Search Engine Optimization: The first step is to do your homework

I want to be #1 in Google.

We understand. The problem is, so does your competition! Appearing at the top of major search engines like Google is not a simple process of adding keywords to your META tags like it once was. Source: Google Webmaster Central, Matt Cutts.

Google is sophisticated.
The people who work at Google are smart and have developed an algorithm that truly results the best websites for given keywords. How in the world do they do that? There are a lot of factors involved, and they are continually changing that 'algorithm' to ensure the results are good and that no one is cheating the system. We want Google to be this way though -- when you search for pizza, furniture, baby stores, consultants or whatever, you are happy that the results give you what you want. And so it all  begins...


Unfortunately, this means: if you are the best furniture store in Indianapolis but you have never done much with your website or online marketing, Google does not probably know about you. It is unfortunate but true. You are missing the mark and need to catch up and take advantate of the huge opportunity.

When a company comes to us and says they want to 'rank' #1 in search engines, we start with research. We cannot give adequate advice or even a cost estimate until we know more about their industry, competition, current ranking, and optimal keywords. Search Engine Optimization step 1 is research.

What keywords or phrases are visitors and potential new clients really searching to find you, your products or your services?

Make a list... a long list to start is fine and optimal. Brainstorm with your staff, your friends, family and ask your clients. If someone found you online already, ask them what they searched. If you have statistics, look at what they are telling you about keywords.

Try to identify your most important for closing a deal (top 10, top 5, and even top 3 keywords/terms to start).

Of these identified keywords: 

What potential keywords are you not thinking about? It is important to think of your keywords as an outsider. Ask others. Since you are so heavily involved in your business, the keywords that you think of may actually not be what your potential new customer is thinking of.

Adding location value for a local type of business is very helpful to achieve results and also very relevant. Many users search 'what they are looking for' + 'their location'.

For example, in our industry, a term might be 'website design' + 'indianapolis'.

Remember: Spelling matters, the order of words counts, plural vs. singular result in two different results.


    Where do you current rank for these terms? You can search terms in Google to get a general sense of your rank. First, log out of your Google account. That will skew your results significantly in your favor -- you will think WOW, I rank #1 already. That is not true. Google is so smart that your account, browsing history, location and other factors weigh into the results you see. However, it is a starting point. You may consider searching from another computer such as a friends or opening/downloading a brand new browser platform.

      There are tools to give an accurate read that we use to understand and report your current rank. SEOmoz is a great tool and even offers a free trial or a few readings per day without cost.

      Can you narrow down the list based on competition, optimal focus, etc.? For example, if you are a carpet store in Indianapolis. An appropriate keyterm would be 'Flooring Indianapolis'. 'Indianapolis Flooring' also seemed like a good keyword, but would be extremely difficult to achieve #1 spot because there is a company called Indianapolis Flooring and they even own the domain for indianapolisflooring.com and .net. It would be better to focus efforts on the reverse of the phrase 'Flooring Indianapolis'.
        After that initial list is developed, we validate those keywords and determine if how much traffic they could drive to your site (how many people are searching for this term?). This information will give a true sense of the potential available for a given keyword and help evaluate your true return on investment. See sample near bottom of this post.

        Will these keywords actually result in a conversion for your business?

        This is by far the most important question to ask because that's the whole point, right?
        "Get people to my website to make a sale or gain leads."
        In terms of conversion and your keywords, think about what clients and customers are searching for. Be as specific as you can. Remember that conversions are more than just keywords though... true conversions and success are a result of your marketing description when you do rank in search results and the landing page and clarity of call to action when make it to your website.

        Remember, if you get them to your website, you still have to make the sale. The landing page has to be clear and easy for them to find what they need and make contact!

        From this Research...

        Once we have this initial information, we can make educated recommendations around search engine optimization for your business. Below is an example of what kind of information can be determined once we know what keyword you are striving for and how competitive that keyword might be (plus considering your potential rank position).
        If your optimal keyword is 'bankruptcy law indianapolis'. We can determine there are142,000 search results and 650 people searching this term in a given month. Knowing how people search a term over a given period of time can help us determine if it is good target phrase. If the results show only 50 people, we may conclude you would get 20 clicks based on your #2 position. Of those 20 clicks, based on your current statistics, 4 would be a conversion if your conversion factor was filling out your contact form.
        The numbers above are fake, but show you how we would come to our recommendations to help you receive the best SEO strategy.

        A few other starter tips:

        Make sure statistics are set up on your domain. We recommend Google Analytics, and they must be properly installed -- this is baseline of our continual solution and evaluation of results. If you do not have statistics for your website or do not review them regularly (monthly, quarterly); you are missing a huge opportunity and important insight about the success and failures of your website as a marketing tool.


        Make sure the site has a robots.txt file, sitemaps.xml, and is registered with Google Webmaster Tools. These small things allow us to monitor how the search engine is finding and indexing your website content and also helps identify small problems that are usually very easy to fix.


        Summary

        Research is just the starting point to boost your website to the top of the search engine results. Remember that it won't happen right away, but doing the research will help you understand what to target, what your options are, and how much effort might be required to see results... and even how many leads and ROI you could see. After initial SEO research, we recommend a success strategy that will help get you there based on your goals and the competitiveness of your keywords.

        Tatum

        About the author | Tatum Hindman

        Tatum is the president of TBH Creative and is responsible for building long-term client relationships. She enjoys the strategy behind web design and sitting down with clients to define online marketing goals. She likes to blog about questions or topics that clients ask about as well as sharing new tricks.

        View more posts by Tatum

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