Last Friday I was approached by a search engine optimization (SEO) specialist, guaranteeing me page one positioning for my chosen key phrase within six months. They carried out a free SEO audit, the result of which has set my mind in some level of turmoil and has actually made me realise how much work I have to do.
Although the audit did not provide intricate details of what should be done – well, it wouldn't, it was free! – it highlighted the areas where improvements were necessary. The auditors, with their long list of blue chip clients, were asking me to commit to a 12-month contract for several hundreds of pounds each month, to guarantee me page one positioning.
At this time, that level of commitment and financial outlay is not realistic for my business, Mama Jewels, but I definitely need to do something and I’m wondering how much of this I can do myself?
Do I need to be highly technical and fully understand the complexities of Google or can I manage for now doing this in-house with the basic knowledge I already have.
I know I need to obtain good quality back links, but how? The content needs to be keyword rich, how do I do this without going too far? I am aware, but am not sure how often I need to change the content on my site? What else am I not aware of?
Every book I pick up seems to have a different answer, probably because the rules keep changing to keep us on our toes. From the audit, it seems to me that this is something I could do myself, but looking at the monthly charges from the specialist, I’m sure there must be more to it.
So, should I pay for some level of on-going SEO support or is this something I could effectively be doing myself, after all, I have the deepest knowledge of my business and should know what potential customers will be searching for. On the other hand – should I call in an SEO expert?
Amanda Waring, Mama Jewels
You can find out more about Amanda on the interactive business website www.inafishbowl.com
Search engine optimisation (SEO) involves taking steps to improve the volume or quality of traffic to a website from search engines such as Google via natural or unpaid search results.
The higher your website appears in the search results list, the better its chance of attracting visitors – and converting that interest into a sale, of course.
If you have recently paid an agency or freelance to create a website for your business, they should know all about SEO and it should have been a key deciding factor in the finer detail of the work they did for you.
If your website is many years old or if you are planning to create your own website, then you will need to get to grips with a few SEO basics, if your website is to be fully optimised for search engines.
Where to begin? Buy or (better still borrow) a good introductory guidebook. I recommend Getting Noticed on Google by Ben Norman. For more detail, try Search Engine Optimisation for Dummies by Peter Kent or When Search Meets Usability by Shari Thurow and Nick Musica.
If someone else has designed or maintains your website, check with them that your site has been fully optimised for search engines. This applies to headings, alt tags, meta tags, page structure, page titles and meta descriptions/keywords. Each is essential to improving your SEO results.
Keywords must appear with sufficient frequency in main copy on each page. For example, if you are offering plumbing services in Wiltshire, then the words ‘plumbing’ and ‘Wiltshire’ should make up about 5-10 per cent of all words used. The trick is to be natural in use of language, as (apart from reading badly and so putting people off) deliberate/ham-fisted repetition of the same words (or deliberately hiding keywords) will make search engines ignore your site.
Submit your site to the major search engines. Make sure you register your website with Google Analytics, so that you can measure your traffic. Check out Google AdWords if you want to pay to advertise, they have a starter package that is very easy to use.
Try also to source appropriate websites that can link to yours, but avoid those that promise to put your link on 600 other sites (most of which are often totally irrelevant), it will just look as though you’re spamming.
Google your keywords and check which sites come up in the results. If there are directories on the list or websites open to having relevant links (sometimes linking from yours back to theirs in return), contact them.
Analyse your results carefully and learn from them. Check Google Analytics, search on the major search engines at regular intervals to check your position in the results and keep your content fresh and up to date.
By following this simple advice, you should be able to make your website more likely to appear in search engine listings. If reading this has left you none the wiser about SEO, then you should probably seek the services of a specialist, otherwise you could be left counting the cost in disappointingly low visitor numbers to your website.
Sitting down for the first time to outline online objectives for your new business can be particularly daunting. Typically, you’re entering a sector where competition already exists and you may look upon competitors as tremendous obstacles in reaching your own business targets.
Perfectly true, but you have to remember with ‘search marketing strategy’, every online business, big or small, started with a blank canvas, not necessarily a structured plan with objectives.
I was involved with my first online business in 1997. The ability to reach certain search ranking targets was far simpler then – the market was much less saturated. Conversely, the opportunity to track, analyse and develop a search engine marketing strategy gives the 2010 start-up the necessary ammunition to build their SEO (search engine optimisation) arsenal.
As you begin to prepare your online marketing objectives, keep the following five tips in mind, to ensure your time and energies are optimised just as much as your search strategy:
1 Brainstorm and produce a list of 20-25 key 'phrases' that make up your SEO ‘dream ticket’. Do they look like realistic targets within your first year? You probably don't know. If they're single words, I’d suggest they aren't achievable within your first year of trading. My advice would be to add to each of these words or phrases another demographic term, for example, “Widgets" should become “Widgets Hertfordshire” or "Hire Widgets". Setting your SEO expectations too high, too early, can take away from what should actually be seen as tremendous ranking results for any start-up.
2 Track everything and leave no stone unturned. There are a range of tools available, mostly free, which allow you to see exactly what is happening on your website – how people find you, which pages they visit and the all-important terms they type into Google to find your website.
This information can produce the building blocks for a highly optimised search campaign and throw up new and innovative ideas to capture additional levels of traffic. Put the necessary packages in place from day one and review accordingly.
3 Understand - but don't become an expert. Starting a business and having access to reams of data can be tremendously offputting. I had a tendency to look at data on a daily basis, overanalysing each search ranking movement and trying to understand why certain keywords performed in certain ways.
