing use are complicated, with hundreds of factors determining the rankings for searches. And due to the complexity of the algorithms there are hundreds of things you can do to optimize your site for search engines. There is almost too much information out there.
To make matters worse there are tons of unethical consultants out there that pray on the confusion, trying to to sell clients on services and products that will have little impact. I know I get unsolicited emails from these folks on a daily basis.
As a result of all this, beginners often grow frustrated and end up doing nothing. They know SEO is important and have a desire to improve their rankings, but aren’t sure where to start. This post is an attempt to provide beginners with a starting point for their effort to improve search rankings for an existing website.
(1) Choose Your Keywords
The first step in any Search Engine Optimization program should be to identify the keywords you want to target. I would start out by making an exhaustive list of every keyword combination that you want to appear in the results for. The list should include obvious things like brand and product names as well as more general concepts. Brainstorm keyword ideas with co-workers and friends, as you would be surprised at how differently people use search.
Once you have your initial list, run your terms through the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, which will provide you with information regarding how often the search term is used and how competitive the environment is, as well as suggestions for other, similar keywords you may not have thought of. Here is a sceenshot showing the kind of information the tool provides, using the phrase “website development washington dc” as a sample phrase.
Use this information to refine your target keywords. How you refine your list is more of an art than a science. In picking keywords to target, I typically ask myself the following questions:
- Does the keyword get enough volume that it is work pursuing? If a keyword has extremely low volume you probably should focus your energy elsewhere unless if is absolutely critical to your organization. Spending a ton of time getting the number one ranking for a keyword that isn’t going to drive traffic doesn’t make sense.
- How competitive is the environment for the keyword? On the opposite end of the spectrum, you also don’t want to focus on general keywords that are likely to be really competitive. The Google Keyword Tool mentioned above will give you a general overview of how competitive the environment is. You should also take the time to assess for yourself how competitive the keyword environment is by performing your own searches.
- Do I have content on the keyword? When we ask clients to put together their initial list of keywords, you would shocked at how many of them come back with lists of keywords that they don’t actually use on the site and/or don’t have any content on. If you don’t actually have relevant pages on your site for the keywords you are targeting that is a good sign that you need to either rethink your content or keyword strategy. For your SEO campaign to work, your keywords need to be a natural extension of the content on your site.
(2) Optimize Your Page
Once you pick the keywords you want to target, the next step is to pick what page or pages on your site you want to appear highly in the results for searches for the keyword. You should have at least one page target for each keyword you are choosing.
Using our Brick Factory site as an example, here are examples of pages we would target for various searches:
Once you have paired your targeted keywords with your site content, you’ll want to optimize the page to improve results. There are tons of things you can do, but here are some quick, high impact ways to improve a pages ranking:
- Make sure you use the keyword in the text of the page. This can be a bit tricky, as you’ll want to use the keyword liberally on the page but not so often that the page reads awkwardly or search engines penalize you for keyword stuffing. My advice is to work the keyword in as best you can, but to always write for humans and not search engines. Keep keywords in mind when writing pieces, but not so much that your content reads awkwardly. Note that extra weight is giving to words within documents that are in header tags or bold.
- Use the keyword in the page title. The title of the page is one of the most critical factors in search rankings. Spend the time to come up with a page title that includes relevant keywords and makes people want to click. Also keep in mind that you are writing your headlines for Facebook and Twitter in addition to Google.
- Use the keyword in the URL of the page. Similar to the page title, search engines give extra weight to pages that use keywords in the actual URL. For a search for “Todd Zeigler”, this URL – http://www.thebrickfactory.com/our-people/todd-zeigler – is going to do a lot better than this one – http://www.thebrickfactory.com/node/11.
While there are a ton of other steps you can take, simply using keywords intelligently in your site content will go along way towards improving your rankings.
(3) See How You Are Doing
Once you have set your targets and optimized your pages you’ll want to start tracking your progress. If you prefer to do this on your own, create a spreadsheet with your chosen keywords once a month and see where you rank. I would track the following information:
- Rank. Where does your site rank for the keyword? Which pages are appearing in the results?
- Traffic. How much traffic is being driven to your site by the keyword each month? This data is easily available in Google Analytics.
While it should be fairly easy to track this manually, tools such as SEOMoz provide an affordable way to automate the tracking and reporting. It also provides you with tips regarding how you can improve your results.
Use the data from these reports to optimize further and tweak your strategy to focus on keywords that actually drive traffic. While it would be great to be the first result for all the keywords you are targeting, the reality is that resources are limited so you’ll want to pick your battles.