Someone recently asked me about how to start doing SEO for his website, a small local business that he recently started. I decided to turn this into a blog post since I spent so much time on the reply.
The 2 main aspects of SEO are on-site and off-site. Focusing on these would be a great start for a new business website. Here’s how to best approach them:
First, go here and make a free account: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner
This tool will allow you to type in search phrases and it will show you approximately how many people are searching for those phrases on a monthly basis, on average. It will also give you many suggestions for related phrases.
What you want to do is make a list of, say, 100 phrases that are most relevant to what your website is about. These are phrases that, when someone queries them, your website is the answer to that query. So, let’s say, a highly relevant phrase would be, “act tutor chicago suburbs”. I didn’t look up the search volume for that, just using that as an example. When someone searches for that, you want your website to show up in the search results. So type in as many phrases as you can think of into this tool and then look through the results and find some more that you didn’t think of. Then run them through the tool again and see what else comes up. Keep doing this until you have a pretty solid collection of keywords.
The tricky thing here is how you approach the phrases mentally. There are going to be a lot that you’ll think it would be great if your site showed up for them, but in reality they’re too broad. Try to only choose the ones that truly describe the content you have or are going to have on your site. Export these to Excel and sort them by search volume. Now choose the most relevant ones that also have the highest search volume. Try to then group them into tightly relevant groups. Each of these groups can become the phrases you target on each page.
For example, on your ACT Prep page, you might target: act test prep, act preparation, act prep.
Then you want to use each of those phrases throughout the copy on your page. Also include them in the title tag and the meta description. Whichever is the phrase with the highest relevance or highest search volume, use it in a heading within the copy too.
Try not to get too greedy here. It’s always a tradeoff. The higher the search volume, usually the higher the competition, the lower your chances of ranking in search unless you’re really hitting all the right things in SEO and outdoing competing sites who are actively doing SEO for the same phrases.
Also keep in mind that search these days is highly personalized. The location and browsing history are usually taken into account when Google shows search results. So even though you won’t rank nationally for “act test prep” you may show up on the first page every time when someone in your city searches for it. That is, if Google knows you’re in that city. We’ll get to that later.
So you want to be pretty methodical about this. Make a page for the broader phrases, like “act test prep.” Make a page for the suburbs and make sure you “naturally” work in many of the suburbs into the copy alongside “test prep” phrases. Google is pretty smart now, so it’s looking for co-occurrence, not just exact phrases. If it sees that you talk a lot about “act test prep” throughout sections of your site and you also mention “chicago suburbs” a lot, it’s going to put two and two together. So you don’t want to “keyword stuff” lots of phrases unnaturally.
You can also go more in depth and make a page for math prep, etc. The more content you have, the better. The longer the word count on each page, the better. Think of it this way. Google is a computer program that is programmed to look through documents, figure out the topic of each one, and rank its relevance to that topic compared to other documents on that topic. There are probably dozens, maybe hundreds, maybe even thousands, of other documents on the same topic as yours. How do you make yours stand out as the most thorough, most informative, most relevant document on this topic? That question should dictate how, and how much, you write.
Here’s a decent guide on how to use the keyword tool: http://www.razorsocial.com/google-keyword-planner/
As you know, you need to get other sites to link to yours. These days, Google is smart and also looks at mentions of your name, brand name, phone number, etc even if they’re not linked. It looks at co-occurrence – when your name is mentioned, what is the topic of the document in which it’s mentioned? You want it to be the same or related topic to that of your site.
Getting people to link to you legitimately is hard. Your best bet is it seek out others who write on the same topics and establish a relationship. Maybe you write a guest post for their blog and include your link in your author bio. Maybe you have something else to offer them in exchange for a link. Ideally, you want to target related sites that are non-competing but related and are more established than yours. Just like your site gains authority when it gets more links, so do theirs. They more authority they have, the more valuable that link is to you. Think of it like juice that flows from one site to another. Every link is a path for the juice to flow, and the more links, the more juice. You want that sweet link juice and lots of it, so you look for sites that have a lot of it. Of course, therein lies the challenge, because why would established sites want to link to you? You either offer something of value (ie become a guest contributor because everyone needs more good content) or you get links from less established sites, but you’ll need lots more of them.
Additionally, you want Google to know that your site is relevant to your geographical area. This will go a long way for you because you’ll narrow down your competition to only those in your geographical area. This means you’ll need a lot less link juice to rank in organic search, unless your competitors are many and strong. So in addition to mentioning cities in your content, you’ll benefit from getting links from “local” sites like the Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses/organizations. Get listed in the resources sections on websites of local schools. And this may dictate some of your content too. Really be a resource that they’ll want to link to, so that when you approach them for a link, they won’t think twice. For example, if I had a site about office moving, I would seek out various authorities in the moving industry and ask them to link to a great article I’ve written on the topic.
Another thing about links: don’t be afraid to link from your site to authoritative resources in your topic. Forget the juice analogy for a moment and think of links like railroads, with websites as the rail stations. A search crawler follows all the links, travelling down this railroad in many directions. Sites in the same topic area tend to form networks, as many of them link to others within that topic. These form topical “neighborhoods” and a simple analysis of the links in aggregate makes it fairly clear which sites are interrelated within the same topic area. So you don’t want your site to be a dead end rail station. Link out to a few other relevant resources to establish your site as one in the topical neighborhood as the others you link to.
Lastly for now, on your Contact page, list a real address and phone number. This is called a NAP – name, address, phone. Search engines look for this to figure out where you are and where you’re relevant. If you don’t want to use your real address as a home business, get a PO box or UPS box, or use a friend’s office where you can get mail (if the friend doesn’t need to use that address for the same purposes, otherwise you’ll have duplicate NAP and that’s not good.) Using your home address is generally ok because in all honesty no one is going to actually go there unless you’ve done something to really piss them off, in which case, they probably already know where you live even if you don’t have your address listed on your site.
Now go to Google Places for Business and create a listing with your business name, address and phone. You can use a forwarding number if you don’t want to use your real phone number. These are a dime a dozen these days. Check out Twilio if you need one – they’re like $1/mo. Use a local number rather than a toll-free. Google will verify it’s your real address by calling the number and giving you a PIN and/or sending a postcard/letter to that address, which could take a few weeks. You want to do this so that you show up in local search results. If I’m in your city and I search for what you do, you’re likely to show up in the local results with a balloon on the map showing where you are. This is kind of a shortcut to getting into the regular organic results. Additionally, go to all the local business directories you can – Yelp, Yellowbot, Citysearch, Kudzu, etc – and create a listing for your business there. This will help show Google that 3rd parties are citing you with the same NAP info. You’ll also get links to your site from those listings.
Doing all the above will probably keep your hands full for at least a couple months, so I’ll stop here. Let me know if you have any questions about anything.