Search Engine Optimization: A Primer

Let’s face the facts: the creation of a website alone is not enough to make it visible on the internet, although ranking for keywords that are relevant to your business is crucial.

Even if you pour all of your energy into your website, making it creative, content-rich, and innovative, it may be buried among thousands of other websites on the back pages of Google. It may as well be hidden in a cave in the desert! From a user’s perspective, there’s not much of a difference, because they won’t be able to find you by searching in Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

In today’s world, the majority of users find the majority of the information they’re interested in through the use of search engines, which provide relevant search results. How, then, can a business position itself well in Google?

What’s ultimately important: gaining a strong ranking position and using paid search to appear on the search engines that carry the highest percentage of traffic: Google, Yahoo, Bing, & their search partners.

To be indexed & included, however, isn’t enough. It’s vital to be on the first page, above the fold (a reference to newspapers), for the terms that your customers are searching to find you. Are your competitors showing up? You bet. It’s time to take action, and SEO is the best way to get there!

As a digital marketer, the goal is to increase the visibility of your site in search engines, earning a top position in Google by building a relevant, technically-sound, and engaging website that people love to use.

search engine optimization strategies

Although the process is very complex, here’s a high-level summary of the steps involved to gain a priority position in search engines:

Keyword research: by conducting a thorough analysis of your competitors’ sites: looking at how they position their products and services, corporate image; their description of themselves. They then surgically include these keywords on their sites in ways that signal to search engines that they’re important and relevant.

Tactical recommendation: compile a list of keywords that are important to your business & to include on your site. Fortunately, there are lots of resources showing how to do long tail keyword research for seo with examples, so you don’t need to look too far in order to find relevant information.

Site Optimization: This is where it gets tricky. Optimization of the HTML code to signal to Google that the site is relevant & authoritative For example, writing compelling meta tags that get your customers to click on your listing, placement & emphasis of important keywords in your content, optimizing the structure of the site to make it easy for the search engine “spiders” to crawl and index your pages. By setting up reporting correctly, you can confirm that your site has been crawled, indexed, and appears in Google search.

Registration in search engines: once your site is built, you have to say hello! Let them know that you exist by registering on Google & Bing webmaster tools, create a sitemap & robots.txt file, and submit them.

Improving the website authority: the improvement in the popularity of a website is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes time to be recognized as an authority in a particular industry, and takes lots of quality content, mentions from other authoritative websites, and building your brand’s visibility.

Rank tracking: Once you know which keywords are a priority, it’it’s important to track where you are! See where you stand today, so that you can create a benchmark and measure future performance.

Common SEO Misconceptions:

Misconception: you need a new website
Oftentimes, an agency will tell a customer that their website needs a complete overhaul in order to rank well in the SERPs. This is often wildly expensive, time-consuming, and may also require a brand refresh. This is largely untrue, and in fact, as most websites can be improved by simply creating great content & building mentions from industry authorities. It’s not that complex, but it’s in the agency’s interest to make it seem that way.

After all, who benefits from this? The agency that profits, of course!

Misconception: you can rank one website on page one for hundreds of keywords.
Although a single page can rank well for a certain family of terms, Google loves diversity. Why would they rank the same website for thousands of keywords, when there are almost certainly better options out there?

Misconception: rankings are guaranteed, or that there are “positions available” on Google.
This is a scam used by telemarketers; there are no positions “available” on Google if you consult with a particular company. Everyone is on their own, and the best website will rank. There is no way to guarantee that a strategy will work, and all websites are subject to penalties, negative SEO by competitors, and other factors that can’t be controlled.

In closing, analysis is key. Determining the keywords that are most important to your business, by way of competitor analysis, search engine tools, and common sense, is the most important step. Once that’s in place, take action! Write engaging content that stimulates your readers and positions you as an authority in your industry. Describe your pages accurately and succinctly without being spammy. Fix technical issues: bring on a web developer from UpWork if you have to. It’ll cost $100 – $500, and could illuminate issues that have been holding your website down for years. Finally, track results! See what’s working & what’s a waste of time by looking at your website analytics. Onward & upward!

Reporting & Analytics

Generally speaking, there are two important phases that go into reporting: pre-launch & post-launch.

