Search Engine Optimization is Also Known As SEO
WE will discuss how search engines work and why search engine optimization is important.
In the second section, we’ll discuss basic techniques and important factors in SEO and search rankings.
And, in the final section of this guide we’ll discuss how to maintain and continually improve SEO long term.
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is optimizing your content to drive search engine traffic to your work.
It involves gaining a thorough understanding of how search engines work and then reflecting that knowledge in your writing and webpage design to maximize traffic to and user experience on your page.
SEO is important because search engines like Google, YAHOO!, and Bing drive the majority of web traffic. Shares on social media can cause short term spikes in stats, but real, long term success comes from maximizing search engines ability to drive traffic to your page.
Not only will good SEO improve search rankings and increase traffic for the author, but it helps people interested in your topic find your page and improves the viewer’s experience as well.
SEO involves strategically using appropriate keywords, building links to your work and making your pages search engine friendly. Although it is important to understand what SEO is, it is also important to understand what SEO isn’t. While SEO can make a big difference in stats, it cannot fix bad writing or poor content. SEO can make good writing into a great, high performing webpage, but it cannot turn poor content into good writing.
How Search Engines Work
Search Engines use “spiders” or “crawlers” to build an index of the webpages available, the words on each page, and where on the page those words were located.These program robots begin on popular webpages and add important words found on the page to the search engine’s index. From there, they follow every link on the page and index the corresponding pages before using the links on those pages to go to the next set of pages, and so on and so forth. This process is known as crawling.
Once this information is gathered by the spiders, it is encoded and stored for indexing. In order to even out the difference between the time needed to search a term beginning with a popular letter like ‘t’ and a search term beginning with a less popular letter like ‘q,’ a numerical value is applied to each word. This process is known as hashing. Not only does hashing even out problems related to letter frequency, but it condenses the index. Only the numerical value and a link to the actual information is stored in the index. This increases index and search speed, especially with more complicated searches that involve multiple words.
When a user performs a search, he or she types a query into the search box. Boolean operators can be used to define specific relationships between the terms in a query. Some of the most common operators are:
- AND-requires that both terms are on the page
- OR-requires that one term or the other is on the page
- NOT-excludes pages that include the following term
- NEAR-requires that two terms be near each other on the page
- “quotation marks”-requires the query be treated as a phrase, instead of each significant word in the query being considered an individual keyword
- FOLLOWED BY-requires that one term be followed by another
These searches are defined as literal searches. Research is currently underway on concept based searching which uses statistics statistical analysis of webpages containing your query to recommend pages you might be interested in, as well as natural language searching which allows users to type a question into the search box using the simple language they would use to ask a friend their question instead of using Boolean operators.
There’s More than One Search Engine
Each search engine uses different rules for determining which words are indexed and which words aren’t. Some search engines index every word on the page. Others focus on the most common words, the words in titles and subtitles, meta tags and the first few lines of text.
If you’ve ever tried searching the same phrase on different search engines, you probably noticed that you got different results. This is because each engine uses different algorithms to weight and index keywords and determine search result rankings. Search engine ranking algorithms use website popularity, meta tags, number of back links (links to the page), keyword frequency and location and a wide variety of other factors to rank webpages and how well they correlate to viewer searches.
In addition to relevance, website popularity is taken into account in determining search rankings. As more interested users are directed to your page by your SEO techniques, not only will the techniques increase your relevancy scores, but the popularity component of the ranking algorithms will increase as well.
(For more concrete information on specific ranking factors and their relative weight please see this website.)
Your Audience is Important in SEO
Now that you know how search engines function, we need to consider how users interact with search engines. To conduct a search, the user types a few keywords into the search box and clicks enter, browses the results and selects a page to visit. If the user is unsatisfied, he or she will return to the search and select another result or modify their query for a new result list.
People perform searches because they a) want to go somewhere specific on the web b) want to do something specific or c) learn a piece of information. In order to create a high performing webpage, you need to think like your user.
Ask yourself how many of your audience’s needs can be met on your page. Add additional, relevant content that meets these needs to attract more viewers and happier views. Then ask yourself if your audience can find your page. What queries might your target audience put into the search engine? Are those keywords found in your titles, subtitles, alt text, summary and first few sentences?
Remember, building content for your users will lead to better results than trying to build pages for search engines.
