“The best place to hide a dead body is Page 2 of Google’s search results.”
Now that I have your attention …
Welcome to Part Deux of our two-part series about how to optimize your content for inbound, in which we continue to share insights from Arnie Kuenn, CEO of Vertical Measures (and bestower of the above quote), about getting found and getting known.
In Part 1, we focused on what searchers and search spiders are looking for, and building content that aligns with those queries. (Because if you create content nobody is searching for … nobody is exactly who will find you.)
Part 2 builds upon that foundation with the nitty-gritty of creating content that will garner the attention of the search engines and show up in the results – even on Page 1.
A note of clarification: This post isn’t a how-to on writing compelling content. It’s a how-to on optimizing your content to be found by search (and searchers). In other words, its focus is on the nuts and bolts, not the artistry.
First Things First: A Recap
If you haven’t read Part 1 and simply don’t wanna, or you read it but that was, like, a week ago (and really, who has time to store information for that long anymore?), below is a very brief synopsis to give you a jump start.
According to Arnie, there are four things you need to understand before you start creating new content or optimizing your current content:
- Organic search trumps paid search. When it comes to visibility and click-throughs, studies show that we (you, me, everyone) click on organic results between 80%-90% of the time. Although paid search can pay off, optimizing for organic search can yield enormous dividends that mathematically can’t be beat.
- Do not break, circumvent, or otherwise “game” Google’s rules. Because sooner or later, Google will put a hurtin’ on your website. Being unaware of Google’s dos and don’ts is no excuse for tripping an algorithm. A penalty may hit you whether you do it on accident or on purpose.
- Give searchers what they want to make an informed decision. An About.com study found that 72% of people use search to gain particular information. (The breakdown: 26% want to be educated, 46% want an answer to a very specific question.) Businesses that provide the (optimized) content people are looking for will win.
- Uncover what your visitors are looking for. Arnie offered four ways to find out exactly what your prospects and customers want to know, so you can deliver it:
- Implement site search in order to see the keywords visitors are using while they’re on your website.
- Ask your staff what questions customers ask them all the time.
- Ask your customers why they trust you, how they found you, why they like your products, what they wish you’d do better, etc.
- Be human … that is, use search just like your target audience does. Figure out what keywords could/should/might be used to find your business.
By embracing even a few of Arnie’s recommendations, you’ll be well-positioned to create content that ranks higher and performs better than what you have today.
Now that you’re caught up, let’s dive into Part 2 on how to optimize your content to be found. Here’s the official headline:
Optimizing Content to Improve Your Search Rankings
In large part, getting found by Google is about tactics.
True, the quality of your content absolutely matters, as evidenced by Google’s recent algorithm changes (Panda, Penguin, and Hummingbird). Google has effectively put content purveyors on notice that blatant, non-value dreck is no longer acceptable.
Even so, the general principles of effective SEO remain unchanged: Your best writing notwithstanding, optimizing for search engines has an enormous tactical side – a collection of steps that, if taken, will vastly improve your chances of getting found.
Does Arnie cover them all?
Thankfully, no. Doing so would be the proverbial “tiny sip through a fire hose,” which is (1) too long for a blog post and (b) most likely not helpful to readers who are ramping up on SEO.
(The goal is to incrementally expand your knowledge, not cause your eyes to glaze over or your head to explode.)
He offers a small and effective list of tactics everyone can take advantage of without much heavy lifting.
Here they are.
Don’t Fear the Long Tail
This was touched on in Part 1, but is worth repeating: long search strings (aka “long tail”) can be golden.
1. We search in complete sentences.
Or at least really long fragments. Take a look at the image below and you’ll see that queries comprised of 7, 8, and 9 words get clicked on the most.
Says Arnie, “Because Google bolds all of [a searcher’s] keywords, when they do a search and see their exact query in the results, they think, ‘Oh my gosh, this company created content that addresses the issue I’m searching for. I’m clicking here.’”
2. Niche searchers can equal pre-qualified leads.
Although long-tail searches yield smaller click volumes, they often result in higher lead volumes. This is because specialized (long) search queries tend to be from individuals who are further along in their decision-making process and, by extension, farther down the sales funnel.
Takeaway: When crafting your titles and your copy, keep your eyes peeled for the content pieces that are somewhat specialized for key audience segments, and then optimize them for long-tail queries. You’ll not only help your targets find you, you’ll likely entice more of them to engage with you.
Leverage the Power of the FREE GUIDE
This is a pretty prescriptive edict, but if lead generation is your goal, it’s hard to beat the response rates from a free guide.
How good are they? Here’s an example:
Boston-based Yale Appliance went all in, centering its content marketing strategy around free buying guides – for refrigerators, washing machines, ovens, stoves, microwaves, you name it. The company made the guides front-and-center, accessible from their homepage, site search pages, product pages, and blog.
Every time someone downloaded a guide, Yale Appliance got a new prospect … even a new hot lead.
Here were Yale’s results:
- Annual website traffic grew from 40,000 visitors to 150,000 visitors – nearly a 400% increase.
- Monthly leads grew from 800 to 2,300 – nearly a 300% increase.
- Annual revenue increased by 40%.
