So What Do You Know About SEO?
So What Do You Know About SEO?
Recently SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has become a key topic in my prospect and client meetings. The buzz on the street about SEO seems to have made it to Main Street with small business folks looking at their potential to attract new clients thru Search Engine Listings.
Although most folks are not totally familiar with what SEO is or how it works the premise of “unlimited” new prospects finding you on search engines is almost creating a “gold fever” mentality…
OK – So What Exactly is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the quality of a website and its content and keywords in relation to its position in a search engine. (In other words your optimizing your website’s position in a search engine). Before I get into the what – who – and where – let’s just be clear about why your positioning is important. When someone goes to Google and they want to search for a service or product – they will type the keywords they are searching for. If they know your company name then they will type your name directly. The real focus (and buzz) on SEO is the new prospects that may not know your company but are actively searching for services or products that your company provides.
Based on the keyword search the search engine then returns a list of matches – generally 10 per page (with potentially 100’s and 1000’s of other matches on additional pages). If your company’s services and product are listed in the first page you are considered to have a number one keyword page ranking. Chances are good that the searcher will click on links within the first page (maybe searching the second although not as likely). So if your service is listed on the fifth page of a search engine result then you probably won’t have this prospect heading to your website.
So SEO helps bring you prospects?
Correct – and that is why it is important. SEO is all about a prospect that doesn’t know you or your company but finds your company’s website thru a keyword search match. Generally a company will have primary keywords (that are closely tied to their primary mission) and then can have many additional keywords pending how many products and services they offer and the key content that describes them.
For example lets take a company that sells Widgets in Middle Tennessee. Nashville + Widgets would be primary keywords with Nashville being the biggest city in Middle Tennessee and thus the biggest market for selling widgets. If someone is searching for widgets in Nashville (using keywords Nashville + Widgets) and you have a number one page ranking then you would be one of ten listings that the web searcher will see on the first page of their search. There’s certainly a chance they may take your link and end up on your website!
ALRIGHTY THEN – if we get a number one page ranking we’ve got it made?
I have heard of companies spending $1000.00’s of dollars per month to get number one Google rankings on the premise of attracting new business. I can fully understand the gold fever mentality here (to a reasonable extent created by SEO Specialists selling their services) – but a prospect coming thru SEO is a portion of how your company markets and sells itself to knew prospects. Other traditional ways include advertising (both web, print, radio and television media), client referrals, selling campaigns such as mailers and brochures, cold calls, and many forms of networking as well as your companies reputation and standing in your business community. Don’t loose site of this as SEO will not replace your traditional selling and marketing methods. It will enhance them and provide greater opportunity.
So a number one SEO ranking is good – SEO in general should become part of your sales and marketing portfolio but you still have to have all the other pieces of the puzzle to convert a prospect to a client. Having a great website for starters will help you actually convert an SEO link to a bonafide prospect. It will be your websites job to showcase the products and services that your company provides while highlighting your companies expertise. The SEO link may get a new prospect to your website – but the website has to do the selling. In emphasizing this I must say I have spent a lot of time researching SEO and checking out websites that have number one page rankings. Many of those websites WILL NEVER have a chance of converting the prospect into a sale as their websites are not good. (So in other words – companies spending $1000’s on SEO and not having a great website to convert SEO results is not a good plan).
So SEO Specialty Companies CAN Guarantee a Number One Ranking?
A quote from Google themselves can shed some light on this question…
“No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google. Beware of SEOs that claim to guarantee rankings, allege a “special relationship” with Google, or advertise a “priority submit” to Google. There is no priority submit for Google. In fact, the only way to submit a site to Google directly is through our Add URL page or through the Webmaster Tools and you can do this yourself at no cost whatsoever.” – GOOGLE.COM
I must say when I googled “Google” to get this statement. It was surrounded by advertising promoting SEO “Number One Page” Rankings Services. That is pretty funny and also tells you how “new” this industry is. Google sets the parameters and produces the rankings on their search engines. They also sell advertising on their search engine in this case including advertisers selling services that Google claims cannot be guaranteed. The bottom line you cannot buy search engine rankings (definitely not at Google) and Google has never identified the specific formulae they use in rankings. So this is not a pure science – but you can improve your ranking using SEO techniques. So let’s have a look at some of those techniques:
SEO Ranking Techniques:
1. Keyword Use in Title tag:
If you look a website and read the title line (at the top of your browser) you will see the keywords used in the title tag. Let’s look at this example of a particular service being offered in Nashville with the following tagline: “Nashville Greenways | Greenways, Inc. | Sidewalks, Bikeways, Railways, Busways, etc”. The keywords are specifically Nashville and Greenways and then the additional services related to greenways. The Company is also identified in the Title Tag but this is not a necessity. The expectation is that someone will go to a search engine and type “Nashville + Greenways” in terms of their keywords search. These keywords in your title tag line can significantly help your SEO rankings.
2. Keyword Use in Body Text:
Having great content on your website is imperative when it comes to keywords searches. In other words you need great content on your website that describes your the key services and products you provide. A good case to help emphasize this is linking to “good information” versus having that good information your own website. Having valuable links for your web visitors is a good technique but your key information (that in particular is related to your keywords) should not be thru a link to someone else’s website. Taking time and effort to have great content on your site is very worthwhile.
