When experts talk about Search Engine Optimization they often talk about zillions of technical tips and tricks, but don't let that fool you into an endless checklist of code tweaks. What you should really focus on are the humans using the search engine.
SEO is a critical part of web analytics. We'll introduce you to two tools that will help you quickly fix any egregious technical SEO errors, and then introduce two types of content that'll boost your search traffic (and a tool to help!)
Healthy sites should have 30-50% of their traffic coming from search. And search traffic tends to be very high quality because the user has already shown interest in your product's domain. You'd be crazy not to take a few minutes to optimize search—it's the tippy top of your conversion funnel, where users find out about you for the first time.
Start with easy technical fixes.
The easiest 1-hour win is to simply check that search engines can understand your website. There are a bunch of common mistakes that only take a couple minutes to fix. These fixes will pay off in better search rankings forever.
When we were just starting Segment, I figured I should make sure we hadn't made any dumb SEO mistakes. Using SEOmoz I was surprised to see all kinds of easy fixes:
- Images should have alt tags so that search engines can understand them
- Titles and meta description tags should be descriptive and unique
- example.com/robots.txt should exist, and tell search engines what's ok to index
- example.com/sitemap.xml should point search engines to interesting parts of your site
I fixed up all our titles and meta descriptions in a couple minutes and pushed to master. Then I nudged Google Webmaster Tools to re-index the changed pages. Instead of searchers seeing an ugly, out of date search result for Segment, we had a legitimate pitch:
The best way to find errors like these on your own site is to use an automated tool. We highly recommend SEOmoz and HubSpot's free Marketing Grader, and you can verify that your fixes are working by registering for Google Webmaster Tools. Be sure to enable email notifications so that you get alerts on any Googlebot crawler errors.
These technical tips and tricks are easy wins that everyone should take advantage of. There's no reason a silly technical error should kill off your search engine traffic, because it takes practically no time to fix.
With all the small technical errors fixed, it's time to focus on the hard part of SEO.
Optimize for humans using the search engine.
The key question is "When people want my product, what keywords do they search for?" For example, you might operate a Bitcoin exchange and target a phrase like "bitcoin exchange," but instead people actually search for "convert bitcoins to usd". A key part of improving your search rankings is to write copy and content that addresses searchers in their frame of mind.
In the bigger picture, 20% of searches are for short, 1 or 2 word keywords (the "fat head")... but 70% of searches are for a massive variety of keywords that have 3 or more words in them, like "convert bitcoins to usd". This is called the "long tail".
In order to rank highly for long tail keywords, you need to write copy with keywords that people actually search for. Too often, people interpret this narrowly and create a spammy mess. Check out the footer of Kayak.com for an example:
That huge mess of "[city] flights", and the amusingly repetitive "cheap flights" copy is targeting the keywords that people really use when they're looking for flights. Don't tell Kayak, but Google has started penalizing stuffed footer links.
Work your keywords into useful content.
Instead of cloning the Kayak footer, write content using the keywords that is useful to your users. One strategy for doing this is called "bunting", like in baseball. A "bunt" is a blog article or landing page written to match a specific long-tail keyword.
For example, you could write a blog article called "Convert Bitcoin to USD" and explain how that works, showcasing your Bitcoin exchange. The goal of the content is to write something interesting to the people searching for it, and repeat the keyword enough, in context, that search engines decide it's a good match.
Then you repeat this process for many keywords ("Convert Bitcoin to Yen", "What is the genesis block chain?", ...), building up a library of long-tail keywords that each drive a trickle of high-quality search traffic.
Here's a real-world example of "bunting" from a site that sells, of all things, organic insecticides.
You're not changing the world when you bunt. You'll need a lot of content pieces to generate real business. But if you consistently target new long-tail keywords and build up a long list of them, it's a gift that keeps on giving.
The tool to help you with this strategy is HitTail. Instead of endlessly sifting through hundreds of pages of keywords in Google Analytics, HitTail recommends the best long-tail keywords for you to target.
There is a second strategy if you prefer being more dramatic! Instead of just writing articles that match long-tail keywords, you can go after keywords in the fat head. Since there are so many sites competing for these fat head keywords, you'll need to be clever about producing high quality content.
Search engines sort their results based on people linking to and sharing your site. So in the fat head you need to get people to distribute links by sharing your content all over the place.
Feeling bold? Try for a home run.
Like hitting a home run, this is hard. You won't hit home runs every time. Just practice your writing, get feedback from better writers, and stay on top of your industry. Part of what makes great content explosively popular is timing. Here's an example from HubSpot.
When you sit down to optimize search results for your own site, be sure to set up SEOmoz, Google Webmaster Tools and the HubSpot Marketing Grader. These tools will help you fix any major technical issues. Once you've resolved them, stay focused on creating great content.
Look for groups of long-tail keywords that are highly relevant to your business, and bunt using HitTail. When you have an idea for brilliant and well-timed content, go for a home run.
Your homework for this week is to take action on your blog. Bunt once and swing for a homerun too. What will your audience find useful?