In today’s online world, your Website doesn’t mean anything to anyone unless it can be found by your customers. Optimizing your site so it appears high in the search engines seems to be as much an art form as it is a science.”
The quote above is from a great Website for any marketing manager responsible for search engine optimization, SEOChat.com. Most multichannel marketers today understand that search engine marketing (SEM) is becoming a vital part of the marketing mix.
For those of you who are new to the world of SEM, there are essentially two methods for showing up on search engine results: paid search and natural search. Paid search results typically show up at the top or right of a search results page, while natural search results show up in the body of the search window. The big (and obvious) difference between the two is that paid search costs you money, generally on a per-click basis, with premiums placed on the position in which your link appears. Natural search — also known as search engine optimization, or SEO — is free and, to many consumers, more credible than paid results.
Because SEM is such a hot topic today, companies are sprouting up everywhere offering a palette of services to assist in search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search.
But there are also a number of resources available free of charge to assist you with your own SEO, or to at the very least help you understand what SEO is all about.
The SEO Chat Website is a case in point. Filled with articles and insights from some of the nation’s most expert SEO practitioners, the site offers more than just tips and tricks — it offers tools.
Visit SEOChat.com and pay attention to the “SEO Tools” section along the left-hand navigation. Here you’ll find a host of on-site analysis tools that will allow you to conduct a thorough critique of your site and a healthy analysis of your competitors’ sites with respect to natural search optimization.
Moving up in natural search results can be a challenge, particularly when you are managing the search program yourself. But moving up in the results can be done and some of the tools on SEOChat.com can help your site do it.
USING SEO TOOLS FOR BETTER RESULTS
In simple terms, you can break down the process of improving your natural search results into six steps: knowing your terms; being aware of whom you’re up against; understanding how the search engines “see” your site; knowing your keyword density; adjusting your content; and managing your results. To make the most of these efforts, you need to analyze not only your Website but also the sites of your competitors. And from a research standpoint, most of these steps can be facilitated through tools offered on SEOChat.com. Here’s how.
- Know your terms
This is the one step that you can’t do on SEOChat.com, but there are a couple of other free resources that work very well. If your team is going to spend time optimizing keywords for your site, it’s important that you are optimizing the “right” keywords — those words and phrases that people are actually searching for and that therefore offer opportunity for traffic.
Here’s an example: The company I work for offers catalog creative services, so you might think that we would like to achieve a high ranking for the keyword phrase “catalog creative.” And in fact it would be easy to spend time optimizing the site to do just that. It turns out, however, that our prospective customer base doesn’t search for “catalog creative” but rather for “catalog design.” There are 10 times the number of daily searches for “catalog design” as there are for “catalog creative,” so spending a lot of time making “catalog creative” jump to the top would not yield the kind of traffic that we’d like to see.
This leads to the next point. In many ways keywords are like prospect lists for mailed catalogs. Some lists have large universes targeted to your audience with great rollout potential. Some files are highly targeted but have few names, so there is little opportunity to exploit them on the back end. Others have tremendous universe sizes but are broad and untargeted. Ideally catalogers would like to mail lists that are highly targeted and offer large rollout potential. Same goes with keywords: You’re looking for targeted words or phrases that have enough traffic to be worth your optimization efforts.
A couple of good tools for checking on keywords are WebCEO, which offers a free download of the “lite” version of its software, and Wordtracker, which also offers a free service for evaluating the popularity of potential keywords.
WebCEO includes a nice feature it calls KEI, for “keyword effectiveness indicator.” Using a value from zero to 400, KEI looks at the combination of keyword popularity and number of pages of competition to give an indication of where the highest rankings might be obtained.
For example, the phrase “ring pillows” gets about 1,350 searches a day and has about 4.4 million competitive pages, for a KEI of .411. “Ring bearer pillows” gets fewer daily searches (837), but there are only 695,000 competitive pages, yielding a KEI of 1.008. If you were selling pillows for wedding-ring bearers, it would be important to know that you should have greater success getting higher rankings with “ring bearer pillows” than just “ring pillows.”
- Get to know the competition
After you have isolated the most important terms for your site, it’s critical to know where you stand with them. For this, take a trip to the big three search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Enter your terms, and see where you rank, if you rank. But don’t stop there.
See who ranks number 1 through, say, number 3, and write down the top-level domain as well as the actual address of the page that ranks highest. You can use this information in the next several steps to understand why your competition is doing so much better than you on terms you cherish so much.
Once you know which terms have the most opportunity for your audience and who your competition for those terms is, it’s time to head back to the SEO Chat Website for some research tools.
- Crawl your site
SEO Chat’s Spider Simulator tool is a quick and easy way to see how the search engine spiders — the technology used to scan and rank sites for search results — “see” the content on your and your competitors’ sites. You simply enter a valid URL, and the tool returns a listing of content as seen by a search spider. This includes page title content, meta-tag content, internal and external page links, and description data. The term or terms that you’re most interested in optimizing from step 1 should be prominent within the content. If they aren’t, you have your work cut out for you.
- Know your density
Keyword density is an important aspect of natural search success. There is a fine line between dense keywords (focused, meaningful, and relevant keywords used in content throughout a page and site) and “getting you banned from search” keyword stuffing (using tiny or invisible type to load keywords into a page or a site or burying irrelevant text into a site to artificially drive up keyword content).
SEO Chat’s Keyword Density tool is great for searching your site and the competition’s sites to see how they are doing on keywords. If your density is too low, you won’t rank highly; if it’s too high, you may get banned. A good target for keyword density is 2%-3%.
- Adjust your content
After you’ve looked at the competition’s and your own site for important keywords and density, you can start making adjustments to the content of your site.
This could entail using page titles more effectively, altering meta-tag keywords on a page-by-page basis, and limiting the number of meta-keywords to a more targeted and relevant set for the page you’re trying to optimize. You should also enhance the content of the page and image ALT tags to contain keywords and variations that you want to rank highly and build better organization of the content to take advantage of headers and subheads within the site. Each of these techniques will promote greater keyword density and should improve your natural search rankings.
- Manage your results
The last tool to mention here is a great one for monitoring results over time. SEO Chat has a nifty graphical report that illustrates site ranking for Google compared with Yahoo! called, appropriately, Google vs. Yahoo Search Results. With this tool you type in your keyword phrase and see the 100 top-ranking sites for each engine.
It’s not uncommon to find that a site will rank in the top 100 on one search engine but not another. Victory, of course, is ranking number one on both. When that doesn’t happen, repeat the previous five steps, looking at what the top-ranking sites from each engine are doing to help them succeed and then adjusting your own content to climb the ladder.
Search optimization takes time, but it doesn’t have to take a lot of money. Many of the tools are available for anyone to use. The hardest part about improving your own search results may be having the patience to see the results pan out.
Steve Trollinger is executive vice president, client marketing for J. Schmid & Associates, a catalog agency and consultancy based in Mission, KS.