How To Prosper In The New Google
Fortunately for SEO Fast Start readers, the key strategies for succeeding on the “new” Google are pretty much the same as they were with the “old” Google. Unfortunately, a lot of folks have taken short cuts – for these folks, and for anyone else out there who isn’t familiar with the “fast start” strategy, here’s a quick rundown of the important steps you need to take.
Step 1: Keyword Research: Cover Your Bases
Search engine strategy begins with identifying the right mix of keywords and phrases to target your audience. In spite of this, many website owners try to shortcut this part of the process, and focus all of their energy on a few generic search terms.
The main goal of your keyword research should be to identify all of the possible words and phrases that your target audience will use, including “modifiers” like brand names, localities, and adjectives.
Although it’s only possible to target a few main keywords and phrases on each page of your web site, the combination of search terms and modifiers leads to far greater coverage in the search engine results.
Many website owners, who have followed an effective keyword strategy, barely noticed Google’s November 15 update. By spreading their efforts across a larger number of searches, they may have seen declines in a few generic search terms, but their overall traffic has not suffered.
Focusing on a handful of search terms might seem like a great strategy, if you’re able to rank well for all of them. However, when search engines make changes, as Google has done, this kind of inflexible strategy will fail.
Do your homework, cover your bases, and you’ll have a solid foundation for your search engine strategy. If you have a copy of SEO Fast Start, go back and read chapter 3 (“Step 1: Keyword Strategy”) just to be sure you understand the issues. If you don’t have the time or expertise to conduct your own keyword research, SEO Research Labs (http://www.seoresearchlabs.com) offers low-cost keyword research services for you.
Step 2: Effective Site Structure
In order for a broad-based keyword strategy to be effective, you need to organize your website to allow the search engines to “crawl” or “spider” all of your pages. To understand this, let’s take a moment to review how search engine spiders crawl your site.
On the first visit, the spider will fetch a file called “robots.txt” (see Chapter 8 of SEO Fast Start, or read the online tutorial at http://www.clockwatchers.com/robots_main.html) to determine if crawling is allowed.
Spiders find your site by following a link on another site. Assuming you haven’t made your site off limits with robots.txt, the spider will fetch the page the other site linked to. Sometimes this is your home page, sometimes this is another page.
When the spider reads this page, it will extract some information about the page’s content and add that to the search engine’s database. It also reads in all of the links on the page, and depending on how important it considers your page, it may add those pages to its list of pages to crawl.
If every page on your site has a set of links (“global navigation links”) that point to the main sections of your website, chances are very good that those pages will be crawled next. Assuming that each of these pages, in turn, carries links to your primary content, it will be very easy for the spider to crawl your entire site.
The most effective structure, then, is a “top down” or “pyramid” structure for your web site. For larger sites (more than 10 pages), it’s important to have a site map page, linked from every page on your site. According to web usability expert Jakob Nielsen, a site map is one of the most important features of a well-designed website, and he’s right! Your visitors will appreciate the site map as much as the spiders, if not more.
A lot of folks would rather have fancy Flash or DHTML menus, and they object to using text links for site navigation. Unfortunately, search engines have a hard time following that kind of navigation system through your site. There’s no reason to worry, though. Text navigation can be placed at the bottom of the page, and you can keep your fancy menus. It’s the best of both worlds, for you and your site’s users.
Having a clear path of text links to all of your content makes it easy for spiders (and people) to crawl your site. Try to keep all of your content within 2-3 clicks of the home page, even if you need to create a site map to tie it all together. For more information and examples, see Chapter 4 of SEO Fast Start (Step 2: Organizing Your Site).
Step 3: Develop Optimized Content
Your site’s structure is like a skeleton. Now that you have a good plan for your site’s structure, it’s time to hang some meat on those bones, and that means content. If you’ve been following the “fast start” plan, you have clearly defined content sections for your site, and you’re ready to put it all together.
Remember all those keywords we found in step 1? All those modifiers you told yourself you were going to use along with them? Now is the time to use them. For every page of content, you want to use that page’s primary keywords, along with modifiers, in several places:
1. The page’s <TITLE>
2. META keywords and description
3. Main heading and section headings (H1 – H6) on the page
4. Within the body copy ( <P> ), lists ( <LI> ), etc. throughout the page.
Don’t worry too much about esoteric stuff like “keyword density.” Use your keywords naturally, using different variations and modifiers as appropriate.
As long as you use the important keywords a few times in the visible text of the page, and put them in a few prominent places, there’s no need to “stuff” them into any inappropriate places.
