5 Tips to Make the Most of Your SEO Investment

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Make the Most of Your SEO Investment

Whether you’re a marketer at a large Fortune 500 company or a small business, search engine optimization (SEO) can be one of the most cost-effective tools for reaching a broader audience and increasing online sales. A solid and persistent search engine optimization program can increase search visibility for many types of content affecting the bottom line:  sales, customer service, recruiting, public and investor relations.

These are challenging economic times calling for prudent marketing decisions.  Search industry, business and analyst publications agree: search marketing is recission proof, or at least recession resistant.  To make sure your SEO program investment yields effective and efficient marketing results, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Planning: A solid plan of action is a necessary component to any successful SEO program. Before beginning a campaign, be sure you have clarified your specific goals and expectations. This will help you to decide which SEO tactics will be most effective. A professional firm can help you to define your goals and determine what is feasible for your particular situation.
  • Resources: Assess your resources to ensure you can implement your SEO program. Take stock of your monetary capital, talent pool and any existing assets that can be leveraged. You will need to determine if you have the resources to complete your ideal SEO plan on your own, or if you will need to enlist the services of an SEO agency. If you have already decided on professional assistance, a resource assessment can determine the scale of your SEO program.
  • Measurement: Organize a process to measure the results of your program. You will want to be able to tie your measurements of success directly back to your SEO tactics. If increasing leads was the initial goal for your program, this may mean using an analytics package to determine the origin of your online leads. If you choose to work with an agency, be sure to select one with a strong record of measurable SEO success.
  • Promotion: A well-optimized website will increase your search engine rankings and help your target audience find your services over that of competitors. However, a solid SEO program does not end there. Make the most of search engine optimization by promoting your well-optimized site. Place your URL on your business card, in your email signature, and promote it online beyond the search engines in social networks, blogs, forums and more.
  • Innovation: Don’t rely on what has always worked, or assume that your initial optimization will last forever. The online world is constantly changing, and this extends to optimization best practices. A solid SEO program is an ongoing investment that requires you to adapt and innovate to ensure your website stays at the top of the rankings.

With a solid search engine optimization plan, the right resources, measurements of success, promotion, and innovation, companies large and small can weather the current economic challenges.

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5 SEO Posts that Rocked Our October

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

In October we decided to mix things up a bit and offer more posts with practical tips, especially the SEO Basics series. While many of our readers appreciate industry insights, observations, conference coverage and interviews, it was the practical tips and resources that attracted the most interest.

While started out with tips focused on search engine optimization in October, we’ll begin offering similarly practical tips for digital PR and social media marketing as well.

The two day Social Media Smarts workshop in conjunction with the DMA will offer more than enough basic social media tips to share.  Here are the top 10 Online Marketing Blog posts according to visitors, post ratings and incoming links for October:

  • SEO Basics: Are Directory Submissions Still Worthwhile? – A topic that’s pretty much a blast from the past, this post questions the value of submitting web sites to directories to attract traffic and for SEO. Google’s recent changes to their webmaster recommendations gives the impression directories are even less valuable than previously thought. Also this post earned TopRank a spot on “SEO Rockstars” at WebmasterRadio.FM.
  • SEO Basics: 4 Tips to Improve Search Engine Rankings – Our SEO Basics series of posts were popular out of the gate. Each post is based on a real question posed by a web site owner. The idea is not new or unique, but is one of the best ways to source content for a blog in a way that wins for everyone involved. This post offers the first or top 3 things a web site owner should do to improve their search visibility. As much as search engines have evolved and become more sophisticated, SEO fundamentals are still about crawler friendly, keywords, content and links.
  • SEO Basics: Ensure Your Site Can be Crawled by Search Engines – Speaking of crawler friendly, this post is dedicated to addressing the most common issue for web site owners that are not doing well in search results.  This post provides the most common issues and considerations with generous links to 3rd party resources.
  • The Yin and Yang of PR and SEO – The popular SEO topic share the stage with public relations in this post that describes the interplay between keyword optimizing content and link building compared to keyword messaging and pitching with media relations. As search and PR converge, the skill sets from each discipline combine to create even more value for web site owners.

