The term search engine optimization, aka SEO, is one that most marketers generally nod their heads toward. In fact, according to a Fleishman-Hillard and Harris Interactive Annual Global Study, “89% of customers begin their buying process with a search engine.” We know the value of this popular marketing channel, and we understand the importance of including it as part of our overall marketing strategy, but why is it that SEO is still a giant mystery to most marketers?
Demystifying Search Engine Optimization
Let’s start with SEO 101: There are two main reasons that search engine optimization is such an effective marketing tool. The first reason is obvious. Where do most people turn to when they have questions? As the stat I shared above noted, the most common answer is Google. In fact, there are over 100 billion (yes, that’s billion, with a B) Google searches done every single month. That’s a lot of potential website traffic that can convert into leads, and ultimately, your sales team can convert into revenue.
The second reason: It’s free. Okay, that’s only half-true. In most cases, you’re going to have to hire a good SEO expert, and the true experts aren’t cheap. But the great thing about SEO is that the work you put in today pays off tomorrow, and the next day, and the next month, and the next year, etc. Simply put, even if you hire an expensive expert, SEO is still one of the most cost-effective marketing methods.
The ‘fine print’ about search engine optimization
This sounds pretty great so far, right? Well, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some downsides to SEO as well. Here are the most common pitfalls of SEO, but remember, if you can get past these, you’re on your way to search engine success.
Time - The most obvious downside to SEO is that it takes time to see results. In fact, from my experience, most companies don’t see true results from SEO for at least a few months.
Competition - In almost every industry there are a handful of ‘buyer keywords’ that are going to send ideal prospects to your website. So while you want to rank on the first page of Google for these buyer keywords, so do your competitors.
Lack of real experts - Last, but certainly not least, the actual SEO industry is pretty scummy. If you’ve been in business for any length of time, I bet you’ve received dozens of spam emails, probably from overseas, about cheap SEO services. These experts promise to optimize your website, bring in more leads than you could dream of, and place you in the highly coveted number one spot on Google.
My advice to you: Avoid them. I’d even go as as far as to say avoid most SEO service providers stateside as well. At least until you fully understand SEO.
Why? These SEO freelancers and agencies tend to massively over-promising and under-delivering. In most cases, they’ll rank you for some obscure terms that nobody searches for in order to convince you to keep paying them. This type of “optimization” does absolutely nothing for your business.
Now that you know a bit more about SEO, why it’s so great (and what to avoid), let’s hop into the good stuff.
On Page SEO: A Checklist Of Things You Can Optimize Right Now
Most of the beginner SEO advice you’ll find as a result of a Google search is related to “on page SEO.” This is very basic SEO, but most tips and tricks you run into will be along the lines of “make sure your keywords are on the page” and “make sure you use tags and descriptions.”
I’d like to dive in a little deeper and teach you the right way to use the basic principles of SEO with a little bit of finesse.
Keyword Research: How to Find and Use Good SEO Keywords
A good rule to follow is to have a specific keyword you’re targeting for every new page you create.
Since your homepage, by default, will be the strongest page on your domain, I recommend optimizing it for your most valuable keywords. For example, if you sell software to hospitals and doctor’s offices that transcribes medical records, you’re likely going to want to optimize your homepage for the keyword “medical transcription software.”
First, that keyword has buyer's intent. The person who is searching for ‘medical transcription software’ is looking for a solution and can probably be convinced to pay for that solution.
Second, that keyword gets about 200 searches per month.
Lastly, Google is pretty darn sophisticated - if you can manage to rank #1 for your target keyword, as a side-effect you’re also going to rank for all sorts of similar variations and the result could mean thousands (not just 200) targeted visitors coming to your site every month.
Keyword Research Tools:
I actually don’t recommend any paid keyword research tools. Most of the keyword research you need to do can be done for FREE with Google’s Keyword Planner.
Google’s Keyword Planner - Like I said, you can’t get much more keyword data than what Google gives you directly. In many cases Google’s keyword planner is my first and last stop.
Übersuggest - Übersuggest is a free tool that scrapes Google’s ‘Suggested Search’ when you enter your main keyword. It’s a great way to discover long-tail variations of your main keyword.
Simply head over to Übersuggest or Google’s Keyword Planner, plug in a few keywords that are related to your business or the product you sell, and the tools will start spitting keyword ideas out.
If your site is new, I’d recommend aiming for long-tail keywords. They may get less search volume, but they're going to be much easier to rank for. Also, since long-tail keywords tend to be very specific, the traffic they send tends to convert highly.
SEO Basics: How To Optimize Your Website
So now that you have a keyword in mind, you need to optimize your page for those terms. Gone are the days of stuffing your keyword unnaturally throughout your article and title, nowadays, you need to strategically optimize your website content.
A commonly believed myth that gets regurgitated over and over is “Write good content and the traffic will come!”
But, it’s not that simple.
You can’t simply rely on writing the best content, because you don’t know what’s considered the best content. Chances are, your competitors are spending time and money making sure that they also have great content.
Think about it this way. There are a million brownie recipes out there. Google engineers aren't testing each of the recipes to figure out which is the best (and if that were the case, I would’ve became an engineer). Instead, the Google algorithm looks for clues for what makes up tasty recipes that should rank highly.
So what are these clues? Here are a few key factors that Google’s algorithm searches for:
SEO 101: Content Length
As far as length goes, long content generally ranks higher than short content.
Why? It’s a clue to the search engine that your topic has been researched, it’s probably a well-thought out article, and backed up with citations.
So, as you write long-form copy, typically 1,000 words or more, make sure to sprinkle your keyword throughout the article naturally.
If your target keyword is “medical transcription software” use it once or twice throughout the article, but don’t get robotic about it, use natural variations of the keyword in a conversational tone.
Google’s semantic search has come a long way and you don’t have to repeat your keyword like a robot in order to rank.
For example, it’s okay to say things like “software that automatically transcribes your medical records” and still get your keyword noticed.
I’d also recommend using synonyms, for example, you could switch up “software” and “tool” throughout the content on your page.
Once you’re done writing your article, read it out loud. Does it sound human?
SEO 101: Optimizing h2 Tags
In most cases, each page should only have one h2 tag. If you’re ultimate goal is to search engine optimize a blog post, then that h2 tag should be the title of your blog post.
Again, Google’s algorithm has come a long way, so there’s no need to be robotic about your blog post titles.
For example, if you’re writing a blog post targeting the keyword “medical transcription guidelines,” but for some reason you can’t come up with a blog title that contains your keyword in that order, using the title “7 Guidelines to Follow for Medical Transcription” would still optimize the post for the target keyword.
SEO 101: Optimizing Your URL / Permalink
I recommend keeping permalinks short and including your target keyword.
Most people let their CMS auto-generate the URL, and if you’ve got an SEO friendly blog title, you’ll most likely be fine. But it never hurts to double check and manually set the URL.
So for the example above, I would actually use www.domain.com/medical-transcription-guidelines/ instead of the automatically generated www.domain.com/7-guidelines-to-follow-for-medical-transcription/.
The ‘SEO stuff’ that’s going to make the biggest difference is definitely off page, but as you can see there’s plenty of on page SEO techniques you can use to get the ball rolling, and when it comes to something as competitive as SEO, it’s best to do as many things right as you can.
Ready, Set, SEO
While search engine optimization comes with challenges, just like any other marketing channel, it still remains one of the most cost-effective strategies in driving targeted website traffic to your brand. Hopefully my breakdown of basic SEO tactics helps you to start optimizing your site and converting leads into revenue.