In today’s marketing, SEO is one of those topics that are difficult to wrap your head around. SEO is a little art and a little science. It stands for Search Engine Optimization. SEO aims to get a website’s pages to show up on page one of search engine results pages organically. It is always changing and nearly infinite in scope. It is necessary if you want to compete. Not all web designers or developers offer SEO, and you should not assume it is part of those projects. SEO has a high ROI, but most small and medium-sized businesses experience a bit of sticker shock when seeking a reputable, proven service.
As daunting as that sounds, there is a lot you can do on your own, and in just a few minutes, you can learn enough to make sure you have the on-page basics under control.
SEO is based on keywords – the words people type into search engines like Google to find products, services, and content they are seeking. People think they understand and know what customers will type into a search engine to find their stuff. I am here to tell you there is a high likelihood those people might be wrong.
So let’s start with keyword research.
Keyword research is the exercise of finding the most used keywords to get searchers to a website. But that’s less than half of the story. If you are embarking on an SEO journey on your own or hiring someone, what I am about to tell you is critical. Not many companies do keyword research correctly.
There is good news and bad news. The bad news is it’s more difficult and time-consuming than most understand. The good news is when done properly, your results will be much better, and you won’t have to go through the untangling of your first efforts, which is a lot of work.
Some SEO projects only need to focus on a few keywords, and some might require thousands. To find the soft gooey center of your most valuable keywords, you have to break down desired results – whether it be lead conversion or all the way through to purchase. Then you break up the keywords into smaller groups base on the desired outcomes.
The easiest way I can explain it is through an example. Let’s look at the process of buying a new car. Here’s a fun fact; it takes the average person 108 days to purchase a vehicle from the time they first consider buying. According to Google’s research, there are 5 steps in the buying process:
- Looking at all the best cars
- Researching which car is the right fit
- Deciding if the price will work
- Finding dealers that have the car
- Getting the best deal
To understand keyword research and keyword strategy, you have to know your customer’s buying process. Whether your customer’s buying method is more in-depth or less, or whether you are a B2C or a B2B, you still have the same work in front of you.
Since SEO companies tend to over complicate or over-simplify things, and DIYers have to figure things out for themselves, I have devised 3 simple steps to help keep your project from getting away from you.
- Identify the steps in your customer’s buying journey
- Determine which steps you must be involved in and understand that the keywords will be different for each step in the buying journey. In general, the keywords will be vaguer earlier in the journey and more specific as they get closer to buying. In the car buying example, they might search for fuel efficient 5 passenger crossover – early in their process, but when they are about ready to buy, they might search for 2019 Ford Escape Titanium
- Research keywords your customers might use to find your content for each step your organization is involved in. Now you will be organized with smaller, more granular sets of keywords for each step of your customer’s buying process.
So, how do you know what keywords people are using? Well, there are many keyword research tools, including Google Keyword Planner, Moz Keyword Explorer, Google Search Trends, Bing also has a good research tool, and there are a plethora of others. When using the keyword tools, look at Search Volume and Competition. High volume is obviously desirable, but when the competition attribute is high, it will take more effort to over-take competitors on the search results pages.
There is one other thing you need to do before you start applying keywords to your pages. This is a step you need to make sure you do or whoever is doing your SEO does. Type each keyword and keyword phrase into an actual search engine to see if the search engines show sites like yours. If they show sites unrelated to your business, discard the keyword or keyword phrase from your list. You may not agree with the search results, but you are not going to change them. There is no sense in spending time ranking in a list of results that the search engines have determined are not related to your business.
If you do a thorough job of these things:
- Understand your customer’s buying process and where you fit into it
- Find the right keywords for those steps
- Then double-check those keywords align with the search engine’s understanding of what those keywords mean to searchers
The rest of the basic on-page SEO setup is a snap! In fact, most website content management systems handle a lot of the work for you.
Now that we understand keywords a little better, here is a quick rundown of how to use them on your pages to improve your ranking:
One page one primary keyword or keyword phrase. It is a misnomer to say your website is optimized. Each page is optimized, and you do not want to have multiple pages focusing on the exact same set of keywords. One page, one keyword or keyword phrase.
Create content relevant to the keyword. The more useful or relevant the content is to the keyword, the better. Most companies struggle with content. It is always more time consuming than it feels like it should be.
The title of the page is a very important factor in the SEO battle. Make sure to use the keyword or keyword phrase in the title. There are a number of elements of SEO that are both science and art. The title is one of them. Keep the keywords as close to the beginning of the page title as possible while making the title useful or readable for the visitor… oh, and the title should not exceed 60 characters. Most content management systems use the page title as the page name. The page name/URL is very important to SEO. Be sure to use keywords in the page name as well, if your CMS doesn’t automatically use the page title for the page name/URL.
Headlines should be used to organize your content. While your content management system can do the coding for you, it is important to know that there is a difference between a Headline 1 and a Headline 2. Your CMS will let you use the various headlines, but the search engines see a difference in the importance of content under a Headline 1 versus a Headline 2. Be sure to use the keyword in the primary headline and at least one subheading.
The content itself is critical, but please understand that the definition of quality content has a lot of meanings. First, the content’s relevance is essential, but the readability of the content also matters a lot. It would be easy to think the content needs to be complex and uber-sophisticated, but that is wrong. The content should be understandable at an eighth-grade reading level. Content that is, or includes, images, files, videos, or other media is considered “compelling” by search engines. Use them. But use them for your visitor’s sake, not to appease search engines. Make sure your images use keywords in alt tags, their file names, and descriptions
Within the copy of your pages, use the keywords two or three times per five hundred words. Make sure you have at least 500 words per page. To a lesser degree, use other closely related keywords within the content. Make sure the primary keyword shows up in the first and last paragraph.
Now, go through your site and, where applicable and add links to the new content. Add links to your navigation if it makes sense.
Also, be sure to add links to relevant external sites, using the keyword in the links’ text. Be sure those links are set to open in a new tab or browser window
Use social sharing links and at least get a few people to share your content.
The last word on on-page SEO is the meta-description. The meta description is another area where your CMS may do most of the work for you, but you will need to check on this if you are not sure. The meta-description is not particularly useful in getting your organic search results to improve but, when your site is listed in a search engine, the meta-description is what searchers will see in your listing. It should be your best sales pitch. Your meta description should be 160 characters or less.