We recently offered a free Online Learning Summit class about Internet Marketing. In the past when we did these type of classes, we had great interest from our customer base, so we thought we would outline the information for those of you that couldn’t attend with a blog post. The class was two hours long and contained quite a bit of information, so this post is going to be broken out into 3 parts over the next couple of weeks. The first post is about organic search engine optimization and will cover the basics that any marketing person or business owner should know about their website.
What are organic search results and what is search engine optimization?
It is not a given that everyone understands today’s search environment, so we want to cover some of the basics. When you do a search for something on a search engine (google.com, bing.com or yahoo.com), it is the engine’s job to go out and find you the most relevant websites on the internet that correlate to the search term you typed in. This is a monstrous task. They must comb through EVERY website on the internet and determine the ones that best match the keywords you type in. This is also true for your customers. When they do a search for a product or service you provide, you would like your website to be returned in the search results for their keyword search. The practice of telling the search engines which terms are most relevant for your site and when they should place it in the search results, is search engine optimization.
There is a constant battle between the bright engineers that work on the search engine algorithms and people trying to “game the system”. However, there is also a happy medium where you can ensure your site is optimized and in the best shape possible to lead those customers that are looking for the products and service you sell to your online storefront. The key is to stay in that happy medium and not swing too far in either direction. You don’t want your site to fall outside of the guidelines set by the search engines and you don’t want to leave the engines to their own devices to rank your site without guidance.
The SERPS (search engine result pages) are filled with two types of links. Those that are paid ads and those that are organic results. We will cover pay per click advertising in a upcoming post. Today we are going to focus on organic results. These are sites that are listed below the shaded ads section. We did some searches related to marinas on Lake Wawasee in Indiana as an example of what organic search listings look like.
How do you get your site to rank high in the SERPs?
Most people only review the first couple of pages of the SERPs when doing a search. If your website is on the third or fourth page, it is unlikely much traffic will be derived from organic searches. There is no magic button or one single thing that will get your website to rank high for the search terms your potential customers are searching for. Instead, there is a plethora of things, some the search engines outright tell us and others are tested and verified by professional SEOs (people that perform search engine optimization). Optimization techniques fall into one of two categories; on-page and off-page SEO.
On page SEO consists of optimization techniques that tell the search engines what your site is about. Every page, every picture, every written word is crawled by the engines and if you do a good job of helping them classify your site, it is easier for them to return your website for searches that are relevant to the customers looking for what you sell. These on-page factors include things that are visible to anyone looking at the website, such as content and layout. However they also include things that are not visible to the visitor, but exist in the code of the site, such as the site architecture and meta-tags.
It is important to have a well researched keyword strategy that is implemented into the copy and meta-tags of your site. There is a very fine line between keyword stuffing (bad) and keyword integration (good). You want to integrate the most searched keywords that apply to your site in an organic, human friendly way. All of us know when we have gotten to one of those sites that have keywords jammed on the page that really are not helpful or relevant. Not only will this make you look bad to the potential customers who visit your site, it is also a good way to be ignored or penalized by the search engines. There are a lot of tools that can help you find which keywords are best to integrate into your site. Those that both correspond to your products and services, as well as have high search volumes by your potential customers. We find that many marine businesses make the mistake of picking keywords that are known to them, without researching the actual terms that are used by their potential customers. Often times, words we use tend to be littered with “marine industry lingo” and are not relevant to the average consumer.
The tools we use when performing a keyword research exercise for marine industry customers are:
The Google Adwords’ Keyword Tool – Google gives you great information on current search volumes for keywords and suggests other like keywords that may also be both relevant for your business as well as more common to the average potential customer. Be sure to look at Local results, not Global. This really means national levels as opposed to international.
Google Trends – This tool will give you a sense of how popular search terms are over time, so you can adjust the seasonality of your keyword strategy to correspond with the natural seasonality of the marine industry in different regions of the country.
Wordstream Keyword Tool – Because we never like to trust Google for all of our knowledge, we also use this free tool by Wordstream. They give you a great list of suggestions that related to keywords you already have to help you expand your list.
Analytics – Review the keywords that are currently driving traffic to your site, are they the right keywords that are related to your products and services? This list will help you refine not only the right words but also the quality of traffic you are looking for.
Off page SEO is how the search engines determine the trustworthiness or “authority” of your site. The amount of of links from popular and high authority sites to your website is a ranking signal for the search engines. It is important for you to obtain links from websites that are not only high quality but also are similar to the industry and topic. For example, excellent links for marinas are links from State Parks lists of marina facilities. Government websites have high authority rankings by search engines and also often times have lists of resources for boating and camping customers, such as marinas and campgrounds.
Social Media signals are becoming more and more important to SEO. There have been some updates by the search engines this year that are penalizing poor link profiles and in response they are putting more emphasis on social media engagement. If your company doesn’t have a strong social media strategy, it is time to get one. Within the next couple of years, your community size and engagement level will be a major ranking signal to the search engines of the authority and relevancy of your website.
Tools to get an understanding of your current link profile are:
Open Site Explorer – By using this tool you can get a list of links that are currently pointing to your website as well as get ideas for new link opportunities by looking at the profiles of your competitors and seeing what high quality links they may have that you are missing.
Search Engine Webmaster Tools – Both Google and Bing give you free tools within their Webmaster Tool platforms to analyze your inbound links also.
How do you get your business listed on Google Maps?
A specific niche of website optimization is local SEO. As more and more of your potential customers are searching for you and your competitors on their mobile devices, they often use things like Google Maps. The algorithms that produce results on these sites are totally different than the regular organic search rankings and require a completely different strategy.
Again there is a list of ranking factors, some outlined clearly by the search engines and some known by professional SEOs to be true. The most important factor in local SEO is consistency of your business name, address and phone number, everywhere that it is listed on the internet (also known as NAP information). If your street address includes a S.E. in it, it is important that you always list it as S.E. and not sometimes Southeast or sometimes not include it at all. Everywhere your business information is listed on the internet is considered by the search engines to be a citation. The more common and consistent the information in these citations are, the better signals you are sending to the algorithms that you should rank on their map system.
Tools to measure your current citations listings and where you can pick up some easy wins:
getlisted.org – By simply typing in your information into this tool, it will give you a fairly complete list of places you have good local citation information and sites that you can easily register for new citations.
Localeze – This site allows you to enter your business information into one site and they distribute it to hundreds of the major business directory sites. This often includes services that update GPS information, Apple and Google Map information and many others.
There is a lot to know about SEO and most businesses would benefit from an analysis of their site from a professional who specializes in this field. We have those resources on hand at Exuma and would love to share them with you if you are interested. We will do a free consultation with you anytime and give you some recommendations of things you can do to make sure your website is optimized to lead the most amount of potential customers your way. Just let us know, we are here to help. Was this post helpful for your business? Please let us know in the comments below!