Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Marketing
Every business that can have a web presence should and that means that in order for that presence to be effective, they need to know at least a little about how it all works. Now this doesn’t mean that they need to know how to build a website, or even the ins and outs of SEO (search engine optimisation). But in order to understand why you may need to pay an agency to improve web visibility, and then it’s necessary to know at least a little about the mechanics of it.
First Things First: Know the Rules
Many business websites fail because owners attempt to carry out their own SEO, or fall for the ‘we can get you to the top of Google’ scam. Let’s get the latter straight; the only people that can get you the #1 spot at the top on Google’s search page is Google, nobody else can guarantee it, especially for SMEs.
Other reasons include employing an agency that uses black hat tactics, which can quickly see your site drop out of the rankings, never to return, if you get a Google penalty. So it pays to take care, use resources and agencies or individuals that are professional and only practice white hat SEO.
Start With the Website
SEO isn’t just about optimizing content, it begins when you first build a website. Site structure and performance are essential to SEO, as is the Meta information contained on the site. The site should have:
- Logical architecture, with good navigation
- Site maps for users and search engines
- Understandable URLs (links)
- Meta titles and descriptions that accurately describe the content
- Internal linking
- A search facility
- A useful 404 (page not found) page that directs users easily to where they want to go
- A good user interface (UI)
- Load quickly
- Contain landing pages containing calls-to-action
All of this can be taken care of by employing a good developer, who will be able to guide your through what he’s doing and why. However, understanding why it’s necessary is the key to a good working relationship with your webmaster.
Take a look at the Google Webmaster Help video below from the official Google YouTube Channel on the most common mistakes in SEO, alongside some ideas for helping your webmaster to boost your site.
To Pay or Not to Pay …
Before we come to content, link building and other SEO tactics, let’s take a quick look at PPC (Pay Per Click), which is a form of paid advertising. The most widely used PPC model is of course Google’s Adwords, but it’s not the only one. You can also use Bing, social media and many other platforms, and you can also pay to place banner ads on third-party sites.
PPC is not for those that are not familiar with it, as it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to effectively set it up.
- Keyword research based on your industry and the keywords on your site
- Studying competitors and what keywords they are using in order to come up with a strategy to gain placement above them in search results
- Creating Ad Groups to appear to the side and at the top of search results
- Setting a budget for individual keywords to outperform competitors
- Constant tweaking and reporting to determine ROI
Social media advertising is somewhat easier, as it allows you to target according to location, industry, hobbies and so on, but doesn’t require such a large amount of work as an Adwords campaign. However, I would still recommend the use of an expert to help you to carry this out in the first instance. Once you see how it’s set up, you will have a much better idea of how it works
The Importance of Content
Content, whether it’s what’s contained on your site, or off (for example on another blog) is the pivotal part of all SEO efforts. It must be well-written, contain keywords naturally scattered throughout the text and contain no grammatical errors or spelling mistakes.
Whilst having a blog on your site never used to be a big part of SEO, it’s now a vital part of it. Fresh, useful, industry-relevant content, that’s regularly updated, will ensure that your site is crawled more often by the search engines.
If you post a blog every couple of months, whenever you remember, and never refresh your static pages, search bots will recognize this and not return as often. Fresh content put up a minimum of once a week will keep your site crawled, and therefore indexed, regularly.
For best results, content should include:
- A variety of written content
You can also provide downloadable content in order to build your mailing list. This can be anything from video and pod/webcasts, to white papers or eBooks and by doing this, you will be able to kick-start your email marketing campaigns too – which remain a very effective form of gaining new business.
A website without social media isn’t going to get a great deal of attention these days, everything seems to revolve around social and this is something that is only going to become more the case. Social signals are important to search engine placement and social is ideal for the distribution of content.
Social signals include:
- Facebook Likes & Shares
- LinkedIn Likes & Shares
- Google +1s
There are many, many social networks on the web, so make sure that you choose the ones that will work best for your industry.
This is becoming a much more precarious occupation than it used to be, thanks largely to black hat SEOs that have abused the system. Link building involves obtaining links back to your site which make your site appear more useful to the search bots. These can be obtained by carrying out guest posts, on social media, in commenting systems etc., but it’s safest to do this organically and let your content be the link bait. Content that’s useful will attract links, but you also have to make sure that these links are good ones and don’t point to sites that are:
- Have been blacklisted
- Not in your industry niche
Buying Links, Likes and Followers
This is a mistake that a lot of businesses new to the web make. Bought links will get you a Google penalty and bought social media followers are not only likely to get your account banned, but are also completely useless, at best.
Don’t do it; as tempting as it might be to buy 10,000 Twitter followers for a fiver, it won’t do any good as the accounts will be inactive, or spam controlled by bots. There’s even a risk that these kinds of accounts may point your following to sites containing malware (ever seen the Tweets that say things like “look at you in this video” – these are phishing hooks designed to make you click). Whilst it might look good on the surface, that’s all it is – shiny – it has no value, it’s cheating and it’s very easy to spot when someone has done this. Not good for the reputation.
These are highly useful and do have SEO value, so create content that you can link internally to other content on your site. If we’re talking blogs and articles here, then think about what’s known as evergreen content, which is content that remains useful for a long time.
This could also be content that you update, such as guides and tips that you refresh to make more relevant and then link to later. Don’t be tempted to go down the route of using affiliate linking in the content, as it’s often annoying to the visitor and reduces user experience.
Linking Out to Other Sites
This is useful but it’s important to remember that you link to useful information which is industry-relevant. So for example, if we were to write a blog on SEO and then link in the body of the text to a site selling garden hoses, it wouldn’t look good to search bots.
Using links in your blogs to reliable sources not only ensures that your content is even more useful, but it also attracts reads from those blogs that track where their own backlinks have come from and helps to build relationships.
You can also use video and image embed codes to create backlinks so if you create these, it’s definitely something you should be doing, ensuring that the content has the necessary keywords, descriptions, titles and ALT tags are added to make the content discoverable.
Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics
For the beginner, these tools can seem extremely daunting in the first instance, but they should be made use of as much as possible. With these tools, you can check the amount of visitors to your site, check backlinks and where your traffic is coming from, as well as much more.
Google Analytics allows you to view the demographics of your visitors, the device that your site is being viewed on and set up goals to track conversions. These don’t have to be monetary ones, they can be when people complete a sign up or contact form at its most basic. Whilst this might sound like useless information (after all, you know if they’ve contacted you right?), it’s not as it shows what percentage of visitors have followed the path you want them to. It also allows you to see the path that the visitors have taken and the bounce rate which shows you how ‘sticky’ your site is.
A low bounce rate is good, as it shows that once people land on the site, they stay around to take a look.
Webmaster Tools doesn’t have as many features as Analytics, but it does pay to use it properly, as this is where any site errors can be picked up and fixed. For example, if you’ve moved pages around, or renamed URLs, then these will have to be addressed with 301 redirects.
These will appear here if they need addressing, as will any Google warnings, such as malware or penalties. Here you can also submit xml sitemaps, although you can get other software to automate this for you.
Any business owner wanting to get started with SEO should realise that it’s not a particularly easy undertaking, especially if you’re not particularly tech-savvy. For those wanting to learn SEO, I hope this has given you a good starting point for what you need to know.