My advice in hindsight? Research your key data on a monthly basis – especially if you’re starting up from home on a budget. As a new website, it will take time for your search positioning to bed in. Seeing rapid movements up and down the ranking can strike fear into most, but it needn't. Concentrate on your core business efforts and compile your analytics data for monthly review
4 Context is king. Your site content will make or break your online business. Poorly drafted content not only detracts from the usability of your site, it provides Google with little opportunity to grant your site authority. Write your content with the end user in mind.
Keep it simple, know when to produce both internal and external links and always field the opportunity to allow your site visitors to communicate. Don't let them wander your site trying to find your contact page or telephone number. Keep everything within context and your site will quickly develop it's own SEO pattern
5 Don't take your eye off of your initial business goal. The web is constantly evolving. New opportunities present themselves each and every day. Try your best not to deviate away from your initial online business objectives. If you receive a call from business X promising to send an email to 100,000 recipients for £x – be wary. Is your business in a position to capitalise on this opportunity? Does this opportunity make good business sense? Does this opportunity seem to good to be true?
The growth in the use of the Internet in recent years has led to a huge shift in marketing activities to the online space. This article explains some of the key things for you to focus on to help you market effectively online. Secure that domain name early. The natural starting point is the creation of a website. Once you start your business it is important to secure the domain name in the markets you intend to compete in. We at Palo Alto Software, Inc and Palo Alto Software Ltd have lots of domain names ranging from PaloAlto.com (global), PaloAlto.co.uk (U.K.), and PaloAlto.ie (Ireland). These help ensure that prospective customers can find us easily by typing our name directly into a Web browser.
There are numerous ways you can build a website, from doing it yourself using available software tools, to hiring website specialists. Regardless of the method chosen you need to be completely clear on the main purpose of the website. Is it to sell products or to generate leads? Once the primary purpose is clear, you can then decide on the layout, alongside the look and feel.
Ensure your website is optimised
Given the hundreds of thousands of websites out there, it is worth reviewing a number to get a feel for the type of design and user interface you would like. Finally, when it comes to a website it needs to be ‘search-engine friendly’. This means that searches initiated from the likes of Google (using repetitive software, called ‘bots’) can find your site, scan it and identify the keywords associated with the website. Many firms offer Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) services which are designed to help you achieve high rankings on the search engines, such as Yahoo! and Google. Most of the techniques they employ are widely known so you could choose to do it yourself. However, be aware: anyone promising top place listings on Google should be treated with caution. There are techniques (so-called black hat techniques) which can be used to game the system – however, Google has been known to punish sites known to be using such techniques, as BMW® found, to its cost, when Google delisted them in 2006.
As it takes time for a new website to get indexed by the search engines, it is likely that traffic will be low at the start. New sites tend not to feature in organic search returns for some time, but there are ways to drive traffic to your site using some of the methods described below.
Use Web analytics to improve your site
Once you have set up the domain name and site, you will want to understand how many users you are attracting, where they are coming from and how they are behaving on your site. Google Analytics is the most popular tool to manage this. It is available free from Google, easy to implement and even easier to use. If you want to see where people are going on your site, tools such as Crazy Egg® will help you improve the design of your site by showing you where people are clicking and where they are not.
Once the basics are in place it is now a case of creating awareness of the existence of your site and generating traffic to the site.
Get traffic to your site on day one
The quickest way to get traffic to a website is signing up for Google AdWords’ Pay-per-click (PPC) service. In the U.K. the vast majority of Web searches are via Google so this is the best one to focus on. This service lets you create adverts that appear when people search for certain keywords. You then pay according to each click you receive (hence the name ‘Pay-per click’). The main attraction with this option is that it is a highly targeted form of advertising, and you only pay when the prospect clicks on your advert and lands on your website.
Create unique landing pages
You need to decide where you want to bring the prospect when they click. Dropping users onto a homepage can be confusing, so you need to create a number of landing pages that are highly relevant to both the search term and the AdWord copy. For example, if a user searches for ‘marketing plan’ and the advertising copy is for Marketing Plan Pro® then the landing page needs to feature Marketing Plan Pro prominently. The beauty of running Analytics in the background is that you can measure conversions so you can identify which combinations of advert copy and landing pages are the most successful. After that it’s a case of testing, testing and more testing. A/B testing is a popular method where 50% of the audience is randomly assigned to see page A, and 50% to see page B. Whichever page results in the most conversions ‘wins’ and that then becomes the new default page.
Get websites to link to you
One well-known component of the Google algorithm that decides on the attractiveness of your website (which then correlates to a higher search ranking) is the number of back links to your site. The more sites that link to your website, the better, particularly if the linking site is an academic or government-owned site. Each link is considered a ‘vote’ and votes from impartial sites such as academic ones are deemed to carry more weight.
Seek a presence on high-traffic sites
It may be possible for you to feature on larger portal sites by offering to support them with either new or fresh content or special offers. Steer clear of anyone offering you a tenancy agreement, e.g. you pay £1,000 per month to feature on a third-party website. These offers mean you bear all the risk and they rarely, if ever, deliver any meaningful traffic. Similarly, spending money on banners and buttons is not in vogue like it used to be – for good reason. PPC marketing is where your budget should be going – not on risky placements on websites.
Blogging is not all it’s cut out to be
A number of companies set up blogs to enable them to communicate with interested parties and customers on a more informal basis. Blogs are simply basic websites which contain a list of posts or news stories by an author, typically about a specialist topic. While they are easy to set up and maintain, they do place a demand on the blog owner or blogger to constantly update them. If you do not think you have the time to post news stories daily it is probably best to avoid the temptation of creating a blog. Other, less demanding forms of social media include placing comments on forums and participating in news groups.
The above activities should give you a flavour of some of the types of marketing activities you can undertake online. Others, such as issuing online press releases and creating newsletters, can also help you drive traffic to your websites. From there it’s a case of ensuring the design and offer are compelling enough to entice the user to buy from you, assuming that is the primary purpose of your website.