This blog post was derived from an episode of The Inventive Journey Podcast with Devin Miller, where I appeared as a guest. Listen or watch that here:
WHY DO SMALL BUSINESSES NEED SEO?
Location, location, location. This is why Search Engine Optimization is important.
In the 21st century, it’s not about where your building is located. That might help too, but it’s more about whether or not you can get your brand in front of people where they are.
If you’re not in Google, you don’t exist. As far as getting in front of the people who you want to buy from you, for all functional purposes, you don’t exist.
Google wants to serve up results (1) that are relevant, (2) that are authoritative, and (3) that provide a good user experience. So you have to be relevant, you have to be authoritative, and you have to provide a good user experience on your website.
What does that actually mean?
Before we even start SEO, we need to know what keywords we’re trying to optimize for.
What are people looking for that is relevant to you?
That’s keyword research, and that’s a pain in the butt.
But if you have no budget at all, you can go to Google Keyword Planner and Google Trends, which will get the job done. I use a little bit more professional tools that make it a little bit easier.
Expend some elbow grease, because you want to find every conceivable variation of every product and service that you offer, and every question that people have about it.
That will guide your content strategy and everything else you do through the course of an SEO campaign.
LONGTAIL VS SHORT TAIL KEYWORDS
Short tail keywords have an enormous enough of search volume–there’s a lot of people searching for exactly that phrase. But it’s also very difficult to get on the first page of Google for that term.
If you’re not getting in the top ten placements then you’re not really getting much traffic from Google. If those first page results are just gargantuan sites that you’re not going to outrank in any reasonable amount of time or investment, strategically that’s not the keyword you want to go after.
Instead, you want to go after a keyword that’s a little bit more niche. There might not be as many people looking for it, but it’s hyper relevant, and it’s easy to rank for. These are longtail keywords.
When you target longtail keywords, you can be the big fish in the little pond. You can own whatever traffic there is going to those keywords.
For most small businesses, that’s the direction you want to go.
During the keyword research process, you’ll have identified both longtail and short tail keywords. You really need the short tail keywords in order to identify the longtail keywords–that’s how you find them.
You may have in the back of your mind, “Ultimately, I want to own the entire industry in search.” Maybe that’s your long-term goal.
But in the meantime, you want to be getting some positive ROI on your SEO investment, so the quickest route there is to get those longtail keyword rankings first.
Google wants to serve up content. What does content mean? It means you are giving people information that is going to help them solve problems.
If you’re a business owner, you’re an expert in something. If someone is willing to give you money for what you know, then you know something that’s worth something.
You can’t rank without content, so you’ve got to start creating content or hiring someone to do it for you.
Content a necessary but insufficient condition to rank in Google.
WRITING FOR HUMANS VS WRITING FOR GOOGLE
Sometimes when you read keyword-optimized content, it sounds unnatural. When you’re trying to write to get the words in there, as opposed to writing so normal people can read and understand it, how do you make that balance? How do you write so that a machine likes it–so Google likes it–but so that normal people can also read it?
That’s a question that not enough people in the SEO world are asking. Too many people are writing for the machine. And here’s the problem: the machine is changing.
Google is an enormous freaking company! They’ve got some money. They have the best technical talent in the world constantly trying to better measure and evaluate how well your website works for people. It’s not there yet; the machine is not a human-equivalent artificial intelligence. But it’s getting that direction all the time.
So rather than taking a snapshot of how the Google algorithm works right now and then optimizing for that, remember that Google wants to serve up relevant, authoritative content that provides a good user experience.
So write for the humans.
Get your topics from the keywords, but write content based on that that’s for humans and that’s understandable for your audience. Don’t just try to write for Google.
Let the keywords be your guide, but don’t optimize for machines. Machines aren’t the ones who you want to buy your product.
LANDING PAGE OPTIMIZATION
Content doesn’t just mean blogs, it also means landing pages.
Think about your landing pages as the hubs of content clusters.
So let’s say you’re an IP lawyer, and one of your product groups or profit centers is going to be trademarks. You’re going to have a Trademark landing page.
Content on that page is very, very important. You want that keyword optimized, and you want it to provide a good user experience.
You’re also presumably writing blog content about trademarks. You want to make sure that that blog content is internally linked from the blog post to the trademark landing page that you ultimately want to direct traffic towards.
So you’ve got a trademark content cluster, maybe you’ve got a copyright content cluster and a patent cluster.
Structuring your site in this way will tell Google that this landing page is really important for these keywords. Here’s your trademark landing page, and all of that link equity that’s being generated from the blog posts is going to filter down into that page.
Content clusters are a strategic way to think about how to structure your content. You want to make sure you’ve got one page you’re trying to promote for a group of closely-related keywords.
So far, everything we’ve talked about only addresses relevance. Remember: relevant, authoritative, positive user experience. We’ve talked about relevant. What about authoritative?
