Search Engine Optimization
Search engine optimization can be confusing! If you've talked to any SEO consultants recently, you'll probably have found that they all suggest slightly different strategies, and you may have come across some trying to hide their real methods and tactics with promises of "you'll rank for sure, but we won't tell you why or how". In the news you may have heard about algorithm changes that keep upending the industry. SEO has certainly built itself a questionable reputation.
However SEO is an amazing source of traffic, leads, and revenue for many businesses. That includes both local business and those competing on a larger National or International scale. Yes, there's a large number of factors to consider when undertaking a search marketing campaign but it doesn't have to be as confusing or intimidating as people make it out to be.
Read on to learn more! First we're going to get a handle on what SEO is so you know what parts of a Google search your changes will be affecting. Then we'll delve into the different components of SEO: how to find the search phrases to target first; the best places to make on-site changes to your website; and finally the off-site techniques that dramatically improve your rankings.
What is SEO?
You'd think this would be the easiest part, but sadly it's not. SEO consultants have done a great job of confusing their potential customers, often purely to make it seem like you need them for everything related to online marketing: like they're magic. And unfortunately, this confusion starts by defining SEO in wildly different ways. Yes, SEO is connected to many aspects of web marketing, but that doesn't make them SEO.
Search engine optimization (SEO), at its core, is about making the necessary changes to your website's internal and external link profile and content to help ensure it reaches top rankings (e.g.: #1 position) in the Organic search results section of any search engine (this is the blue section in the diagram).
While local map results are a part of SEO, they're typically not the primary focus. This is because those results should not require a large amount of attention on the part of your SEO consultant. It's a set it and forget it component, assuming you do it right from the start.
What is SEO not?
- SEO is not reselling pay-per-click ads. Far too many firms (such as Yellow Pages and Register/Web dot com) have been using the term SEO to refer to search advertising -- paying for advertisements on search engines then charging you double or triple. This is actually just marked up Search Advertising - a component of Search Engine Marketing (SEM). This is the service that results in your website appearing in the yellow "Ads" sections of our diagram above. Click here to read more about search advertising if this is what you're interested in persuing.
- SEO is not just throwing the keywords you think searchers will be using to find you all over your website, everywhere possible.
- SEO is not simply submitting your website to as many sketchy directory sites as you can find. This strategy is bound to get your website blacklisted sooner or later.
The Three Pillars Of Search Rankings
There are three main areas that you should be paying attention to in order to improve your search rankings and thusly increase traffic to your website:
1. Keyword Research & Understanding Your Market
Everything starts here. Understanding your market, researching what people are looking for and what problems and questions they have is incredibly important.
In many cases it's better to focus your efforts on more targeted keywords that have less volume but also less competition than trying to go after the hugely popular keywords. This is because of relevance. You want as targeted traffic as possible. Take this example: if you're a personal trainer, you could try to target the keyword "weight loss" - it's a keyword that is searched for thousands of times a day. However, the traffic would be very off-target and your return on investment would be very low.
You'd be much better off ranking for a term that focuses on both your location and the service you deliver. "Halifax personal trainer" for example is much less competitive and would result in better targeted traffic, looking for the services you provide, and therefore better qualified leads for you to convert into customers.
Understanding your market and their search behaviour is extremely important.
Competing Locally? Ask us about creating your Google My Business page (used for Maps results), setting up a content strategy, and linking it effectively to your website.
But how do I know who my audience is if I'm just getting started?
We get this question a lot and it's particularly prevalent for bloggers. At least if you're selling a particular product you've got a (very general) idea who your target market is: people that want to buy your product (though clearly it goes into much more detail than that). But bloggers may not yet know what to write about.
The key to remember is that if you've got a website, then you've got a potential audience, and finding out more about who your potential audience is will help you to build that audience faster and more effectively.
When you're engaging in keyword research (via the keyword planner video below), try to think about what you're planning on writing about or what you're selling. Then think about what your audience (or customers) might be searching for to try and find your content or products/services. You'll be looking to find the combination of search phrases that yields the highest number of searches per month, then focus in on that for your SEO across your website. Try to pick just one or two search phrases, then expand outward to new phrases after you've found success with those ones.