Pre-launch

When dealing with any marketing initiative, especially paid acquisition, getting your campaign analytics set up correctly beforehand is an absolute must.

    • Setting up Google Analytics to track traffic from different channels is important. Add UTM parameters to track traffic that comes through email vs social according to this guide. Turn on Auto-Tagging in Google AdWords, and set up Webmaster Tools for SEO
    • Wherever possible, adding Google Tag Manager (GTM) to your site makes adding & updating marketing tags much simpler. Simply add one tag to your site, and manage the rest through Google’s intuitive container.

  • Adding conversion tracking tags for all the channels that you’re using. The most common channels include Facebook, AdWords, Pinterest, and others. Although the concept behind these tags is similar, the execution can be quite different. For instance, Google’s conversion tracking tag simply needs to be added to the “thank you” page that users are taken to after completing a purchase. If your company tracks revenue from online purchases, the AdWords tag pull that information back into the platform. This is crucial because it allows you to calculate return on investment, allowing the marketing department to evaluate the effectiveness of this channel compared to others. For Facebook, however, a “base” tag needs to be placed on every page of the site, with an additional tag placed to capture conversion & revenue information on the “thank you” page. The tag can be further customized to capture additional information, such as viewing a particular page or product. Facebook put together a great guide to implement and modify their pixel. The customization options are nearly endless!

Once all of the tags to track performance have been added to the site & QA’d, it’s time to launch the campaign.

Post-launch

Once your campaigns have been set up & optimized, and the appropriate tags are in place, it’s time to focus on data analysis, optimization, & reporting. The reason for the pre-launch section is to ensure that you’ll collect the data that’s essential for analysis before the campaign launches, because you can’t re-capture the data retroactively.

web analytics

Data analysis
Once the data starts to flow in, it’s time to analyze it. What elements of the campaign are gaining traction? Is CTR what you expected? Are people simply clicking, or converting as well? There are lots of variables to take into account in this phase, and they’ll all depend on the campaign setup, so they’re difficult to forecast across campaigns or industries. Look for general outliers, both good & bad.

Optimization
Once the variance in performance starts to level out, it’s time to make more precise optimizations. Think “scalpel” rather than “hammer”. Are the keywords we’re targeting bringing in any irrelevant or unrelated traffic? For example, bidding on “tea” and bringing in “team sports”? Add non-relevant queries as negative keywords to reduce wasted budget & improve CTR.

What tweaks can we make to improve CTR? Is the ad copy engaging? Can we add any ad extensions or bells & whistles? Does 6am on Friday convert as well as 3pm on Tuesday? Make day parting adjustments to account for differences in campaign performance according to the time of day or day of week. Does Google search perform as well as Google’s Search Partners? Turn them on or off as needed. Does mobile convert at the same rate as tablet and desktop? In may of 2016, Google allowed advertisers to bid separately on all devices, presenting a large opportunity for advertisers to further refine their bids & improve ROI.

Reporting
Once you’ve got everything dialed in, you can focus on setting up ongoing reporting. Getting a performance report emailed to you every Monday, for instance, is a good cadence for many businesses who don’t have time to look at digital marketing performance every day. Make sure to include the metrics that are important to you, whether they’re branding & reach (impressions, clicks, CTR) direct response (conversions, revenue, ROI), or efficiency (ROI & CPA). These goals will depend on your particular situation & the goals for the campaign, so it’s important to define these based on your needs.

Pay Per Click Marketing – Why It’s Important

Although there are many acronyms in digital marketing that describe it, paid search is fundamentally about one thing: paying for traffic on a per-click basis. Whether that’s on a search engine (Google or Bing), a social media platform like Facebook or Pinterest, or any other website on the Internet, the idea behind PPC is that you’re paying for qualified traffic. In most cases, These platforms like to bid on keywords that describe your services, or give an indication of wearing user is in the purchasing funnel. For instance, someone who is searching for “how much do PCs cost?” Isn’t a match different position in the purchasing funnel than someone who’s searching for “buy macbook pro online”. SEM Rush put out one of my favorite articles on keyword research – succinct, applicable to both PPC & SEO, and still relevant for today.

