As a web developer, one of the services I offer is to I help my employer’s clients achieve higher search engine rank. It brings in several hundred dollars per client per month but it has always bothered me that a good 90% of these clients could easily do search engine optimization (SEO) for their website themselves.
I’m definitely thankful that so few are willing to spend a couple of hours and learn how to get higher search engine rank on their own but I still feel a little guilty that we charge so much for something that’s so easy to do. So, with lessening my guilt in mind, I thought I would give those of you who want to save a few hundred dollars a month on your SEO services a few tips on doing it yourself.
Don’t Be Intimidated
SEO isn’t rocket science or wicked voodoo magic. It’s simply constructing your website to clearly indicate to search engines what each page on your website is about. Unless you’re in an ultra-competitive industry (think mortgage leads, gambling, or “adult” websites) you don’t need an outside expert to do that for you. The good news for you and your business is that the vast majority of your competitors have no clue how to optimize their websites in today’s market. You’re already ahead of your competition if you’re working to earn higher search engine rank and after you learn how to do it yourself you’ll be like a shark in a pool full of guppies when it comes to earning website traffic.
Think “One Page One Message”
The second biggest mistake (I’ll get to the biggest mistake in a minute) I find most webmasters make with their websites when it comes to search engine rank is trying to include too many messages on each page. Think of a storefront window that’s plastered with advertisements for accounting, investment, estate planning, and tax preparation services. Even though a business could easily offer every one of those services imagine trying to tell a friend what they offer just by looking at that window. Are they accountants, stockbrokers, or lawyers?
The same is true of your website. Even though you may offer several related products or services you simply can’t get a clear message across (a message that will result in higher search engine rank) by trying to advertise each product and service on one page. Your goal is to make it easy for a search engine to take a look at your page and know precisely what it’s about. Tightly focused pages allow you to do that for both your prospects and for search engines.
Start by naming your pages with text that includes your keywords. For example, if the page is focused on your dog grooming services call it “dog-grooming.html”. Include your keyword phrase in the title tag of your webpage – the closer to the beginning the better. “Dog grooming in Pittsburgh” is better than “Offering the best dog grooming services in Pittsburgh”.
Include your keyword phrase (and only your keyword phrase) once (and only once) in your META keywords tag. Include your keyword phrase once in an H1 tag, once in bold, and once in italics in your webpage copy. Include it early in the first paragraph and late in the last paragraph. Include variations of your keyword phrase (“dog groomer”, “groom a dog”, “dog service”, etc.) along with several repetitions of the exact phrase throughout your copy. Looking at your webpage it should be instantly clear what the page is about. Do this for every one of your keyword phrases.
Don’t Focus Your Webpages on Single Word Keyword Phrases
We had a client recently who sold tractors. When we asked what phrases a potential customer of his might type into a search engine to find the kind of tractors he offered he gave us a list that included “Ford”, “tractors”, “farming”, etc. These are words related to what he’s selling but not at all related to how someone might find what he’s selling. Generic one word phrases are very hard to rank for because they occur so frequently on webpages across the internet but, when asked for a list of potential search phrases, 75% of our clients give us a list that includes these kind of worthless phrases.
Focus your webpages on industry specific terms and phrases and you’ll put yourself way ahead of your competition. If you’re our tractor salesman, think about the type of questions customers that call the business have or what features or information is important to them and create webpages around those terms.
Your single biggest source of keyword phrases to create pages about should be the “frequently asked questions” of your customers. If someone is taking the time to call your business to ask a question there are many more people typing that exact same question into Google or Yahoo! – people you could bring to your website if you would only create and optimize a webpage for that term.
Don’t Trust What You “Already Know”
The single biggest mistake our clients make is thinking they know how search engines work or how to structure their websites because they saw a news story or read a magazine article that “explained it all”.
Traditional news sources are, at best, a year or two behind what’s actually going on in this industry. A recent example is the entrepreneur’s magazine Business 2.0. They featured “domaining” (do a Google search if you’re unfamiliar with this term) in a recent issue and touched off a firestorm of letters to the editor from people ready and willing to throw money at this “new” way to make money online.
The problem is that domaining was news three or four years ago and the easy money has already been made by those who got in first. These newbies are just throwing their money away but they have no clue that they’re getting old news because they haven’t done any research.
It’s the same with search engine optimization and earning higher search engine rank. Stuffing the META keywords tag with dozens of versions of your keyword not only won’t work like it did in 1997, it will get you penalized by search engines to boot. Including hidden keyword-rich text (white text on white background) on your site, two-way link exchanges, link farms, etc. all worked to some extent in the past but are at best ineffective today.
You’d be amazed at the number of clients who just want me to “stuff in more keywords” and think that’s going to make any difference to their rank at all. The reality is that, although search engine optimization isn’t difficult, it does require doing a little research and self-study to learn what really works and what used to work but doesn’t anymore.
It’s not that this industry changes very often, just that there’s fifteen years of bad advice floating around out there that you have to know to disregard if you’re going to earn higher search engine rank.
The good news for you is that your competitors probably aren’t doing their due diligence either. When I research industries for clients trying to evaluate their competition I find that many of the top ranking sites are simply there by default.
They’re in no way optimized for any particular keyword phrase, are using “tricks” that stopped working several years ago, and lack any kind of consistent design or focus. But, every other site in that industry is doing the same thing so they achieve their #1 ranking by default. I always smile when I find these kind of industries (it happens more often than not) because I know that we can earn at least first page rankings for the client very quickly given competition that poor.
You Really Can Do It Yourself
It’s impossible to cover search engine optimization in a single article but I hope I’ve given you some food for thought when it comes to getting higher search engine rank. Simply using the tips here will put you ahead of most of your competition without needing to pay outrageous fees to outside consultants to do it for you.