Search engines (especially Google) play a critical role in the marketing of many businesses. Whether the web is your primary channel or not, it can’t hurt to get a few tips on how to get your website more traffic from search engines. I recently interviewed SEO guru Kath Cashion for her perspective …
Q1. Search engine optimisation (SEO) sometimes has a ‘black box’ mystique about it. What’s the reality in your view?
A: Remember that if you build for search engines alone and not for people to look at, then you’ve gone too far. Search engine optimisation isn’t necessarily as complicated as some people make it out to be – there are a few simple guidelines to get right, and a lot of it is following standard good practices.
Q2. How big a role should search engine optimisation (SEO) play in a business? Do people devote enough attention to it?
A. It depends on why you want a website. If it’s simply an online brochure for your business, then you just need to rank for your name and SEO wouldn’t be a big focus for you. But if you want to sell products and services online, then you need to give a lot more attention to SEO and attract a long tail of search traffic.
It’s surprising how many businesses don’t even rank well for their own name. This is good, because if you are prepared to put some effort into SEO, you can get a big advantage over many sites.
Also, a lot of people don’t consider search early enough. Tweaking a website retrospectively will never be as effective as designing a site for SEO from day one.
Q3. What are some quick-wins with SEO that are often overlooked yet can make a real difference to a business?
Firstly, start by thinking about SEO like you would with any basic marketing strategy. Who is your audience? What are they looking for? Now go and design a web page that solves this!
In terms of basic SEO guidelines, make sure you get the URLs and the titles right. And use key phrases that you’re targeting a few times on a page. This bit isn’t rocket science. For some reason, it tends to be the strategic end of things that people often skip.
Also, it’s important to be realistic. If you’re a suburban shopping centre, you can’t target the keyword "retail" and expect much traffic. Like any marketing strategy, it depends on your capabilities relative to competitors.
Q4. What are some good ways to build links to your website?
Keyword generation is no good unless you’re on the right track in the first place with content. And your site is nothing if people don’t link to it. So create useful and interesting content so that people link to you. Good examples include tools, maps, games, handy information, competitions, etc.
There is a range of other things you can do. Start by seeing who links to your competitors and try to understand why. If your site could provide a useful service to them or their audience, contact them and ask if they would link to you. More broadly, think about all the people who would see your site as a useful resource and contact them.
Another useful technique is to write brief articles relevant to your subject area and post them on ezine websites. This is basically free content that others can use in return for linking back to you. Examples of these sites include Ezine Articles , Zimbio, Buzzle, and IdeaMarketers.
Q5. What tools or software would you recommend for anyone wanting to improve their SEO?
A. There’s quite a range of different resources, and the good news is that many are free or quite cheap. However, some of them only work well if you have a large site or get substantial US-based traffic.
- To see what keywords are driving traffic to your competitors, check out Spyfu or look at the meta keywords on the source page of your competitor’s website.
- To see how much traffic different phrases are getting, try Google Trends.
- To see demographic information on your site or a competitor’s, use Compete or Quantcast
- Don’t forget to use Google Webmaster Tools. They are building in an increasing number of SEO tools, such as checking your titles on different pages, or showing who is linking to you and what anchor text is being used. You can also use this toolkit to see how often Google is visiting your site, and what effect recent changes have had on this.
- There are lots of keyword generation tools out there. My favourite is the Google Adwords keyword tool. If you are happy to pay for a service, then Web CEO is a good way to track your rankings on particular keywords.
Q6. What are the main challenges with SEO and how can you overcome them?
A key challenge is that SEO is all about tradeoffs. To what extent do you build a website for search engines versus building it for human users? For example, search engines need lots of words and don’t like Flash.
The last challenge I’ll mention is about being clear on your goals and tracking your progress. Search and analytics go hand in hand, yet not everyone treats it this way. Google Analytics is free and effective – there’s really no reason not to be tracking everything.
So there you have it – plenty of tips from an experienced search engine marketer. From a startup perspective, I’d emphasise the following important lessons from this interview with Kath:
- Think about SEO from day 1. It is much more effective than retro-fitting changes, and can give you an advantage over your competition.
- Approach SEO from a strategic marketing perspective. Don’t jump straight into mucking around with keywords or building links. Step back and think about who you want to serve, what they need, and how you can offer them something unique and valuable.
- Check out the myriad of free tools out there to help improve your SEO efforts. This is not just keyword generation, but also for market research, competitive intelligence, and measurement and tracking,