It’s 2013, and you’ve resolved to make this the year to dominate in Google. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the possible areas that need your attention, pick just three and get them done as a starting point. Stephan Spencer, co-author of The Art of SEO offers these 15 tips to give you the broader picture and set you up for the 2013.
1. Use your customer’s vocabulary, not your company’s.
Remember that your customer doesn’t use industry-speak and may not search in the way you think makes the most intuitive sense. “Kitchen electrics” may well be the industry-accepted term for small kitchen appliances, but your customers don’t speak that way and they aren’t going to search that way, either. Many times the right choice is obvious, but internal politics or inertia keep arcane terminology in place. For example, perhaps the authorized term is “hooded sweatshirt,” but most people will search for a “hoodie.”
2. Do some keyword brainstorming.
Keyword brainstorming is a simple and effective way to plan out new content offerings that will help earn you high search rankings. It can be as easy as using Google Suggest, which autocompletes as you type your keystrokes into the Google search box, or Soovle.com, an autocompletion tool that pulls in keyword suggestions simultaneously from Google, Bing, Yahoo, YouTube, Wikipedia, Amazon and Answers.com.
As you use the tools, be sure to think laterally. Consider this hypothetical scenario: A retailer of baby furniture uses Soovle and discovers when keying in “baby” that the phrase “baby names” is a top suggestion from Google, Bing and Yahoo. The retailer thus decides to build a section of its site devoted to baby names to attract expectant parents who are typing in baby-name-related keywords (e.g., “baby name trends,” “baby name meanings,” “most overused baby names,” “unusual baby names,” etc.).
3. Get in the habit of logging in to Google’s tools.
You may not be aware that those free web-based Google tools that most of us rely on regularly (such as Google Trends and the Google AdWords Keyword Tool) restrict features or give you incomplete data if you aren’t logged in. Google Trends requires you to log in to see numbers and to export the data. And the Google AdWords Keyword Tool states quite plainly: “Sign in with your AdWords login information to see the full list of ideas for this search.” It would be wise to heed the instruction.
4. Trust your analytics data over Google Webmaster Tools.
Ever notice that sometimes the data in Google Webmaster Tools doesn’t match that from your analytics? Trust the analytics over GWT any day.
5. Set the Google AdWords Keyword Tool to Exact Mode.
The Google AdWords Keyword Tool defaults to “Broad Match” mode, which means that it inflates the numbers by including in the count related phrases that incorporate the specified keyword. From an SEO perspective, this yields hugely inflated numbers—and the data is useless to you.
For example, the Keyword Tool reports that the search term “shoes” has 30.4 million monthly queries, but that number includes multiword phrases ranging from “high heeled shoes” to “horse shoes,” “snow shoes” and even “brake shoes.”
In Exact Match mode, the global search query volume for “shoes” drops to 368,000. So, always remember: Untick that box next to “Broad” and tick “Exact” before using this tool.
6. Kill the SEO copy.
I often see homepages that have long paragraphs of what I call “SEO copy” way at the bottom of the page—sometimes even below the footer. Stuffed with keywords, this text screams, “I’m desperately trying to improve my SEO!” You could get more obvious only if you put an HTML comment immediately preceding that said “Insert keyword spam for Google here.”
Instead, write keyword-rich copy that is helpful, compelling and ultimately worth reading by humans. Then it will be worthy of being included higher up in the page, where Google will count it more.
7. Say “YES!” to a self-hosted WordPress blog.
Google loves blogs—which means blogs help you rank higher in Google. Bloggers love blogs too. They are more likely to link to a blog than to an online catalog. And we all know how important it is to your SEO to have links.
Linking out to other bloggers is a good way to get on their radar, relationship-build with them and, ultimately, to get links from them. It’s easier to link to bloggers from your blog than from your online catalog. So if you don’t have a blog, it’s time to start one.
Free hosted blog platforms like WordPress.com and Blogger.com provide a useful service and are great for hobby bloggers. But they’re not a service I would recommend to anyone who cares about SEO. They simply aren’t flexible enough to install the themes/frameworks or plugins that will allow you to trick out your company’s blog with killer SEO. It’s far better that you host your blog yourself and install WordPress on your own servers so you have full control.
8. Switch to using Noindex instead of Disallow.
Many SEOs make the mistake of using Disallow in the robots.txt file when they really mean to Noindex the page. Disallow is an instruction to the engines to not spider the page content; it’s not an instruction to drop the URL from the search results.
Google still knows that the disallowed page exists via links pointing to the page, and thus the page can still rank for keywords related to the page’s anchor text. That’s why you sometimes come across listings in the Google search results without titles or snippets. Instead, you should noindex the pages you want a search engine to block and not index.
When you place a meta robots noindex tag on the page, be sure that you allow spiders to access the page so they can see the meta tag; do this by removing the disallow from the robots.txt file. Alternatively, there’s a noindex directive for robots.txt that offers benefits by eliminating snippet-less and title-less listings from the search results, but it’s limited to Google.
Another mistake is to use the URL Removal tool in Google Webmaster Tools instead of simply “noindexing” the page. Rarely (if ever) should the removal tool be used for anything.
9. Use the canonical tag.
The canonical tag may not always work, but it doesn’t hurt either, so go ahead and use it across your site. If you have a product that is mapped to multiple categories resulting in multiple URLs, the canonical tag is an easy fix. A canonical tag is not just a “nice to have”; there are cases where it is better than a 301 redirect—for example, when you don’t want to affect the user experience.
10. Link to your top pages with your top terms on your homepage.
You need to think through which links you include on your homepage. This goes for your tag cloud and any “Popular Products” that you feature. In your mind, translate your homepage’s “Popular Products” list into “Products for which I most want top Google rankings”—because you’re treating those product pages to lots of extra link juice.
11. Concentrate your internal linking.
Make sure you aren’t spreading yourself too thin with your internal linking. Too many internal links on a page can dilute your link juice so much that only a trickle goes to each of your pages. For instance, a product page should flow PageRank only to related products and categories, not to every product in your catalog.
12. Acquire links with a variety of anchor text.
It just doesn’t look natural when all of the anchor text of inbound links is the same. Work to improve your link diversity.
13. Take advantage of “rich snippets.”
Google listings that have “rich snippets” with star ratings, video thumbnails or author headshots get more clicks. Take advantage of this opportunity by incorporating schema.org microdata markup into your pages when you have videos http://bit.ly/X5AZon, product ratings/reviews http://bit.ly/UBFa9R and author attributed content like articles and blog posts http://bit.ly/RWiugj.
14. Leverage “power users” in social media.
What’s the point of submitting your content to social media if you aren’t doing it from an account that has a huge fan base, a long and virtuous contribution history, and plenty of “street cred”? The submission would most likely go unnoticed. Build relationships with “power users” and put them to work for you seeding your content into the social networks.
15. Focus on what matters and let go of the low-value SEO activities.
I guarantee that there are items on your SEO to-do list that aren’t worth the trouble. They just aren’t going to move the needle. For example, the meta keywords tag; Google never supported it and it just gives free info to your competitors.