Demystifying what SEO is, how to do it, and why it is critical for professional service business survival!
The following statements are direct quotes overheard in recent and real conversations:
“We need to do more SEO, whatever that is.”
“We spent thousands of dollars on SEO and have no idea if it’s working.”
“We’ve got a guy doing our SEO, but we can never get a hold of him.”
“I really don’t know what SEO is, or why we need to do it.”
Most people know that SEO has something to do with the internet and websites. Unfortunately, most don’t know much more than that. Even more unfortunate is the fact that companies invest small fortunes in SEO services, having been sold SEO “snake oil” by some marketing or website firms. Companies are sold on how SEO will “revolutionize their business,” only to see very little in concrete results after spending thousands of dollars.
What Is SEO?
SEO is the abbreviation for the term “search engine optimization.” Search engines are programs that operate on the internet by using what are called “spiders” or “bots” to search or “crawl” for words, terms, images, and data on websites. These spiders can read technical coding and all the text written on a website, including the file names of images or videos embedded on a website. They also read any new or updated content. They analyze the information they find and put it into giant databases. When we “search” on a browser such as Google or Yahoo, we are accessing the information the spiders have put in these databases. The results are “links” they have built that lead straight to the information.
The search engine spiders focus on words and terms that are used repeatedly on your site. These are called “keywords.” In the early days of the internet, search engines looked at only portions of websites. Today’s search engines are much more sophisticated. They not only count how many times keywords are used on your website, but cross-check and cross-reference those terms with other information found on other websites. They analyze how other websites are using the same terms. They also see if any other websites reference (or “link”) to your website. This is all an attempt to point you in the right direction when you search for something.
This is where “optimization” comes in. Optimizing a website for search engines is the process of writing and posting the proper keywords and information on a website that search engine spiders like and can understand.
SEO vs. SEM = Organic vs. Purchased
When a website is well-optimized, spiders know that content-rich information lives there. They are hungry for that rich information. The more they find, the higher they rank those content-rich websites. For example, when you search for a term like “lawyer,” a search engine like Google searches its database, applies its own logic to the
SEM is short for “search engine marketing.” SEM results on Google are typically found near the top of your search results page. They are identified with the word “Ad” in front of the listing. These “ads” are purchased by companies that are trying to reach specific people searching for specific things. Yep, these are advertisements.
Putting these concepts together, SEO helps us improve our organic search results (which is the main goal), while SEM lets us pay for advertising that comes up for certain search results. It’s important to know that both SEO and SEM are industries in their own right, and while many companies employ both methods of improving search results, they are both highly complex matters that take some learning and experience to understand and use.
The Key To Google And SEO
There are many different search engines out there, both public and private. The good news for most of us is that there is only one that we really need to be concerned with, and that’s Google. In the United States, Google accounts for approximately 90% of all search engine usage. (It varies slightly if you are using a desktop, laptop, or mobile device, but Google dominates them all, by a lot!)
In the early days of the internet, it often took weeks, even months, for Google to find your website. Today, it can take as little as a few minutes to be found by search engines. Therefore, it pays to know what kind of content Google is looking for on websites.
In a nutshell, Google likes:
• Specific information. It’s not really interested in plain old generic content that it can find on tens, if not hundreds, of other sites.
• It likes a site to be well organized and well written.
• It also likes recent information, i.e. websites that update their content often.
• It likes sites that have quality links going out to other websites that pertain to your content. For example, if you have a site about baseball, your content should contain links to websites or pages on the MLB website or a museum website that also has content about baseball.
• It likes a site to have “internal” links. That means having links on your pages linking to other pages on your website.
• It likes it when other websites with content related to yours have links back into your website.
Other things have changed with Google over time. In the past, websites that used keywords an obscene amount of times often came up high in search rankings. This is called “keyword stuffing.” That prompted another change to Google: BANISHMENT! Google decided if you are trying to trick them, they will punish your site by ranking you lower, or worse, dropping you entirely.
Ultimately, what Google wants is directly related to what users of Google want. They both want good information, well organized, easy to find, and not tainted by needless terms, tricks, or treachery designed to lure viewers under false pretense.
