It is difficult to find some equally efficient and inexpensive marketing like is SEO is for your start up. Depending on what industry you are in and how much competition you face, a well executed website optimization with proper link strategy will take you very far. It would be best to start with SEO before the website is built, but it is not a must and it may on the other hand delay the process of getting the site up in case the web agency is not sufficiently versed in SEO. Whether you already have a website or whether it going to be built, I hope this guide will be of great help.
I will specifically describe how to work with Google because it is the most used search engine. Much of what is described here is also useful for search engine optimization for Bing and Yahoo.
- How Google works in practice – Essential actions you can do on your site (on page) to rank high on Google – How link building works – If you should blog and how to do it – How you transform visitors to customers
Since Google (previously called Backrub) was founded in 1996 (under the name Google since 1998) it have looked at the number of inbound links and how good the quality is on them to figure out what place a website should have in the search results. These are factors that contributed to why Google has worked so well and became a major search engine. But, Google looks naturally to many other things to determine the position of a website.
Google’s algorithm is based on approximately 200 different factors, Google are looking at what is happening at this very site and domain, which us SEO’s call “on page”. It can be about how fast a page loads, the text on the page, how easy it is to navigate, if it contains errors, if the text is unique, etc.
The second part is called “off page”, which is about 70-80% of the algorithm , this is were Google mostly rely on the inbound links as well as how popular your website is on the internet in other ways. Off page optimization is the most difficult part in search engine optimization, but with a good on page optimization and a small dose of off page, you will most likely go well ahead of your competitors who do not have search engine optimized their website or who done it without a proper reflection. This is a video from Google about how Google works:
If you use WordPress then this is very likely already arranged from the beginning. A website can often be visited both via www and without www. It is important to determine which address you want to use and then do a 301 (permanent redirection) from one address to the other. Otherwise Google will see your website as two different domains, which is not good.
I usually recommend the use of redirection without the www, but there are many large companies have chosen to still use www. If you have an older website that already had some inbound links to it so you can with the use of Moz tool (for Chrome) see which of the various domains that are the strongest. You can check whether www or without the www has the highest PA/mR, and that’s the one you choose and do a 301 from the other.
Install webmaster tools here. With Webmaster Tools, you can create you an overview of your website and also get important messages from Google. I recommend you click around a bit and see what information you can get.
Upload it to your website and send it to Webmaster Tools. You can create a site map here.
The best free tool to keep track of what is happening on your website is Google Analytics. Here you can observe everything from how many visits your site has to how long they stay, the different sub-pages they spent time on and where the visitors are coming from. You can also use experiments and test which of your various sub-pages that work best.
It does not matter to Google if you use WordPress or some other CMS tools. However, I recommend WordPress because there are many great plugins and it’s very easy to update and much of the work will be easier. These are three plugins you should be using to WordPress: * SEO Yoast https://yoast.com/wordpress/plugins/seo/ * Google sitemap generator http://wordpress.org/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/ * W3 total cache http://wordpress.org/plugins/w3-total-cache/
There can be many different goals with a website, which is yours? Do you sell anything on your website, you want to collect email addresses, you want to get visitors to fill out forms, sign up for a newsletter, etc.? To be able to proceed with the search engine optimization of the website, it is important to have clear objectives so you know which keyword phrases you should target.
When you do SEO, your website should be divided in the right way so you generally get a better visibility on many different search phrases. But it is still important to identify the most important keywords. When doing keyword research, you should consider/examine two different things:
A tool that is used to get an estimate on how many people search for a particular search phrase and giving suggestions for related keywords is the Google Keyword Tool, it is not possible to rely on the tool to 100% because it is not fully operational for phrases with many words, and it gives no exact figures, but it is among the best and easiest tools available. Another way to find keywords is to look at what Google suggests when you start typing a word or look at the bottom of the page on Google where there are suggestions for related searches.
Once you have identified your main keywords so you should look at how tough the competition is in Google for these search phrases. Keep in mind that Google presents different results depending on which country you are in, especially when it comes to the English language: google.com are USA, England google.co.uk, google.com.au is Australia etc. There are advanced methods to find out how the competition is like but it is easiest to think logically – (eg how many competitors are there?) And look at the websites in the search results have made their undersides on page optimized for those keywords. How do you do the website on page optimized? I intend to tell you now.
I have included the most important parts that quickly gives you better positions in Google, get more people to click through your website or blog and get more visitors to want to do what you want them to do (buy something, contacting you, sign up for a newsletter etc.)
1. Create an overview of the most important HTML elements and your URLs
It is important that you consider each subpage of your website as a separate page. Search engines look indeed to the whole domain, but it is up to each subpage to rank on Google.
Instead of manually trying to get a good overview of how your site looks like today, you can instead make use of a so called “Site crawler” eg. Xenu or Screaming Frog. What is interesting is how your titles, meta descriptions and URLs looks like.
