The world of search engine optimization is like a large and fairly confusing maze. And while every business can benefit from improving their ranking on search engines like Google and Bing, as soon as you start looking for help, you begin to get email after email and call after call from SEO providers promising you the top position on the results pages. The problem is, how do you tell which SEO firm is the best one for you, and how do you begin to even decide which one is right?
Check the SEO on their own website:
When you search for their company name, are they at least the first result that comes up? Are there other pages that come up with them when you look for their name? Do they have strong meta information that helps to sell themselves and their services, just because they don’t carry any real authority with the engines it still shows as their snippet. Do they rank locally? Ideally you’re in talks with a local agency, but if they can’t show up for their business name or for their location, how could they possibly help you and your business?
What is their cost:
If they’re offering discount packages for their “services” then they are likely not the company that will work in your best interest. A true SEO company will be doing an in-depth investigation before they offer you a quote, every company has different markets, competition, and goals. Imagine a house painter quoting you a price without ever looking at your home – you can bet they’ll either do a shoddy job, won’t finish, or suddenly have all sorts of hidden fees.
What kind of relationship do they have with their clients:
Your goal is to build a relationship with a company that is going to be in constant contact with you for the entire scope of the project. They should be calling/emailing trying to understand your niche market, your online targets, and developing your conversion points on your website. Make sure they will report to you what they’re doing and the results, and in such a way that you can understand. You’re trusting your reputation with another company, make sure they have your best interest in mind, not just their bottom line.
Every time we pick up a new client it is, for the most part, the same conversation back and forth as it has been since the beginning. Yes you need to be on page and no don’t worry about running banner advertisements on your website.
Not surprisingly a lot of people understand the need to be on page 1, but a point that doesn’t often get discussed is – you also want to be in the top 3 if at all possible. There are several reasons for this, the most obvious and important being if you’re at the top of the page the basic understanding is that you’re there on purpose. Your business knows what it’s about and is a leader in its field.
Banner ads are a bit of an odd one to discuss with site owners, especially with how outdated of an advertising model it really is. Don’t get me wrong they definitely had their place, and still do to a degree, but the use and focus of them needs to adapt in order to best capitalize on the real estate that they use on a website. They’re not frequently clicked for example, but that’s no reason to not make the content on them highly relevant or click bait worthy.
I felt it was a couple of points to discuss after reading an article that included handy heat mapped images. If you’re unsure what a heat map is, the simplest explanation is it’s a graphical view of what a user is focusing on the screen or clicking on with their mouse. There’s some interesting points to note in each image, and each image supports the discussions we’ve had with clients in regards to how people use the web and potential visitors may use their website.
On the Google results page for example there are a couple of points to consider, the purple X markings are mouse activity, where the user has clicked on the page with their cursor; the red lines are approximate comparisons of monitor resolutions. Knowing those two pieces of information if it wasn’t readily apparent before then it should be entirely clear that being number 1, 2 or 3 is almost a mandatory result where the search results are concerned. We often get into a discussion with clients where we talk about being ‘below the fold’ that is the area of the screen where a user has to scoll in order to find them on the results page. Knowing that bit of information and using the red lines as approximate screen size and resolution it’s a clear cut example of being at the top of page 2 (if the visitor ends up there) is more beneficial than being at the bottom of page 1.
The second image with the banner ads highlighted in yellow are a clear demonstration that when users visit your website, banner ads just are used so infrequently that they hardly register on the heat mapped areas. That doesn’t mean however that they’re not completely useless, they can still absolutely be used for brand awareness and if you were to leverage your own banner areas to promote specials or sales on your website you would absolutely be able to take advantage of the real estate on your site.
Have a closer look at the heat mapped images attached, then have a look at your search results for your search terms and your website – how would your site stack up?
If you are reading this then you are investing time in understanding the topic which is a step in the right direction.
But let’s pause a bit and let me summarize the most important SEO.
1.) You need to have a website in the first place if you are a small and medium business owner.
2.) Your website and website text should contain those words and search terms you would like to be found for.
3.) Your website need to be complete and informative on your specialist subject field
4.) You should consider the cost of investing your time in order to employ SEO as a marketing strategy
5.) Don’t complicate things. To understand the competitive nature of your industry simply Google for searches you want to be found for and see the quality of the websites on the first pages.