A Simple 5-Prong SEO Strategy
If you would like to see your website rise up in the search engines and ultimately result in more customers or clients, we have developed a simple 5-pronged approach to SEO. It includes:
1. Focusing your business messaging
2. Developing strong keyword association
3. Organize your website information
4. Building strong, keyword-rich content
5. Reaching out beyond your own website.
1. Focusing Your Business Message
This is important not only for SEO, but for business growth in general. When you are a generalist, you are not as likely to be perceived as a leader or valued as a specialist.
One of the best ways to find this is to spend a little time looking at your own business. What services do you provide? Which are the most profitable? Which ones are the type of work your firm is best at, or enjoy the most doing? This is your “strategic sweetspot.”
For example, the world thinks of CPAs as “doing the books,” doing taxes, and that’s pretty much it. But experience tells us that CPAs have areas of special expertise. It might be things tax resolution, forensic accounting, auditing or accounting for product manufacturers.
2. Developing Keywords
We live in a keyword-driven world. People associate keywords with everything, from brands to celebrities, from feelings to activities.
What keywords do clients associate with the focus of your business? When they search Google for a service like yours, what words (or phrases) do they use. The best way is NOT to guess, but to actually ask clients and customers. (Tip: Whenever anyone tells you the found you on the internet, ask them what they were searching for!)
Start with a list. We suggest coming up with AT LEAST 20 different keywords and keyword phrases.
Now try to whittle the list down to the FIVE most commonly searched terms or phrases used to search for by your customers or used to describe your business focus. These are words you need to use and repeat on your website.
3. Organizing Your Website (using your business focus and short keyword list.)
Now, take a look at your website. Are any of the keywords in the URL? Are any in the first 25 words found on a page? Are they used in headings, callouts, or subheads? Are they above-the-fold (top half of a page). If not, they need to be.
The goal is to work those keywords into the important real estate of your website. The important real estate includes page names, headers/headlines, and the first few sentences of every page and section.
If you don’t find those words, rewrite your website copy to include those words. Also, try to work those same words onto the page at least 4-5 times. An SEO rule of thumb is to try to work one or two keywords into every 100 words on your website. That creates a keyword density of 1-2%.
4. Build Strong Keyword-Rich Content
Think about how you can strategically work the keywords and your business focus into more pages, more sections, and more content.
For example, if you are a business attorney whose business focus is franchise work, consider adding some additional pages of content to your website. These might include pages titled something like, “Franchise Agreements” or “How to Become A Franchise.” If you work on the franchisee side and a lot of your work involves litigation with franchisors, consider a page that answers a common question like, “What are the top three reasons franchises are involved in lawsuits?”
These are called “hub” pages, and form hubs of key information that your clients and customers likely search for. (It is also a “landing page” that you can easily link to from social media, but that’s another article!)
And finally, in terms of working content into your website, consider a news section, a blog, or an easily-changed page where you can add new information frequently. Remember that Google likes to see updated information, so it’s a good idea to update some content quarterly, or even monthly.
5. Beyond Your Own Website
In addition to the business-focused, keyword-rich content found on your website, Google will also reward your rankings when it finds links or references to your website elsewhere on the internet.
This is where things like directory listings and links from other websites come it. Sometimes called “backlinks,” they link people from another site back to yours. Google LOVES these.
One easy way to do this is to do “reciprocal” likes with business alliances, strategic partners, vendors, and others you do business with. Another is simply submitting your website to multiple directories and guides that will publish your company information and website address. A common question is what about “paid” directories. A good rule of thumb is to only pay for well-known, well-regarded directories that are clearly related to your type of business. There are many run-of-the-mill directories that charge small amounts of money to be listed, but if all they list are random companies from different industries and locations, there is not much likelihood there is SEO value.
Another easy way to gain links is to use social media to post information about your business focus, including a link back to informational hub pages on your website.
If you undertake these five simple steps, you will put yourself ahead of the majority of websites out there. While some websites, typically e-commerce sites or websites that are mission-critical to getting clients such as injury attorneys, need to invest a lot of time and money into SEO, most professionals can accomplish a lot without huge investments of time or money. Focused information and messages, well organized on a websites, and updated regularly, are really what Google is looking for from small companies.