Are you frustrated trying to bring traffic to your site? Would you like to know how to increase your business’ appearance in search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo? Would you like to better understand what makes a site rank well in search engines? This post will help you understand why your search engine rankings suck, and more importantly what to do about it.
Meet the Three-Legged Stool of Search Engine Optimization
The factors which cause a site to rank well in search are like a three-legged stool. Without any one part of the stool, you’ll spill into an angry mess on the floor.
The three legs are:
- your website
- your content
- your activities on sites other than your own.
Leg #1: A technically correct, well-built website and sitemap
Search engines work by reading the outline of your site’s content in your site’s sitemap. A sitemap is a listing of every page, post, and piece of content on your site, with a link to each one. Search engines then visit those links to read the full content.
If your site doesn’t have a sitemap, or you haven’t yet submitted that sitemap to be indexed, then your site is not being reviewed by search engines and your search engine rankings will suck.
But it’s not enough to simply publish a sitemap. The content that sitemap is reading needs to be structured in such a way that search engines can easily scan it and read it.
Bill, from SMR Digital, says “Just like you would outline a college essay with Heading 1, Heading 1A, Heading 2, Heading 2A… you should outline your blog posts and pages in the same way. You can do this using the Heading tags built in to WordPress. Make sure those headings include the keywords you’d like to rank the article for.”
Remember that search engines don’t have real eyeballs, so they can’t see the images in your content. Give them eyeballs by making sure your images have title and alt tags. Make sure those tags include the keywords you’d like to rank the article for.
Updated 10/13: My friend Amanda, wanted to make sure I clarified the purpose of the image tags mentioned above. Here’s her comment, which says it better than I could!
You write, in reference to how search engines crawl images: “… Give them eyeballs by making sure your images have title and alt tags. Make sure those tags include the keywords you’d like to rank the article for.” What you refer to as the “alt tag,” (properly referred to as the alt attribute), is used to provide image descriptions for both search engines and assistive technologies like screen readers. It also serves as a graceful fallback when a site visitor’s browser cannot load an image, either because of a slow connection or because of a broken image tag. These should not contain the keywords you’re trying to rank an article for unless that keyword makes sense as part of the image’s description, (alternative text, hense alt). For more information on the alt attribute and what it’s used for, see the following from the World Wide Web Consortium, the body responsible for defining the specifications upon which the web is built: information on the alt attribute from W3Schools, andtechniques for meeting WCAG 2.0 success criterion 1.1.1. Regarding the title attribute, see: Using the HTML Title Attribute.
The only thing I would add to what she has said it this: If your images can’t be described using your keywords, then you’re not using the right images. 😉 The images you’re using on your site should fit with the theme of what you’re trying to rank for. If you’re trying to rank for “cute dogs” don’t use an image of a frying pan, because it’s obviously going to be harder to describe the content of that image with the phrase “cute dogs” in a way that makes sense to a real person.
I talk more about how to structure your content here. That link covers much of what you need to shore up on the technical side of things to ensure search engines can read your site. And you can learn how to generate a sitemap for your site, too.
Leg #2: Content written for people, but including the terms you want to rank for
The most important thing to remember about writing for search engines is not to write for search engines. You’re not serving a search engine, and you’re not selling to a search engine. Search engines exist to help people find most authoritative article for the topic they’re searching for. Did you get that? Search engines exist for PEOPLE. So write for real people. Write using the same language and tone you’d use to speak with your best customer. Write content using the same words you’d use if someone at a bar asked, “So, what do you do?”
If you’re an accountant, you don’t only want to write articles filled with the phrase, “Columbus accountant.” You need to also write about, “How do I file my business taxes in Ohio?” “How can I save money on my taxes?” “Is deducting my cat legal?” These longer searches are called, “long tail keywords” and they’re 1) easier to rank for 2) easier to write about and 3) more helpful for your prospect than the “short tail keyword” like “Columbus accountant.”
Yes, people do search for “Columbus accountant.” And yes, you do want and need to rank for that. But when you understand that people are searching for answers to problems that you know how to solve, you’ll begin to write to answer your prospects’ questions. When search engines see that your site delivers answer to the REAL questions of people in your niche are searching for, you’ll be seen as an authority. And in the long run, you’ll do better in search for it.
