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Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is a common phrase for “How do I get my web site highly ranked on Google!?” I’m simplifying this of course, but it is good enough for our use.
But really, let’s think about this a bit. Do you care about SEO, and being highly ranked on Google? Well, sure you do! But … not really. Let’s be honest. What you really care about is business. Traffic, and driving traffic to your site, and converting that traffic into… business. So what you really care about is business, and increasing that business. I’m with you, and this “getting started in SEO” article is going to help you along.
To SEO, or not to SEO. Is that even a question?
To start this exercise, let’s consider our goal again. Our goal is to increase business, and we are going to do that by increasing traffic. There are a few kinds of traffic:
- There are new visitors who happen along our page because we’ve distributed business cards, or put up billboards, or paper advertising, or a customer or visitor has referred them to us, or we’ve had other personal contact with them. These are direct contact visitors. Any Page 1 ranking doesn’t matter for these visitors — but SEO is still very important. Why? Because we want to retain those customers, and have them visit again.
- There are new visitors who happen along our page because they are referred to us by other web sites. These are referred visitors.
- There are new visitors who happen along our page because they searched for a certain term. These are SEO visitors. This traffic is directly influenced by our SEO work that helps our ranking. We want to grab that person’s attention, and have them visit again.
- There are visitors who happen along our page because they’ve already visited. These are repeat visitors. We definitely want to capitalize on repeat visitors and have them return to our site! Why? Because it is very costly to get that first time customer. Customer retention is important in any business.
In the following chapters, we’ll visit each of these types of visitors, and try to better understand how to keep them around.
Let’s start with the now infamous backlink. Don’t worry, it is okay if you haven’t heard of them before.
Technically put, backlinks are links from one web site to another web site. More simply explained, backlinks are kind of like endorsements. If I place a link from my site to some other site, the Internet search engines considers that an endorsement for that site.
There was a day when SEO Page Ranking was almost purely based on keywords and the number of backlinks to a site. The more the backlinks, the higher the ranking. The idea was, a search engine spider would reason if so many people feel confident about this particular web site, then well, maybe the spider itself should feel confident about this particular web site too.
But then backlink farms started growing. Backlink farms are web sites almost purely devoted to backlinks. No real content, just hey, pay me a dollar and I’ll let you have your very own backlink to your site to help in your ranking. What was the response? Right. As you might expect, the search engines realized the failure, and the algorithm changed a bit. A site would be ranked based on a rough estimate of backlinks to outlinks.
I got caught on outlinks with my first web site. I achieved front page status on all the popular search engines of the time (yay!), then I decided to outlink for key words to dictionary sites (to help my reader with unusual words and technical jargon), and outlink to companies I did business with (to help my reader more easily find companies in the “digital era” of web sites), and outlink to the weather reports (because I am a boater and pilot, and weather is important to both of those interests), and outlink to financial times news (since at the time I was actively involved with heavy day trading, it just seemed to make sense to link to these sites). Well, what happened was… my first page results went to page 167 on google alone (no lie, I checked!). At first I didn’t understand what happened. It was a week or two between the time I started adding the outlinks, and the time I noticed that the site was no longer on page one.
I was able to get back to page one, but it was a slow process. Just like the stocks I owned, they went down quickly, and took a long time to recover. Eventually I was back to page one — unlike my stocks that mostly never recovered, but that is another story…
Anyway, today backlinks are “likely” part of the puzzle for these highly secretive proprietary search engine algorithms, but there is more. Let’s get to a few others.
Be awesome in your field!
So let’s consider this a bit. The first thing you need to do is define your business. What are you doing? Are you running a dry cleaners? Then be awesome at it! Are you opening a restaurant? Then be awesome at it! Are you creating a web services company? Then… right, be awesome at it! Why? Well, here’s why.
