The launch of the Six Minute Strategist Blog has been a real learning curve. Having tackled WordPress (really quite user friendly), I have now been turning my attention to Search Engine Optimisation in order to improve my own web ranking, that of my company IAF Capital and in due course, that of my clients.
Firstly, the answer to the question I posed in the last post:
Who is your most important customer?
Answer: Google (or the Search Engines – Bing just hit 30% market share).
The Search Engines are important because the way your website(s) perform and rank in regard to the search algorithms can make a very significant difference to the number of new leads, customers and sales you can generate from your online presence.
I thought it would be helpful to share some of what I have learned with you and to provide some links to some resources (paid and free) to help you with your own SEO.
In this I have been considerably assisted by two online connections. The first is Scott Scanlon, who I have mentioned before. His Defining New Media Marketing podcast is a favourite of mine and if you have not listened to it before I strongly recommend it. A few weeks back Scott offered a free digital marketing analysis which looked at both the technical and general marketing aspects of my corporate website. I will share some of the insights he taught me.
The second resource I have greatly benefitted from is Pat Flynn’s Smart Passive Income podcast. Pat makes his living online and is generous with his advice and sharing his experiences of how to do this. While a full time online lifestyle may not be everyone’s aim, the resources both audio and video are invaluable. My thanks go out to both Scott and Pat.
So what is Search Engine Optimisation and why is it the new language of business?
Lets start with a brief anecdote. I recently asked a client about his website, the conversation went like this;
John: “Why do you have a website?”
Client: “Because we have to”
John: “Do you know who comes to your site?”
John: “Do you know where they come from?”
John: “Do you know why they come to your site?”
John: “Do you engage with them?”
Client: “No – we don’t know who they are.”
John: “So, why do you have a website…..?”
A key part of Web 2.0 is engaging with your audience but in order to start this engagement, your clients need to be able to find you. For this you need to appear on the FIRST page of the search engine, whether this is Google, Bing, Yahoo or YouTube (for video).
There are two ways to appear on the first page of search; you can buy a slot – “paid search” or you can rank in the top 10 websites for the term that is searched. This is called “Organic Search” and this is what I am going to concentrate on.
What is the purpose of your website?
In the first case it is a place where you set out your goods and services and explain clearly to your clients what you can do with the goal of creating business leads. On your website you should be actively encouraging your prospective clients to reach out to you for further information or to buy directly from the website. You need to remember that your website does not exist in isolation out in the web. It is not an island. I want you to think of it as a many armed octopus with its tentacles stretching out into cyberspace.
How does Search work?
The goal of search is to deliver the most relevant results for the term searched. The search engines have complex algorithms (which they keep secret but amend and update continuously) which seek to measure each site against the search term in order to deliver the most appropriate and RELEVANT result.
It is important to recognise that a key factor inherent in a search conducted by a prospective client is an implicit intent or desire to find the subject searched for and potentially therefore a potential intent to buy.
This is the starting point. A Keyword on your website is directly connected to the Search Term put in by the person conducting the search. These Keywords can comprise more than one word. The more words in a Keyword often the more precise or niche the nature of the search. This precision is important as we shall now see.
The Long Tail
The Long Tail is a statistical term referring to the probability distribution observed under a normal Gaussian distribution. In essence, a few values dominate the distribution with many occurrences but as the number of occurrences tail off, there are a very large number of values with only a few occurrences.
Chris Anderson applied this concept to search in his eponymous book. Anderson argues that while a few search terms return many results, there is a long tail of more complex or niche search terms with fewer results. This means in search terms there is less competition for these terms and it is easier to rank higher for these terms than the other more popular searches.
How do the Search Engines define Relevance?
While there are literally hundreds of factors taken into account, I would like to introduce you to some of the main factors and explain how you can do something to improve your ranking. The starting point for this is Google PageRank.
This was originally invented by Larry Page, one of the two founders of Google. He established a scale of 1 to 10 to measure relevance and then used his algorithm to rank pages. This ranking is a broad measure of trust and more trusted sites rank higher than less trusted sites.
There are a number of straightforward factors you can measure that contribute to PageRank.
A Backlink is a link from another site to your site. A link from a site with a high PageRank is more valuable to you than a link from a site with a lower PageRank in organic search. One phrase often use to express this value that I particularly like is “Google Juice” In essence you want lots of Google Juice. So a link to your site from LinkedIn, a well respected and trusted site, gives you more Google Juice than a link from your friend’s blog that he set up last week.
Role of .Gov and .Edu
Backlinks from .Gov sites or .Edu sites are given additional weight by Google – they are, in Google’s eyes, the most trusted as they are Government sites or Educational sites. This is often measured separately by SEO Software such as Market Samurai and you should note how your site ranks for these links.
Amount of Content
The amount of content on your site is measured and the search engines like to see more content rather than less and will give them more credit for this. It is also important to create this content carefully to ensure that it strategically contains the keywords that you have identified that are important to your business and for which you want to rank. This gives your site a greater chance of ranking for search terms in the Long Tail.
Frequency of Updates
Allied to content is the measure of how often you update your website. The search engines review your site (“crawl” over it with their “web bots”) frequently and measure how often the material on the site is updated with new content. The message for SEO is clear, frequent updates are important and get more credit. Matt Cutts from Google recommends trying to add at least one page to your website everyday – perhaps this is a bit much, but certainly once a week is to be recommended.
Domain Age is a measure in years of how long a site has been around. Older sites are more respected than younger sites and are awarded more Google Juice accordingly. One way to maximise the Google Juice from your Domain Age is to renew your website for the longest possible time allowed by your Domain Registration firm. This demonstrates your commitment to the Domain and the search engines will give you credit for this.
White Hat and Black Hat
A word of caution. Before we come on to SEO strategies it is important to understand the difference between White Hat and Black Hat. The latter refers to practices to optimise site ranking which are underhand or deceptive and which are frowned upon by the Search Engines. If you apply such practices, the Search Engines conclude that you are “cheating” or “gaming” their process and can penalise you both in the short term or long term by down grading your site rank.
In setting out to execute an SEO strategy it is therefore important to consciously stay on the right side of the line, in the White Hat community.
This then is a brief (and very incomplete) introduction to Search Engine Optimisation. It raises, to my mind, more questions than it answers. To keep the conversation going, I have listed Six questions (well, the Six Minute Strategist would, wouldn’t I?) which I will make the basis of my next post to continue to try to help you learn a bit more about SEO.
The Six questions are:
Question 1. What keywords are relevant to your business?
Question 2. What keywords do you want to rank for?
Question 3. What is the PageRank of your site?
Question 4. What can you do to improve the PageRank of your site?
Question 5. What is a Backlink Strategy?
Question 6. How can I execute a Keyword/Content strategy?
If you like this or have some further questions, please join in the conversation. I can be reached at jbdcolley[at]aol[dot]com, my twitter name is jbdcolley. If you like this please share this widely and RT on twitter. Thanks.