6.) Backlinks are important. You can ask people in your industry to link to your website if the industries are related. If they are clients or suppliers who is happy with your services they should have no problem to link to your website. You can also buy links from directories such as Yellow Pages.
7.) Make use of free tools like Google Webmaster / Google my business / Google Analytics
8.) If you can honestly say that your website’s content is unique, fresh and of the best of a certain topic then you have done your bit and then you can realistically expect Google to view you the same over time.
9.) Make sure your website’s links are all working.
10.) Regularly blog / write newsletters if you can. Make it a habit by using your newsletters to stay in touch with potential clients.
11.) Use everyday language and keep things natural. Use the words which your clients use. They will use those words when doing searches.
12.) Continue religiously to build and develop your frequently asked questions section on your website. You typically answer questions from potential client in your everyday walk of life. Look at your email inbox and outbox for a rich source of content for the faq section of your website
13.) You need to have a userfriendly CMS website which you can update easily yourself. You do not want to wait for webmasters or pay webmasters each time you want to make a change. You need to get a website from Kwikwap and Buddy Web Design.
14.) Text on images can not be read by search engines. Vanity has a price. When using fancy graphics and images with important text on your webiste Search Engines will not be able to read the text on the images.
15.) Websites specialising on certain topics do better than general all purpose websites. EG a wooden floor website will do better for searches related to wooden floors than most general contractors or handyman websites simply because the websites are topic specific and the number of times certain keywords appear is relevant to the total number of words on your website.
16.) Ensure your website works on all devices as more than 50% of searches happens with mobile devices.
17.) In certain industries you simply can not avoid using directories, specifically the tourism industry
18.) Advertising with search engines like Google can be much cheaper than SEO when your time is viewed as valuable.
19.) Use photographs of you at work/your business place to describe what is happening on the photograph. It’s about the opportunity to ad text to the website and not only about having a pretty website.
20.) Be creative and make Youtube videos of your product and services. It’s free platforms and is also regarded as quality content.
Once you identify your target keywords, make sure you include them into the title of your page, the body copy of your page, and if possible, the URL, Search Engines like Google are getting smarter about figuring out what a particular page is about, but it still helps to make it really clear your page is about a specific keyword. Optimization recommendations:
• A Web page’s title tag is still the most important attribute you can use from an SEO perspective, Use your main keyword phrase in the beginning of the page title tag. The first 64 characters of the title tag are shown as the click-though link in a Google search result. Every page of the website should have a unique page title tag.
• Meta description a good description can attract visitors from the search results page. Include one or two keyword phrases that describe the page’s content, and keep meta descriptions under 160 characters.
• The H1 tag is the main header of the page. Have only one H1 tag per page. This header needs to appeal to the page visitor and describe the page.
Use the page’s designated keyword phrase “at least once near the beginning of the content, and also anywhere it makes sense. Don’t use the keyword phrase, its variation or a synonym more than 4-5 times per page.
• Alt tags are the floating descriptions that show up when you mouse over an image. It’s usually best practice to use keywords and their variations in the alt text of an image, and also in the image filename.
You should try optimize your top ten pages based on traffic and expand outward from there.
When you’ve finally gotten your website online there are a million steps that you need to take in order to be ranked at the top of your niche market on the results pages. Instead of trying to explain each point, we’ll take a different tack this time around, how about a list of things of what not to do on your website.
If you’re not managing your site yourself, hopefully the person or agency you have contracted is on the ball and has a clue about how not to run afoul of the rules. If your site gets hit by a spam penalty, whether by the algorithm automatically or if you’ve been flagged manually, it isn’t the end of the world it can be fixed. But let’s get started so you can have a cheat sheet for yourself to check on your agencies efforts where your website is concerned. A note just before we get into things, these are not hard and fast rules, the internet isn’t even remotely a black and white entity, so take everything you read below with a grain of salt.
Misspelling words is an every day thing, everyone does it billions of times per day. But one way that you can run on the wrong side of the web spam team is if you happen to register a domain name with a misspelled version of a highly notable brand name in your niche with the idea to try and generate traffic off of the misspelled term. This is a good example of the web not being black and white, anyone can register any domain name so long as it’s available – but that doesn’t mean that the search engines don’t have a say in where it’ll place it in the results pages.
