You don’t have the time, resources, knowledge or inclination to harness SEO give your business visibility in the search results – can you still drive visitors to your site and if so, how? How do you take spoken search into account when doing basic keyword research? And is your on-site search facility letting you down?
Here are some more snippets of handy marketing-led information.
No SEO? How to drive visitors to your website?
Imagine this. Your sector is enormously competitive. You know you need to get busy with search engine optimisation if you want to win reasonable natural visibility in the search results. But how do you compete for priceless space on page 1 of Google when your competitors have bigger budgets and better online marketing skills? When they’re publishing and promoting a blog post every day and you can only manage one every couple of weeks, for example, you don’t stand a chance.
The first question is this: can you survive without Google search visibility? Oddly enough, the answer’s yes. Take a certain enormously successful Social Media Marketing agency, one of Britain’s biggest and best. They only do social. They don’t do SEO… at all. No matter how many likely-sounding keywords you punt into Google – things like best social media marketing agency – you can’t find their website in the search results. It’s obviously indexed, but it isn’t visible. And remarkably, they run a high profile, respected multi-million pound online business.
How do they do that? It’s actually quite straightforward. SEO isn’t the only way to get people to find your website. You can turn things around and look at it an entirely different way, focusing on communicating your website url direct to your target audience.
It might involve sending a postcard driving people to you site. Direct marketing is still relatively cheap and potentially highly effective. You could engage with email marketing, encouraging a list of carefully chosen, tightly targeted prospects to click through to your site. You could send out relevant, newsworthy weekly press releases to suitable on and offline consumer and trade publications. Use social media to publicise your url and promote your stuff, do offline off the page advertising, radio ads and even cheap regional TV advertising.
The end result is much the same: you get a flow of pre-qualified, interested people visiting your website, whether or not your brand name or keywords deliver visibility in the search results.
Obviously you still need to create top quality fresh content, for example blog posts, to give you something to talk about on social media. And build offer-specific landing pages to send targeted prospects to. But you can actually forget about SEO.
If you’re taking the non-SEO route, you need a direct marketing savvy writer who’s fluent in effective business writing, someone who’s capable of writing web copy that sells, plus hard hitting offline copy for direct response projects. And freelance business writing is my forte. Just get in touch.
Crap hardware store site search facility puts buyers off
Oh, the frustration. It’s perfectly reasonable to expect an on-site search facility to deliver useful, relevant, common sense results. When it doesn’t, punters buy elsewhere.
I came across a hardware store leaflet last week, a generic piece laser-personalised to our local independent hardware shop. Apparently you take a copy home, go online, click, pay and collect. What a cool idea. I found at least three things I needed. The process promised to be much more convenient than taking the bus to our nearest B&Q and there were no delivery charges. Result.
But hang on a minute… I used the on-site seach faciliy to find the things I wanted to buy, but my searches returned a load of irrelevant guff. I typed shower head into the search box, as per the description in the printed catalogue, and got a page of shower accessories but no shower heads. I typed in orange washing up bowl and got a list of products that had nothing to do with washing up bowls. At that point I gave up in disgust.
If you want people to be able to find and buy stuff on your website, make sure your on-site search facility actually finds things. The ability to search without finding is bugger-all use to anyone.
How to do keyword research in 2015
In a few weeks Google will be amending its search algorithm to favour mobile friendly websites. At the same time I imagine they’ll be favouring plain English spoken searches over comparatively clunky old-school search protocols.
If you’ve been using SEO to boost your natural search positions in Google you’ve probably been using typical keyboard searches as your keywords. In my case I’ve been focusing on phrases like ‘freelance web copy writer and ‘freelance web copywriting’ for years and years. But now, with millions of us using mobile phone spoken search software, it’s becoming imperative to cater for both ways of finding information online.
What are plain language, spoken search keywords? If I was typing a search query into Google I’d type something like ‘freelance writer Brighton’. If I was speaking the query into my mobile I’d say something like ‘find me a freelance writer in Brighton’ or ‘where’s the nearest freelance copywriter for hire?
When you use spoken search-style keywords in your website, you cater for spoken searches made by a fast-growing number of people using spoken search tech on their mobiles. Ignore spoken search and you’ll probably put yourself at an SEO disadvantage.
Can you afford to ignore old-school keywords? No, because a proportion of people, particularly those at work, will use desktops and laptops to access the internet for the foreseeable future. Mobiles, while hugely convenient on the move, are no good for long stints at a desk interacting with the web, not much use in a regular work situation.