Anyone who’s old enough to remember Ask Jeeves (and then it became ask.com) or Yahoo Search remembers that they were awesome, until they weren’t.
It became obvious at a certain point that if you searched something in there, everything that was coming up was a bunch of junk you didn’t care about, and you were 3, 4, 5, 6, pages deep trying to find what you were looking for. So we all moved to Yahoo, and before long the same thing happened to them.
The reason why Google owns search today is because they were the first search engine that came along and gave you what you wanted just about every time.
I was young but I remember. It was a miracle! It changed the way I interacted with the internet–and the way everyone else interacted with the internet–forever!
The difference was that Google figured out a way to measure authority that nobody else had.
What they did is downloaded the internet. That’s not an exaggeration. They made a massive index of every webpage they could find on the entire internet, and they counted the number of hyperlinks that linked form one page to another. Those are called backlinks.
The pages that had the most backlinks rose to the top, because those backlinks were considered 3rd party validation. They were like a vote for your content.
But then everyone started to cheat the system. They started to make websites that pointed to their website and finding black hat ways to generate backlinks.
Google found new ways to identify and punish manipulative links. They only want to count links that are truly third-party validation of your content. So if a link doesn’t meet their guidelines, they want to at least ignore the link, if not punish it.
RELATED: Free Backlink Audit
So if you were to go on Fiverr and get a whole bunch of backlinks for $5, those are probably not going to help you and may drag down your rankings.
There’s a lot of controversy about what Google considers a toxic backlink and what it doesn’t, and they’re very opaque about the topic. But a good rule of thumb is that the easier a link is to get, the less it counts.
Luckily, Google is a lot less punitive with those tactics than they used to be. They’ve moved in the direction of ignoring links they don’t like rather than punishing them. But manual actions are still happening, so you still have to be careful.
An even better rule of thumb is to ask, “What is the kind of link that Google really does want to count?” Well, it’s third-party validation. It’s a link that actually speaks to the authority of your content. That means it’s going to be on an independently-owned site (there can’t be any signal that you own this other site that’s also linking to you). It needs to be editorially placed, meaning it’s not on a “write-for-us” site where you can publish. There needs to be a human who evaluated the content, decided it was good, and decided to post.
And it should be relevant and provide value to the reader.
LINK BUILDING TECHNIQUES
Getting backlinks incredibly difficult because by definition you don’t own the other places on the internet that you want linking in to your website.
But there are techniques to do it and to do it legitimately. I utilize as many of them as I possibly can when I’m doing SEO for my clients.
Ultimately the way to earn legitimate links yourself is to have the best, most authoritative research on a topic, people are going to link to that. But that’s really difficult if you’re a local HVAC company that serves three cities in Wyoming. It’s hard to be that guy.
One tactic is to produce content for other relevant sites tangentially related to your industry and ask them to publish it.
Another tactic is reaching out trough HERO (Help a Reporter Out).
Another good tactic is to find instances of your company being mentioned on the internet that haven’t linked to you. You can reach out to the webmaster and ask them to include a link.
Another way that I really like that’s sneaky but still very legitimate and white hat is to pull your competitor’s backlink profile and see which of their pages are attracting the most links.
You can look at that competitor page and say, “Well shoot, I have better content than this! Or maybe I don’t, but I could create better content than this.”
And then you make a better version of that same content, and you can reach out to those same sites who are linking to your competitor and say, “Hey, you’re linking to this page, but it’s broken or inferior content, and I’ve got this superior content. So how about switching that link over to my page instead?”
I call that “Competitor Sniping” and I love doing that!
So the first pillar was relevance. Check. And then the second was authority. Check. The third one is user experience.
User experience is going to become increasingly important. Google has just announced that they’re using some more user experience signals in their algorithm starting next summer, so this is something worth paying attention to.
Long story short, your pages need to load fast, especially for mobile users.
Have you ever loaded something on your phone and the page jumps around and there’s a popup that takes up the whole screen? Don’t do any of that.
Make sure your ads are streamlined if you’ve got ads.
Your page has to give the user what they want without interrupting or annoying them.
you need to make sure you’ve got an SSL certificate and you’re on https not http.
Your website needs to be mobile friendly.
There’s a lot of constituent pieces that go into good user experience but you can search for “core web vitals” and it will give you a full list of things that are going to be tracked. Some of these things already are tracked.
The long of the short is you need to make sure that when someone lands on your site, they get what they came to get with as few interruptions and annoying delays as possible.
GETTING PROFESSIONAL SEO SERVICES
What kind of investment should people expect to make to be successful in SEO?
It depends on how competitive your keywords are. If you’re a local business, it takes less investment to rank locally than it takes to rank nationally or globally.
Most SEO agencies won’t take accounts that are less than $2,000 per month. Obviously that’s a big budget for a lot of small businesses.
We’ve tried to structure our SEO packages to be more affordable to small and medium sized businesses because I like them better. I like small business–that’s what I’m about!