Let’s de-mystify search engine optimization. I want to help you understand that SEO is not only important, but it’s something you should really master to a degree for your business. You should have the ability to handle SEO on your own, or at least be able to find somebody that is reputable and not just trying to rip you off.
First and foremost, SEO must be built into your overall marketing strategy from the beginning. Unlike the old days when people would build websites and then want to “SEO it all” once the website is complete, today they work in conjunction with one another in order to achieve the results you desire. Bottom line, today everything has to be infused with your SEO strategy.
On top of that, to be effective you must understand who your ideal client is and what core message you want to convey. Once you have that down, you can go to work on an editorial plan that helps to make content the voice of your strategy. Your website should be scheduled around that key content.
So, how do you get started down this SEO journey? Don’t worry, it’s not as intimidating as it may seem. I’ve broken the most important components of a sound SEO strategy into three categories. Let’s get to it.
Keyword research is a practice SEO professionals use to find and research actual search terms that people enter into search engines. At the end of the day, the root of SEO is keyword research. By this, I don’t just mean keywords, but keyword phrases as well. Keywords are a strategic part of understanding any businesses. Having a clear understanding of the terms that people search for gives you great insight into their intent and what they are looking for.
It can be easy to be blinded by the jargon within your industry which is why keyword research is so important. It allows you to see what people are actually searching for. Although you may think you know what they are typing into search engines, that is often not the case.
So, how do you conduct keyword research?
Start by making a list
This will help you gather ideas of what your audience may be searching for. To start the list, consider the following:
- Brainstorm – Think back to emails, phone calls, and other areas customers may have voiced questions or problems and start putting a list together that could lead you to common keywords.
- Wikipedia – The table of contents on a given topic can be very helpful for adding keywords to your list.
- Google related terms – These are the terms that appear at the bottom of search engine results pages that show terms that are related or similar to the one you typed in.
The point of all this is to structure the content on your website around 10-12 keyword phrases to create content that is relevant for your audience.
Google Keyword Planner
When it comes to keyword research, the Google Keyword Planner is the workhorse of most small businesses. This tool is currently available to anyone who has an AdWords account. It allows you to type in any search term and it will give you recommend keywords and the number of searches it receives each month. It will also show you suggested bids, so if something is highly searched and has a high bid, then there’s a good chance that that term must be converting because people are willing to pay more for it in AdWords.
Once you develop your foundational keywords, you can really start building your content. A few tools I like to use include:
- Keywordtool.io – It will actually show questions that people are asking around a term, which is a great way to discover phrases and understand intent.
- Google Trends – This is great for businesses that have products or services that rely on seasonality.
- Auto-complete in search engine results pages (SERPs) – In addition to related terms, I also take a look at the auto-complete phrase Google will show as a dropdown while you’re typing in your search term. These phrases are often very useful.
The content connection
Once you have one to two dozen search terms down as well as ~6 foundational terms, you can tie it to content. In addition to site structure, I suggest that you pick out a theme for each month based on keyword research. This makes content development much more streamlined and helps to ensure you get the content needed for Google to recognize you as an authority within that given theme.
At this point, I want to bring up one of my favorite tools: BuzzSumo. While it is a paid tool, in my opinion, it’s worth the investment. You can put in any search term and it will show you the most-shared content for that term to give you great content ideas but also an understanding of where interest lies.
On-Page SEO Basics
Once you start writing the content, there’s another important factor: on-page SEO. On-page SEO represents the tactics you can implement on the page itself to help you get found in search engine results. Be sure to include your keywords in the following areas to increase the odds of getting found in search engine results:
- Header tags
- Page title
- Meta description
- Alt text
While it’s important to use keywords in these areas, don’t keyword stuff! Google will penalize you for it.
Yoast is a great WordPress plugin that allows you to make sure your on-page factors are well-optimized. You can also put in your focus keyword and it will assess whether or not you used it enough within the key areas.
Signals are all the other things that aren’t on your website that contribute to SEO.
Authority signals are often underestimated but are huge. Back in the day, link building was a numbers game, and people were gaming the system by purchasing links in hopes that the more links they had, the more search engines would recognize them. Search engines took note and began penalizing folks for going about it this way. Today, while link building is still important and relevant for SEO, it’s much more about quality vs. quantity.
To get quality links today, consider getting links from associations and strategic partners, or even through guest blogging on other sites that drive traffic back to your own. Using a tool like Ahrefs, you can look at competitors and see where they’re getting their links from to help you build your link building strategy and to get ideas of who else you should be reaching out to.
In my opinion, one of the best places to get links is from websites that are running guest content that link back to your site. In addition to blogs, consider reaching out to a podcast within your industry that will link back to you in show notes and through mentions in the episode itself.
Bonus consideration – Local SEO
For businesses who do most of their business in their own community, there are other SEO considerations to factor in in addition to those I mentioned above. A few things to consider include:
- Do you have a claimed and optimized Google My Business Listing (and only one per business location) with:
- Name address and phone number
- An accurate category
- Images or video
- Does your homepage include your name, local address, and local phone number?
- Does Google display an optimized snippet in search engine results pages?
- Are you listed consistently across directories (Yext is a great tool to help you clean up your listings)?
- Are you creating local content?
All of these are ranking factors when people are looking for businesses locally, so be sure to pay special attention to these if you fall into the local category in order to rank above your competition.
As you can see, search engine optimization really doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective. By mastering the recommendations above, you’ll be well on your way to putting together a solid SEO plan.
Need more tips on search engine optimization? Check out our entire Guide to SEO.