Having a meta refresh in your homepage, effectively locking visitors into your website by messing with their browser control. It’s not uncommon that when you arrive at the wrong website you hit the back button or the backspace key to return to the page you were at. But using a method like a meta refresh in the header of your websites home page removes that option to a visitor to your site. The basic sequence of events with this type of refresh is when a visitor lands on your page, it refreshes itself a time or two so that when they press the back button, they don’t actually leave the site. Instead they’ve just refreshed the page again and they’re back where they don’t want to be. It’s a frustrating experience in general for users, and a no-no with the search engines.
Having your website encoded entirely in Flash, Java and even some versions of Ajax or Silverlight which require specific browser plugins to function correctly. While this isn’t a negative with the search engines specifically, using entirely visual only coding effectively hides your website from the search engines. Being that Google, Bing and other engines look for text on a website, the text on a Flash and even sometimes Java scripts isn’t readable by them so they assume it’s a blank page. They are getting better at digging the text out, but they’re not all the way there yet so keep that in mind when a designer approaches you with a flashy visual display that has no real text elements. Along the same line of thinking but this time where users are concerned, more and more people are accessing the web with tablets and phones. iPads and iPhones take up a sizable share of the mobile marketplace and they can not display any Flash and some Java, your site would literally be invisible and unusable to an iPad user if you had an entirely Flash built website.
Time for a little bit of free advice for you and your website, especially if you happen to be an affiliate or a licensed dealer for a larger company.
There are definitely some positive aspects when you work as a dealer or an affiliate for a larger business or brand. You gain the instant recognition and the branding power built by the advertising dollars that have already been spent. You also usually have access to their marketing teams and some of their infrastructure in order to help develop and grow a web presence for yourself. Oodles of content, images, videos and more marketing materials than you would likely know what to realistically do with. Usually the conversation with the branding team consists of them telling you that as you build your site and use their assets, consists of being advised to just go ahead and copy what they’ve written and if you have any issues just link people back to their website.
Please, if you’re an affiliate or a dealer for a brand don’t do this.
Having all of their promotional materials, text content and images is an amazing start to your website and being able to promote their product but the last thing you want to do is follow that type of marketing advice. Instead what you want to do is use their text content as a guide and recreate it in a way that benefits your business and it’s location instead of copying it word for word. The images are less of a concern, as you can’t really edit them without losing the quality that some branding companies put into their photos. When you copy and paste your dealers content you’re basically telling the search engines that you’re selling their product – see my content is the same and I have the affiliate links and everything! And the search engines will promptly drop you down the page for that branding term as well, for precisely those points. Regardless of who you are, how large your brand is or how much money you make, if you try and skimp on the rules of the search game then you’re going to lose. Just ask BMW, Teleflora or JC Penny, they all had their own problems of course, but they’re multi-billion dollar brands and the search engines had no qualms about doling out penalties when they were necessary. Remember that with your small business when you’re ready to bring your site online, take the time to rewrite the content to make it relevant for you and your business. Cheat at your own peril.
There is to this day a general misunderstanding about search engine optimization and just what it can do for your website and business; SEO will not sell your product for you.
What optimizing for search does do however is give you visibility online, a very important component of online sales to be sure but it’s only one side of the coin. For the sake of explaining assumptions will be made – seeing as how you likely have your own website for your business it would be somewhat safe to say that there is some experience selling yourself or your wares to your intended audience. When you’re working on a sale for yourself a solid general rule to follow would be around 1 in 10 or so, for every 10 contacts that you make you’ll earn a sale – it may seem low but this is from a strictly hard sell stand point. From that stand point the most difficult part of making that sale isn’t actually the conversation with the customer, it’s generating that initial point of contact. The days of people wandering down the sidewalk and walking into a store front that intrigues them are dwindling, increasingly often consumers are turning to the internet to procure their desired goods.
If you already have a website then a good 30% of the work is done already, you have the potential to turn that previous hard sell approach into a soft sell, qualified visitors to your site are there because they want what you have. That’s where SEO, aka internet marketing can help turn a paltry 10-20 visitors a month into hundreds, if not thousands if your market is big enough. What we can bring your business and website as SEO professionals is visibility, you are looking for the aforementioned qualified consumers – whether you want a sale, a sign up, or an contact me later email, search engine optimization can help make that happen.
What we can not do however, is actually force that sale for you and your website. Every now and then during a campaign there is a tipping point where we sit down with our clients and essentially have the following conversation. Now that we’ve addressed your technical and optimization issues, it’s time to talk about your conversion points and methods. What makes that conversation frustrating is when the advice is ignored or discounted because now that you have all that visibility and traffic your sales will go up the same amount, right?