And while we’re talking about authority, take some time with each post to link to one of your posts, and to an external site. After all, authorities can easily show how one piece of their content relates to another.
Need ideas for blog posts? Here are 73 Types of Blog Posts that are Proven To Work
Leg #3: How and where people interact with you and your content
If you’ve made it this far, your website is technically sound and you’re writing relevant content that matters to people and search engines. Good work!
Don’t get too excited yet, though. This leg is the one I see businesses neglect most often.
Search engines have changed so much over the past ten years. It used to be that your ranking was determined primarily by the content on your site. And that is still extremely important.
But if you remember that a search engine’s job is to return the most authoritative result for given query, then you’ll understand why search engines today also consider how people interact with a site and its content on social networks.
Their goal is to find the authority. If you’re truly the authority you say you are, then surely people are sharing your content on social networks. Surely people are talking about your content on social networks (and on their blogs). Surely you’re talking with people on the internet who have questions about your service. Surely you’re networking with other experts in your field.
Enough with the surelys. You get the picture.
If you’re truly the authority you say you are, then people would be talking about you. And you’d be talking with them.
A real authority doesn’t wall themselves off on their own website. Instead, they’re out trying to share their authority with the very people who are looking for it. Search engines have evolved and now have algorithms to measure this level of interaction and engagement. They use it as one of the factors for how they decide where to rank an article and website.
Are you active on social networks and sharing your authority on websites other than your own? If not, what’s holding you back? Is it because you’re not sure where to find your prospects or customers online? Here’s a great article from Social Media Examiner on how to research and location your audience online.
Where do you get help with SEO?
The three legged stool: the technical structure of your site, the content, and your engagement online. It sound so simple, and in some ways it is.
But knowing is ONLY half the battle. And honestly, I’ve only scratched the surface of what it takes to rank well in search.
Most small businesses and entrepreneurs need help learning how to execute these three areas of SEO. They go searching online for companies to help them rank better, and in return end up with starry-eyed promises of a Page 1, first result ranking in just one month… in exchange for a monthly fee…something like $2500 a month. If you really understood the three legs of this stool, you’d understand why no one business can promise to rank you first in search!
That doesn’t mean you can’t improve your search engine rankings.
You don’t need a $15,000 SEO consultant. You truly can do it yourself, but you need some training first.
The SEO Bootcamp is hosted by my friends Rebecca Gil, Carrie Dils and Cory Miller. It is Jan 11-13, 2017 in Dallas, Texas. You can view the full schedule here. This bootcamp is both high-level education, and nitty gritty execution.
Rebecca crafted her SEO skills as a marketer in enterprise software where she actively competed and won against large organizations like SAP, Oracle, and Microsoft.
Her SEO efforts helped grow her company’s sales 400% in 2 years with the vast majority of these sales coming from her SEO and inbound marketing efforts.
Her experiences spans both B2B and B2c markets with industries ranging from nationally focused such as high tech, manufacturing, and financial companies to local service organizations such as physicians, lawyers, psychologists, and home inspection companies.
This isn’t just theory — you’ll learn the good stuff and apply it to your website on the spot. Rebecca has over 15 years experience in SEO and education. She knows what it takes for a website ranking to stand the test of time, regardless of whatever new algorithm Google comes out with. And the proof’s in the pudding – she’s helped hundreds of businesses drive more web traffic, leads, and revenue — all through better SEO.
With the new business year almost here (crazy, right?!), this is the right time to think about how you plan to invest in and grow your business in 2017. Better search engine rankings mean more leads for your business. More leads mean increased revenues. It’s that simple. If you’re serious about increasing sales for your business in 2017, then you simply must attend the SEO Bootcamp.
If you have any questions about how to rank your site better, or have any questions about the Bootcamp, please feel free to leave your questions in the comments below. If you have a question for Rebecca, Carrie or Cory, you can leave it, too.
PS. You can register for the SEO Bootcamp here.