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is the difference between your business easily being found online and getting lost in the noise of thousands of other businesses trying to stand out. With Google’s ever-changing algorithm, it can be difficult to know what’s effective here and now.
In 2013, success in SEO hinges on businesses putting together a robust combination strategy that brings together an integrated web of great content, credible links, and social signals. Each of these pieces supports the other, providing tremendous value to readers, building your authority and brand value, and distributing your content across new channels. Here are the highlights of what to think about in terms of each of the three pillars of great SEO.3 Pillars of SEOContent (Pillar #1): Make The Most of What’s On Your Pages
The first pillar of an effective SEO strategy is your onsite content and structure. From the way you organize your site to how you optimize your content, there are five key aspects that will ensure that your content is doing its job. A strong on-site SEO plan includes keyword research, content optimization, user experience, site design, and the presence of a blog with great content that’s updated frequently. Let’s take a closer look at each one.Keyword research:
The foundation of your SEO strategy is keyword research. The concept is simple: you can only optimize your site once you know how your target market searches for the products/services you have to offer. Google’s Keyword Tool is designed to help advertisers in the Adwords Program target effective keywords for their paid advertisements. But it’s a free, robust tool that can be used by website owners that want to better understand the range of keywords people are using to get to their site. Try these three strategies to get started:
Brainstorm a list of phrases related to your business, brand, products, industry, location, and customers. Once you’ve developed that list, enter each of these words into the Google Keyword Tool to see what related terms are recommended by Google. Google’s suggestions will greatly expand your keyword list. Pay attention to long-tail keywords (e.g. “apartments in West Hollywood near beach” vs. “Hollywood”). They’re easier to rank for and just as important as your major keywords.
Enter your site URL into the website box in the Google Keyword Tool. It will scan your site, and come back with a list of recommended terms that you are currently ranking for or could target. Many of these suggested terms are will be great keywords for your site.
Create a list of competitor sites and enter each of those URLs into the Keyword Tool. Your competitors may be ranking well for specific terms that you hadn’t thought about. While you never want to directly copy a competitors’ keyword strategy, it can often inform your approach and round out options you hadn’t thought of yet.
Keyword structure: Once you’ve developed a list of keywords, take the time to organize them. One simple way to do this is by taking a look at your website structure and mapping keywords to the major sections. For example, if you’re an SEO firm serving customers in New York and New Jersey, you might have pages with different options for travel rates for in-person meetings and other details by location. That way, when individuals are searching for “SEO Firm Manhattan” they’re likely to find your site. Knowing what sections of your site are targeting specific keywords and gearing your content optimization toward those goals will move your SEO efforts forward more quickly.Content optimization:
Once you’ve researched your keywords, you’ll need to optimize your content for those terms. Content optimization is not about stuffing keywords into every available opportunity or even meeting a specific formula of “keywords must appear X times per 500 words”. Instead, just remember to include your primary keyword is included in your article title and meta tags. Remember that each page (or unique URL) represents an individual piece of content that can be optimized for different, specific phrases and conversion goals.User experience (UX):
User experience is simply a way of encapsulating the question: when people visit your site, are they able to quickly and efficiently do what they want? For example, if they’re trying to make a purchase or find specific information, is it easy to locate the menu or complete the task? If the answer is no, it may be hurting your search rankings.
One easy way to figure out if your user experience needs to be improved is to look at your bounce rate on Google Analytics. A bounce is a visitor that leaves your site without visiting more than a single page. If a high percentage of people are bouncing from your site, you may be ranking for irrelevant terms or your site design may be too complicated. Ask yourself what people are trying to accomplish, and look at ways you can make that easier.
Initial things to look at are making sure your navigation is easy to use, that your site design is as clean and uncluttered as possible, and that big actions are highlighted in clear and effective ways. Consider hiring a professional UX designer to help you evaluate your site if you’re having trouble breaking through on this point. It’s possible to design your site in such a way that you not only achieve optimal SEO, but also optimal conversion rates.
Site design: Is your site design clean and professional? There’s an assumption, by both search engines and visitors, that a site that looks spammy is spammy. If you’re trying to build an authority site but are working on a highly out of date design, consider upgrading to a simple website on WordPress. WordPress is an easy to use content management system with many excellent designs (called templates) available for free. Premium templates range anywhere from $20 to a few hundred dollars, and allow you to specifically customize your site. Some of the best templates can compete with world-class designs.
Regularly updated blog: Since Google’s Freshness Update, there’s a ranking premium for sites that are regularly getting new content. The easiest way to do this is through the addition of a blog. By regularly adding articles that are valuable for your readers – from timely pieces that comment on trends and news to evergreen pieces like how-to’s or product reviews – you’ll build your authority and improve your search rankings.
Another benefit of regularly blogging is that it quickly builds the amount of content that you can rank for in the search engines. A well-developed strategy can help you target many of your keywords through ongoing blog development. Think of each blog post as another raffle ticket you throw in the hat for being listed in search engine results pages.
Inbound Links (Pillar #2): The Infrastructure of Connections
Links give Google one very important signal: another site or reader found material on your webpage valuable and relevant enough for them to link to it. The more links you get, the more valuable your content is deemed to be by search engines. More likes also builds trust and authority, causing your pages to rank higher, driving more traffic.
