Search and email remain the two most important marketing activities of the digital age. When we want to buy something, the first thing most of us do first is turn to our favorite search engines. A study by Outbrain shows that search is the #1 driver of traffic to content sites, beating social media by more than 300%.
None of this is surprising. Search puts the buyer in control, and it’s the shortest, fastest path for people to find what they want. What it means for the B2B marketer is that search is important, and ranking well in search is particularly important: Almost 33% of organic search traffic goes to the first listing on the page; over 75% goes to the first five listings. Fewer than 10% of searchers look beyond the first page of results.
So how do you make it to that first page in 2015? There are no quick fixes and no easy tricks. As Nate Dane pointed out in a recent blog post on Search Engine Land, Google’s algorithms may change, but its purpose never does: to deliver the very best results for the user. Every change Google makes is in support of this long game.
Graphic courtesy of Rand Fishkin and Moz.com.
So the good news is, your best practices for 2015 remain pretty much the same best practices that worked in the years past, and will largely remain constant. As Rand Fishkin puts it, you should optimize for Google’s destination. That means the sooner you adopt the bedrock best practices, the sooner you’ll get started on the slow-but-steady path to your best ranking. And that journey starts with a strong search engine marketing strategy.
What is Search Engine Marketing?
Your goal is to be the best possible page on the Internet for your target keyword. To get there, you need to know:
- Your value proposition, and the keywords that best represent it
- Your customers, and the keywords they are most likely to use to find what you sell
- The interests, concerns, fears, and desires of your customers
Knowing these things will let you target your customers with content they will want to find when they search. Suppose, for example, you manufacture and sell gloves. You could have target groups of customers who buy specific gloves for specific purposes: fashion, weight lifting, motorcycle racing, sled dog team driving, underwater exploration, and skiing, to name just a few. Each group is going to value completely different characteristics in gloves, and use different search terms.
Write for Your Audience
The best practice that is most important is, simply: creating great, must-read content. In short:
- You are creating content for your customers and prospects
- This content should have high value for them
- If you base your marketing decisions on what is best for your customers, you will likely rank well in the search engines
- If you try and game the system to rank, you will eventually fail
Do Your Homework
Just like your other marketing initiatives, you need to know a few things about your potential customer. You should be building personas that let you address a specific reader, who in turn represents a segment of your customer base that’s large enough to be worth marketing to.
Ask yourself: Who is the searcher? Who would be looking for this information? Someone who …
- Is looking for a general category of information?
- Is looking for a specific solution?
- Has one of your products and needs help?
- Is a college student writing a research paper?
- Works in a specific industry?
- Is located in a specific place?
Ask yourself: What do they want? They may want to …
- Purchase a product or solution
- Learn about a product or solution
- Solve a specific problem
- Understand a product category
- Compare two similar products
How to Write to Your Audience
First, have something to say. Then say it in a unique way that provides value (information, education, entertainment, etc.) to your reader.
- Choose one – and only one – keyword phrase that is targeted for each page
- Include each keyword phrase three or four times within your copy — more if it makes sense, but only if it still reads naturally. Keyword “stuffing” will be noticed by both the reader and the search engines, and neither one will reward you for it.
- If you think you’re over-using keywords, use synonyms and related terms that the reader would expect to find. Such usage occurs naturally in well-written copy, and search engines are becoming better able to recognize the practice (which they view positively).
- Think about co-occurrence. What words would you naturally expect to be in an article about your topic? If the topic is gloves for skiing, you’d perhaps expect “Gore-Tex,” “liner,” “waterproof,” “insulated,” and so on. These related terms help the reader, and anything that helps the reader should be on your to-do list for SEO.
- Longer copy provides a better opportunity for keyword placement that sounds good and allows you to provide more information to your visitors. Page length should be dictated by the message you want to communicate, but you should target 1500 – 2000 words for an authoritative piece in a competitive space.
The recent Searchmetrics Ranking Factors 2014 study included this chart:
Marcus Tober, writing for Moz, gives this analysis: “Shown here is the average text length in characters per position, in both 2014 and 2013. You can see that content is much longer on each and every position among the top 30 (on average) in 2014. (Note the “Brand Factor” at the first position[s] again.)”
To use the post I’m writing right now as a benchmark, the average word is 4.7 letters long. That means the 8930 character count of a high-ranking page would translate to 1,900 words.
How to Use Keywords
You may read here or there that keywords are “dead.” It remains that keywords are still a key way for a search engine to learn what your page is about. Here’s how to use them effectively:
You’ll also want to use your keyword in your meta description. This is the text that shows up under your title in the search results listing; it’s essentially a trailer for your page. It helps the reader know whether your page contains what they’re looking for, so it’s your chance to sell the likely prospect on your page (and by extension, your brand) being what they are looking for. Remember, you’re optimizing the search results listing for the reader, not for the search engine. It doesn’t matter how high you rank if nobody clicks on your listing
Which listing would you click on?
Links are Still Important
Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the more useful content you have, the greater the chances someone else will find that content valuable to their readers and link to it. People and sites will link to you when:
- You have compelling content they want to share, such as a great offer or a great blog post
- They had a great experience with your brand. Perhaps they give you a shout-out in social media and link to one of your pages
- They had a terrible experience with your brand
- They are a friend of your brand and want to promote it. Perhaps they mention you in a blog post or an email newsletter, and link to a page on your site
How to get links
- Great content naturally draws links
- Curated directories (make sure they are curated by live people and not pay-for-play)
- Competitor backlinks (See Kaila Strong’s blog post on getting links to learn how)
- Mentions in press and articles
- Social media
And the more authoritative the site that links to you the better. A positive mention on Huffington Post is worth more, SEO-wise, than a hundred tweets-with-links from your soccer club friends.
How not to get links
- Buying links. Just don’t do it, ever, no matter what.
- Article marketing. This is typically a low quality article, stuffed with links for the sole purpose of getting links … and not actually intended for human consumption.
- Blog/forum spam. No comment necessary.
- Speakerships, sponsorships, events. In the heyday of linkbuilding, it was common to sponsor an event just for the link. Google got wise to this and now looks at these links as paid. If you want to sponsor an event, go for it. Just do it because you believe in the event and want exposure with the audience, not for the link – which should be nofollow in all cases.
- Exact match anchor text. This is an old tactic that was abused and so now is a red flag.
- High volume, low quality content. Thin content turns off readers, which means it turns off search engines, too.
- Sidebar and footer links. These tend to be site-wide links, and often paid for, so they register to both humans and machines as spammy.
This list includes tricky tactics that used to work, but don’t anymore. And that’s the whole point: Just be as customer-focused as you can be, and optimize your pages so that Google and the other engines can see the value your content provides for certain searchers.
Skip the tricks, and skip the vendors who make claims of a miracle around the corner. (That’s not to say skip the vendor. Given how complicated the behind-the-scenes issues for site-wide, code-deep SEO are, having a good vendor help out, especially on technical issues, is a wise move.)
The critical rules for SEO success are timeless. Steady, consistent creation of good content will help you achieve your better, most accurate ranking.
Find out what it takes to increase site visibility, boost the number of visitors coming to your site, and improve conversion rates with this SEO toolkit.