Building a Website that Works for Your Users: Part III
SEO - Getting Better Traffic Through Search Engines
Welcome to part three of MTC’s four part series - “Building a Website that Works for Your Users.” If you haven’t already read the first to parts “User Flow and Calls to Action” and "Color Theory" - you can catch up on part one and part two here. In this installment of our series, we’ll discuss how key words and Seach Engine Optimization effect your user traffic and how to use these concepts to your advantage.
Without visitors a website is as effective as a billboard in the woods. Unless it’s a personal website, Individuals, organizations and businesses create their web identity to get their message out to the public, gain attention, and acquire sales and marketing leads.
But after all the time, money, and effort spent building the website itself, how does one GET visitors to it?
The Path to Prospects
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock, you know social media promotion has emerged as a popular method of driving traffic and building a regular following. However, the tried and true method for acquiring traffic has been the same since the 90s - ranking on search engines. Back when the web was in its infancy there were many (Altavista, Lycos, Hotbot, Excite, Yahoo, and others) but now just one reigns supreme – Google.
Google indexes millions of websites and with their ultra-secret algorithm sorts them in terms of relevancy to its users. Which is important to note because Google users rarely look past the first page of search results.
For businesses looking to gain more (and better!) website traffic, this means getting to the first page of search results is critical. The number one goal? Securing placement in the number one or two slot. Top ranking websites get a regular stream of visitors. Not only are more visitors likely to click on their page but search engine visitors are often better prospects! In sales lingo they are known as “highly qualified” or active – they know what they want and are more likely to buy from a company who can provide it for them.
When attempting to build a website that works for your users and brand, it is important to keep in mind three letters: SEO. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the study and practice of how to achieve a high ranking in search engines. To maximize results, every SEO initiative should follow a definitive plan. Guidelines to help get your website SEO plan started are outlined below:
1. Identify and Target Relevant Keywords
The first step in any SEO plan is to choose relevant keywords that you’d like your website to rank. The key to selecting these keywords is by focusing on the phrase “most relevant” – words cannot be chosen simply because they get a lot of traffic. For example, being the #1 search result for “Kim Kardashian” is of no use to a hardware store.
So, pick words that are meaningful to your industry and business.
Website owners should look for high value, low competition keywords that are relevant to their business. “High value” used in this context means people who search for this term are likely to purchase something. “Low competition” here means that you’re not competing against everyone else in the market for that keyword. Using the hardware store example, the keyword phrase “hardware store” might be a high competition keyword of low value. Every hardware store might be using that keyword, and it may bring your business little value to try and obtain it. A keyword that is more specific like “shingle froe” (an actual tool) might have lower competition and higher value.
Make sure to include both non-branded and branded keywords in your list. Target ranking highly on your branded words (for example, your company’s and signature product’s name) as prospects who search for this term are far more likely to become customers. Also, when selecting your company or product name, make sure to purchase every keyword associated with your name. Not owning the #1 slot for your website’s name is a problem that should be addressed immediately. If this problems is not addressed, every time a prospect types in “Joe’s hardware” a big box hardware store will come up first!
There are plenty of online tools to help you select the appropriate keywords for your business. It’s important to devote some time to this portion of your website creation as a keyword list is the foundation that everything else rests. It guides both the measure of success and the creation of content. Once your keywords have been selected, be sure to meet with your web developer to inject these words and phrases as frequently as possible into your property to further increase your chances of landing that golden spot at the top of Google’s results page.
2. Benchmarking and Measurement
After a list of targeted keywords has been created, take note of your rankings on each word. This is known as “benchmarking” – taking stock of where you stand now so you can properly measure what you have achieved. Make careful note of your standing along with the date. Also note the traffic you are currently receiving from each keyword. Tools such as Google Webmaster Tools (now called Search Console) can help you manage the strength of specific keywords and phrases over time.
3. Optimize Your Website
Now that targeted keywords have been established and benchmarks recorded, it is time to optimize. Basically this means making it easy for Google to index your site. These technical changes follow a checklist format and there is no shortage of these lists online.
4. Content Creation
This is the most critical part of search engine optimization – the creation of new content. There used to be a time that you could trick search engines by spamming specific keywords either in the body text (often with font that wasn’t visible to the eye, or with meta tags). But that day of black-hat SEO is gone. In fact, it can work against you and you can get banned from search indexes (though that’s rare).
The reality is that Google’s goal is to use their algorithm to determine quality, credible and useful content. To do that, choose a targeted keyword that you would like to rank highly on and write compelling articles about it on your website and company blog. And do this in a non-spammy way. If it’s well written and interesting, the hope is that more and more people will find it useful (and in turn link to it in blogs and other articles). This page rank or “votes” by other users will help your ranking in the long run.
Warning: It can take awhile to see results. Be patient. As much as website owners would prefer it, there are no shortcuts. Focus on creating quality content and have faith that search engines will smile upon you.
5. Note Progress and Refine
After set intervals of time, note changes in rankings. Survey what is working and what is not while also noting new developments. Have some keywords become more important than others? Should you shift strategies to accommodate these changes? Celebrate the successes, build on strengths, address weaknesses, and refine the process. You can only improve what you measure so be sure to do so.
Building an audience for your website is an ongoing process and it’s never just “done.” The competition for attention has never been greater than in our modern era but by constantly tending to the needs of your visitors and creating quality content, you will be rewarded with their return traffic.
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