For more information on the “fast start” optimization formula, read my online articles archive (http://www.insideoutmarketing.com/index.php?p=sections&sid=7) or review Chapter 5 (Step 3: Optimizing Individual Web Pages) of SEO Fast Start.
If you have mapped out a lot of content in your site plan, the task of writing it all can be daunting. So much so, in fact, that some folks never start, and try to get by with cheap tricks like machine-generated “doorway pages.” Don’t fall for these “quick fixes.” The risk exceeds the potential reward, and it’s not that hard to develop content.
If you’re working on it alone like I do, it’s a lot easier to break the work up into sections, and just keep at it. If you have decided to create 10 sections, with 10 pages in each, take it one section at a time. Create 1-2 pages a day, and keep it up.
Spending 2-3 months building a really useful and content-rich website is well worth the effort. Don’t stop adding fresh content – even a page a week over the course of a year will represent a big improvement for your site’s users. The more content you have, the more opportunities search engine users will have to find your site.
Step 4: Linking Strategy
So you’ve got a beautiful, useful, content-rich website, perfectly targeting your desired visitor with the search terms he/she is going to use. Every page is a shining example of optimized content, it’s all linked together perfectly… you’re done, right? Wrong!
If you stop after step 3, you’re going to be very disappointed. Search engines aren’t terribly impressed with a website that nobody else has linked to. Unless you take the time to promote your website and build up incoming links, you’ll never achieve the results you deserve.
If you want to succeed in the “new” Google, you need relevant links from relevant web sites. You want as many links as you can get, from pages that link to sites like yours. So, how do you find them?
First, submit to all of the relevant directories you can find. Major directories like the Open Directory, of course, but also smaller directories like GoGuides, Skaffe, Gimpsy, WebSavvy, etc. Look for any “vertical” or “industry” directories by visiting the “Search Engine Guide” (www.searchengineguide.com) and browsing their directory of directories.
Next, it’s time to get linked into the community of related web sites. For all of the main search terms you’re targeting, take a look at the top ranked pages on Google. I like to work with the first 20-30 top ranked sites, assuming that they’re all really relevant. Visit each one – if they have a links page, or link to related sites, ask them for a link to your site. Next, look at who is linking to them, and try to get links from the same places.
Try to control the link placement as much as you can. A link on a big “resources” page is nice, as long as you’re listed with similar sites. Links on higher-traffic pages, articles, reviews, etc. can often bring in significant traffic on their own. Find pages that link to sites like yours, and ask for links.
In many cases, the most appropriate page for another site to link to will be your home page, but this isn’t always true. While you’re working on links, look for opportunities to establish links into your “internal” content pages.
I get a lot of links into my Inside Out Marketing site, from webmaster resource sites. These folks will happily link directly to a resource like my article on “spam-proofing your website,” because that’s of interest to their visitors. These links boost the “PageRank” for all the pages on my site, they make it easier for all search engines to find my internal pages, and they make it a lot easier for folks to find those internal pages.
For more information on linking strategy, grab the free “Linking Matters” report (www.linkingmatters.com), visit sites like “Linking 101” (www.linking101.com), and read through Chapter 6 of SEO Fast Start (Step 4: Linking and Off-The-Page Factors).
Step 5: Don’t Stop When You Hit The Top!
A lot of folks make a very critical error, when they start seeing good search engine rankings and the nice increase in traffic that good rankings can bring. They get busy with their new visitors, then they stop. They stop working on content, they stop working on links, and they eventually stop seeing good rankings.
Then, they start complaining about Google, or Inktomi, or whatever search engine dropped them first. They’ll shout to the rafters that the search results have gone to heck in a hand basket, that the search engines are persecuting them, etc. etc.
My advice to you is simple – don’t stop when you hit the top. Keep forging new relationships, keep building links, keep adding content, and keep your web site up to date. Your competition isn’t going to stop trying to beat you, and that includes the folks who are still ahead of you.
The effects of your efforts usually show up in the search engines a couple months later. Some folks give up after a few weeks, because they haven’t seen instant results. If you stop working on your site’s search engine rankings, by the time you notice a problem, you’ll be a couple months (or more) behind.
If you’re going to make a commitment to a search engine strategy for your website, and make the substantial investments it takes (both time and money), then stick with your commitment and execute your strategy. Don’t give up too early, and don’t stop when you hit the top.
Dan Thies is a well-known writer and teacher on search engine marketing. He offers consulting, training, and coaching for webmasters, business owners, SEO/SEM consultants, and other marketing professionals through his company, SEO Research Labs. His next online class will be a link building clinic beginning March 22