If you want to be first on Google organic results you have to EARN it. There are some that will tell you that Organic AKA Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is fast, free, and easy,all you have to do is pay them to learn the secret. Unfortunately, Search Engine Optimization is none of those things and the person selling the Search Engine Optimization secrets is a fraud. Search Engine Optimization is, and has always been, earned by creating high-quality engaging content that communicates the value of your business. This is an exploration of Search Engine Optimization in plain business English with no hidden secrets.
In Search Engine Optimization, a page gets points from the pages that point to that page. This is called “Page-Rank” and is at the core of what makes Google, Google. Pages pointing to your page transfer a portion of their Page Rank to your page and your page passes that on to the pages it points to. Not all inbound links are created equal and here is a visual of how this works. Page Rank is simply the proportional sum of the page ranks of the pages pointing to your page. If your homepage has a rank of 25 and it points out to 5 sub-pages each subpage will get 5 points. The Page Rank is then adjusted by the density of the keyword on the page. Keyword density is the weighted occurrences divided by the total weighted words. Position on the page matters and our best guess of the hierarchy goes like this:
The numbers on the list above are our best guess as to the weight of the position. Nobody outside of Google knows the real numbers but this is very close to the observed weight given in search results. What nobody disagrees with is the Page Rank and Keyword Density are foundational concepts of Search Engine Optimization. Optimization starts at the homepage. It is here that you first learn about Search Engine Optimization compromise and balance. The first rule of Search Engine Optimization is that “A web page can only be optimized for one keyword.” Nobody is ever happy with that, but that is the rule. For all SMBs the most you can compete for with your homepage is your business name and one keyword. This is simple Search Engine Optimization math. Your Page Rank is distributed by the keyword density. Density is the keyword’s weighted occurrences divided by total page weighted occurrences. The more words on the page the lower the density. In a simple example if the page had 10 points and the keyword had a density of 10% then the page would get 1 point. Nobody knows the exact math but most experts will agree that optimization works like this. If you have those 10 points and compete for 1 keyword you get 1 point. Compete for 2 and you get 0.5. Every keyword you add to the targeting makes all the keywords rank lower. So question #1 is, “What is your homepage keyword?”
Once all your website pages are optimized then ask yourself. Are you satisfied with the results? If the answer is yes then you are not really cut out for marketing because you should never be satisfied. The reality is that optimizing site pages is just the first few steps of a very long journey. Optimization is a process not a project and the work is never done. If you really want to win the optimization battle you have to take it to the next level.
What SEO is NOT
The above items are corrections to gross mistakes made on critical pages, not SEO. These mistakes cause all sorts of collateral damage but fixing them does not make your site competitive for organic traffic. When a business wants to optimize their site the goal is always the same. It is to gain a better position in the organic results. Fixing the problems above might move you from not on the page at all to eligible, but it will do nothing for your rank. Competing for an organic position requires a steady stream of related, high-quality content, placed on your site over a long period of time. The level of this content must be greater than your best competitors.
If what you are looking for is a tactic that will move the needle on your sales in the next 60 days then SEO is not what you need. Winning a competitive SEO position in an existing market is a 12-24 month effort and in many cases it can be even longer. The rest of this discusses how to compete for those highly coveted organic positions. The competition for these is tough and you have to win and then defend your positions. True SEO is process not a project so you have to commit to an indefinite term.
The homepage is not the last time you will fight with this concept but the reality is that “The more things a page is about, the less it is about any of those things.” After the homepage optimization, the next priority is the directly connected pages. Each of these pages will get a proportion of the homepage points. This creates a conflict because the more pages you attach to the homepage, the less the point contribution is to each of these. This causes us to question the value of some pages like the contact page. If you applied the Grunt Test to your site then the contact information will be on the homepage or better yet the page template. If that is the case then the contact page is duplicate content. Keyword Density is a percentage so it can be moved by changing either the numerator or denominator. Increase the weight of the keyword or reduce the total weight of all keywords. Both of these will move the value. If you have lots of pages connected to the homepage you have to realize that this reduces the weight that they pass to the next level of pages in the site hierarchy. Keyword density is a sweet spot attribute and over doing this can take you from higher density to a penalty for keyword stuffing. Once you hit the optimal point, higher density becomes a negative.
Over the years we have only seen one strategy that wins the long game of Search Engine Optimization. It is a steady flow of high-quality content targeted by questions from customers written by people that are passionate about the topic. In your Google Ads account, you will find topic clues in the search terms. These are the searches that your visitors entered before they saw your ad. Assuming that you spent that money on purpose then clearly that was a search you value. This search term is the core of the question they asked. Your content tactic should be to answer these questions and win the traffic away from your Google Ads. The longer your account has been running the more valuable this data will be to your editorial plan.