10 Simple Marketing Tips for Small Businesses
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing discipline, and the art and science of getting a website onto the first page of search results is something that every SEO expert wants to achieve.
Although the details of how Google and other search engines rank a website are closely guarded secrets, everyone involved in SEO agrees that backlinks are a very important factor in ranking.
Backlinks are one of the most powerful ways that search engines find out about quality content. Having good backlinks to your website will increase your rank in search results and ultimately attract more visitors.
This article explores what backlinks are and provides practical advice on how to create backlinks and increase your website's visibility. We'll explore:
- What is a backlink?
- What is it that makes backlinks important and valuable for SEO?
- Are backlinks good for human visitors too?
- What is the best way to get backlinks?
- What are some other methods that can be used to get backlinks?
- Posting links to your articles on link submissions sites
- Sharing on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and more
- Commenting on blogs and forum posts
- Guest blogging and posting
- Sharing your expertise
- Other areas
What is a backlink?
A backlink is simply a link to your website or other online content that comes from another website. An example of how a backlink is created would be:
- You write an article about, for example, simple website navigation and publish it on your website.
- Someone else puts together a guide to creating the perfect website and whilst researching they come across your article, read it and enjoy it and believe it would be a good resource for their readers.
- In their guide, they include a sentence like: 'If you want to find out more about simple website navigation, check out this article' <includes link to your website>.
That link, from their website to yours, is a backlink.
What is it that makes backlinks important and valuable for SEO?
Among other things, search engines use backlinks as a measure of a website's popularity and quality. Google and their competitors use the number and quality of backlinks to help them judge and rank the relevance and value of the content of a website and specific pages on that site.
More backlinks from reputable sources means that the search engines will regard your content as important and worthwhile, meaning that they are more likely to show it in their search results.
Are backlinks good for human visitors too?
Yes, backlinks are a great way for readers to find relevant, related information without having to look too far. Anything that improves a reader's experience on a website is worth considering.
When you write content, it's always a good idea to include backlinks to other content on your own site and around the web. This will enhance the information that you provide to your audience.
What is the best way to get backlinks?
The very best way to get backlinks is to write excellent content. Articles that are worthwhile to readers are more likely to be shared and referenced by them, both on social media and from other websites.
This means that great content will naturally gather backlinks over time, increasing its value in the search engine rankings. Although this is the best way to get backlinks, it isn't the easiest or the quickest and there are other methods.
What are some other methods that can be used to get backlinks?
Other methods of gaining backlinks vary in ease of use and how effective they are. You should use these methods sparingly and not become overly reliant on just one or two techniques.
Posting links to your articles on link submissions sites
Sites such as StumbleUpon, Reddit, SheToldMe, Red Gage, Delicious, BizSugar and more allow users to submit links to articles that other site users can discover.
Because anyone can post links to these services, the backlinks from them are not considered especially valuable. You should also review the terms of each of these sites to find out about their link submission guidelines.
Sharing on social networks like Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus and more
If you have a following on social media that's interested in your content, it's worth sharing your links and articles there.
If the information is relevant to your audience, they may share your posts onwards, further increasing the reach and visibility of your website.
Commenting on blogs and forum posts
If you find content related to your website on a blog or forum, and you believe that readers would be interested, you can leave a comment together with a link back to your site.
Be careful when using this technique and make sure that any links you post are relevant and valuable to other readers.
Guest blogging and posting
Although guest blogging is being devalued by Google, there can be some advantages to writing guest posts.
You should find a guest blog that covers a niche closely related to your own and write very relevant, focused posts that can include a link back to your content.
Fact about blogging
- Three quarters of us read a blog every day
- 70% of us say that blogs influence the things that we buy
- There are four times as many search pages for businesses that have a blog and a blogging strategy, as those without
Places to find guest blogging opportunities
There are many sites out there that can put good writers and reputable blog sites in contact with each other, to create a high-quality guest blogging experience, for writer, publisher and the reader of the blog; some of the most popular ones are:
- My Blog Guest
- Blogger Link Up
Guidelines for guest bloggers
- Search Google for high quality blogs (i.e. those that are well ranked, with authority and engaged readers)
- Read the guest posting and quality guidelines for the blog
- Contact the blog owner or other nominated contact
- Explain something about yourself, your skills, expertise and experience for writing content
- Suggest some topics for guest posts that they might want to see
- When writing your post, ensure that you create useful, worthwhile, valuable content that servers a purpose
- Don't stuff your content with keywords or over-optimize it; write for people, not Google
- Include a link to your author bio, Google Plus page or other website in your byline / footer
Things to avoid
If you want to avoid a Google slap for spammy posts, make sure you avoid the following:
- Getting only 'dofollow' links from the blog
- Accept money for guest posting (Google doesn't like paid sites)
- Use 'spun' guest articles
- Provide low quality content
Things to remember about guest blogging
You, the blog and the reader will get the most value out of your guest posts if:
- Your content aligns with the overall subject of the blog
- You provide high-quality, well written, unique content
- The content is of use to the readers of the blog and engages them
- The content is not spammy and doers not contain overly optimized keywords or links
Sharing your expertise
Question and answer and content sites such as Quora, WebAnswers, HubPages and more can be a good place to demonstrate your expertise and experience.
