Since I am in the business of running a digital marketing agency, I often receive requests from “friends and family” like “how do I get Google to give me a top ranking for [favorite keyword].” Unfortunately, the answer is never simple. Running a successful web business is at least as complex as operating a retail store or offline organization and, although the web business doesn’t have to pay rent, there is significant cost in terms of learning and experience. With upwards of 644 million websites (Netcraft: March, 2012) all competing for users attention, getting users to visit your site is going to be an ongoing challenge. If you want to compete for web users, you are going to have to invest significant time and energy in learning as much as you can.
Before any website owner can begin to optimize your website, you are going to have to take control of the website if you haven’t already. What I mean by control is the ability to change the web hosting company, to change your business domain [www.domain], or to make changes in the page “titles” (i.e. the content that appears in the browser window or browser tab).
If you are like most of my friends, you probably signed up with a web hosting company that offered you a low-ball price often with a continuing monthly fee. You are a likely going to have to make structural changes to your website in order to optimize for search engines (SEO) which means things like possibly changing your domain, URLs, title tag, and meta description. [If these terms are unfamiliar to you, do a web search and find out what they mean.]
You’re going to need to take control of your website or risk paying upwards of $200 an hour to pay your web host to make changes. Many of my friends built their website using WordPress or another popular easy-to-use website template. WordPress is great because there are “add-ons” to help you do just about anything such as optimize for search engines (get the SEO add-on) or enable e-commerce like WP e-commerce.
You also want to make sure you remove the links to your webhost—webhosts love to improve their Google ranking at your expense by including a link to their home page in the footer of every page on your website. You also don’t need to give WordPress or other website templates a link from your site. Links from your website to other sites should always be kept to a minimum since they drain your website of some of the link juice necessary to get high search engine rankings.
Now that you have control over your website but still haven’t built up much traffic to your site, you might want to consider a better domain. The best domains are always the domains that include the keyword for which you would like to rank. If you happen to sell mattresses online, you’re going to want the domain “mattress.com” which will automatically rank well in Google and other search engines. Unfortunately, the most popular domains were snapped up years ago so you’re going to have to be somewhat clever. For example, if your mattress store is located in New York City, you might want to consider “www.mattressesnyc.com” or something similar if its available. Once again, the trick here is to get the keyword or phrase that’s important to your business in the domain, or at least the URL somewhere (www.mystore.com/mattresses).
Assuming you use WordPress, you’ll need to develop some expertise in managing a WordPress site (if you’re using another template, you’ll have to develop some expertise with that template). You need to be able to install Google Analytics code on your pages. You’ll need to download the SEO plug-in which will allow you to control the things you need to control in order to get ranking.
To set up a free Google Analytics account, you’ll need to start with a free Google account. Set up a Google Account for your business. Once the Google Account is set-up, you can activate other needed Google products including Google Analytics, Google AdWords, and Webmaster Tools. They are all free to use except AdWords, which will charge you to buy ads on a cost per click basis. Don’t buy anything on AdWords until you know what you’re doing and you’ve done some testing.
Google Analytics (GA) is absolutely critical to managing a web business. It will tell you how much product you are selling, which keywords and traffic sources are bringing in customers, which keywords and traffic sources are resulting in form completions, and many, many other useful stats. There are lots of online training resources available for learning to use and install GA properly.
You’ll also need to learn how to use Google AdWords to bring paid traffic (that converts to paying customers) to the site. Advising you on how to manage an AdWords campaign is beyond the scope of this brief primer. However, there are plenty of good online resources to help you get started with AdWords. Just remember – don’t do it until you have confidence that you know what you’re doing and can measure results.
With your AdWords account, you can get access to the free “keyword planning tool” which will suggest keywords that you might consider buying on AdWords. You will be looking for synonyms for the products or services you provide. You are looking not only for keywords to buy but also keywords that will optimize your site. The basis for selection is typically volume – the more times the keyword or phrase is searched, the more important it will be to you. Of course, you still won’t know for sure what keywords are really important until you’ve monitored GA to see which keywords bring in the sales.
There are bunch of things needed to optimize your site for keywords. Remember, you are trying to optimize the site for keywords that bring in paying customers, not keywords you think are clever or interesting. In particular, don’t bother optimizing for your business name since Google is very good at giving you that traffic already.
As I mentioned earlier, the domain and URL are the most important elements to optimize followed closely by the title tag. Each page of your site offers a unique URL and title tag to optimize. Use them wisely. After the title tag, you need to pay attention to the “meta description” which is what appears on lines 3 and 4 of the Google search result. The page of your website should have a unique description that is written in a way to encourage users to click through to your site. There are other things to optimize but these three will get you started.
This is somewhat advanced, but when you replace an old URL with a new one, you should create a “301 redirect” which tells Google that the old page has been permanently replaced with the new URL [do a Google search of 301 redirects with WordPress to figure out how to do that]. You don’t want nonexistent pages hanging around. Google Webmaster Tools will tell you if you have 404 errors (pages not found) in the Google index.
You’ll also need to have some quality links directed to your website to get Google’s attention. Google assesses the importance of websites based on the number and quality of links to the site so you want to make sure you have those “inbound” links in place. When you start trying to get links to your site, avoid the spam sites that promise hundreds or thousands of links at a low price. Not only will these links not help your ranking, they can result in penalties, which will guarantee you poor rankings.
The easiest way to get inbound links is by setting up company profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn. Also, many business directories can help your rankings. Participate in Q&A sites like Yahoo! Answers. If your answer is selected as the best, these links are invaluable. Review sites like Yelp and Google Reviews can also be extremely important. As time goes on, you should make it a habit to reach out to websites that are focused on your products and services and ask them to link to you. You can even supply them with html code for the link where you suggested the “anchor” text to use (more research – look up “anchor” text in html links).
This is more than enough work to get any curious business owner started. If you are willing to learn, this can be a rich and rewarding experience for many years to come.