SEO is an ever-evolving beast that can be quite intimidating to those who are new to digital marketing. Over the past decade, I have worked with many organizations, large and small, that have been trying to understand how they should be approaching SEO and what tricks of the trade I had to share.
As I’ve explained to each of them, there are no tricks in SEO. Those who try to trick search engines have always come up on the losing end by having their sites devalued or entirely blocked by search engines. Instead, there are five core SEO tactics that I live by and share with those who want to utilize SEO for their own businesses.
1. Understand how people search
If you want people to find your website, you need to think like them. Too often, people get caught up in their own industry jargon that they forget what their prospects will actually be typing into Google. Ask yourself, “Do my prospects refer to my product in the same way I do?”
Early in my career I saw this happen first hand. My company wanted to re-invent a common functionality in the PR industry. They wanted to get away from old language and use new, more innovative language. So we optimized our site for the new language. The result? We lost a TON of traffic. The reason? People weren’t searching for that cool new keyword, they were searching for the old, boring keyword, but it was the keyword that they knew. We quickly realized our mistake and went back to the old language. After a few months, search traffic returned.
2. Pick your keywords wisely
Building off of how people search, you need to select the keywords for which you want to rank. This is a very tricky – and sometimes time-consuming – process. The Google Adwords Keyword Planner lets you see how often keywords are searched for every month. (It does require you to sign up for Google Adwords, but you don’t have to pay to use the tool.)
3. Put your keyword in your Title tag, H1 selector and body text
Too often, people forget to put the main keyword that they’re targeting on a page in the title tag of their site. The Title tag appears in the tab in your browser.
Your Title tag not only tells search engines what your page is about, but it also appears as the clickable text on search result pages. A clear Title tag helps both search engines and readers find your content. Include your keyword as close to the beginning of the Title tag as possible.
DO NOT put your website name before your keywords. This is probably the biggest issue I see day in and day out. A Title tag should be formatted as “[Descriptive keyword text about page] – [Website name]”.
Your H1 selector is the main headline of your page. It is commonly in the biggest font on the page and reads just like a newspaper headline. Though search engines have gradually decreased the value of keywords in H1’s, it is still an important visual queue for readers who click through to your site – and when people come to your site, you want them to stay, right? Put your keyword close to the beginning of your H1, but it doesn’t have to be the first word. Your H1 should read well and not feel like keywords were forced into it.
Your body text is what your webpage is really all about, so remember to write clearly and use your keyword throughout your copy. But don’t force the keyword into the text. If you know what keyword you’re writing for, it will end up flowing naturally into your copy. There isn’t a steadfast rule for how many times you should use your keyword in your body copy, but my guideline is to shoot for using it 2-3 times for every 400 words.
4. Create great, usable content that people will want to share
There are trillions of webpages on the Internet, so you need to provide something special with the content you create to make it stand out from the pack. Most businesses that I work with have a blog on their site where they create the vast majority of their content. On those blogs, they write to help people solve a problem.
So why do you need your content to stand out from the pack? If you follow tactics 1-3 above, shouldn’t that get you the rankings you need? No. Those tactics are building the foundation to get your site indexed for the appropriate keywords, but the real driver of SEO rankings is how many inbound links, Facebook Likes, Twitter retweets, Google +1’s, etc. that a page receives.
These external factors tell search engines that a particular piece of content is popular. Search engines want to provide the most value to their own users, so they want the combination of sites that fit a certain keyword and sites that are popular. Those sites that are optimized well for a certain keyword and that are popular will rank higher than those that only have one or the other.
5. Become part of the online community in which you do business
Your website is an island until you begin reaching out to other sites and people. Look across your industry to see where people discuss trends and ask for help. There are communities in nearly every topic, and those communities are always looking for experts. Engage with them, but don’t be promotional. Go there to help and add to the conversation. You will cultivate new relationships and gain followers, fans and links to your own content organically.
LinkedIn has great communities, as does Facebook. You can also look for hashtags on Twitter that are used in your industry and contribute there. And, yes, Google+ is also a good place to look, as some communities really took off there and have great followings.
SEO can be intimidating and is definitely not an overnight process. It takes a lot of time and commitment to get your content ranking well. But if you follow the 5 SEO tactics above, you will be setting yourself up for future success that will build upon itself with each additional content piece you create.