Finding Keywords & What People Are Searching For
You can find more on keyword research on our blog. Just click here!
2. On-site Content & Structure
This is an important component to obtaining a good ranking for two reasons: because you have control over everything (if you're using a high quality content management system), and because the only direct cost is your time. Every good search marketing solution starts with looking at your website.
If you're creating a new site, it's important to ensure you're using a content management system (CMS) that's SEO friendly. For example, one that doesn't use pretty permalinks (also known as friendly URLs) by default makes for a poor website for both humans and search engines alike. Similarly, it's important to ensure that your CMS or one of its well-maintained plugins allows you to control meta tags like the title and description on both a global and per-page basis.
Search rankings are often overlooked when redesigning a website. When you change pages, titles, URL structure, all while adding and removing pages, you can serious influence your rankings. If you're not careful you can often drop in rankings that you spent a lot of time, effort, and money investing in.
Two key things that get overlooked in redesigns are:
- Changing a page's address to make it more friendly (remember the above part about Pretty Permalinks). What you may not think about is that any traffic / links your previous URL for that page had is now being sent... nowhere! Protect yourself by creating a 301 redirect. These redirects tell Google and your visitors that the page they're looking for has permanently moved to a new location. The upshot of this? People are automatically redirected to the correct page, and Google assigns all the ranking of the old page location to the new one. Pretty snazzy.
- Removing a page because you're consolidating some content? You'll want to do the 301 redirect as mentioned above for this situation, too. Redirect the traffic to the most relevant page you have. You can even use anchor tags to redirect traffic to the specific part of the most relevant page.
Whether we design your new site or someone else does the development work, we can help in the final steps of your redesign to make sure that your users experience no broken links, and that all the old content is properly forwarded so that visitors find the correct page and your rankings stay strong.
If you want to build or rebuild your website yourself, make sure you're using WordPress to do so. That will give you the necessary flexibility and tools to ensure your on-site optimization efforts have maximum effect. Check out our guide to creating your own WordPress site.
If you'd rather not spend your time learning everything there is to know about creating a website and optimizing it simultaneously, that's understandable. Check out our SEO friendly web design options here.
Once you know what your potential customers are looking for and what problems they have, you need to make sure that your website provides the solutions and answers. Creating great sharable content is always a plus when it comes to SEO.
It's more than just content though - paying attention to your Titles and Meta-Descriptions and making sure they reflect what the page is actually about will help tell search engines and searchers what to expect.
Navigation & Internal Links
Internal linking and navigation structure can make it easy or difficult for both a user and a search engine to browse through your website. Sitemap XML files, keyword density, Analytics and tracking, broken links, and many other factors all come into play when optimizing the structure and content of your site.
How do you manage this with a WordPress website? Watch this video! We'll show you how to get a great SEO plugin installed and configured.
URL Structure / Permalinks
What are 'pretty permalinks' or 'friendly URLs'? Look at this page's address in your web browser, it probably shows up like this: https://websavers.ca/marketing-strategy/search-engine-optimization
That's a friendly URL; you can read it and it makes sense! It's visually appealing, and - thanks to the wizards at Google things that are friendly to users are considered friendly to search engines as well. Comparatively, if you've ever created a website at Wix, you'll likely note that your page address looks a lot more like this: http://yourwixwebsite.wix/#2839dljsflkj3s
Look at that address and tell me what the page is supposed to be about. My immediate guess is that it's about somebody's cat jumping on their keyboard, but in reality that's just what Wix's default permalinks (URLs) look like. Yes, it is entirely possible to make them prettier, but it's not a default setting. That seems a bit counter-productive.
Here's a bunch more on-site SEO tips to look out for:
- Secure (https) or not (http)? Subdomain (www) or not? Are there the right type (301) of redirects in place to ensure you're only ever using one pre-determined combination? If not, you may be splitting your rank!
- Site Speed. Is your site responding as fast as ours? If not, you need to find a new web host (like our high performance WordPress hosting!)
