“What’s the deal with SEO? Is it really that important? SEO or Google Adwords? Which should I focus on? And should I be paying someone to do it for me?”
These were recent questions from a client of mine and they’re pretty common. This might be something that you’re trying to wrap your brain around as well. I'll provide my 2 cents worth below as well as an action plan to test your SEO efforts - before you decide to pay for SEO support.
What’s the deal with SEO? Is it really important?
According to Search Engine Land’s definition:
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimisation”. It is the process of getting traffic from the “free”, “organic”, “editorial” or “natural” search results on search engines.
It’s basically optimising the content on your website so that it ranks higher in search engine results and you get more traffic because of that. It is NOT paying for Ads or Retargeting. (That’s Search Engine Marketing, or SEM.)
And yes, it is important because you want to be found when people search for solutions to their problems, worries, concerns, desires, wishes, wants, etc - which will translate into the products or services you provide. If you’d like to really dig deep into SEO, I highly recommend the Beginners Guide to SEO by Moz. It is for Beginners but they cover the topic so extensively, you’ll be Advanced by the end of it.
The information below will tell you what steps to take so you can consciously improve your SEO. (You may want to grab a cup of tea before you read this!)
SEO or Google Adwords?
This is a bit of a slippery subject. However, before you even start with which is best – there are a few things you should have in place before you can tackle truly SEO or Adwords. (OK, scratch the cup of tea – a stiff drink may be required.)
SEO is generally a misunderstood concept. People often think that SEO is something done to their website to make it magically appear on the first page of a Google search. However, Google's search ranking algorithms contain a ridiculous number of variables in how it determines which websites it ranks highest and they are constantly changing. Adwords is just one of those variables. Having video content and a mobile friendly design are others. Being incredibly relevant and useful to your visitors - another one.
Realistically, there’s probably no way to tick ALL of Google’s boxes but you can tick quite a few with a simple checklist and some useful software.
What’s the Goal?
So the next question for you is “What are you trying to achieve?” Typically, the answer to that question is “Sell more products or services.” In which case, you need to understand whether ranking #1 in Google will actually do that for you. Perhaps you get most of your clients from referrals. Or you hold webinars or in person events that bring in your clients and grow your audience. If that’s the case, spending money on ranking #1 might not be the best use of your marketing funds.
If you are trying to achieve more traffic, then having all of your ducks in a row to start before you spend money is smarter. You don’t want to generate traffic with ads or SEM, if there’s nothing on your website for people to see, do or learn. That’s a waste of time and money.
Content...it’s all about the content.
The best way to ensure your website ranks well is to have relevant content that is updated regularly with information your visitors want (which is why blog posts are so important). So, what is relevant content? It’s anything that answers your visitors questions, helps with their problems, excites them to take action, and/or teaches them something new.
Ask yourself, "Who is your target audience and what do they need? What is the problem that you are solving for them? And how do they like to digest information?"
Blog posts, videos, podcasts, images, lists, ebooks, How To guides, reviews, infographics, etc - these are all content. As long as they are providing valuable information to address your audience’s needs, it is relevant.
And remember that your biggest audience member is probably Google. They check your website more frequently than most of your clients. Google’s job is to deliver the most relevant, useful content to someone who is searching for it. And they check to see if your site is being updated regularly. If it is, you gain more domain authority.
The other part of relevant content is to make sure you use the words within those blog posts and content pieces that your visitors will use to find you when they search for you in Google. That’s the “relevant” part.
For example, if you’re trying to build awareness - it is highly unlikely that visitors will magically type in your company name - because they don’t know about you yet. Visitors will type in what makes the most sense to them - not you. They’ll type in a question or a solution to a problem they are having or the problem itself. What visitors type into Google, Bing or Yahoo are your keywords.
Keywords are really the secret sauce to content on your website. By sprinkling relevant keywords throughout your content, you'll ensure that your website ranks well for those search terms. Because at the end of the day, Google wants to provide their users with the most up-to-date relevant information possible.
Keep in mind, that humans are creative little creatures and we all think differently when searching for things so it’s useful to obtain a bank of suitable keywords. To do this, you’ll need to do some Keyword Research and the best way to do this is to start by using the Google Keyword Planner which is part of Google’s Adwords platform.
This tool will help you determine the words and phrases that visitors are searching for so you can make your content more relevant to them. Make a list of them and remember that your content should contain them on a regular basis so you can be found or known for those keywords.
In House or Outsource - Should I be paying for it?
Let me just say that I’m a big fan of homegrown first. If you’re new to the concept of SEO or really implementing it for the first time, give it a try yourself. Why? Because understanding the basic principles of SEO will help you grasp what you’re trying to achieve and teach you to craft better content so your site can be found.
It will also means that if you decide to outsource your SEO work, you can give them a better overview of your business and what your clients and potential clients are searching for. It also means you won’t be taken for a ride from an SEO consultant because you’ll understand the basic tasks and know whether they are being implemented.
Setting up for solid SEO
- If you have a WordPress site, my first recommendation would be to install the Yoast SEO plugin because really, it will teach you most of what you need to know to improve your rankings. Each post and page will have a set of criteria for you to meet and the Yoast interface will tell you how to improve your content as you go.
- Setup your Google Adwords account so you can do Keyword Research. You will need to complete the setup for Google Adwords including adding your credit card, but you can pause any campaigns to start with and just go straight to the Keyword Planner tool.
- Determine your keywords. Imagine you’re standing in your customer’s shoes – what do they need? What will they look for? Come up with a list of 15 – 20 keyword phrases – and use these keywords throughout your page titles and descriptions and within the content itself.
- Setup your Google Analytics account if you haven’t already done this.
- Link Google Adwords and Google Analytics together. This can be done in Setting under Admin in Google Analytics.
- Setup your Google Search Console (formerly Webmaster Tools) and link it to Google Analytics.
- Ensure you have an XML sitemap on your website. If you have a WordPress site, use a plugin to make this happen. An XML sitemap helps the Google Crawlbots read your site more efficiently. This is purely for helping Google understand your site better.
Once these items are in place AND you have useful, relevant content on your website, here’s the plan of attack for your SEO/Adwords activities.
- Step 1: Launch website with useful content aimed at your target market (with Google Analytics, Adwords and Search Console all set up.) If you already have these in place, skip to Step 2.
- Step 2: For the first 2-3 months, continue to add useful content to the site (containing keywords pertaining to your visitors' needs.)
- Step 3: Measure activity on your website weekly - what is your page ranking for each of your keywords, how many visitors come to your website, how many people complete the Opt in form or Contact Us page, what’s the bounce rate, how many pages do they visit, how long do they spend on the site.
- Step 4: For months 4-6, create some Google Ad campaigns - start with a small budget - $5-10/day
- Step 5: Repeat Step 3 - measure, measure, measure
Checking In and Next Steps
It takes awhile for your search rankings to shift. Telltale signs that your efforts are working are that you're getting more traffic to your site or more sign ups to your opt in/lead magnet or more enquiries through your Contact Us page or more phone enquiries or yes, of course, your Google page rank improves.
Once you’ve set up this system and you understand how to do SEO on your site, you can then hand off the work to a marketing intern to implement and track on a regular basis. Your marketing intern can also document and capture how the SEO work is done so you can add it to your Operations Manual/internal Wiki. (Because world domination isn't a solo journey. Leaving a legacy requires backup.)
If you’re not seeing any improvements or you have a huge site and need support from outside, then you can look at hiring quality SEO consultants. In Sydney, there is a great little agency called, In Marketing We Trust, who believe in delivering quality SEO work so they can put the shonky SEO guys out of business.