3. Keyword in your domain name:
It appears as though having a keyword in your domain names is advantageous from a Search Engines Ranking. Of course this is a double whammy in my book because if your domain name is really good – people may type the domain name directly and by pass the search engine altogether. If not the keyword in your domain seems to help in rankings. For example – if you are a tennis club in Nashville then a domain name such as www.nashvilletennis.com – would be a great keyword domain example as it has 2 keywords – Nashville & Tennis.
4. Verifying Your Sites Accessibility:
It is important to ensure that your website is actually listed on search engines (and this is not guaranteed!). So your webmaster should make sure your website has been submitted to all key search engines. The tops search engines (Google, MSN, Yahoo) have webmaster tools that will help the webmaster ensure that their client’s website is listed. Search engines also “crawl” the web constantly look for websites and establishing the content (keywords) that exist on that website. A search engine may initially fail to find or read your website (which can be caused by many goofy things like your website link timing out). If this happens the search engine will try to read the website again at a later point but until it reads if correctly your website may not be listed in the search engine (at all). So it is imperative to make sure your site is accessible to the search engine.
5. Internal Keyword Links:
If you have ever read a Fox Story online (or CNN) – quite often you will see a person’s name or specific subject that is hyperlinked. I have quite often clicked on these links thinking I was going to be taken to information about the person. What I actually was linked to was another related article on the same website. This is an internal link. It provides SEO ranking but this can also be very annoying and confusing to both prospects and clients. This should be well thought out and only used in moderation and when appropriate.
6. Age of your website:
Google uses the age of your website as part of its ranking system. Although this appears to be a newer ranking parameter it gives the impression that if your websites exists for a long period of time it may well be a tie breaking parameter to a similar website that is brand new. The age parameter is based on the first date that google indexes your website. I have read articles stating having longer domain name registration periods (say 5 years versus 1 years) may have a bearing on rankings but I have not ever seen a clear statement from Google on this. Keep in mind that owning a domain name in no way constitutes the existence of a website. I think the most important thing here to keep in mind is that a good quality website that has been around for a long time will most likely have high rankings.
7. External Links:
Google often makes reference to the importance of quality links. Some say this may have the highest of the SEO rankings but it is also take the most amount of work. The aim is to get your website linked by other websites that have similar keyword topics and the concept is the more quality links that your website obtains the higher the ranking Google gives your website. This area really needs a good game plan for implementing and there are a lot of very questionable SEO practices out there that people are paying a lot of money for that may give short term results. Generally reciprocal links are a good way to approach this providing value to both parties linking. Other things that will help increase links are press releases, blogs, e-news and good content that other websites will link to based on the value of the information.
8. Anchor Text on External Links:
Expanding on the External Link – Google ranks websites based on the keywords that are applied to the link text (that is actually the text that is hyperlinked) – which is called the Anchor Text. Of course this is extremely hard to control… “Hey Webmaster you are linking to our website can you change the words “Click Here” – to “Visit The Best Pub In Nashville”).” In other words you are depending on how the webmasters sets up these links. I think a good strategy here is to provide the logo and text that companies can use when linking to your website. This actually makes it easy for the webmaster to incorporate and it removes any guessing games from their end (and so it saves the webmaster time and it bring better ranking results to you).
9. Relevance of Linking Sites:
This is also an expansion of the External Links but this is a very important parameter as this no doubt Google introduced to keep the “web” as uncluttered as possible. When you are exchanging strategic links you want to stick with exchanges that are related to your topics and keywords. In other words a chocolate manufactures website creates link for its dealers (that sells their chocolate) would be a very relevant link. A link from the chocolate manufacturer to the local art gallery (that has nothing to do with chocolates) will probably not get the art gallery high scores on the relevance link. In other words the link has no association with the websites keywords (or topic) of the chocolate manufacturer. Therefore Google will not rank this link high in relevance.
10. Importance of Linking Sites:
And for today’s blog our final parameter is the importance of the website that is linking to you. The best example I can think of here is let’s take a tourism website. Say the primary website is Tourism Australia with a mission to promote Australian Tourism World Wide. With out any doubt their website would be seen as “Important” by Google and other search engines. Let’s say that they list on their website Travel Agents (Specialists) that have taken courses and received certification from the Tourism Board. If the Tourism Website links to the Travel Specialists websites then this would be advantageous to the Travel Specialist from a ranking point of view.
Develop Your Knowledge About SEO
I think this a good starting list and a good place to start to get an understanding of what is involved in SEO. There are more parameters than these ten that I have listed although these ten parameters are reported to be the most important in the rankings system. We (BeareWare) assume a large responsibility to make sure our clients websites are designed and managed with respect to these good SEO techniques. In our view good SEO starts with your web design and should not be viewed as an independent separate discipline.
With due respect to the many companies out there that offer SEO Specialty services we also see SEO as a long-term strategy. I think paying an SEO company to help you develop a long-term plan could be money well spent. And this is not to say we don’t want every client we have to obtain number one page rankings as soon as possible but the reasons they will achieve these rankings are based on the parameters described above which really comes down to hard work by both the web design company and the client.
Understanding SEO is really valuable to the small business owner. Be sure to do your research before embarking on SEO relationships and be sure you fully understand the process. Don’t expect miracles and recognize most great results are going to be the result of great work!
Peter Beare – Webmaster
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Peter Beare is CEO of BeareWare, a Website Design & Development Company located just outside of Nashville, Tennessee. Since building his first website for a local sports club in 1998 Peter has been a webmaster. Over the last 10 years Peter’s duties with BeareWare have included website planning, design and development, website marketing and sales, as well as database application programming & project management. But when all is said and done, Peter is still a webmaster and this is “Interview with a Webmaster“.