Search engines, today’s most powerful marketing tools, connect you with prime consumers—the ones who are looking for you. Search engine sites like Google, Yahoo, and MSN receive more than seven billion queries each month. Your challenge is visibility—gained through search engine optimization, or SEO—whereby you determine how best to brand your company on these sites.
SEO can be daunting. It’s an ongoing process that may not yield fast results, and there’s no way to guarantee specific ranking for your site. Here are five steps that will simplify the process:
1. Review objectives and goals. Why do you want more search engine visibility? Are you trying to increase sales, gain leads, increase readership of your newsletter, encourage visitors to use a store locator to find your physical locations, or boost site traffic to increase advertising revenue?
2. Monitor the competition. Search engine marketing uniquely allows you to check out your competitor. If you have a gardening website, you can type “gardening” (and related terms like “gardens,” “flowers,” and “lawn care”) into the major search engines—Google, Yahoo, and MSN—and see your competition, which may surprise you. If you’re selling gardening products, you might assume your competitors are other retailers, but in search engines, you are also competing with news sites, personal websites from gardening enthusiasts, and reference guides. Any sites that use your keywords now count as your competition.
3. Research keywords. Studying the keywords your consumers use to find you and your competitors tells you how your customers think. Consider the words consumers will use to find you and the words with which you want to be associated.
Need helping choosing keywords? Google will make suggestions.
Google also offers a trend monitoring tool that shows how often keywords are used over time and allows you to plot graphs comparing up to five keywords at once. google.com/trends
Serious SEO investors can subscribe to competitive research tools to monitor competitors’ best search keywords and phrases.
4. Measure results. You can monitor your site’s traffic by keyword. Establishing current benchmarks allows you to see changes over time. Google offers a free Analytic tool, or you can invest in a more sophisticated system:
5. Launch the program. Depending on the number of pages on your site, the goals you want to accomplish, and how well your site is already optimized, this can involve a few quick fixes or a lengthy, labor-intensive process. There are three main components to SEO:
- Technical changes (e.g., update page titles to reflect the keywords you selected and design pages so that search engines can easily read them).
- Gain more links to your site (such as from affiliates, partners, blogs, and other sources).
- Update the content on your site to reflect how you want search engines and consumers to see you (e.g., adding richer product descriptions, posting articles and reference materials, and encouraging consumers to submit their own content).