- Mobile Friendly? A responsive web design is not just optional. It's a requirement these days if you want to rank.
3. Off-site SEO: Link Acquisition
In its basic form, the third pillar of good organic search engine optimization is everything else that involves your website but happens somewhere else. This is where the magic happens.
Call it whatever you want - link building, public relations, outreach, etc. Lord knows the marketing agencies love putting their own spin on it. But when it comes right down to it, it all falls under the umbrella of offsite SEO: anything you need to do to increase traffic that does not involve making changes to the site iteself.
Acquiring links that point to your website is still the number one way to get your site ranked in search engines. Let me say that again: Acquiring links still takes the cake.
This is something that gets debated every other day in the search marketing world and we're done debating. We (among many others) have tested it over and over again and acquiring links is by far the best way to rank for anything. Links count as votes in the eyes of search engines - it's basically one or more website owners vouching for the credibility of another website. Sure, there are some pretty spammy ways of acquiring links, no doubt about that, but there are also some amazing, low-risk tactics that we have in place that just simply work.
Here's a few methods of acquiring links that still work exceptionally well:
Focus some of your efforts getting involved with the communities that you are a part of. If you are a personal blogger writing about fashion, start connecting with other fashion bloggers or professionals, whether online or offline. Conducting interviews with other bloggers and industry professionals is a great way to leverage their audiences and get your content shared and ultimately obtain more backlinks to your site.
If you're really interested in connecting with people and building relationships you should find a conference to attend where you can actually meet some of the people in your industry that you've been interacting with online.
If you're promoting a new website or blog, it's often best to start out by connecting with others just starting out, just like you. This way it is much easier to build relationships quicker and gain traction in the industry before trying to connect with the heavy hitters and the big influencers that will probably ignore you before you're big enough to catch their eye.
Use Twitter search and other tools to find people in your industry. I keep mentioning Twitter because I find that it's one of the best tools to use to network. Here is a quick tutorial on how to use Twitter Search to find people in your industry.
The biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to online networking are:
- Thinking it is a lot different than real networking. It's not that different. Just like normal relationships, online relationship building doesn't happen overnight. It takes time with multiple interactions in order to build the context and trust necessary to recommend and share someone's content.
- Being too selfish. Networking online is not just about getting as much out of the interaction or relationships as possible. Make sure that you promote others just as much as you want to be promoted. Don’t be greedy. Share other people's content and join the discussions on other people's blogs. You will only get as much out of online networking as you put in.
Citations are essentially instances on the web that your Business name, full address, and website are mentioned or listed. We recommend creating citations through common local websites such as Yellow Pages, Google My Business and Yelp, as well as social platforms that have become more invested in local search like Facebook and Twitter. Here's a few Canadian directories that work great for citation link building:
- websites.ca [Don't include your address due to an error with their site]
- yellowpage.ca [If you can get a listing for free. Many clients have told us that their paid services are not great]
- For restaurants, be sure to create profiles on Yelp, Zomato, and the like.
While social media has wide-reaching marketing value that is strongly recommended to partake in, it also has a very specific SEO connection too! Beyond the usual questions like "Does your website get shared?" and "Is your website being talked about?" (which we discuss more in our content marketing section here), there are a few questions that will ensure your social media is optimized for SEO:
- Do you use a social content distribution and automation system like Hootsuite or Buffer
- Do you have your business location, hours, etc (basically a citation) set up on Facebook?
- Are your social media profiles linked to your website properly so that they are providing the most benefit?
How we can help
Already have a website? We can provide you with a free, researched report that tells you what you need to focus on to improve your SEO. Whether that be on-site content structure and tags or getting more backlinks.
If you've been doing your research, you'll be comparing us to two different types of typical SEO firms. The first type is a blackhat SEO firm that spams your keywords throughout your website and then does the same with backlinks, haphazardly spreading them throughout the Internet. These firms are the quickest way to a month or two of great rankings, then years of recovery from being blacklisted by Google. We know this from experience: years ago, we did the very same thing to one of our own websites, then vowed never to do it again.
