People have not stopped buying things, so how are they researching and purchasing products since they have made themselves immune to old marketing techniques like banner ads and direct mail?
The answer is with search engines and Google. According to comScore, Americans conducted 11.5 billion searches in June 2008, and Google was used for 61.5% of those searches.
This means it is essential that you make it easy for customers to find you, and one of the most effective ways to do so is search engine optimization (SEO), which focuses on getting your Web site listed in the unpaid, organic search engine results.
Organic listings generate visitors to your site. Moreover, with SEO, you don't pay a per-click "tax" to the search engines, so it usually has a higher ROI than paid-search listings. Finally, if you do SEO right, it can be a competitive advantage, unlike paid search, because anyone can increase their keyword bid to beat you out.
How do you actually get your Web site ranked high in search engines? The answer is quite simple, but getting there can be a bit more difficult.
Search engines use two broad categories of factors to decide which site shows up first in search results:
- On-page SEO factors are all the things that happen on your Web page. The good part is that you have complete control over these things. The bad part is they are only about 25% of the reason you will rank for a search term.
- Off-page SEO factors are things that happen outside your direct control but are roughly 75% of the reason you rank for a given search. The most important off-Page SEO factor is the number and quality of links into your Web site. Search engines use links as a measure of how interesting your content is, since more interesting content tends to get more links. Search engines also regard links from more-established Web sites as more important than links from less-trustworthy Web sites.
With those basics in mind, here are five useful tips to help guide you through your SEO strategy.
1. Pick good page titles
The page title of each Web page is the most important on-page SEO factor. The page title is the text that appears in the top bar of your browser window and is the first thing a search engine looks at to determine what the page is about.
For instance, the page title of the MarketingProfs home page is "MarketingProfs - Marketing Resources for Marketing Professionals." It does a good job telling search engines about that page, using keywords relevant to the target audience.
The other smart thing Marketing Profs does is that the page title is different on each page of the Web site. Just as in the case of a lottery, you don't bet the same number over and over for the same drawing; you want to use each page of your Web site as a different entry into the SEO lottery, and a unique page title is how to do that.
2. Be smart about URLs
Your URL is how search engines track and manage your company's reputation online. Using a free URL that actually belongs to another company is a bad idea in the world of SEO because you can never change or forward that URL. Using URLs like yourcompany.blogspot.com make it possible for you to build SEO power for blogspot.com, but if you ever want to move or rename your Web site, you have to leave all that power back at the old Web site.
If you have your own domain, like yourcompany.com, then you can always move to a new address and forward all the SEO power you have built up.
3. Start a blog
Blogging does two great things that are a huge help with SEO.
First, if you run a blog correctly, you are updating content on a frequent basis. Search engines love fresh content on Web sites. Web pages or articles that have been published recently on an established Web site get an extra boost in the rankings. The second benefit of blogging is that blogs are a magnet for links. The people who do the most linking online are bloggers and writers. They are much more likely to link to an interesting blog article with a unique perspective on an issue than a typical corporate Web site.
If you start a blog and regularly post content that is appealing to your market, you will help your SEO efforts a lot.
4. Leverage your PR program
If you have a public relations program at your company, there are two things you need to do for SEO. First, you should optimize all of your press releases. This basically means adding links into your press releases that lead back to your Web site. Second, as you get coverage of your company in online publications, make sure that there is link within the article back to your company. You would be surprised how many journalists do not automatically link to companies they write about.
For bonus points, for your links in press releases and media coverage, use hyperlinked text with keywords relevant to your business as the link, not just the URL. The search engines key off of these keywords for added clues about the topic of your Web site. For example: you want a link like marketing resources, not http://www.marketingprofs.com.
5. Use social media to build links
Many marketers are scared of social media. The trick is to think of it just as an online version of all the business cocktail parties you have attended over the years. And just like at a cocktail party, with social media you should never enter the conversation with a sales pitch. But social media is an excellent way to promote your interesting blog articles or other content, because other bloggers and writers might write about your company and link back to your content. Find online communities, groups, blogs, and networks where your audience hangs out, and start listening and asking questions.
SEO is like a gigantic onion—there is always another layer you can peel off to go deeper, but these are just a few tips to get you started on the most critical first few levels.