In the fourth post in this series, I described social strategy: which social platforms you may want to prioritise for your business, depending on your conversion funnel. Over the next 2 months of this series, we’ll finish fleshing out the remaining pieces of the content strategy puzzle, and this month we’ll tackle a murky and mysterious area: search engine optimisation.
There are 6 basic ways to get your business found online, and while each one is important and some of them are closely connected, how you prioritize them and which one(s) you focus your time and money on depends on the way your target users are seeking your type of product or service, and the value of a conversion for your business.
The Six Basic Ways to Get Found
1) Directory Listings
2) Advertising (I’m referring to Google Adwords or Google display ads)
3) Having a Social Media Presence (covered in post 4)
4) Inbound Links
5) Content Marketing
6) Organic SEO or search engine optimisation
Organic SEO encompasses all of the other tactics to a greater or lesser degree, so it will be our focus for this article. And organic SEO is almost synonymous with, or at least shares many tactics of, content strategy itself. In fact, one of the primary reasons to have a good content strategy is so that your digital business will get found, because the bottom line is without content, you will not get found.
The intersection of organic SEO, content strategy, and usability or user experience design is a sweet spot where you will get found, get customers, and make money. We’re going to talk a lot about the keyword aspect of organic search engine optimization because it is a great way to focus in on the words and phrases that will best target your users and help them to find you. Getting found using organic SEO is all about search engines like Google, so it’s worthwhile to describe very briefly how Google works.
How does google work?
Google’s mission statement is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. In order to do this, they have what are called Search Spiders: these are little bits of computer code that “crawl” the Internet, scanning pages as they go.
Google has an algorithm that then ranks each and every page; giving it what Google calls “page rank”. Page Rank is based on multiple factors that only Google really knows, but they are things like:
- Does this read like real content or does it sound false or fake?
- Are there certain words that are used enough times (2-7% of the time) so that we, the robotic spiders, can guess what this page is about?
- Does anyone else on the Internet, especially sources that have a good page rank and therefore good reputation, link to this page?
- Does this page load quickly?
Then, when a user searches for, say, “Content Strategy”, Google’s algorithm looks for all the pages that it ranked as top quality for the words “Content Strategy”, and it serves them up on the Search Engine Results Page or SERP.
The goal of getting found online is ultimately to be there on the first page of Google’s search results when people are searching for the kind of product or service you offer. Very few people will ever look on the second page of Google, and in fact, very few people will ever venture beyond the first 3 results served.
Keyword Optimisation: the basics
To drive traffic and develop a relationship of trust with your customers, you really must create relevant, helpful content. But optimising that content for keywords is an important and useful practice, because it will increase your visibility in search and it will also help you focus your content. What this means is that you need to choose a word or short phrase that represents what you believe your target users might be typing into Google’s search box when they are searching for your product or service. You need to imagine what words THEY would use. Then, you need to make sure that those words comprise 2-7% of the text on the page you are optimising. Every page on your website should be optimised for one keyword (or keyword phrase); this keyword should appear in the URL for the page, the page title, in the body copy of the page, even in any image descriptions on the page.
There are lots of simple places to look to figure out what keywords you might use to focus on in your blog posts, landing pages, and product pages.
Look on competitor websites and see what kinds of words they are using to describe products and services similar to yours
Listen to your customers: what words do they use to describe their problems, their solutions, and their needs?
Type your ideas into Google and see what alternatives appear as you type
Look at the bottom of the SERP or search engine results page; you will see further variations there
Each page should also have 4-6 secondary keyword variations, so as you are doing this research, try to group keywords and phrases and their close variations together on a spreadsheet so you have lots of options when it comes time to write your blog posts, landing pages, or other site copy, and try to include location as keywords if your product or service is local. Imagine your website as a series of landing pages: every product page, every post, should be created and written with keywords in mind.
Keyword optimisation is something you should do on your website even if you are not blogging!
When we talk about inbound links, it’s really important to distinguish these links from the links that you might put on your website, between pages or linking out to other websites. When we say inbound links we’re not talking about the links ON your pages, we’re talking about the links TO your pages, FROM other websites
Inbound links are as important as keyword optimisation as far as helping your pages to rank well for Google. They are especially important if your conversion funnel is more weighted towards passive discovery rather than active discovery and they are critically important if your service is consultation, thought leadership, expertise, or education.
The easiest way to get inbound links is to submit your site to directories; while some directories cost money and therefore give you what is called a “no follow” link, they are still really important if you are a very active discovery type of business or to build your credibility as might be the case, for example, with being listed by your community’s Better Business Bureau.
However, if you are more of a passive discovery business where customers require multiple touch points before they make a buying decision, you need to use content to generate trust and develop the relationship, much in the way a traditional salesperson might do. This is where Content Marketing in the form of blogging, white papers, report, eBooks, videos, or info graphics can serve double duty. They can be keyword optimised to drive organic search traffic, but they also provide you with key pieces of content that can be leveraged to obtain inbound links from Influencers.
What is the ecosystem surrounding your product or service, the community? Who in that ecosystem influences your customers’ buying decisions? Making contact with these bloggers or businesses online and making them aware of content you might have that might interest their users is a great way to develop a mutually beneficial relationship with them, one in which they might link to your valuable content, giving you a valuable inbound link or ‘backlink’, and you will have access to their audience and may drive some of that traffic to your site.
Google adwords can be an extremely inexpensive way to catapult your website onto the front page of Google in the form of an ad. Paying for advertising will not improve your website’s organic search ranking, but it will help you get your brand in front of consumers while you build your content marketing bench strength, and it is an excellent research tool, enabling you to really finesse your keywords and see very clearly what words to drive traffic and conversions. You need to figure out the balance between advertising spend, which can be very low, and organic spend. To do a good adwords campaign, you need continuity between your keywords, ads, and landing pages, so there is no way around having good, focused content on your website, but sometimes one really good ad & landing page can drive more traffic than a whole bunch of blog posts, so it can be a good idea to advertise early in your content marking lifecycle so you can drive immediate traffic while you build you bank of landing pages.
While there are no hard and fast rules, the 70/10/10/10 rule outlined in this chart can help you to prioritise your efforts:
On this chart, I’m assuming that active discovery means your users need very few touch points with your brand before they buy, whereas passive discovery means they need more touch points before they buy. If you need a refresher on active vs. passive discovery, have another read of last month’s post in this series. You can use the chart above to prioritise you SEO efforts behind specific tactics that will make the biggest difference, the most efficiently.
What we haven’t covered
This series is about content strategy, but when it comes to very thorough SEO, there are issues that impact on your ability to get found that are more technical in nature. The easiest and most important one to address is the speed of your webiste. Your pages should never take more than a couple of seconds to load. The bottom line for SEO is that if your site is reasonably fast and you have authentic, focused content, you have a great base on which to build your SEO.
Next month, the last in this series, we’ll cover Content itself: what are the options in how you can most effectively and inexpensively generate the kind of content marketing that will move your digital business into the spotlight.
For more resources and information on Content Strategy and to download a detailed description of what content strategy entails, go to analyticalengine.ca/resources or download a Content Strategy Info graphic at http://bit.ly/1qY9tYp.
Christine McGlade is a Business Analyst, Content Strategist, and Usability Consultant. With over 25 years experience in the media business, Christine helps small business, social enterprise, and Not for Profits how to leverage the power of the Internet to grow their business. Learn more about Christine at analyticalengine.ca