Two Sides of SEO
The technical points of search engine optimization are important—but don't ignore the personal side
by Dennis Olsen

In October's article (read it here), I provided you with a checklist of 16 components for your store's digital marketing strategy to evaluate your ability to pull in more traffic and drive cash sales to combat the effects of competitive bidding. Have you checked off all 16?

If you are like a lot of providers, the list may have seemed a little overwhelming. That is why we are slowing things down a bit this month and concentrating on one element of your digital marketing strategy that cannot be ignored—search engine optimization (SEO).

There are two sides to the SEO coin. On one side are the more technical aspects—meta data, keywords, alt tags—that are probably Greek to you, but are a crucial component to helping your site rank well in search.

We will touch a little on technical points of SEO throughout this article to guide you in a conversation with your technology vendor, but my goal is to help you gain an understanding of the more human side of the SEO coin.

You want to attract real-live human beings in your local community to your website and help them make the decision to either come into your store or to buy from you directly on your e-commerce website.

The best part? Search engines recognize websites that offer site visitors a great user experience and reward good content with higher search rankings.

So, what do you need to do to optimize the content on your website for search? It starts, but definitely does not end, with an effective keyword strategy.

Develop a Keyword Strategy

Keywords are short- or long-tailed groups of words used by search engines to locate current and relevant websites. Long-tail keywords are descriptive phrases of three or more words while short-tail keywords are broader in nature. As a result, short-tail keywords are the foundation of your website's identity, but long-tail keywords are what turn interested shoppers into paying customers.

Short-tail example: CPAP

Long-tail example: CPAP

Masks in Orlando, Florida

The more descriptive the long-tail keyword, the less search competition it has—resulting in a high search engine page ranking for your website. Another added benefit of long-tail keywords is that they yield 2.5 times higher conversion rates than short-tail keywords according to a study. Why? Buyers who use long-tail keywords know exactly what they are looking for.

That said, make sure you build long-tail keywords focused on descriptive searches within your website content to improve your search engine ranking and drive high-caliber local prospects to your website.

Here is your keyword homework: Do a little brainstorming to generate a list of at least 25 keywords you think your website should rank for on Google. Take that list to Google's Keyword Planner. You will need to login or sign up for Google AdWords to use the tool. The best keywords rate medium to low in the competition column and have a high number of Local Monthly Searches. Throw out keywords with high competition and/or low Local Monthly Searches.

With your newly generated keyword list, review your existing website content and insert your keywords as naturally as possible. Add the keywords not only to your main website content but also in your page titles, image alt-tags, links and social media posts. If you have no idea what I am talking about, do not fret—ask your website vendor for some guidance on how to implement keywords into your technical SEO strategy.

Just like all SEO work, developing your keywords and utilizing them in your content is not a one-and-done proposition; revisit your list of keywords on a regular basis to ensure you are still optimizing for keywords that will deliver results.

Publish Quality Content

Search engines reward websites with new and fresh content that match users' keyword searches. That does not mean you need to completely overhaul your website content every week, but you do need to be sure that you are regularly publishing relevant content.

Here is where to start:

  • Ensure the products you stock in your store are fully reflected on your website. If you work with an industry-specific website provider, much of this otherwise time-consuming work can be automated.
  • Update the content key pages such as Home and About Us a few times a year to reflect the changes in your business.
  • Make on-going edits to your events, coupons and promotional pages.
  • Create a list of 52 blog topics, and set a reminder to write and post one blog a week.
  • Take advantage of your updated website and blog content to create relevant social media posts.
  • Set up alerts to monitor ratings and reviews so you can be responsive to both positive and negative reviews.

You always want to write for the user first, then for the search engines. Search engines do not become paying customers or share your content online, readers do.

Think Locally

According to a recent study, consumers will travel an average of 17 minutes from their location to reach a local business. Many small business owners errantly cast their net too broadly and miss out on the opportunities available in local search.

One of the primary benefits of local SEO is, compared to the national stage, there are fewer local competitors that offer similar products and services. However, just because your store is in close proximity to your prospective customers does not mean you automatically rank highly in local search queries. You need to localize your website content to inform search engines of your location.

Each page of your website should include your business name, address and phone number. When writing your About Us page, describe in detail where you are located and what nearby communities you regularly serve. Over time your local SEO reach will expand based on the neighboring cities if you include them within your site content.

Get Link Building

Inbound links are third-party website links that direct visitors to your website. These links quickly and easily drive visitors to your site while establishing credibility and increasing SEO.

Links from one website to another produce strong referrals. Just as if you were to recommend a local diner to a friend, websites use inbound links to refer their visitors to other useful websites, trusting the recommendation will provide additional information their visitors may be seeking.

However, not all inbound links are created equal. An inbound link from a highly trusted and often visited website will produce more traffic than from a dated blog post.

When your website receives inbound links from credible third-party websites, your search engine ranking improves. Why? Simple—the goal of a search engine is to rank the most relevant content at the top, so users can find it. When your website receives inbound links from other credible sources, search engines gain trust that your website content is providing useful information, resulting in a higher ranking.

Call Your Geek Squad

Is your website mobile optimized? Does your site incorporate many of the page optimization techniques that have been mentioned in past editions of this article, including the use of page titles, meta tags, header tags, keywords, alt tags and more? Have I lost you in the jargon?

This is where things can get a bit complex. To ensure your site's technical SEO is optimized, I recommend turning to the experts at your website provider to gain a clear understanding of how to incorporate these elements into your site's pages. Most industry-specific website platforms come with built-in SEO optimization tools. Talk to your provider to ensure you have the tools you need to help you maximize your site's search engine ranking. While a little expert guidance is key to ensuring you get the most out of the technical aspects of SEO, you can master the basic principles on your own by executing some of the strategies I have covered in this article. By implementing a content optimization strategy, you will see a boost in your search engine ranking and in-bound links from search over time.

This article is the eleventh of a 12-part series on digital sales and marketing. Each segment focuses on online solutions and provides the insight and resources necessary to be successful in this area of business. Read the other articles in the series here.

A few to-dos to help build links:

  • Claim your local directory listings. More than 50 percent of online directory listings are incorrect. Start by claiming and updating your business listings on Google Places for Business, Bing Places for Business, Yahoo Local and any additional relevant local listings. (There are more than 60 in the U.S. alone!)
  • Post on another website. Find another local business in your community that will allow you to post guest articles or blogs on their website. A great place to reach out is to a local newspaper or publication. These organizations are credible and always looking for community-based businesses to feature.
  • Sponsor local events and charities. Not only is this a great way for you to gain additional exposure within your community, but most often local charities will also provide sponsor information on their website.
  • Avoid link farming. While building up your inbound links, always stay away from link farms, websites that are created solely for stuffing inbound links and websites that charge you for posting links on their site. Search engines know this game and will penalize your ranking if they find your website partakes in these practices.