I use Xenu as an example here because it’s easier to use. You can download Xenu here and then enter your address. After the test is complete, you can sort by type and then choose File-> Export to TAB delimited file. Next, go to the saved text file, select everything in it, open an Excel document where you paste the content. The fields to be saved is the URL, Title and Meta description, you can delete everything else in order to get a clear overview.
2. Structuring the website with good and descriptive URLs and subpages
Arrange your website in a way so it will be is easy to read both for visitors and search engines. If your company offers different services or different products, you should have a subpage to all various products. If you have a good CMS system, it is usually easy to change all this alone without going into the code.
To show an example: monalisasflowers.com/garden where the different roses categories gets their own subpages: monalisasflowers.com/garden/roses/red
monalisasflowers.com/garden/roses/pink and so on.
What is happening now is that when a person searches for eg “red garden roses” the chances are much greater your subpage Red garden roses will position higher in the search results on Google, than if you just had a subpage named “roses” where you put in e.g. 20 different kinds of roses.
As a start, focus on no more than two keyword phrases as main keywords per subpage. If you only have two different kinds of roses, and you know you will not get any more, then it should be enough with monalisasflowers.com/garden/roses and on that subpage pictures and information about the two different roses.
It is important that the URLs are named after what the current subpage contains. If you change the URL to a subpage, remember to use a 301, a (permanent redirect), so that visitors who saved the old link and enters the subpage will proceed to the right page without a 404 error. It also imparts a certain link power of the old subpage had links to it.
It is important that the page title tag contains the keywords you want to appear on Google for this particular subpage. You should, as mentioned earlier, only optimize each subpage for maximum two keywords/phrases. You may also want to include your company name or the name of your website so people can clearly see which website or which company they are visiting. Google normally shows around 55 characters from the title in the search result. You can use href=”http://moz.com/blog/new-title-tag-guidelines-preview-tool”>this tool to see how your title will look like on Google. If your title is too long, Google will shortening it automatically which is not very tidy or helping to get your message out – so stay within the limit!
It is also important not to use the same title for different subpages. Every subpage is unique and should have a unique title.
4. Meta description – Make them selling!
This should not be confused with meta keywords which you should not use at all on your site. Meta description is the text that appears below the title and address in the Google search results. This is simply a descriptive text for your subpage. Meta description is not important in relation to high positions in search results, however, they can raise your CTR (click through rate), which means the percentage of searchers who choose to visit your website. Google do not always choose to display the text you have selected, but it usually does. Here you should have something that is selling and preferably also a USP (Unique Selling Point) that separates you from everyone else in the search results.
If you are selling red shirts and your USP is that you offer free shipping, free returns, and that you have the lowest prices in the U.S, make sure to show it! Eg: “Looking for a red shirt? We definitely have the cheapest! We also offer free shipping and free returns! Welcome in!” You can usually use 165-169 characters here. Make sure to give each subpage a unique meta description.
5. The text on your site – write for your visitors!
Google is becoming better at interpreting the content of a page. We recommend that you mainly write text for your visitors. That said use some of your keywords in the text and in also try to include your keywords and keyword phrases in the H1 tag, which is header for the subpage. Also remember not to have any “duplicate content” on your website. Do not use the same textual material in various subpages, always use unique content.
More on “SEO copy” further down.
Embed photos and images in places where it fits. Consider mixing graphics to break the text to make it more readable. Remember to use appropriate alt tags for images so that Google understands what they mean. Also give the images descriptive names such as “stylish-red-shirt.jpg”.
One thing to avoid: Meta keywords. (there are lots of things to avoid but this is maybe still the most common myth many believe)
Google does not use meta keywords in ranking. Back in 2009 they went out in public and said that they do not, and they probably have not used it for several years before that. Bing on the other hand seem to use meta keywords, but not the way you might think. They use it to fight bad SEO. If they see that someone has put in lots of meta keywords on their website there is a possibility that they use it as an indication for a closer look at what other strange methods used to try to get the website to be more visible.
A common question about search engine optimization is whether the text must be “SEO friendly ‘. The short and simple answer to this is: No, you should always write the text to the user and not try to cram in keywords and keyword phrases in it. But you should of course use words that users themselves use in searches, do not use jargon that only you or your industry are using. It is good if you can have 300-500 words on the subpage as Google likes content. Previously, SEO copywriting was popular where it was suggested that 3-5% of the text would consist of keywords with which a page tried to rank on. Businesses started to form that was selling “SEO copywriting” and many businesses wrote their texts in order to get better positions in Google. That it absolutely not recommended, write to the user.
Something Google also started to become increasingly better at is understanding of synonyms. In a lot of searches keywords are not to be found in either titles or in the text on the page. Here are some examples from searches where Google highlighted words they thought they were looking for, and replace the auto car and shipping to transport and “top” to “best”.
Here, Google has clearly understood the synonyms. But Google usually shows results with the actual words in titles, text etc but it is important to know where Google is heading.
