Search engine optimization – SEO – is usually the first thing that comes to mind for business owners who want to get better results online. Is SEO a waste of money? It can be – or it can be your best investment for online success. The difference is in how you get started.
The purpose of SEO is to get your website to the front page of Google search results (yes, there are other search engines, but Google is the prize). You want one of your pages to be in the top ten results that Google displays when one of your target customers types a keyword or keyphrase relevant to your business into the search window.
Unfortunately, too many business owners waste their SEO dollars by optimizing their sites around the wrong key words and phrases – either keyphrases that have very little search volume, or keywords that are so competitive that it’s impossible for a new web page to get first page ranking any time soon. Neither approach will bring traffic to your web site, which is the whole point of SEO.
How do you avoid those mistakes? Know your keywords, and know your competition.
Know your keywords. How do you know which keywords and keyphrases your potential customers are using to search for your business? Ask Google. Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool will tell you exactly how many people are using exactly which keywords and keyphrases. Go to https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal and type in the keyphrases you think people might use to search for your business. You’ll get the actual search volumes for those phrases, along with a list of synonyms and related phrases, including their search volumes. Type in the URL for your website (or a competitor’s website). You’ll get another list of relevant keywords and keyphrases, along with search volumes. Set aside the keyphrases that don’t have significant search volume. Focus on the most searched phrases. Optimize your web pages only for keyphrases that actually get searched – that’s where the traffic is. It’s simple, it’s obvious, and it’s all too often overlooked.
Whether you intend to do your own SEO or work with an SEO professional, it’s worth your time to generate your own list of relevant keyphrases with decent search volumes. It’s fairly easy to get front page search engine ranking for a keyphrase with no search volume and little competition – and no traffic. Unfortunately there are incompetent or unscrupulous SEO consultants who will go for quick “results” by optimizing your pages for low volume, worthless keyphrases. Don’t waste your money. Protect yourself by knowing your keywords before you start doing any SEO.
Know your competition. Now that you have your list of relevant keywords and keyphrases sorted by search volume, should you start optimizing your web pages for the highest volume keyphrases first? Not necessarily… you might get more traffic by showing up on the first page of search results for a lower volume keyphrase than on the second or third page for a high volume keyphrase. You need to take a close look at the competing pages for each of your top keyphrases to see what your chances are of getting to the first page of search results.
Your web page’s position in the search engine results for a particular keyphrase is determined by a number of on-page and off-page factors. On page factors relate to your content and your use of the keyphrase on your page. You optimize your page by including the keyphrase in your page’s URL, title, description, and headlines, as well as in your text. On page optimization is completely within your control, and can be done immediately.
Off page factors are related to your page’s general authority on the web. In the eyes of the search engines, “authority” relates to your domain’s age, the amount of traffic you get, the number of backlinks to your page from outside pages, the authority of pages linking to it, and its presence in certain web directories. Off page factors aren’t completely within your control, and it takes time to establish off page authority.
Your on page optimization efforts may allow your web page to outrank poorly optimized competing pages with high authority – sometimes very quickly. On the other hand, if all the first page search results for a keyphrase have high authority and are highly optimized, it will be very difficult for you to appear on the front page any time soon. You should focus first on keyphrases that give you your best chance of getting on the first page of the search results so you can start getting some traffic to, and building some authority for, your web pages.
To make an informed decision about which keyphrases to optimize for first, here’s the minimum you need to know about each of the competing pages for each of your top keyphrases:
On page factors:
- Is the keyphrase in the URL?
- Is the keyphrase included in the page title?
- Is the keyphrase included in the page description?
- Is the keyphrase included in the page’s headline tags?
Off page factors:
- What is the domain’s age?
- What is the page’s Google page rank?
- What is the page’s Alexa rank?
- How many backlinks to the page?
- How many backlinks to the domain?
- How many .gov and .edu backlinks to the domain?
- Is the domain listed in the Yahoo directory?
- Is the domain listed in the Open Directory Project (DMOZ)?
A great tool for finding all this information (and more) is SEO for Firefox. It’s available for download at http://tools.seobook.com/firefox/seo-for-firefox.html. It only works with the Firefox browser, so if you’re not already using Firefox you’ll need to download it at http://www.mozilla.com/en-US/firefox/.
Gathering the data isn’t difficult, but it does take some time. If you don’t have the time or inclination to do it yourself, any competent SEO consultant should be able to provide you with all of this information, and should be able to help you analyze it to determine which keyphrases you should optimize for first for best results. If your SEO person isn’t able or willing to do both of those things you should look elsewhere for help.
SEO is a vital part of your strategy for online success. Take the time to get all the information you need to make informed decisions. Make your SEO efforts – and dollars – count.