Intro to Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization:
In a nutshell, SEO breaks into three categories: site-wide, on-page and off-page. Site-wide, as you may imagine, consists of coding issues on the site. On-page consists of text on the site all being keyword focused (global nav, titles, headers, tags, etc). Off-page consists of links to your site (from other sites and your own).

Our foundational plan begins with a diagnostic of a client’s site to identify issues such as broken links, indexing, redirects, 404 errors, duplicate content and the like. This audit is essentially a pass/fail checklist that tells us where we are starting and how many hours will be needed in the customized ongoing monthly strategy.

Next is the backlink report, which essentially shows which sites are currently linking to the client’s site as well as the anchor text used for those links. In search, what the link says equates to a vote to rank for that specific phrase and the more links to your site with that link text the more votes you have for that phrase. For example if another site links to Corduroy Branding we would rather they didn’t use Corduroy Branding as the link text (since we already rank for our own name). Instead, something like Branding Agency would be better.

Keyword Research
The next step is keyword research, which anyone can technically do with the Google Ad Words tool, but it does take some basic understanding of search in order to get a proper list of key phrases that people are actually typing into search queries so this can take some time and effort.

This step is crucial in understanding what people are actually searching for, as phrases are not always intuitive. For example, in the United States more people search for “how to make tea” while worldwide the more common phrase is “how to prepare tea”). Context is important when preparing to start your blog or title your site’s navigation.

Traffic Rankings
By now, it’s time to run a baseline traffic and ranking report to see where the site is ranking for these search phrases and how much traffic its getting before making any changes. These reports with analytics are then needed on a monthly basis in order to track changes and progress. The process of gaining links in the off-page process is the most complicated and open-ended of SEO strategies. By blogging regularly, with informative and helpful keyword-focused content that people want to share, you’re doing the most important thing you can.

In order for people to link to you or your site you have to provide real value and a tangible service of some sort in order to drive links and social media shares to your content.

Easy Link Building
Issuing press releases online is an easy way to gain some link value, and other low hanging fruits include directory submissions. There are perhaps 100 or so worthwhile directories within which any given niche site could be included. Beyond those hundred or so you may actually hurt your link strength by submitting, as Google can penalize sites with links from too many spammy or free directories.

The main ones that can help are the DMOZ, Yahoo, and BOTW. Yahoo and BOTW are both directories that cost $300 or so and need to be submitted each year. DMOZ is a one-time listing but can take a year or more to get listed (depending on the category; sometimes you may be lucky enough to invent a category and be the admin for it and approve your own site, otherwise you may have to wait or buy the admin a dinner).

Correcting Tags/Coding
Depending on what is found during the initial diagnostic, we now begin implementation of fixes based on our research. This includes coding fixes, fixing H tags and alt tags, making each page keyword focused and fixing any duplicate content, 404 errors and any other coding issues that may be hurting your rankings.

Above all, solid content and solid, user friendly design can be enough to drive links and shares to your site.

Integrating SEO & Social Strategies:

One of the most important aspects for any business to focus on since the last Panda update is content marketing. Creating and sharing original content, whether video, photo or written, is the most important factor in remaining competitive. Now social signals such as likes, comments and shares are a much bigger part of the ranking algorithms, and that’s a good thing leading search results to become more and more useful and specific.

Social media and blogging are two key ways to focus on link development to compliment your strategies. Providing keyword-focused written content is a great way to incorporate long-tail keywords and internal links into your own site. Additionally, creating interesting or informative content that can be shared is a sure way to build authority and legitimacy in your niche. Infographics, blogs posts and any photo/media content can go a long way toward getting more shares and traffic.

There are many services you can hire to write blog posts for as low as $25 per article (such as textbroker), and then you can rework the posts to be more specific to your brand and focused on your target keywords. I am not totally against these kinds of services, as long as you do take the time to rework the article before posting. Anything marketed from your site should have the voice of the brand first and foremost, and if you have the bandwidth to write your articles in-house, you would probably be better served in the long run.

Guest blogging on other sites and having others guest blog on yours is another smart way to get links, as well as running social media campaigns and interacting with others on social media. Interacting with other leaders in your space is also easily done through social media. Submitting your blogs to social bookmarking sites is a good way to get them out there: Reddit, Digg, Fark, StumbleUpon, just to name a few. Being active on those sites is also good for exploring your niche and interacting with others in the same space.

Paid Media
Another good way to share your content is through paid placements. One great service for this is Outbrain, which recommends your article on websites such as USA Today, Yahoo and other major publishers. Also, obviously PPC can be useful if you target your audience specifically and the content has some call to action that leads to conversions, but to drive links to our content we must focus on creating compelling original content and sharing it in a professional way. Paid media on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms can also be key in finding new audiences.

Don’t Forget Google+
Lastly, don’t forget Google Plus! This often-ignored social network can have a significant impact on your organic search rankings. Google uses signals from Google Plus, such as +1’s, as one of many factors in its page ranking algorithm. +1’s are endorsements of your content, very similar to Facebook “likes.”

Make Google Plus part of your social SEO strategy by setting up a Google Plus page, growing your network of followers, sharing your content in the network, and adding +1 buttons alongside Facebook, Twitter and other social sharing buttons on your pages.

For more free beginner advice on search, check out Google’s starter guide here.