In the past, link building was a numbers game. Links came from simple tactics that included listing your site in a bunch of directories, linking to your site from comments on blogs, and other transactions that focused more on having someone dedicate the time to “link building” than actually focusing on creating value for readers.
Today, link building is still critically important, but there’s more pressure to build high quality links. Sites that you’re linking from need to be reputable and relevant to your industry. Here are some strategies to build links that also build your brand and authority in your niche.
Guest blogging: There’s an increased focus today on guest blogging as site owners look for organic ways to build links. Guest blogging is simple: you find and pitch an appropriate blog with an offer to write a post geared toward their audience. When you’re guest blogging, look for reputable blogs that are relevant to your industry and subject matter. Here’s an article that describes a step-by-step process for guest blogging.
Press release distribution: Press releases are another way to build links to your site and help build brand recognition for your business. There are two keys for effective press release distribution. The first is to find a newsworthy story to write about in your release, or to find a relevant hook in the broader news landscape. For example, if you are a coach for administrative assistants looking for new opportunities and its Administrative Professionals Day, your press release is more likely to be widely picked up.
This syndication effect will help you build inbound links. It may also lead to valuable news coverage with publications running your story or reporters asking you to act as a source. The second piece of leveraging press releases is to use an effective press release distribution service. It doesn’t have to cost you hundreds of dollars. In fact, many are free. But make sure that whatever you choose is active and reputable. A popular choice is PRWeb.
Repackaging existing content: Building links to your site doesn’t require an army of writers constantly developing new content (although it certainly doesn’t hurt!). Instead, look at your existing content and see how it can be repackaged across platforms and mediums. Do you have a great, data-driven blog post? That could be the foundation of a fantastic and highly viral infographic. A case study or white paper could be paired with some simple imagery and turned into video content for YouTube and Vimeo. A newsletter distributed by email could be turned into guest posts or social media content.
Leverage real world connections into links: Are you sponsoring local events in your community, such as little league groups or a networking event? Perhaps you’re speaking at a conference or doing pro-bono consulting for a non-profit? Do you belong to any professional associations, speakers organizations, or civic groups? Many of the above opportunities will come with the chance to list yourself on their website, along with a bio or company description and a website link. Sit down and do an audit of these options – especially ones you may already be a part of and not using effectively. Circle back and have your site listed where possible, and be on the lookout for these opportunities in the future.
Target high quality directories: Indiscriminately listing your site in every directory that you can find has little value. It’s fair to say that it can even backfire; it’s an old link building trick and one that Google frowns upon. Yet there are a number of directories out there that are valuable to your SEO strategy. Be on the lookout for three kinds of directories where it can be useful to list your site. The first is local directories; being listed can help you rank for location-based keywords. The second is niche or professional directories that are squarely focused on your industry. The third are established directories with sections that focus on your area of expertise. Use a tool like Yext.com to find out if you’re already listed in some key directories.
Social Media (Pillar #3): Making Friends, Engaging, and Sharing Content
There was a time when analysts wondered if social media would make SEO obsolete. In reality, social media has augmented and transformed the way that we think about SEO, without making the discipline itself go away. Today, social signals are having a direct impact on how sites are ranking in the SERPs. Here’s what you need to think about in making the most of social media.
Interact in social media channels: The best way to build some buzz on social media is to get out there and get connected. Remember to think about your social presence as a conversation. Share content that’s high value for your contacts, while also engaging with them. Engagement means sharing other people’s content, thanking people for retweets and shares, and joining people in discussions. This doesn’t have to take a lot of time, but ideally you should spend a few minutes a day focused on engagement.
Build your brand: Social media is a great medium to help build your brand. A branded social presence can help build word of mouth that gets you customers, mentions, and links. Think about branding your social presence in three key ways. Make sure that your profile names and descriptions are branded and link to your site. Ideally your username and URL for both sites should be linked to your business name. Ensure that the look and feel of your site carries through to your profile layouts and design. Finally, share professional content in your brand’s voice consistently. This doesn’t mean that you should never share personal details, but it does mean to evaluate all potential content through the lens of “is this appropriate for my customers and colleagues?”
Generate social signals by making content easy to share: Does every page on your site include buttons that make it easy to share your content? How about every post on your blog? Take the time to install a program such as ShareThis to allow readers to instantly share anything they enjoy. Focus on making sure that you’ve included the relevant networks – at a minimum, users should be able to share to Facebook, Twitter, Google +, and Pinterest.
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, but it’s rarely the most effective. Particularly if you’re trying to get traffic to your site and people to read and share your content. Instead, decide what platforms are going to be the most effective for you. The best strategy takes into account the social behaviors of your target customers. Are they video people? Facebook addicts? Spend your time online cultivating a following that generates social activity and connects to your business goals beyond SEO.
Think Google+: From a purely SEO perspective, it’s important to have a presence on Google+. Here’s why: Google has been explicit that social signals play a role in its algorithm. Twitter and Facebook matter some, but many of the search results from both networks are restricted. Therefore, the network that’s carries the most weight is Google +. Ensure that you have a profile that’s connected to your site, and spend time building your audience there. Share content, and make sure that a Google+ button is available for people to like and share your content.
The world of SEO is definitely complex, and in 2013 a simplistic legacy approach is no longer enough. Effective SEO requires managing different elements, ranging from your content and keywords to your social media and link building activities. But with a focus on these three pillars, you can create a foundation and structure that will support a high ranking site for a long time to come.