How do you tackle keyword research in this brave new world? It actually makes things easier than ever:
- Think about the phrases you would speak into your mobile if you wanted to find products or services like yours
- Apply intuition and common sense, then take it from there to find similar relevant terms
- Consider old school search terms, too
- Use them all in your content, covering both bases
The word on the search engine marketing streets is that on-site optimisation perfection is a worthy aim. If you’ve been too busy building links and adding fresh content to deal with the messy, muddled back end of your website, it’s time to get your on-site optimisation mojo working.
How do you identify on-site optimisation issues?
There are all sorts of useful tools that analyse web pages, their performance, issues and visibility. I get my information from a couple of places since different analysis tools tend to deliver slightly different results:
What are the most common on-site fails?
There’s plenty of low-hanging fruit to tackle before you get into more complicated on-site optimisation territory. It makes sense to tackle these easy-ish but potentially time consuming bits and bobs first:
- Missing image alt tags
- Missing or duplicate meta descriptions
- Broken external and internal links
- Missing ‘nofollow’ link instructions
- 4XX errors
- Too short / too long / duplicated page titles
- Missing language declarations
Will I notice any difference to my website rankings?
Having spoken to my tame SEO Consultant, it appears that making on-site improvements can indeed boost your website’s visibility and win better search engine results positions. He’s seen one client in particular climb steadily up Google’s notoriously challenging hit parade as they gradually improve their on-site performance.
Your website is about as invisible as it gets. Maybe competition in your sector is particularly fierce, either locally, nationally, internationally or all three. Perhaps you don’t have the time, energy, expertise or inclination to chase the natural search dragon. It could be you can’t afford PPC because the cost per click is too high, even on less popular, less competitive, longer tail terms.
Whatever the reason for your website’s invisibility, it’s a bugger being stuck on page whatever of Google’s search engine results when you know a page one position is the only real way to drive enough traffic to your business.
Or is it? Is there an alternative to SEO? Luckily yes, there is… SEO is not the only fruit.
Bye bye SEO – Do database marketing instead
What if you consigned natural SEO and paid search to the dustbin? Would your business die a fast and horrid death?
Not necessarily. If people can’t find your website online through the search results naturally, it isn’t the end of the world. You can tell them where you are and how to find you… you can resort to traditional database marketing.
Creating a prospect database
Your first step is to build a database of hot prospects. If that sounds complicated, it isn’t. You can use an ordinary Excel spreadsheet. After all, a ‘database’ is only a glorified list.
The ins and outs of opted-in data
It’s much easier if you operate B2B, since you can collect and use B2B prospect data ’til the cows come home without an opt-in. B2C is different since you must, by law, get people’s express permission, via an opt-in, before you’re allowed to market your wares to them.
DIY database building versus bought lists
You can trawl through the internet yourself and collect the contact names and details of the right contacts in every company that might have a vested interest in your products and services. Or you can buy data. If so make sure you buy lists from a reputable data provider, that it’s opted in, that it’s current and clean. Bear in mind if a list is dirt cheap, it’s probably rubbish.
What prospect data do you collect?
You can collect complex and detailed data, and lots of it, or just gather the basics. It depends whether or not the information is available in the first place. But the bare basics are:
- title – Mr, Mrs, Ms, Dr etc
- first name
- email address
- telephone number
What do you do with all that lovely prospect data?
Your first stop is obvious – it’s email. You can use email marketing to tell people you exist, show prospects where you are, what you do, when, how, why and how much you charge for it. Because you’ve given them your web address, they know where to find you. Get it right and you can circumvent the entire SEO process and still attract a growing pot of hot prospects.
What else can you do to tell prospects you exist?
There are plenty more non-SEO ways to tell people where your website is:
- local door-to-door leafleting
- radio adverts, which are cheap and targetable
- off the page ads in the papers and trade magazines
- direct mail
- exhibitions and trade fairs
- postcards left in suitable places, for example business enterprise centres and business networks
- local online directories and printed directories
Crucial direct marketing skills
The key to making the best job of all this is… direct marketing. Find a business writer who knows how to write to sell, and you’re half way there.
SEO has undergone profound changes over the past couple of years as Google tightens up its algorithms, slapping down sites with unnatural backlink profiles and sub-standard content.
What is SEO in May 2013?
SEO isn’t about buying or otherwise ‘acquiring’ backlinks and stuffing content with key terms any more, although there was nothing wrong with these techniques – they worked perfectly well in the olden days when Google’s algorithms weren’t anywhere near as intelligent and subtle. But what does SEO actually mean these days?