If you answer questions or write articles there, you can often link back to your own content, providing relevant backlinks.
Are there any areas or techniques that should be avoided when creating backlinks?
Google and other search engines are getting smarter about devaluing backlinks from certain areas. You should generally avoid getting backlinks by the following means:
- Article directories - These have been hit hard by Google updates and links from article directories are generally of very low value.
- Blanket posting / 'spamming' your links - Seeing lots of links to content appearing over a short period of time is a red flag to the search engines. Artificially posting and sharing your link extensively over a few days will devalue all of the links.
- Posting to irrelevant sites - You should only share links to your content where the links will be appreciated. This means only posting links into highly relevant communities, blogs, forums or other online destinations. If it's not relevant to the audience, don't post it.
You can use Google Webmaster Tools to understand who is linking to your website and content and if you find undesirable links, you can use the webmaster 'disavow' tool to get Google to ignore them.
Increasing trust in your backlinks
There is an increasing importance and authority that Google is giving to 'Trusted Sites' - These are sites that Google considers to have high-quality, relevant, easy to understand, valuable content. Points to consider include:
- Whether a website that links to you will provide additional, quality traffic to your site
- How would you feel if a person went to the site linking to you and found your business listed there?
- Is it easy to add your site? If it's too easy to add your site, the chances are that it won't help your SERPs ranking
- Does the site linking to you relate to the business you are doing? Context is very important
Naturally occurring backlinks that point to great content are the most effective way to increase your visibility in search results.
Using these techniques can increase your ranking on the search engines and ultimately get more visitors to your website.
4 Ways Big Data Is Changing SEO
In a perfect world, you would have an unlimited budget to market your business in order to find new customers and increase sales. You could buy lots of online and offline advertising, run promotions to build traffic in store and online, and launch a proactive public relations campaign to increase your product or brand's visibility and awareness. But this isn't a perfect world. Realistically, most small businesses and even many mid-sized firms have more great ideas on how to peddle their wares than available resources.
So where do you start if you are looking for more customers? Learning to generate new sales leads is an essential skill for an entrepreneur. Even if you don't consider yourself a salesperson in the classic sense of the Willy Loman character from Arthur Miller's play Death of a Salesman, you need to understand that the possibilities for finding new customers range from cold calling names from the phone book to buying lists of potential customers to using newer Internet techniques like search engine optimization to drive new business to your website.
The following pages will delve into how to conduct market research to understand your target audience and their needs, how to determine which lead generation techniques are best to broaden your sales horizons, and how to increase sales by following several strategies to sell additional products and/or services to existing customers.
How to Find New Customers and Increase Sales: Understand Your Target Audience
Before you can find new customers and increase sales, you need to understand who your customer is, what value proposition you offer to customers, and what your competition is currently offering in the market and where there are gaps for a new entrant. In other words, you need to do some market research -- whether that means hiring an outside firm to do the legwork or trying to do it yourself. There's an underlying disconnect between your motivation to increase sales and your customer's motivation to solve their problems.
"Attracting more customers is really about listening to their needs, not being a solution looking for a problem," says Paige Arnof-Fenn, founder and CEO of Mavens & Moguls, a strategic-marketing consulting firm whose clients include Fortune 500 companies as well as early stage and emerging businesses. "There are many existing problems out there that need to be solved that customers are willing to pay for today."
Dig Deeper: Getting to Know Your Frequent Customers
How to Find New Customers and Increase Sales: Find Out Who Your Current Customers Are
In order to develop a marketing plan to reach new customers, you need to better understand who you're already selling to. "If I'm trying to expand sales, I have to find out who my existing customers are. What are their demographics? What do they look like?" says Jerry Osteryoung, director of outreach for the Jim Moran Institute for Global Entrepreneurship at Florida State University. "That means doing market research."