According to Yale Appliance president Steve Sheinkopf, “Profitability is actually up way more than that because we were also able to reduce our ad budget.”
Not too shabby.
Optimize for 7 Core Elements
Before jumping into the list, it’s important to understand the general landscape of a search engine results page (SERP). A typical Google SERP contains four non-paid (aka “organic”) sections:
- General web results (i.e., the famous blue links at the top that can be any mix of general info on your query)
- Images & videos
- Local results
Here’s a not-great image that, nonetheless, reasonably illustrates the gist:
And here’s some good news:
Your content can show up in two sections of a SERP.
For example, you can be in two web listings, a web listing and a video listing, a video listing and a news listing, etc.
So be sure to get images and/or video into your content, as well as addresses and maps for the “local” searchers. And of course, optimize for what your key audiences are searching for.
Which brings us to what you really want to know:
The 7 Core Elements to Optimize For
1. Links pointing to your content.
This includes backlinks from reputable external sites (e.g., blog posts, reports, and reviews), but also includes internal links. Wherever possible (e.g., your own blog posts, eBooks, case studies, editorials, press releases) cross-link your content to other valuable content on your website. You’ll increase the stickiness of your site while also delivering more value to your visitors.
2. <Title> tag.
From an SEO perspective, the title tag is HUGE because it’s what gets displayed in the SERPs. Says Arnie, “The title tag is a marketing tool; it’s your chance to convince the person to click on your search result because the title tag is well-written and the meta description is well-written.”
The <Title Tag>-SERP Connection:
The title tag is also what people see in the browser tab (see the image above). It’s also a critical factor in telling Google what this page is about.
Make sure your keyword is in the title tag, as close to the front as feasible. Keep the whole thing to 55 characters and spaces if you can; a longer title may not display in its entirety. Each of your pages should have a unique title tag. It’s added to the HTML code by your webmaster (or your blogging software).
3. <Meta> tag description.
This is also added to the HTML code of every page. It’s the wording that displays on the SERP under the title tag and the URL, telling the reader what they can expect to find on this page. It’s essentially a short promotion, beckoning the reader to click, so you want to write it carefully (and accurately….no bait-and-switch here).
Though not particularly important from the search engine’s perspective (i.e., it doesn’t significantly impact ranking), it DOES significantly impact people’s behavior. To click, or not to click, that is the question. The meta description gives the answer.
4. <H1> tag.
This is your page headline and is often the same (or very similar) to your <title> tag. The <H1> tag should aptly summarize the content on the page (including your keywords) so both search engines and readers can easily understand what the content is about.
In most cases, there’s only one <H1> tag per page because most content has one key point/idea/thought per page or per article. There can be more than one <H1> tag in your content as long as each tag is used to differentiate sections. (White papers and business reports are good examples.) One way to think about it: your <H1> tag is the “parent”; all other sub-headings are the “children”.
5. Image <alt text> tags.
Short for “alternative text,” <alt text> tags identify/name a webpage element (usually an image) that’s (a) supposed to render and (b) doesn’t render, for whatever reason. They’re added to the HTML code as an image attribute.
These don’t have as large an SEO impact as they once did; however, using <alt text> has its benefits, including improving your user’s experience (because at least they can see what the image is supposed to be by reading the alternative text) and giving the search engines context for “image search” results; alt text helps spiders determine if an image is relevant to a search query. (In the SERP screenshot above, you can be sure that all of the images have “Omaha, Nebraska” in their <alt text>.)
6. Page load times.
Make sure your pages load quickly. If they load slowly, it will not only compromise the user experience, but Google may start pushing your pages lower in the search results. Talk to your webmaster and other technical folks about how to accomplish this (e.g., hosting platforms, blogging platforms, file sizes, plug-ins, etc.).
7. Fresh content.
This is a biggie for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that Google places enormous importance on shiny new (and optimized and quality) content. Fresh content creates its own virtuous circle. Consider:
- Most search engines have followed Google’s lead and now heavily emphasize content freshness in their ranking criteria and algorithms.
- The quality of links coming to a page help Google and other search engines determine its page rank in search. One of the best ways to build high-value backlinks is to create fresh, quality content that other blogs, websites, and readers want to link to.
- Social media is fed by new, fresh, sharable content. Since the launch of Google+, many other search engines are following suit and including social signals into the way they rank content.
So keep it fresh.
When you post content, get out and share it. Talk to your best customers to identify your business- and audience-appropriate social networks: They could be any combination of LinkedIn, Viadeo, Xing, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Pinterest, Google+, Tumblr, and many others. Pick the ones that have proven themselves, and don’t overdo it. Better to have a deep, strong, authoritative presence on two productive networks than to be thinly spread across six.
Sharing your content does two very important things. First, it puts your content on display for your followers, some of whom will take the ball and carry it for you via clicks and forwards and re-postings. Secondly, posting on social media immediately signals the search engines that there’s new, fresh meat out there … new content to check out and follow and index and display.
“If you uncover what people are searching for, build content that answers it, optimize it simply and correctly, and post it out there, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the amount of traffic that comes your way.” – Arnie Kuenn
Want to learn more about SEO? Visit the Act-On Center of Excellence to read “SEO 101: The Basics (and Beyond).”