Much more than the techie side of life
Contemporary SEO encompasses much more than the technical aspects of website implementation. It’s vital stuff because when you pay attention to all the factors it involves, more visitors will find your site and be engaged by it when they get there. OK, they might not make an immediate purchase. But the site will have grabbed their attention, fuelled their interest and raised their awareness, all of which are crucial steps in the customer journey.
A definition of SEO
Rand Fishkin at SEOMoz.org recently described SEO as: “The combination of tactics and strategies, including, but not limited to, optimization of information architecture, usability, content focus, audience targeting, design, development, keyword research, keyword placement, link building, social media marketing and any other online or offline branding/marketing elements that support the goal of receiving more traffic from search engines.”
Search engines – Pretty damn clever but still intrinsically dumb
Search engine optimisation pays attention to an incredible variety of nitty-gritty detail that make it easy for visitors and search engines to interpret and understand web pages. Although search engine technology has become very sophisticated, it’s still impossible for them to experience and evaluate web pages in the same way a human visitor would.
I’m shocked by the number of web designers who still don’t bother with on-site SEO. The resulting sites often can’t be indexed by Google and co, full stop, which is just crazy. And although they’re top quality eye candy, the owners face huge problems achieving organic visibility because of poor site structure, silly page titles and meta data, no thought given to key terms, canonical issues and so on. In other words, the basics.
Whether you like it or not, you still need to ‘tell’ search engines what every page is about. And on-site optimisation – AKA common sense – is still the only way to do it. Whatever route you take to site visibility you really can’t avoid on-site optimisation. And you need to take it into consideration at the very beginning of the design process. It’s no good going back later and trying to fix it.
Paid or organic visibility?
There are variations in the percentages of folk who click on the paid listings and organic search results, depending on the search query and other factors. But research indicate around 20% of search users click on a paid advert and 80% on the organic listings.
How come? Perhaps counter-intuitively, people tend to trust the organic search results because they know prominent sites deliver the best results for their search queries. Whereas sites in the paid section of the SERPs are there because site owners have paid to be there, not through merit.
Even if you’re planning to use AdWords to win search visibility, paying good money to appeal to the 20% or so who’ll click on the paid results, it’s obvious SEO is enormously important if you want to hook the other 80%.
Traditional marketing comes to the fore
As writer with a strong direct marketing background it’s lovely to see SEO growing up, so much so that some industry luminaries believe it’s on the brink of changing its name to the much more accurate ‘digital marketing’.
The first step in any marketing activity is to define the target audience. It’s also useful, in the context of search marketing, to define a handful of example search queries that potential customers might use. Why bother defining your audience? There are two main reasons:
- Keyword research: Having a good understanding of who the website is intended for informs keyword research. Rather than focus solely on terms that relate to the products or services sold through a site, it’s much better to identify key terms that relate directly to the needs of the people it’s aimed at.
- Content creation: It is important to provide content and resources that are as relevant and useful to site visitors as possible. An appreciation of the specific needs and concerns of the target audience, along with what influences their buying decisions, is enormously beneficial in developing content they’ll love.
Getting your key terms act together
Key term research is fundamental to internet marketing success. Why? A thorough and accurate understanding of the queries people enter into search engines lets you develop relevant site content that’ll potentially rank for their search queries, engaging visitors when they land on pages because the content fulfils their intent.
The most important SEO advice on the planet!
Google’s webmaster guidelines confirm the importance of understanding the terms people use when searching, and how they should be included in the website for pages to be listed in the organic search results. This is what they say:
“Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it.”
They provide an excellent example:
If your web page is about the height of Mount Everest it’s no good calling it ‘everest-info.htm’ or ‘mountain-stuff.htm’ or ‘page-one.htm’. Call it ‘how-high-is-mount-everest.htm’. Use the H1 header ‘How high is Mount Everest?’, use relevant related phrases within your copy, create the right meta data and so on, and you stand a decent chance of being found when people type ‘how high is Mount Everest’ into Google, Bing or Yahoo.
Simple. Elegant. Logical. You’re not playing the system, you’re abiding by it.
Put it all together and you get…
Audience insight plus key term research gives you the knowledge you need to get cracking and pin down your site architecture and page focus and create content prospects are likely to look for. Then you can go forth and have fun engaging with off-site SEO, knowing your site is tailored directly to the needs of visitors and search engines. In an online world that’s more competitive and crowded by the day, where perfection isn’t an option but a must-have, you’d be mad not to.