Online Marketing Basics #4: Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for Beginners
Search engine optimization is part of search engine marketing, aiming to direct visitors from the search engine to your website. There, search engine optimization (SEO for short) focuses on so-called organic rankings. Part 4 of our online marketing series will talk about what SEO means, and we will introduce you to some ways to affect those rankings.
You certainly know a couple of search engines. However, in many regions Google is the undisputed market leader. There, it makes sense to focus your search engine optimization efforts on Google.
This comes with pros and cons: It’s easier to focus on just one provider, yes. But: your competition will do the same, making it harder for you to differentiate your offerings and secondly, driving prices up as far as keyword bidding and Google ads are concerned.
Still, it’s not mission impossible to make progress in your rankings. Backed by the appropriate strategy, you might be able to target relevant keywords that may be contested less fiercely but still bring in revenue.
How Does a Promising SEO Strategy Look?
Search engine optimization describes all measures taken to get a website to a top position at the organic SERPs (search engine results pages). Hence the first question: What is an organic top position?
Organic search results are those listings Google rates as helpful to the user and as relevant to the search terms. The opposite would be paid-for ads (search engine advertising or SEA). Everybody knows these pay per click ads that often appear at the top or the side bar to the right of a results page. They are clearly marked as being advertising. Everything else are organic results.
To understand the value of top positions you just have to look at the different click through rates (CTR). Even though there are different studies regarding CTR stats, the core message applies to all: the Top 3 get roughly 60% of all clicks, while the first position grabs 90% of this portion. Meaning that if you should drop off to the second results page you are near to invisible.
Step 1: Targeting Appropriate Search Terms
The first challenge is to find out which search terms you should aim for with a top position. Some may be excited to get top positions with their company name or some made-up search terms. But that’s of no value. Why? Nobody else would optimize their strategy with your name as a search term. And secondly, if you choose search terms without analyzing them at first, you risk that no one ever uses these terms at all.
So before you start you have to figure out how many search queries there are for a given search term. Sometimes the devil is in the detail. Maybe the singular form of a term is often searched for but not the plural, or vice versa.
Helping you with this task is Google’s Keyword Planner. Additionally, it will show you different terms related to your topic.
(Screenshot: Keyword Planner)
After you found your potentially profitable search terms you have to double-check them:
- Is that really your target group searching for this term? To find out just do a search query with your term and look at the results. A frequent mistake being: if you put in your area of expertise using a technical term, Google will come up with a lot of job postings. That’s not Google’s fault. Quite the opposite, because Google analyzes billions of data every day the search engine knows pretty well that most people using this term are indeed looking for jobs. So if you want to offer your specialty as a service you need to keep looking for a better search term.
- How strong are the competitors? Often the search term your target group uses the most is not the best keyword. Of course, it would be worthwhile to get a top position with this term. But the price would be just too high. Optimizing done by professionals, link building etc., it all comes with a cost. If it’s higher than the expected return it makes no sense doing it. Particularly, with a strong competition there’s no guarantee you will make it to the top at all. Maybe there are different terms with slightly less queries but with far less competition. There you will get a better deal when aiming for nice rankings...
5 Criteria to Assess the Competitive Environment for Free
- How many pages rank under the search term of your choice? Put in a query and Google will tell you.
- Which page rank do your competitors possess? Even though the page rank (PR) is no longer a ranking criteria, it will still tell what kind of trust the page commands. You can find out the page rank with the free Firefox-Plugin „Seoquake“ for instance. Or with one of the several PR checkers provided by Google Search.
- Are the keywords part of the competitor’s URL? Or are they part of unnamed subpages? Subdomains, comparison sites or shops are positive signs. If the websites rank high without keywords being part of the URL, there’s a good chance to beat them.
- Are keywords part of the page title or the meta description? The page title is the part appearing in blue in the search results. The grey text below it might be the meta description. If the description doesn’t have any keywords Google will take them directly from the website copy. But because Google doesn’t recognize the context, instead of full sentences there are always single text parts put together with „...“. If you don’t see those three dots somebody actually put the keywords in the description. Meaning an SEO pro just made your work a bit harder.
- How many backlinks do your competitors have? Backlinks are still one of the most important ranking criteria. After all those Google updates it’s still save to say: The more you have collected (especially at „strong“ pages), the better your position. You can check this with one of the free backlink checking tools by Google itself.
This way, you can do a basic check of your competition for free. SEO professionals will look at more metrics and will use paid-for tools which do those checks faster, better, and more precise.
Step 2: On-Page SEO – Tweak Your Website With Your Keywords in Mind
After doing your keyword research you need to adjust your website. You have to convince Google that users will really find the information they were looking for on your page. Do this by tweaking your title, description and URL with your keywords in mind. Things like clean structure and code, or content quantity is also well liked by the search engine. Of course your content should indeed cover the information you want to convey to Google. Additionally, you should highlight the most important keywords by putting them in bold, in headlines etc. Another aspect for the ranking of your page would be loading times. You can read more about SEO in another noupe article, see the link at the bottom of this post.
Step 3: Off-Page Optimization – Collect Recommendation Links
Google disrupted the market for search engines with this idea: if website A links to website B it equals a recommendation. Because you wouldn’t link to a page you don’t appreciate. The concept still applies today. It’s the links, stupid. However, people have long tried and still try to game the system. That’s why Google claims to have a secret algorithm capable of telling legitimate linkbuilding from a link scheme, i.e. fabricated linkbuilding.
So beware, inappropriate linkbuilding can have serious consequences. Many websites have been downgraded in their rankings or kicked out of it altogether. For companies relying on website traffic for their revenue this could spell disaster. Be sure to aim for organic linkbuilding instead of exchanging links with each and everybody without knowing their reputation. Don’t list your website in every directory giving out free links. Google will find out and punish you.
Some tips about linkbuilding
- Don’t overdo it. A thousand links at a time set off the alarms.
- Modify the anchor text. It sticks out if you always link your keywords. Because with true recommendation links it also would look different.
- Be sure your links do not always direct to your domain, but also to subpages like blogs etc.
- The stronger the website that links to you the better. Still, if you only get premium links Google will suspect you bought them. Even worse is getting links from the wrong websites. If Google rates them as bad neighborhood you might suffer a downgrade in your ranking.
What’s Next in Our Online Marketing Series?
The next part deals with the other part of search engine marketing, namely search machine advertising (SEA). We will talk about methods for creating AdWords ads and what you have to pay attention to. Further, we will discuss why SEO and SEA are not mutually exclusive, but are able to complement each other.