The difference between paper click advertising an organic advertising is very simple: paid acquisition allows you to get to the top of the results immediately, While organic optimization can take a lot of time. In other words, PPC can be a Band-Aid for many companies that are able to get traffic through user engagement where the content of their website, but need traffic and customers today. The same comparison can be made between AdWords and SEO, between social media management on Facebook and Facebook ads, or a paid placement in online publication versus being approached by an online publication to be included as a reference in a new story.

For many users, the distinction between paid and organic is not clear, and that line is becoming more and more blurry as time goes on. The concept of native advertising is an embodiment of that distinction. The whole point of native advertising is to add the content to a website in such a way that it looks natural.

In Italy, for example, the most important PPC ad networks were Espotting, Overture, and Google AdWords.

These platforms perform similar functions, but show ads to users in different areas of the web – Google publishes them on top of & on the side of its results, while Overture shows ads on engines like Altavista and MSN, and Espotting shows on Yahoo.it. Today, Overture & Espotting are pretty much gone, replaced by Google, Bing ads, & Yahoo Gemini.

Although the ecosystem is fragmented, that’s not where the complexities end. All of their backend management systems & advertising platforms are different, each requiring a separate set of in-depth knowledge to accomplish similar tasks. Changing bids, creating new campaigns, adding new keywords – they’re all done on separate platforms and in a different order. It’s complicated, and the majority of advertisers who spend more than a few thousand dollars a month are obliged to hire an expert, either in-house or at a digital marketing agency.

These agencies perform similar functions, but their specialties are quite different. For instance, some agencies focus more on social media management, while others focus on search engine optimization and AdWords.

As agencies develop specialties on a particular advertising channel or with a particular industry, their skills increase and their efficacy improves. In other words, it’s just not possible to foresee issues with a “personal injury attorney” AdWords campaign until you’ve ran a lot of campaigns for lawyers, for example. Cost per click averages, how to increase conversion rate, how to set up reporting, determining the ad copy that’s most effective for this audience, etc. – it’s impossible to see until you’re in the middle of it. For this reason, many agencies will pick a particular industry or aspect of an industry to specialize in, like law, B2B, eCommerce, lead gen for HVAC companies, etc. The possibilities for specialization are nearly endless in the world of digital marketing.

In House vs Agency

When companies reach a certain size (depends on the industry), they come to a fork in the road: hire a marketing manager in-house, or use an agency. Giving the PPC campaigns the TLC that they nee to thrive is nearly impossible in most cases – a single person can’t manage digital marketing, offline, marketing, update the website, create new ad collateral, develop landing pages, and come up with strategy themselves. Well… they can do it, but not very well.

Ideally, companies should have a specialist for each digital marketing channel, since the platforms are constantly changing. Taking benefits, paid time off, and additional employer mandated benefits into account, hiring a marketing agency to manage your ads is often the best choice for SMB’s. A quick rundown of the channels that are most important for businesses today:

  • Search engine marketing: Search Engine Optimization & Paid Search
  • Content marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Display marketing
  • Influencer marketing & outreach

Campaign Management – What’s Important

To see a solid ROI, active campaign management is an absolute must. Although it may seem like a lot of these platforms should be “plug-n-play” – set them up, do some spot checks, and let it run. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. Every aspect of the campaign, from keywords to ad copy to landing pages, needs to be tested, tweaked, and fine tuned to get the best results. To improve performance year after year, these elements need to be changed & tested all over again. It’s a full time job – literally. That’s why an agency is a good move for many SMBs – the return on investment is solid.

When it comes to paid search, Quality Score is King. The quality score is Google’s way of measuring the relevance between the keywords, the ad, and the landing page. Generally speaking, the biggest determinant of Quality Score is click-thru-rate (CTR), or clicks divided by impressions. This is a great way to measure the effectiveness of the ad and whether or not the ad is engaging the target audience. As Quality Score improves, Google rewards advertisers by improving your ad position and reducing your cost-per-click (CPC). For that reason, every advertiser should work to improve quality score as much as possible. A good agency will set up A/B tests to test ad copy and improve CTR, change the calls to action on the landing pages, and add negative keywords to improve CTR & conversion rate (CVR) as much as possible.

If you’re looking for a digital marketing agency, make sure to ask them about these strategies, and how they implement them for their clients.