If you’re a regular reader of Online Marketing Blog, we’d love to get your feedback on your favorite topics and post formats. We’ll continue to offer marketing conference liveblogging, interviews, insights and tips but want to make sure we’re posting the kind of content that works for you. Please share your feedback on how we’re doing in the comments or email to seo at toprankmarketing dot com.

Sponsored By: PRSA International Detroit 10/25-28 Preconference Workshop: Search Engine Optimization for News

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SEO Basics: Top 3 Tactics To Improve Search Engine Rankings

Thursday, October 30th, 2008

We continue our series of weekly SEO basics questions and answer today with a question that acknowledges the value of approaching search engine optimization holistically, but indicates a desire to keep things simple and focus on the basics.

“… you mentioned to use a holistic approach to aid in a better SEO, but specifically what might be the “top 3″ things can I do or focus on my website to best help improve my search rankings on Google”

Since Google dominates the search marketplace, you can read their “How can I create a Google-friendly site?” recommendations. Or you can read on for more SEO insight.

SEO is a big topic and many web site owners are overwhelmed, feeling like it’s simply too much to handle, getting “fire hosed” with information from consultants. As a result, they look for bit sized chunks of information – tactics. Sometimes these individual tactics can make a dent in the problem, but not considering the overall picture including current site, competition, online marketplace, resources, ongoing marketing and analytics can result in lost opportunity and bottom line lost revenue.

The smart answer to the question about “top three SEO tactics” to focus on starts with an evaluation of the site in question to see if there are any immediate, high impact opportunities such as unblocking search engine spiders from crawling the site or assessing the content management system and any other major possible barriers to getting crawled and included.

Assuming those questions are solved and the market for the web site is well understood, the next thing is to make sure the site content is targeting the right keywords. Understanding what potential customers are looking for and applying that insight with a content creation and promotion strategy is instrumental for optimial search engine visibility.

There are a variety of free keyword tools to do research on what types of words are being used to find the kinds of products/solutions offered on your web site including the Google Keyword Tool, Google’s Trends for Websites and the Microsoft adCenter Labs Keyword Research Tool. You can also find a list of the best keyword research tools in this list (as voted by our readers).

The second thing to do is to apply the keyword research you’ve done to the web site and content being published to the web.  Make sure each web page contains unique, descriptive text using relevant and popular keywords. The key on-page influences of keywords on search engine rankings include:

* Keywords in the title tag
* Keywords in text links to your web pages from other relevant web sites
* Keywords in the copy of your web pages
* Keywords used in links between pages of your site

The last thing I’d recommend (I guess this is 4, not 3 tips) is to tell other sites related to your topic about your site and attract links. The bottom line recommendation with link building is to create content worth linking to. But then you need to tell other web sites about it or they won’t know to link to you. This is especially true with new web sites.

Be a resource for your industry and create content of value to potential customers to make the job of finding, evaluating and buying your products/services easier.  It’s also important to create the kind of content that other influential web sites and blogs will want to link to.

For a retailer, this might mean writing product reviews and buying guides. Don’t limit the content to text either. Use images, audio and video. Also, you don’t need high end video production to create a popular video on the web.  For a BtoB company, this might mean a blog that offers a conversational version of your industry point of view, problems/solutions and how that relates to companies in the industries you serve.

Package content so that it’s easy for others to share and pass along. Be consistent in your keyword messaging and branding so that influentials in your industry associate your brand name with the main keywords you want consumers to find you with.

Obviously, you could drill down very deeply into specifics about SEO and marketing tasks from competitive research to using other channels to web analytics, but lets keep this simple.  The top 3 or 4 things to focus on for improved search visibiliy (in my opinion) are:

  1. Make sure search engines have no difficulty in finding and understanding your web site
  2. Research the keywords that are most meaningful for your customers
  3. Use those keywords in your content
  4. Create content and promote content that makes it easy for customers to buy and easy for influentials to link to your resources

What are your top 3 or 4 SEO tips?