If you open a restaurant, what do you provide to your customers? Right, you provide food. But you do more than that. How do you keep customers coming back? It usually isn’t only food, and not even only good food. Think about it, why did Seinfeld revisit The Soup Man? It is the atmosphere, the attitude of the wait staff, the cleanliness of the restaurant, the cleanliness of the restrooms, and even more. If it were just food, most people would be just as satisfied to eat out of a can from the local grocery store. But by providing good food, and good service, you are building a solution. Even McDonald’s and Burger King do more than provide food.
Just as in the “develop your own web site” document, let me reiterate that content is king. If you have good content, a few good things happen. First, the search engines themselves recognize that it is really content and increase your rank. Second, people will actually look at your site and look over the content — I mean, what good is it if you have achieved the legendary Page 1, but you don’t have any decent content? Right, you get hits with no retention. Not good. And third, people will begin to backlink to your site without your even needing to ask!
Consider also, the better the content, the more rich, fully vetted content you can provide, the more easily the search engine is going to be able to realize what your site is about. Not only that, the better, more rich, fully vetted content you can provide, the more easily a human reader is going to enjoy your site, and the more likely the human reader is going to return.
Okay, so you are awesome in your field. You have backlinks because people love your <<< pizza | law office | physical therapy practice | weblog | insert gadget here >>>. You have great content on your site, you’ve written all about your cookie recipe, and how it won an award in 1999, and how you won the gymnastic gold medal in 1986. How do you keep the visitors coming back?
The answer is: Fresh content!
If someone visits your pizza palace and enjoyed the experience, they might be inclined to return — but you ought to be providing fresh pizza ingredients! In the same way, if someone has visited your page once and enjoyed the experience, they may be inclined to return — but you ought to be providing fresh content!
But what is fresh content? It depends. If you are msn.com, you provide fresh content in several categories — International events, weather, local events, sports, the stock market. These are reasons customers revisit msn.com. If the content is stale, then fewer people are likely to return. You get that first costly hit, and then… nothing. There is no reason to return tot he site.
Are you involved with homelessness and child welfare? Well, how about fresh newsworthy content on developments in the world and the community that directly affect homelessness and child welfare? That might entice people to return.
Are you the pizza palace? How about fresh content like coupons, or discounts for the day, or “special events” where you give away a free pie, or free wine tasting with a the purchase of meat lovers pizza? Right, there are ways to encourage people to revisit your site. But mostly, you are trying to convert those site visits into business, and business is buying that pie!
If you are a web services company, you also need to build content, just like food is content. But more than that. You need to build good content, and fresh content to keep your customers interested in coming back. That first click is hard to achieve — just like getting that first customer through your door at a restaurant is hard to achieve. After spending thousands of dollars on advertising, you reasonably have one chance to convince that customer to return. Having good fresh content is a great way encourage that return visit.
Keywords will definitely help your search engine ranking. Consider, how would a search engine know you are a lawyer without actually using associated key words and phrases like law, attorney, law firm, criminal, defense, injury law, or contract law? But consider also, every other lawyer out there is going to be interested in using those same key words. Well what about key word stuffing? Like, if I can repeat “attorney” on my site more than the next guy, will that help me? Likely not. In fact, it likely will hurt. Key word stuffing is like ballot box stuffing. It has been caught, and most search engines are going to penalize the site for stuffing that key word box.
What do we do then?
As we’ve seen, SEO is more than just getting on Page 1. It is about providing such a great service that your existing customers are talking. It is about providing such great content that people want to return. It is about building a solution that people want, and the Page 1 rank is almost secondary.
Okay, well, all that except for the last part. Page 1 is SEO. But all that other stuff is critical to convert a traveler through your page to a traveler who builds your business.
So then, how can you stand out? With key words alone, it is going to be tough. With backlinks along, it is going to be tough. With static web page content alone, it is going to be tough. You need a splattering of key words through your fresh, awesome content that people want to read!
What do we do? We write articles that will entice the reader to return to your page, and that will entice him or her to say, “Hey, I found this great law site, and the content is awesome! You need to check it out.”
That is what we do.