There is always a someone talking about how SEO is a dead industry, and more often than not the doomsayers used a very specific type of optimization methods.
When the online marketing game started it was a fairly simple matter to get almost any website listed. You didn’t even really need to have any content of merit or even any kind of following to your website. You didn’t even need to have an okay website never mind a high quality one and as for any kind of best practice guide it didn’t really exist in the beginning. There were no pure white hat methods, although there were many black hat methods and it took a while before the search engines even began to lay penalties to some of the worst offenders. This all started with real gusto across the web in the mid to late 90s.
As the web grew and expanded and as the search engine bots, crawlers and tech got better, the types of things that you should do and shouldn’t do began to become clearer. After a few years of clean up, the search engines and their algorithms fell almost into a routine. You could build a site, create or scrape some content, point any kind of a backlink at it and make a site start to show up in the results pages. It was at this point that the terms ‘search engine optimization’ really started to become widespread and the notion that you could make money from SEO started to become an avenue for people who frequented blogs and discussion forums about the quickest and easiest way to make a dollar online. This was in around 2005-2010 era of SEO, when the industry became suddenly inundated with experts in the field. It really shouldn’t be that much of a surprise, that these are the same folk who are calling SEO a dead industry these days.
In the last few years SEO has had some major shifts with the algorithm much the same as the industry saw in 2003 with the Florida update which cleaned up a great deal of the spam across the web. Penguin and Panda were the most recent additions to the Google algorithm which changed the world of SEO enough that the prior blogged about methods of spammy content and tons of anchor text and backlinks disappeared as a viable strategy. They were very simple methods, easy to implement and even easier to spam multiple sites to help drive a target to the top of the results pages. But since the means and the methods became unusable as a reliable way to rank a site, it is suddenly the end of SEO as a viable means of marketing. So the next time you’re approached by an agency who tells you that ‘SEO is dead’ take a moment and remember that the industry is far from dead – if anything it’s growing. It’s only the that the wheat has finally been separated from the chaff.
A new year has dawned and the search game is as active as ever. You have a full clean slate ahead of your business and your website, but do you know what your goals are?
Last year was actually rather monumental in the world of search, we had farmers, pandas and penguins appearing seemingly from no where. There were the affiliate changes, the encrypted terms and semantic search that were all brought to the top headlines of blogs and posters across the web. All of them were large shifts in how the search results are created and displayed for sure, but the key aspect of their purpose remained the same – the better your visibility the more likely you are to get what you want out of the web.
There is a lot of potential for the coming year for search to be sure, but first we need to stop for a brief moment and take stock of the previous 12 months. A thorough understanding of what has been done and what the results have been will help dictate what needs to improve for the coming year. Whether it was a lackluster social profile, possibly a declining search presence or perhaps you put your nose to your grindstone and saw all of your positions jump over the last year.
Regardless of what your past 12 months were like with the search engines, you now have a fresh, clean canvas ahead of you. Give us a call and we’ll make sure that you paint your vision of the coming year.
As always at this time of year we give our predictions for SEO for the following year, this year we have gathered some help from our friends & other search experts in the field who have given there twist on things to come.
In 2013, the SEO Role must go above and beyond. For example, a basic SEO strategy would obviously include some amount of reporting (for keyword rankings and traffic numbers at the least); however, I find myself analyzing the data to help my client better understand their demographic. Where are visitors accessing the site from, when do they access the site, and what are they specifically looking for when they are on the site?
All of these questions—and more—are in hopes of helping them identify new ways to effectively reach their customer base and ultimately make them more successful. It is SEO’s job to provide meaningful help.
Rand says links and rankings are just means to an end, not the end itself.
What clients really want is not better rankings and more links; they want to make more money.
The SEOs who understood and understand where Google is going and what their clients really want are the ones who are still in business and doing well. For them, the job of a SEO is content relevancy (public relations), user experience, web design, conversions, traffic segmentation, call tracking, research, writing, and anything else that sells products and services and leads to more profits for the client not just short-term, but long-term as well.
Most of all, the job of an SEO is to see the future. Those who can’t will go out of business and take their clients with them.
In conclusion, each of these experts—coming from multiple perspectives–agree that SEO will become a much broader and more complex function in 2013. Yet it will also become more vital than ever before, as it converges with every variety of online presence and marketing.