I’m often surprised when otherwise business savvy entrepreneurs tell me they are interested in building a Web presence but can't articulate the reasons why. Invariably, it turns out, their goals are mostly the same: driving traffic and converting visitors into leads.
Sounds simple enough.
However, achieving these goals takes plenty of planning and work, just like every other aspect of your business. As I always advise clients, patience and dedication to the end goal will reap you great rewards in the long run. And that first step to online success starts with implementation of a search engine optimization (SEO) program combined with an effective keyword strategy. With this combo, the return on investment of SEO is tough to beat.
Why? Because a high placement in a search engine query result can mean a huge jump in targeted traffic for a business. In fact, 94.75% of all search result clicks occur on the first page of search engines, and websites experience a 143% increase in traffic when going from spot #11 (page 2) to #10 (page 1).
Obviously figuring out how to rank high for target keywords should be a priority for your business. Before you begin, there are five things you should know about keyword research and the art of SEO.
Keyword targeting and SEO are often viewed as very different online marketing strategies, but in reality, if your keyword and SEO strategies are out of sync, you're probably wasting a lot of time and money.
In SEO, following best coding practices means making sure your site is adhering to search engines' ranking factors. There are hundreds of factors that can help or hurt your rankings, and keywords play a big role in helping you take advantage of these.
The following three website components must be optimized with relevant keywords:
- Domain name: The keyword in a site's domain name has very strong SEO value, meaning that your site is a lot more likely to show up in search results when the term is used. For example, if you search for "NY spa" in Google, all but two results on the first page will have the word "spa" in the domain name. [picture of search results for "spa."] However, the keyword in the domain name only has so much value, and higher value sites that are relevant to that keyword will be able to usurp your site in SERPs.
- URL: Having a clean URL structure also has significant SEO value, and it's also better for the user experience. For example, the URL for the "jazz" category on cduniverse.com (rated third worst website in the world by pcworld.com) is http://www.cduniverse.com/browsecat.asp?style=music&cat=224, which tells you nothing about what's on the page and just looks a bit off. On the other hand, a URL that looks like http://www.ragnewyork.com/blog/i-love-ny-t-shirt-origin/ is neat and makes it clear that the page is going to have information on the origin of the I Love NY t-shirt.
- Title tag: Title tags send signals to search engines about the type of content on a page, and search engines use that data to send searchers to relevant pages. So a page with a title tag that's irrelevant to its content is going to receive less traffic. There are few things in SEO that are so simple to fix yet have a big impact on rankings as improper title tags. Note: The closer a keyword is to the beginning of the title tag, the more SEO value it has. Also, keep in mind that stuffing a title tag with keywords dilutes the SEO value of each keyword.
High Quality Content
One of the best ways to bring quality traffic to your site is with relevant and original quality content. Frequently updating your site with useful and interesting information is a successful strategy for many businesses. However, make sure the content is relevant to your goals. If you sell alarm clocks, write articles about alarm clocks.
Warning: Steer clear of black-hat tactics when writing for your site. In the end high quality content always wins out over spam. Some SEOs practice "keyword stuffing," or trying to unnaturally cram an article with a target keyword, but search engines have been onto this strategy for years now and can penalize you for it.
Link Building is the process of creating inbound links to your website. It is one of the best and also one of the most difficult ways to increase your search engine rankings. For example, when Google's algorithm sees a lot of high value sites (i.e. New York Times) linking to yours, it is an indication that your site has value and in turn boosts your rankings.
This can be achieved by garnering reciprocal links, being listed in e-zines, newsletters, directories and search engines among other avenues. Often the process involves creating content for other websites such as blog postings and having them link back to your page. While this can be time consuming, it is a highly valuable method of increasing visitors to your website.
Warning: Never buy links or get involved in link trading tactics that are considered "Black Hat" by the search engines. They will find you and penalize you for your elicit efforts.
To the lay person pay-per-click (PPC) is often a complicated affair. However, you should learn the basics before approaching a firm to outsource the project. PPC is an advertising model used to direct traffic to your websites. You need to determine which group of keywords is most applicable to your business and select ones that will help people find you. With search engines, advertisers bid on keyword phrases relevant to their target market. They can cost as low as 5 cents per click and upward of $50.
The keywords you chose ideally should have high search volume and low competition. This is part of the formal that leads most businesses to seek professional help. Just know that that a combination of volume (lots of people search for this keyword) and low costs is what everyone is shooting for.
Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and Microsoft ad Center are the three largest network operators, and all three operate under a bid-based model.
Social media is a relatively recent advancement and many businesses don't know how to leverage the medium properly. While some businesses are randomly spamming social networking sites with promotions and products, others are successfully using social media to build trust and manage their online reputation.
The most popular search terms are going to differ from platform to platform, so don't assume that a top search term on Google is a top search term on Facebook or YouTube for instance.
Furthermore, you'll need to move away from thinking about keywords in queries and start thinking about keywords in conversations — a totally different context. Ultimately your goal is to convert visitors, whether it's to "like" your business page on Facebook, sign up for a newsletter, or purchase a product, so you need to know what visitors are searching for and understand user behavior across different sites.
Keyword research and SEO are clearly an integral parts of online marketing that can be incredibly useful in promoting your business, but the fundamentals haven't changed — you need to provide a good product or service that people need in order for your business to grow. Once you've accomplished that, implement an SEO program and no matter what occurs, they will find you.
Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a results-driven website design and online marketing company based in Union Square, Manhattan. Read more about Gabriel here.