Make Search Engines Your Friends
Join us at Entrepreneur magazine's Growth Conference, Dec. 15 in Long Beach, Calif. for a day of fresh ideas, business mentoring and networking. Register here for exclusive pricing, available only for a limited time.
Today, more people than ever flock to the internet to locate information on just about everything. They start their quests for knowledge, services or products by using search engines. When creating content for your website, search engine optimization is an important tool to increase traffic to the site with modest effort and little to no extra cost, as your own time is needed.
SEO is a process in which specific keywords are added to content. These keywords are those that are found most often in search engine results.
Proper page organization and inclusion of keywords help drive your website higher in search engine rankings and helps customers find your company online. The process of creating effective SEO copy is quite simple and can be accomplished by using a few basic techniques.
Keyword research is one of the most important steps when creating SEO copy. Try Google's free keyword tool to see which keywords (and search volumes for them) are being used in your business's industry or niche.
This practice locates exact keywords and phrases that people search for the most when trying to locate specific information. Keyword research should be combined with "pre-click" research. Differences exist in user search intent, from more commerce-driven, to navigational and information based. By conducting pre-click research combined with keyword research before writing copy, you'll be able to ensure your content contains only the best possible keywords with user relevancy as well as the appropriate density for each word. Density is how often the keyword should appear throughout the document. Don't worry or analyze too much--just write naturally.
Keyword research should not be taken lightly or rushed. Words should be selected based on validity, volume, uniqueness, competition and how easily back links can have terms included. These words are the very core of web content, and they'll make or break optimization. Strongly typed back links from other relevant sites are very important, but they, too, must appear naturally.
You can hire an SEO specialist to help determine a proper keyword list and page breakdown (themes). However, research can be done quite easily on your own using free online tools like Goggle's, noted above. Try conducting a simple search for your type of business and see what pops up. For example, if you're in the flower business and you offer a specialized service such as custom centerpieces, make sure to include the specific keyword (centerpieces or custom centerpieces), not just common terms like "roses." This will narrow the results a great deal and allow for a more focused search that is better targeted for sales or leads. Make sure during your keyword research that the users are using those words.
Once the keyword research has been completed, the next step is to decide how to properly insert the terms into your web content. One page of content should be dedicated to each keyword and variations of them--including plurals--by designing the text around that specific word. The writing should sound natural and set an appropriate tone using correct grammar. Search engines tend to like this model: Make sure that the keyword/phrase appears once at the beginning of your content, once at the end and two to three times throughout the body of the text. When looking at your competition, you'll probably see that more competitive terms (heads) are used for the homepage, while others (long tails) are used for inner pages. It's very important to avoid saturating the copy with one particular word; doing this could be considered spamming and may have a negative effect. To further optimize the web page, place the keywords in the title of the page as well as in a heading (H1 tags).
I like to write for users first, and then search engines, so effective SEO copy must consider clickability. It's what entices people to engage and click on your headline when scrolling through the masses of search results. That also means a friendly URL and domain name.
The first way to increase clickabilty is to have an intriguing title. The title should be somewhat personal, address potential readers and pull them in; you can even include a phone number. The web is full of bland content, so yours must be different. Be forceful; use direct words, terms and type. Offer the promise of something like a reward or promotion. Consider making your copy into a list. A title such as "5 Simple Tricks Anyone Can Use To Design a Killer Website" grabs a person's attention and entices them to click. There have been several studies that suggest people are more apt to click on information that's presented in list form because they believe it's quick and easy to understand. Remember, most people don't read on the web--they scan content.
In addition to using keywords, you can further optimize the pages on your website by categorizing the content, also known as tagging. Blogs are great for that--all the more reason to set one up. Many search engines and directories use topic categories to group results more concisely. You can increase your rank and likelihood of being put into the right category by tagging your own copy. To tag your copy, simply add a categorical header before the content headline or title. For example, if the title of your page is "How To Succeed in Business," the tag for the page might look like this: "Business and Entrepreneurship: How To Succeed in Business." Just as with keywords, research should be conducted to determine the most searched-for categories to help ensure your tag is the best possible fit. If you want to get ideas, visit dmoz.org, dir.yahoo.com and social media bookmarking behemoth delicious.com.
Another very effective SEO practice is called linking. Linking can and must be applied on your website, as well as externally. Because the voting system of Google is a core signal to their algorithm, you must make sure your website is linked to other websites and vice versa. With strong content and optimized written materials, you should anticipate getting links back, but don't be afraid to ask. The more easily users and search engines can navigate your pages, and the more links to your site other people have on their pages, the higher your search engine ranking will be--and the more traffic your site will generate. Links can be purchased, however, there are many free options available. Add your website address to e-mail signatures, blogs, forums and social networking sites. The more your links appear, the more curious people will become, leading to more visits. If you consistently update your site with interesting and useful information, more people will click over to you, recommend your site to others and keep coming back for more.
While creating effective SEO content may take some getting used to, it doesn't have to be difficult. It's important to remember that the style might be a little different than your normal writing style and will not be the same as creating general copy. You may not get exactly what you want on the first try, but once you begin to publish your content you'll be able to measure the results and learn which areas need improvement. Your web analytics will tell you how it's working--or not working. Make sure you know your audience and with practice, SEO writing will become much faster, more focused and second nature to you.
By keeping these general principles in mind and devoting some time, you'll begin creating highly effective, traffic-generating pages with ease.
Jon Rognerud is Entrepreneur.com's SEO columnist, an SEO consultant and the author of The Ultimate Guide to Search Engine Optimization, available from Entrepreneur Press. He has more than 20 years experience building marketing and web projects, including creating content and application solutions at Yahoo!/Overture.