Something that is highly relevant regarding copy on the site is Google’s new algorithm “Hummingbird”. On 27 September 2013, Google made the biggest update of its algorithm since 2001, one can say that they simply replaced the entire engine. If you have previously searched for eg “Dentists in los angeles” Google searched through its index and identified the words “dentists” “in” “los angeles”. However, because the users nowadays are increasingly looking for: “what is the best dentist in los angeles?” Google tries instead to understand the context of the search query instead of specific search words. Google wants to really understand the questions and giving answers, this is something that is constantly changing.
Here you can read a FAQ about Google Hummingbird if you are interested: http://searchengineland.com/google-hummingbird-172816
There may be many reasons for this but mainly two: drive more traffic to the site and brand building. The blog should not just be about what the company does from day to day, although it is good to make such posts occasionally. You should share guides, answer questions etc. about topics in your industry. You can also broaden your topics, a shop selling children’s clothes don’t need to write about clothes only, it’s possible to write about activities for children, tips on destinations for families with children etc. in order to drive traffic to the website.
When someone googles “tips on families with children vacation” or “spaghetti bolognese for kids” it’s possible for the webshop article to pop up on Google, and the next time the family are going to shop online there is a chance that they will buy something at your webshop. Answering questions is, like i said, a good thing; the easiest way is to select 10 common questions your clients frequently ask and write a response to each question.
A company that makes for example exercise apps can post as a reply to questions like “How often do you need to exercise?” “What gainer is the best one?” “How do I calculate my BMI?” And so on. One tip is to not fixate in their industry too much and instead think: “what is my biggest audience?” So that you not only captures those specifically looking at exactly your niche
Do keyword research and then pn page so that the posts have a chance to rank well on Google, especially if other links to them. When you create the title and meta-description, remember to make them “selling” so that people click on it.
Here is more information on the subject:
With this said, it is important to bear in mind not to write content for content’s sake. “Content marketing” is something that has become huge lately and many believe that the effect is that we got a lot of bad content on the web and it makes people in general are reluctant to read long posts. Pumping out content for the sake of it and hope that you get a good visibility in the search engines do not work but content with high quality associated with SEO are very powerful.
When you’ have lots of new visitors to the site who obviously found you after googling. How do you convert the visitor? What is the purpose of each page? Do you want the visitor to sign up for a newsletter? Do you want them to call you? Do you want them to reading your blog? Conversion Optimization is a big topic and very important for your website, there are many good websites that handle this topic but I just want to quickly mention it:
The basis of conversion optimization is to create a good feel for the user that clearly explains what result the user can expect from the service/product, both emotional and practical. What I mean by that is that you should have statements on the page that looks something like this: “Our customers have saved on average 800kr a month (concrete) and they are much more relaxed than before (emotionally).” Ensure that most sub-pages have at least one “call to action”. There is no need to be the same call to action since it may be perceived as tedious for the visitor. A call to action can be anything from encouraging visitors to visit another sub-page to a big box where you offer a whitepaper that can be downloaded for free, or to ask them to enter their phone number.
Also add photos and images in places where it fits. Consider mixing images with text so that the text breaks off and makes it easier to read. If you want to get more advanced, you can test your various landing pages using Google Analytics Experiment. You can then test and see which of your landing pages perform best. For those who want to immerse themselves in conversion optimization / copywriting, I have four great tips for you: http://conversionxl.com/5-principles-of-persuasive-web-design/#.
Youtube video with Derek Halpern
Now we come to the most difficult part of search engine optimization, off page optimization. Google looks at what is happening outside of your website to determine what position you are going to get on Google. And the vast majority of what Google looks at is how many links with good quality pointing to your site you have and where they come from. I will not go into detail about how to do this because it is a very big topic, and often not something you as a startup has the time or resources to deal with yourself.
But there are a few things you can do to easily get links. First let me just say that the best way is to make sure you have a good product/service and good content on the page so people automatically want to link to your site. But it does not typically suffice in the very highly competitive SEO industry.
* Use Open Site Explorer or Ahrefs to see what links your competitors has and others in your industry get to it. See if you can also get links from there.
* Identify if you can get links from industry-sides, from suppliers or from forums dealing with your industry. On the forum you can join in and help people, answer questions and for example have a link to your site in yor signature.
* Mail / contact people in your industry and ask them to link to your content. Among the best links you can get are links from blog posts from a very strong domain in the same niche as you, where the link pointing to the right sub-page and with the right anchor text. Check with friends and acquaintances if they know bloggers who might be able to write about your website. If you start building links, please always remember quality over quantity and do not use the same anchor text all the time but instead mix it.
If you want to be more advanced then check out this excellent page that have accumulated lots of ways to build links at: http://pointblankseo.com/link-building-strategies
Hope this guide has been helpful and I wish you good luck with your start up! If you have any questions about SEO or would like to talk about something else write in the comments below or contact me on Twitter @ Marcus Sandstrom.Have a great day!