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The Obvious Yet Underused Way to Build an SEO Program

Will Davis | June 30, 2009

At least a few times a week, we find ourselves talking to a company about search engine strategies.  Often, the conversation starts with something along the lines of:

“I really just need some SEO to get people to my website, do you do that?”

Usually, that then evolves into a discussion about the company’s overall business objectives and how we can fit this into a search strategy –- with an explanation of the difference between pay per click vs. organic listings as a key piece of that.

While we have talked about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) in this space a number of times before, what I want to focus on this time is how to determine which keywords and phrases to target.

And, a way to get the right keywords that is so simple, and so obvious, and yet most companies don’t even consider.

But, first, let’s back up a bit for a quick high level snapshot of how search engines rank your site.

In simple terms, there are 2 main components to the way the search engines rank you.  The first is on page, meaning what is on your site and how the search engines read your content, structure, tags and titles.  This is a key piece in having the engines understand who you are and what you do.  You address this through ensuring your site is using the right titles, tags and other key content pieces.  The second piece is credibility, which is determined by the volume of credible links to your site from other websites.   Google and other search engines look at these as a “vote” for you, causing your site to be found more and have more credibility.  You address this through building quality links, utilizing techniques such as articles and widgets to gain links that drive both search engines and people to your site.

With that background in mind, where do you start?  Often we find we are working with a client in a very search competitive industry who just launched a new website or is lagging behind their competition form a search standpoint.

The key here if you want to make an impact is to go into it with the right approach.  First, acknowledge that to move the needle you will need a bit of time, particularly if  your site is relatively new, has only a couple of links to it or does not have a large density of content.  So, one of the things you will want to do to improve your natural search opportunities is work on these along with getting your website titled, tagged and optimized on page and then continuing to build credible relevant links on a monthly basis that increase your organic ranking.

To do this right way you will want to make sure you are choosing the right keywords for your optimization.  Since SEO is a long term undertaking with incremental improvement, you’ll want to make sure you target the right words when you start that effort — otherwise you could use a whole lot of energy optimizing around your worst prospects rather than your best.

So, while you want to target the natural search listings with the optimization, in order to make sure you get it right we often will recommend starting with a limited pay per click campaign as a research bed.  We’ll do this to determine which keywords convert to leads or sales rather than just which ones our gut intuitively tells us will perform.  We do this as a limited test to make sure we build the data to understand which keywords are converting to leads and then use those as the keywords we target from an SEO perspective.

For example, let’s say your company sells the ever popular widget (how did somebody miss out on patenting this item that was so popular in algebra class?).  Before you undertake a long term search engine optimization it’s critical to know which terms aren’t just getting people to your website, but converting to leads or sales for those widgets.  Maybe terms like “large widget” perform better than “small widget” or “imported widget” or “cogs” or “sprockets” — By running all of these in a test PPC campaign  we can get some actionable data on which are the right terms to optimize around and then undertake that optimization, rather than just jumping in blindly.  Sure, you may say, you have web analytics and they show you who comes to the website and how they got there.  But, keep in mind they are only showing you part of the story — the people that got there not the ones that didn’t.  By testing different keywords we can then benchmark success and roll those keywords into a more effective SEO plan.

Now, instead of spending all of your effort investing in optimizing against the keywords you think might work, you are building actionable data for a more informed optimization and only paying on a per visitor basis.  And, sell more widgets, or cogs, or sprockets — or whatever it is you do.

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