Search engine optimization (SEO, or “search marketing” as some prefer to call it) doesn’t have to be complicated or require special technical knowledge. Even if you have absolutely no knowledge of SEO, you can learn the basics in a matter of days or even hours.
We’ll go over a basic intro to SEO here, and later I’ll share a simple SEO strategy you can build an online empire around.
If you’re already familiar with SEO, forgive me for getting back to basics, but I have a feeling a lot of readers will appreciate the foundation.
First, a Crash-Course in Search Engine Optimization
Search marketing is one of those things that takes little time to learn, but lots of time to master.
Just to define SEO for the uninitiated, SEO is the process of increasing or improving traffic that comes to your website from search engines.
Search traffic can be especially valuable to your site because search visitors tend to be very focused and engaged. Not surprisingly, an entire industry has grown up around the practice of search engine optimization. SEO experts tend to talk in technical terms that make SEO seem difficult and complex.
But the truth is, you can learn and apply basic SEO strategies and achieve results yourself without ever engaging an expert.
SEO efforts are usually broken down to two components, on-page optimization and off-page optimization. On-page optimization is focused on things you can do to your website to improve search rankings. Off-page optimization is about the external factors that can improve your rankings.
On-page efforts are important, but they’re fairly simple and easy to accomplish. Off-page optimization is by far the more difficult and important factor in topping the search results.
It All Starts with Keywords
At the center of all SEO efforts are keywords. Keywords (or keyword phrases or keyphrases) are simply the words or phrases that someone might type into a search engine.
People who aren’t familiar with SEO tend to think that if you do the right things to your website, Google will like you and send you search traffic. That’s only partly true, and that’s where keywords come in.
The search engines want to send search visitors to relevant results. Naturally, a relevant result for any search will likely include the exact keywords the searcher typed in to the search engine. On-page optimization usually focuses on making sure you put the keywords in the right place on your pages and site.
Beyond keywords and content, it is also important to know how many people are performing a search for a given set of keywords. That’s known as search volume, and search volume determines how many visitors you could receive for a particular keyword or phrase. Search volume is also related to how competitive a keyword might be.
When planning any SEO efforts, you first start with keywords. You figure out which keywords you want to target based on search volumes and competition.
Your on-page efforts will then focus on optimizing your site and specific pages (or new pages) for specific keywords.
The things that matter on-page include:
- meta tags (like title, description and keywords)
- keyword placement (in content, header tags, image alt tags, and other places)
- internal linking
- and and handful of other less important factors
We’ll get into more detail when we discuss our simple SEO strategy below, but first, let’s get back to off-page factors.
Remember when I said off-page optimization is much more important and difficult to accomplish? Here’s why.
The search engines can’t just rely on your site’s content to know where to rank it in the search results. To really know where a site should rank, the engines have to rely on other site’s opinions as well. In fact, they weight other sites’ opinions much more heavily.
How do the search engines measure other sites’ “opinions?”
Through links. Links are the currency of the web, as they say, and links are the biggest determinant of where your pages will appear in the search results.
Quantity of links isn’t all that matters though. Quality of links is important too, as is the anchor text (the specific text that is hyperlinked) of the link, and the content of the page and site a link is coming from.
With me so far? Great. Let’s jump in to the simple SEO strategy, and it will all start to come together. Then you can move on to building that empire I mentioned.
A Simple SEO Strategy
To make use of this SEO strategy, you’ll only need a couple of free tools, and a little time. Let’s start with some keyword research.
Keywords (and keyword phrases) come in all different types.
Keywords can be one word long, or a handful of words long. Keywords can have from zero searches per month to millions of searches per month. Likewise, keywords can have no competition whatsoever, or they can have hundreds or thousands of sites working to rank for them.
Usually, the higher the search volume a keyword has, the more competitive it will be, but not always. The opportunities lie in words you want to rank for that have low competition relative to their search volume.
Common keywords with high search volumes and high competition are known as “short-tail” keywords, and less common keywords with lower volume/competition are known as “long-tail” keywords. Check out the full definition of long-tail if you’re interested, but for now, I’ll just use the phrase to refer to those keyword groups.
Let’s dive in and show you some examples of what I’m talking about.
Google provides an excellent free tool for doing keyword research. It’s named the “keyword tool” (original, right?), and you can access it here:
For your particular site, think of some terms that you’d like to receive search visitors for. Let’s say you write about making pies. Naturally, “pie recipes” would seem attractive as a phrase you’d like to get search visitors from.
Fire up the keyword tool and enter in pie recipes. You’ll find results like this:
Notice that “pie recipe” and “pie recipes” have 1.5 million and 450 thousand global search results, respectively. How would you like to get some of that traffic? Before you get too excited, I should explain a couple of things.
First, these keywords would be considered “short-tail.” They are undoubtedly extremely competitive, even without researching the competition (which we will do shortly).
Second, the search results we’re looking at right now are known as “broad” results. In Google’s keyword tool, results without quotes are called broad. Broad results include more than meets the eye. The search volume listed there includes not only “pie recipes,” but also “pecan pie recipes,” “pies,” or anything that merely contains the keyword or any related keywords.
To find out how may people searched for exactly “pie recipes,” we’ll have to check the box that says [Exact] under Match Types in Google’s tool.
When you do that, you’ll find that about 22,000 global searches were performed in the latest month for that exact phrase. It’s not as impressive as 450,000, but still a huge number. It’s also still likely to be way too competitive for our strategy.
We need to refine our keyword search further, and start looking for long-tail terms.
To be continued…
We’ll continue this tutorial next week. I hope you’re enjoying it so far. If you have any questions about this part, feel free to ask in the comments.
Continue to part 2 of the simple SEO strategy series.
photo by marfis75