May 3, 2013
Are people finding your website? If your top keywords are not showing up within the first few positions on Google, the likelihood is that people will go elsewhere. Position matters.
What’s your SERP? It’s your Search engine rank position. You should make sure your most important search terms are on the first page- the goal is to be #1. Certainly within the first 3- which will get the most consumer attention (not everyone agrees with that. I once interviewed an SEO agency who said they refused to work for a client who said their goal was #3. They didn’t want to work for someone who was satisfied with being second or third best).
If you haven’t optimized for SEO on your site and don’t know where to start, here are a few basics:
1. Identify your top non-branded keywords.
Why? Your branded keywords should naturally rank well, because your own brand is going to be more prevalent on your site than anyone else’s that’s talking about you. You should check that, but it’s typically the case. And you’ll improve this in any case, by following the tips below, which include your brand name in key text placements.
Your non-branded keywords are the ones to optimize for. If you sell boots, for instance, you would want to rank well for ‘boot’ searches. But as you can imagine, it will be hard to beat the huge retailers out there who sell more boots than you. As I write this, the top natural results (the ones that show up under the paid and ‘sponsored’ results) are Zappos, UGG(R) and Steve Madden.
How to identify your top keywords? Start making your list based on a few things: Your top products and categories (i.e. Boots, fuzzy boots, warm boots, shearling boots). If you use an analytics program for your website, you can easily see what terms customers are coming to your site with. There are also some great tools that help you identify the ‘most searched’ terms that relate to yours. Promediacorp has a free tool that’s easy to use- you can see it here.
Just plug in your term, and you can see what consumers are searching for. You should choose to optimize the ones that are most relevant to your business. It’s not just about going for the one with the highest number of searches- you need to choose words that are relevant to your brand and website, that you have content to support. Your ranking is based on many factors (and Google is always tweaking its algorithms to try to ensure relevancy based on the content on your site). One interesting way to learn is to then search the top terms yourself to see who comes up. In the example I gave above, it was Zappos, UGG and Steve Madden. This way you know who you’re up against.
2. Add title tags and meta descriptions
The title tag is the text at the top of your browser window that identifies the page of the site you’re on:
It’s important to have keywords that are uniquely relevant to each page you’re on. This text will show up in your google results (unless google finds something it likes better on the page), so make sure it’s something that makes sense to your customers. And be sure to keep it to fewer than 70 characters- anything longer than that will get cut-off by Google. If you’re on a page that sells fuzzy shearing boots by the Boot Store, your title tag might look like this: FUZZY SHEARLING BOOTS | THE BOOT STORE
You can find more information about title tags, here: http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo/title-tag
The meta-description is in the code of the page (the customer doesn’t see it on your site). But any front end developer will know how to add it. The description should use relevant keywords for the page, but these are not so much to help your ranking as they are the descriptions that Google is most likely to pick up and show under your search result. It should describe the page and give the customer a reason to want to select your listing- if you have a standard offer, or value proposition. The optimal length is approximately 155 characters or fewer. In our boot store example, the meta-description might say:
Find the best selection of fuzzy Shearling Boots in sizes for men, women and children. Order today for Free Overnight Shipping at The Boot Store.
You can learn more about meta-descriptions, here: http://www.seomoz.org/learn-seo/meta-description
3. Add a site map and XML site map
Your site map tells customers what you offer if they look for a link to it in the bottom navigation of your site- it’s a best practice to have one. Google crawls your site map, and so it’s beneficial for SEO as well. An XML site map is one that the customers don’t see- it’s a behind the scenes site map in the code that tells Google everything that’s on the site. This is an important thing to have in helping improve your search rank. You’ll need a developer’s help to build one, but Google has some easy tools for this.
4. Add content
One of the many factors that go into your Google ranking is relevancy. Have a lot of pages to support your products, brand and messaging. Create value-add content that talks about how things are made, how to get the right fit, and more. But make sure it makes sense. If Google searches the page you titled “FUZZY SHEARLING BOOTS” and doesn’t find any text talking about fuzzy shearling boots- it’s not going to give you much credit for the page. Your images should have alt tags to support your keywords. You should have text on the page to support your keywords. Don’t overdo it- Google will penalize you for trying to trick the system by planting lots and lots of repetitive keywords on the page. Do use text instead of graphics for your messaging. Do add a text block at the bottom of the page that describes the page and talks about your value propositions, the selection, the quality, the options- and add a few links to important pages that relate to it. All of this should be believable and customer friendly. If it seems forced, it won’t be good for your brand, your customers, or Google.
5. Don’t use flash.
Sorry. But Google can’t read it. All of your flash pages in a section will read as a single page to Google- you don’t get any credit for them. Use HTML5 instead.
6. Read up on it…
This is just the beginning. Here are some great resources to fill you in on how Search engines work, how to optimize for SEO, and what you should do to create a search friendly site.
6. Make a habit of it
SEO is an on-going effort. You won’t ever be done. Your ranking will vary day to day, week to week, as your pages and other sites change and become optimized or out of date. Make a checklist your team can follow for every new page added to the site. Remember to update your site map periodically to keep it relevant. And make sure you’re changing your content regularly. I’ve pages lose a #1 ranking over the course of a few months, presumably because the content was static. Use a tracking tool to keep an eye on your top search terms. SEO.moz has a good one, at a reasonable rate. I’m sure there are other good ones out there. The important thing is to keep an eye on it, and to continue to optimize.