Market research runs the gamut from very simple qualitative research to in-depth quantitative analysis. It can be done very quickly and inexpensively by sending surveys to your existing customers using one of the many online survey tools, such as SurveyMonkey or Zoomerang. You can also get to know the target audience by looking at existing sources of information -- from the U.S. Census Bureau or other government agencies, from trade associations, or from third-party research firms. But depending on the questions you are trying to answer and your research budget, your market research can involve more extensive interviews with customers and qualitative studies on how target customers feel about your business, its products and services.
Certain products and services may appeal to one audience but not to another, so understanding the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in your target market is critical. You can get to know your customers and segment the market any number of ways including by:
- Demographics -- statistical data on a population including income levels, age, etc.
- Psychographics -- the attitudes and tastes of a certain demographic.
- Ethnographics -- examination of particular cultures.
- Buying habits -- how, what and where customers purchase products and services.
Dig Deeper: How to Conduct Market Research
How to Find New Customers and Increase Sales: Defining the Market for Your Product
Use the information about your existing customers to develop a target audience for your business in its drive to win new customers and increase sales. "While there are core customers you are trying to reach, often there are other markets that are also important to address," Arnof-Fenn says. "Make sure you know who the gatekeepers and influencers are; they will affect the decision makers and you will most likely need to sell to them differently than to the end user." For example, parents might be the gatekeepers for products targeted to children or technology managers might hold influence over a company's decision to invest in new software.
Determine which key messages, features and benefits matter to each potential market. Tell these customers how your business can help them solve their problems. "In order to have a customer go to your online shop, you have to find a reason why these customers want to come to you," Osteryoung says. "The value proposition has to be spelled out clearly."
Next, you need to figure out where to reach these customers and whether there should be a marketing or advertising plan that goes along with that outreach.
Dig Deeper: Make 100 Phone Calls to Find Your Target Audience
How to Find New Customers and Increase Sales: Generating Sales Leads
There are a variety of age-old staple techniques and newer tools you can use to find new customers and increase sales. It's best to understand the range of choices you have in order to determine which may best help your business reach new customers. Newspaper readers may not be moved by Internet-based sales techniques. Similarly, business people who are accustomed with hiring only people they know may be better swayed by meeting you at a chamber of commerce meeting than accepting a blind invitation to connect on LinkedIn or Facebook.
"It starts with good people," says Peter Handal, chairman and CEO of Dale Carnegie Training, the sales and leadership training organization. "If you're a one-man shop, it's one thing. But if sales people are really important, you need to hire and motivate good people and you want to give them an upside, such as sales on commission. The motivation is not just money it's also helping them overcome the fear of prospecting."
Here is a rundown on the techniques available:
- Cold calling. This is telemarketing without the call center. It's a blind contact with a potential customer who isn't expecting a pitch. Customer leads can be picked up through scouring newspaper articles or items, lists of leads that are culled by a third-party, or paying attention to people or businesses moving into your turf. "People are always hesitant about cold calling or talking to someone they don't know," says Handal. "We coach people to give themselves a pep talk to get them in the mood. We suggest that they set a goal -- this is how many new people they will talk to this week."
- Networking. This can be done the old-fashioned way, by getting involved in community organizations, such as the chamber of commerce, or attending business functions, such as trade shows. Social functions -- dinner invitations, book clubs, etc. -- can also lead to potential business. "All of those kinds of things are important ways to network to find new customers," Handal says. Networking has also taken a 21st Century twist on the Internet, with the rise in popularity of such websites as LinkedIn, Facebook, and Plaxo. Many businesses find that this type of networking, making contacts through friends or former colleagues, can lead to new customers.
- Develop champions of your products. Use business contacts who have been happy with your products to help generate references and referrals. Once you have sold to them, customers can help you sell to others by offering positive testimonials and leveraging a refer-a-friend campaign created by your business. This technique also employs word-of-mouth marketing. Help customers help you by giving them the ammunition they need to tell your story to others. "Don't be afraid to ask, 'Is there someone else I can talk to and also help?" Handal says.