Once you have decided to compete for organic traffic you will need a policy and calendar. An Editorial Policy is how much of your content will be editorial and how much is advertising. Editorial content is why people come to the site and the advertising is how content gets paid for. These are symbiotic because without editorial you have no traffic and without traffic, you have no advertising.
Search Engine Optimization is a long game and you need to set a pace you can live with forever. In most SMBs this is 1-2 articles per month. In addition, you need a modest ad budget to bring in new readers and an email list to remind current customers and readers that you still exist. The actual pace you need to set is faster than your competitors.
To create your Editorial Calendar calculate your article slots. This is your pace decision times 12. Then organize article ideas and put them in a priority sequence. If you are running the Search Network in Google Ads turn to that data to help with priority setting. Take the impressions and adjust them by the impression share and multiply that by your average CPC. This will give you the max value for the period. You will never earn that much with your article but it is only important for comparison with the other articles. Create your calendar and review it each month and modify based on market events.
Like all business processes, Search Engine Optimization should be on cycle analysis and reporting. For Search Engine Optimization we use a monthly cycle and examine micro and macro data. The micro-data is the Search Engine Optimization channel in isolation and macro-data is the company level data. Search Engine Optimization traffic is often early-stage traffic in the sales pipeline. Connecting early-stage traffic to sales transactions is fraught with technical challenges. The Search Engine Optimization channel should be measured at the CPA (Cost Per Action) and VOA (Volume of Actions) for goals and actuals. Here is what that might look like:
Search Engine Optimization Channel
|Description||Goal||Current Month||Prior 1||Prior 2|
The Google Display Network (GDN) is a source of high-volume low-cost traffic and this is ideal for priming the newly optimized page. GDN starts with a placement strategy that can be site-specific, keyword, or audience targeted. We are fans of site targeting, called placements, in campaign controls. This is where you specifically target websites by their name. This is the most exact control. Keywords are the least controlled but they are good for lots of traffic-volume. Audiences vary in quality depending on how they were set up. The best is normally the remarketing audience built from prior visits to your website. Industry audiences built and maintained by Google vary widely in quality and need to be tested carefully. The simple idea here is to pick up early-stage traffic and get your editorial content in front of them.
Building and maintaining an email list is essential for good Search Engine Optimization. This gives you a way to proactively and organically push your new content out to your current customers and prospects. While it takes a long time to build a proper opt-in email list it can be your most powerful marketing tool. Our advice here is to get started on this today and never stop growing your list.
Parts of the Search Engine Optimization process cycle can certainly be outsourced but some should not. You can take an internal subject expert and team them up with a Search Engine Optimization expert to tune their content and provide advice and console. What you cannot, or should not do is, outsource the subject expert. They are representing your business and the value you create in the market. That is outsourcing the soul of your business. If your subject expert is not a good writer you can outsource that but never lose control of your messaging. Never use a Search Engine Optimization Expert that is going to create content without involvement from your business. This is a sure sign that the expert is not an expert. They just want your credit card number, so they can bang it a few times before you realize they are not what they say they are.
Search Engine Optimization is a complex topic that takes thousands of hours to reach a mastery level. Search Engine Optimization changes rapidly so by the time you reach a master level Google will change all the rules. To really learn Search Engine Optimization, you need to get opinions from multiple sources and weigh the conflicts between these professionals. Over the years I have come to respect the work of Search Engine Land and Bruce Clay. Search Engine Land publishes a great Essential Guide to Search Engine Optimization and a Periodic Table of Search Engine Optimization Factors both of which are excellent resources. Bruce Clay is a competitor whose work I have grown to respect. I recommend his blog if you really want to get into the details of Search Engine Optimization. Bruce Clay has been working in Search Engine Optimization since 1996 and I started in 1994 so we are both in the Internet Pioneer Generation. Bruce’s strategy has been Search Engine Optimization first and PPC second, while mine has been the other way around.
The Search Engine Optimization industry has lots of criminals that are pitching the trick of the day or the secret to Search Engine Optimization. Google always figures out the trick of the day and comes down hard on those that dared to violate their sacred algorithm. Google’s corrective action in these cases is swift and harsh and not something you want to experience. There are no secrets in Search Engine Optimization, those that represent that they have one are lying to you. Search Engine Optimization is just hard work, deep thought, solid strategies, and high-quality content generation related to your business.
Search Engine Optimization is an important part of any marketing plan where the Internet matters to your sales. This is a point in the business where language, people, and systems collide and it is messy. However, it is also an opportunity that no business can afford to overlook. Start with a pace that you can keep up forever and you will eventually win the optimization battle.