Sponsored By: Searchnomics Social Media Conference San Francisco Oct 29-30

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SEO Basics: Will Moving or Changing My Site Hurt Rankings?

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2008

We continue our Search Engine Optimization Basics series of posts this week with a question from a marketer that is dealing with issues related to moving a web site to another host and possibly updating the content management system and design.

You may notice the image to the left has nothing to do with the “moving van” I was searching on at the stock photo site I use, yet it was presented in those search results. Such a mismatch helps illustrate that search engines are not infallible and making site changes without considering search and SEO can result in unanticipated results.

Will changing our web site affect our search engine rankings?

As with many SEO related questions, the short answer is, “It depends”.  The first thing to clarify is what “changing” means. Outside of changes to content, keyword usage and incoming links, common changes to a web site that affect search engine visibility include:

  • Changing domain names
  • Changing content management systems
  • Changing design
  • Changing web hosts

Companies change domain names for many reasons including: improved usability or better domain name (del.icio.us to delicious.com) , the result of a company acquisition, business roll up or simply changing the name of the company.

If search engines are indexing the current domain name and web pages, it matters a great deal how the implementation of a new domain name is handled. See this post, “The Cost of No SEO Migration Plan” for a good example of what not to do.

What should you do?  If nothing but the domain name is changing, then a proper system of 301 redirects is in order along with identifying top link referring sources of traffic and asking them to change their links to use your new domain name.

What’s important is to make it easy for search engines to understand that you’ve made a permanent change from one domain to another and to retain as much “link equity” in that change as possible. There are other considerations with domain name changes that you can find in the resource links below.

Changing content management systems and web design are the most common things that affect search visibility amongst the list of issues listed above.  I would highly recommend reading “Site Re-Design? Call Your SEO Expert First!” to get a good handle on the good and bad of factoring how an updated web site should consider search engines.

Most companies engage a web design agency or in-house design staff to create the new web site with an emphasis on front end usability for customers and ease of use/maintenance on the back end site management. What they often FAIL to consider is how changing URL syntax (ex: webpage.htm to webpage.php or webpage.aspx) will confuse search engines.

A map of old to new URLs needs to be implemented along with a system of permanent (301) redirects. As with a changing domain name, top referring link sources should be identified from web analytics and contacted if necessary, to change what URL they’re linking to.

Pages that cannot be mapped need to be dealt with using custom 404 error pages which should be user and search engine friendly. After the CMS and site design and redirects have been implemented, it’s important to continue monitoring web analytics for broken links and 404 errors so they can be fixed.

Changing web hosts alone shouldn’t have any affect on how a search engine ranks the web site as long as the change is smooth. A small static site with few web pages (under 1,000) is pretty straightforward.  Moving a huge site with tens of thousands of pages, multiple servers and more complex hosting and redundancy factors is of course, a bit more complex.

Fundamentally, changing web hosts should involve setting up the site at its new location completely, then making DNS changes to point the domain name to the new hosting location and ensuring search engines are properly crawling the web site at its new location. Then and only then should you close down the old hosting location.

The bottom line with mitigating negative SEO effects due to web site changes is to make sure search engines are considered along with customers and web site operators. Search engines are pretty smart on many things, but they’re still pretty “dumb” when it comes to dealing with many of the routine changes that web site owners make.  They key is to make it easy for search engines to understand the changes being made. Otherwise you might end up with the symbolic equivalent our large, hairy guy above showing up in your moving van search results.

If you make it easy for search engines to understand the changes being made and what domain, URL syntax, site structure, hosting location and link sources they should pay attention to, then the search engines can do a better job of adjusting with minimal effect to rankings.

If a site owner doesn’t have staff in-house or within their web design agency that are experienced with making these kinds of changes that consider the effect on SEO, then it makes sense to engage a competent and experienced consultant for a SEO migration plan that will work with the design and web development teams. By doing so, many, many expensive headaches can be avoided.

Other resources on how changing web sites affects SEO and search rankings:

Sponsored By: PRSA International Detroit 10/25-28 Preconference Workshop: Search Engine Optimization for News

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