The second type of firm are whitehat SEO providers. They'll build your brand slowly but surely, creating meaningful one-to-one relationships with other companies for backlinks. After years of investment, you'll get the rankings you want. Conveniently (for them) these guys also charge thousands of dollars per month. They offer a great service, but it's typically well outside of the budget of a small business.
We're a balance between these two types of agencies. Our RankBooster plans are an approach to link acquisition that was built using industry expert knowledge to inherently have next to no risk and provide comparatively fast ranking improvements. On average it takes just three weeks for first page results.
We'll also be here to provide you with advice regarding developing and using the content, social, and online advertising strategies that best support your SEO efforts and therefore reach as many people as possible.
Ready to find out more?
Get your website assessed today! We'll analyze everything from your on-site tag structure and content to your backlink portfolio and provide you with a report that tells you exactly what you need to be focusing on to get more traffic to your website.
If you aren't yet appearing in Google don't worry, that's normal. It can take some time to get properly indexed and crawled by Google, especially if your site is new. You don't need to do anything in particular, Google will find you. To speed things you up can link your Google+ profile to your website but ultimately Google will eventually find and index you.
In the beginning you likely won't show up for anything more than your actual website name and domain name. But as you build some authority and continue to publish content you should notice that you start to rank for more of a variety of keywords.
After we've completed your website assessment, if you opt to have us take care of your on-site optimizations, we will need to access your website.
You must be running a content management system like WordPress or Joomla, that makes use of SEO plugins that help you to better manage your site's tags. We’ll need you to create a user for us in that content management system. Note that WordPress is strongly recommended. If you do not have a WordPress or other SEO-friendly content management system, our assessment will recommend such a transition.
RankBooster is our SEO subscription service that provides you with the most difficult to acquire items in the SEO world: backlinks.
While anyone can obtain enough backlinks over time, getting them quickly (but not too quickly) is kind of an art.
We can help! Get in touch to learn more about our RankBooster plans.
Every year there's at least one Google algorithm update that rocks the SEO world and challenges a lot of the poor practices in the industry. Fortunately, we have been able to avoid these “penalties” by maintaining high quality sites on which to place links.
We also have a conservative approach to link building. A rough breakdown will look something like: 30% of links with naked URL, 20% of links with your brand or business name, 10% of links with random “click here” or “this website” anchors, 20% of links with a variety of long tail keywords and/or related keywords, and only 20% of links with exact match anchors.
In order to keep things looking as natural as possible, we roll out your links over time. This avoids search engines finding 30+ new links overnight, which for most local business websites is quite unnatural. This means you're likely not going to rank super fast: it just about always takes at least a couple of months.
Absolutely not. One of the major reasons that our RankBooster plans work is that we are able to keep our sites a closely guarded secret. Once we start sending out the URLs of all the sites, we risk the integrity and performance of the system for everyone using it.
You will be able to see a subset of the links appear in your back link profile if you are using SEO backlink reporting tools.
Absolutely not. In fact, all the websites we use are hosted on separate C-Class IP addresses. This is because each site is completely unique.
Combining this with the fact none of our sites links to each other, we offer one of the highest quality link networks available.
Most of our websites are aged and high authority websites that we purchased at auction. This means that they were previously already high authority sites. We pick up these great domains and rebuild them with a solid new design and add high quality content to each in order to get them ready for your links.
It is certainly a time-consuming process, but it’s the best way to build a high authority link network. Plus it lets us bring you this awesome RankBooster service at such a steal of a price.
The number of high authority websites we have available for the RankBooster plans fluctuates from fifty to over two hundred depending on a large number of factors.
Even the low end of that range is typically more than enough to rank for any local term.
Your subscriptions includes links on a subset of these websites. If any sites become compromised, we will transition your links to a new site as long as you have an active subscription.
Maybe. When you cancel your RankBooster subscription we no longer prioritize the integrity of your links. This means that over time it's likely that the power of the RankBooster subscription will diminish. If this plan was making up the majority of your link profile and SEO work, then chances are your rankings will decrease. Where they end up is not predictable.