Let’s take a look at some common questions we see frequently whenever we meet with businesses at conferences and events. These four questions pop up in most of the interactions we have, and also in hallway conversations. The questions might seem simple enough, but as usual, the answers are a bit more detailed.
I want to do search engine optimization (SEO) for my site because it’s free. Where do I start?
a. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that SEO is not free. While you may be able to perform the work yourself and not pay someone, your time is valuable, so it’s important to know when you should just outsource the work and keep your time invested in other areas of the project or site.
b. Finding a good consultant can be hard and expensive. It takes time to learn SEO and the skills are in demand, so be sure to vet anyone you’re considering hiring. Set up and interview, ask for references, look at past work they’ve done, ask past clients if they’d hire the consultant again. This will take time, but could save you a lot of money in the long run.
c. At the very least, you should learn enough about SEO to talk to a consultant. The best practices for SEO are well known and resources such as the Bing Webmaster Guidelines and Bing Webmaster Tools can help you learn even more, from a trusted source. The Bing Webmaster Tools actually run SEO Reports for you, automatically sharing the basic information of what work you should cover for your site.
d. After that, start reading. There is a lot wrapped up in SEO these days. Social plays a role, usability matters a great deal and creating excellent content that encourages visitors to engage and share takes work. SEO for Dummies can help you get started and provides clarity on many acronyms used in the industry in clear language. A bigger view, with much more depth, can be found in The Art of SEO. Don’t Make Me Think is an old standby around usability, while When Search Meets Web Usability is a newer view on this important topic. I also highly recommend The Power of Habit to help understand how consumer habits can be changed and how that impacts your brand. Internet Marketing in an Hour a Day is another great book. Covers the most needed parts, while staying at a high enough level to avoid getting you sidetracked. Need a book that covers more of the international side of things? Well, take a look at Global Search Engine Marketing. And that’s a very small sample of what’s available as books on this topic. Your resources become almost limitless if you start including blogs to read.
What’s the single most important thing for SEO?
a. This is tough, because SEO work is largely a collection of technical items which need to be sorted for every website. That said, if we look at things from a broader perspective, I’d have to say the number one thing you can do to influence your ranking is to produce content that encourages people to share it. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. It requires you pay attention to how you build your content, what content you build and then watch how visitors interact with that content? Do they spend more or less time on each page? Try to figure out why. Do they share some pages more than others? Again, determine why. Spotting those patterns can help you fine tune what content you produce, how you show it and what options you share with visitors to your site.
b. In the big picture, here’s a list, in order, of the areas you should focus on:
i. Create unique, in depth content
ii. Social engagement
iii. User Experience/Usability
iv. Link Building
v. Search Engine Optimization
c. If you create excellent content, users will engage with it. They will then share it with friends and build links to it online. The usability of your site is what wins those visitors over and creates fans for you. If you get these first three elements right, the link building happens automatically. SEO is the technical work you will still need to perform, but it’s much more successful when the first four elements are up and running well.
How does social affect search? What should I do?
a. Social signals can help us determine topical authority. It’s like when you see a crowd of people. You’re drawn to it to find out what’s going on. You get in line, then see a new product on display that you want immediately. You get in line, buy the product, then tell all your friends about it, which then attracts more people. When social signals start to develop and point to a site/URL/Product/Service, the engines notice this and want to take a look. If people think the item is worth talking about, we want to index it and try it as a search result to see if our users (searchers) will like it as well.
b. Social is also a way to build a community with your customers. By doing this, the relationship strengthens with them, and they become fans, willing to spread the word about your product/service to friends, family and so on.
Can’t I just figure out the marketing side later?
a. While it might be tempting to let marketing slide and figure it out later, the reality is a well-crafted marketing plan can help you determine if you’re moving in the right direction to start with. Imagine building an amazing product, then finding out its reason for being is seen as negative. Something no one wants to talk about. This will kill an excellent product, that negative association. This happened with Febreze. The product was designed to eliminate bad odors, but no one wants to admit their home and cloths smell bad, so consumers initially avoided the product because of the negative associations. Marketing went back to the drawing board and created the campaign “It’s not clean until its Febreze clean”, then had the chemists add the distinctive scent we know today. By changing the habit of folks cleaning their homes to use the product as the final step in the cleaning, and by adding that scent, they turned a dead end product into a billion dollar product line for the company. (This story is explored in great depth in the book above, The Power of Habit.)
b. Smart marketing starts well before a product is created, and the data gathered, can actually help inform what product is built and which features it contains. Marketing is about connecting with consumers in a meaningful way. First step is determining what the consumer feels is meaningful. The second step is to build with that in mind.
c. Getting SEO done can be as simple as installing a plugin if you’re using WordPress, then filling in the provided blanks. Even if you’re not using WordPress, SEO needn’t be overly complicated. Just follow the best practices; build your systems to be SEO friendly and set processes in place that maximize the options available to you to optimize the page. Keyword research, the starting point for all SEO, is free, simple and an easy way to at least ensure the content you produce aligns with phrases people search for. That’s just wisely choosing which words to use in your text, and this action has no barriers at all.
We love getting out to meet with businesses as often as we can, so if you see us at a conference, event or show, feel free to step forward with questions of your own.
Duane Forrester Sr. Product Marketing Manager Bing Webmaster Tools