The art of ranking naturally in the search engines is known as Search Engine Optimisation (or SEO if you’re an acronym lover). It sounds complicated, but once you know the basic principles you’ll find SEO isn't the mysterious dark art you may think it is.
I explained how to think like Google here. Now it’s time to take action. In order to become Google’s number one, your priorities should be split into three areas. Below, all is explained…
1. Understand where the demand is
Many people who start businesses focus on what they want to offer. This is backwards. It makes much more sense to spend some time understanding what people are already looking for, and then aligning your services and offerings around that. Google’s Keyword Tool is free to use, and will give you an idea of what people are searching for online. Knowing this will help you use the right words in your web copy.
2. Prioritise keywords with relevance and value
Knowing what people are looking for is just the first step; you also have to judge exactly how relevant that term is and whether it can compete with other big names. We run an agency that helps businesses with their online marketing, but the term ‘online marketing’ isn’t in our target list, even though it has over 40,000 searches on it each month. Instead, we target 'online marketing agency' – as we feel this is a much closer representation of what we actually are. This keyword is much more likely to convert to a lead, so even though it only has 2,500 searches every month, it’s where we want to be.
3. Build your site according to your users’ needs
Once you know what your target keywords are, separate them into themed groups and create a dedicated landing page for individuals with a similar set of needs. Based on their search terms, consider what kind of content will be most relevant and engaging to those users, and work hard on meeting their immediate needs once they’ve arrived. It’s very easy to click the back button when browsing, so do everything you can to convince a user that they’re in the right place.
4. Optimise each page for its keywords (but not TOO much)
Once you’ve decided where you want each set of users to land, you also need to think about how to weave the keywords they’ve used into the page dedicated to them. You’ll want natural variations of the main keyword to appear in the title tag, description tag, the heading tag and the first paragraph of the content.
5. Keep your site in order with good internal linking
Let’s say you’ve got a page about ‘search engine optimisation’ on your site – it’s likely that you might use this phrase elsewhere on your site, too. If so, consider linking with that phrase back to the page which you want to rank for that phrase. This is called ‘internal linking’, and it will help Google understand what your pages are about. Check out Wikipedia for an example of this on a mammoth scale.
6. Track everything – for free
There are a number of tracking tools available to help you understand how well you’re doing online. Google Analytics will help you understand what keywords people are finding your site with and, more importantly, what they do when they arrive. Perhaps the most helpful, however, is Google Webmaster Tools. This will give you an indication of exactly what Google sees when it visits your site. Factors such as site speed, 404 errors, broken links and site significance are all listed here, with simple explanations of what they all mean. Definitely a good (and free!) place to start.
OFF SITE OPTIMISATION
7. Keep in Google's good books
Having good quality, relevant websites linking to yours is still seen by Google as a recommendation. But following ‘Penguin’ (a nickname for a Google update introduced last year to catch people cheating the system), businesses need to focus on gaining a much more ‘natural’ linking profile to get into Google’s good books. Instead of gaining lots of keyword-based links, most links should be from your brand name, website URL or similar, as this is usually how people choose to link to other websites when SEO is not a factor.
8. Ask others to link to your site
Make a list of the people your business deals with on a daily basis and then ask them to link to your site, pointing out the fact that your site ranking well will also benefit them. Also try searching your own brand name online to find people who already talk about you, then ask them to add in a link. Another easy win is to submit your site details to relevant directories. Think laterally about who might already be interested in linking to you and don't be afraid to make contact. If there’s any value in terms of the content or partnership opportunities you can offer, let them know.
9. Create great content
This is an opportunity for you to really stand out from the crowd. Consider anything from expert guest blogging on relevant industry websites, to creating and distributing newsworthy press releases, or building a dedicated online following through social media. The possibilities are endless, but think quality rather than quantity and you're much more likely to be successful.
10. Get social links
To help you build your social footprint, think about how you can add value to your consumers. What are their needs and interests? Make your social communications as interesting and helpful as possible to keep people engaged. You’ll find your following will continue to grow, helping you reach more and more users. Translating this into SEO benefit can be done by ensuring your social entities are well linked to your website, so Google can see you’re a thriving business with an engaged, growing customer base.
Andrew Atalla is founder of atom42, an online marketing agency in London.