- Affiliate marketing. Look at non-competitive products or services that are reaching out to the same audiences to see if there are ways you can collaborate through shared outreach efforts such as newsletters, mailings (online and offline) or co-branding opportunities. You probably can uncover a handful of like-minded products or services that are talking to your customers, Arnof-Fenn says. Suggest to these business owners ways your businesses can support each other. Your customers will see joint efforts as a value-added opportunity to reinforce their choice of brands.
- Leverage your website. There are all sorts of tools these days through which you can drive potential new customers to your website. Search engine optimization (SEO) -- using keywords and other techniques to make your site appear on the first page of listings on search engines -- has become an art form. There are websites, such as Search Engine Watch, that will keep you updated about SEO techniques. In addition, there are a growing number of paid SEO consultants who can help you use all the tricks and techniques to improve your search results. You can also use a variety of blogs, chat rooms, podcasts, and webinars to generate awareness for your website and company. A website is a dynamic tool not a one-time experience. The top search engines are constantly updating their algorithms, so you must monitor your website on a regular basis to make sure your keywords are leading customers to you. Make sure you are keeping your website up to date with fresh content so your customers come back often for more.
- Advertising. Typically businesses are encouraged to spend 3 to 5 percent of their revenue on advertising, but a small business needs to make sure that advertising is effective, Osteryoung says. One way to do this is to ask your customers where they heard about you so that you can measure what is effective. In addition, you also have to carefully pick your markets for advertising to make sure you're reaching your target audience. If you're targeting an older audience, newspaper ads might be the way to go. But if it's Gen X or Y you're after, then you may be better off advertising online or on TV, Osteryoung says. "You've got to define your demographics before you develop your advertising or marketing plan."
Dig Deeper: Converting Web Traffic into Sales Leads
How to Find New Customers and Increase Sales: Sell More to Existing Customers
In order to increase sales, many businesses believe the only way is to find new customers, but a number of experts say that this strategy leaves out an obvious potential source of new sales. It's much easier to get an existing customer to buy from you than to convince a new customer to take the plunge. "They're forgetting about low hanging fruit -- their existing customer base," says Osteryoung. "If I want to expand sales, the number one place to go is the existing customer base. They already trust you."
Here's how to increase sales with your existing customer base:
- Bundle products. You can "bundle" a few products or services together for a special price to try to get an existing customer to try some of your other offerings.
- Try the "upsell." Convince your sales staff to go back to existing customers and try to sell those clients related products or services. A common example is a warranty, Osteryoung says. Think of how many times you've purchased electronics and a sales person has tried to sell you on an extended service plan. Customers sometimes take the bait.
- Offer inside information. If a customer is eyeing a product but about to put it back on the shelf, make sure you let them know that the product is going on sale the following week. If you monitor your website's online shopping cart, you may email an existing customer who didn't complete a sale and offer them a discount to complete the purchase.
- Think about customer rewards. Like the airlines have done with frequent fliers, there is no reason a small business can't reward good customers with a loyalty program. Offer a discount on their birthday or for every 10 purchases give them one for free.
- Give free samples. Offering freebies isn't necessarily going to cost you an arm and a leg, but it can increase sales by engendering good feelings among existing customers, convincing them to pass on the sample to a friend or family member, and/or convince them to buy your latest hand cream or ice cream flavor.
Dig Deeper: Tips on Creating a Customer Loyalty Program
"There's a lot you can do that doesn't require much more work," Osteryoung says. "You want to make sure you have saturation but obviously you never want to alienate the customer…. You never want to make the customer feel like you are hard selling them."
Practical principles, processes, and programs that offer people the knowledge, skills and practices they need to influence and sell to customers
Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association
Trade association for word-of-mouth marketing to attract more customers
Find New Customers
Jeff Ogden's whitepaper on How to Find New Customers and more
How to Use E-mail to Find New Customers
Strategies to use e-mail to build your business
Use an Affiliate Program to Snag New Customers
Use an affiliate program to get your existing customers to recommend your business to their circle of contacts.
How to Hire an SEO Consultant
A primer on how to hire an outside consultant to help you maximize your search engine optimization.
Drive Traffic to Your Business Blog
How to use a blog on your business website to find new customers.
The Return of Customer Loyalty
A veteran entrepreneur explains why it's more important than ever to keep the customers you already have
Teach Your Employees to Focus on Your Best Customers
Teach your employees to know who your best customers are and provide employees with techniques and tools to uncover customer preferences and make every customer interaction count.