If you’re a small business owner, search engine marketing can be intimidating. Search engines change their algorithms for determining placement on a regular basis. Unfortunately, these changes can undo months of hard work. Some seemingly mysterious factors can decide the fate of your site. Will it sit prominently on the first page of search results? Or will it get lost in the murky depths of the back pages? With this brief guide to search engine marketing you’ll be on your way to learning how to structure your content for search engines.
Search Engine Marketing
Search engine marketing (SEM) is complex and can take years to fully master, even for professionals. If you’re working on optimizing your own site, it’s helpful to start by focusing on a few key areas: researching and choosing the right keywords, writing relevant and concise title tags and meta tag descriptions, and understanding how to perform ongoing optimization and maintenance. By learning these three basic search engine marketing best practices you’ll be off to a great start with developing your SEM skill set.
Researching and Choosing the Right Keywords
Keywords are the heart of search engines. In its guidelines for webmasters, Google recommends making web pages for users, aka “real people”, not for a search engine’s spiders. This means writing content in a natural way that people actually want to read. Keywords should be used within copy that flows easily and reads conversationally. Basically, try your best to avoid sounding awkward with your content just for the opportunity to plug in a few more of your keywords.
Keyword research is one of the most valuable activities in search engine marketing. Ranking for the right keywords is critical to the success of your website. The goal is not just to attract a high number of visitors, but to attract the right visitors; those who are in your target audience. Large numbers of poorly targeted visitors waste your time and theirs. Sure, everyone wants to see big traffic numbers. But if it’s not from the right audience, many of your other key measures of success will suffer.
Many (some costly) tools for keyword research exist. A free and easy way to start with conducting your own keyword research is through Google and their AdWords Keyword Planner tool.
Title Tags and Meta Tag Descriptions
In its Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, Google recommends using unique title tags that clearly describe the content on each page of your website. These tags are displayed prominently in blue text within search result listings (see image below). The optimal length for each title tag is around 55 characters and they are placed within the <head> tag in your HTML documents. The title tag is the single most important tag on your website. Failing to optimize it can have a tremendously negative effect on your position in search results. To get great results, don’t overlook this necessary component of your search engine marketing strategy.
Additionally, Google stresses the importance of the “description” meta tag, noting that this tag provides a summary of a page’s content to search engines. Description tags consist of a few sentences; Google’s Webmaster Tools can analyze the content and length. Optimal length for the description is around 155 characters. The description meta tag also goes in the <head> tag in HTML and is important to the success of any search engine marketing strategy because it is highly visible and appears as a preview of a page in search results (grey text in the image above).
Ongoing optimization and maintenance
The process of optimizing your website is never complete. Constant changes to the search engine’s algorithms responsible for determining your sites placement can significantly affect your incoming traffic.
Recent updates make it more important than ever to keep content fresh and relevant to your audience. An effective content strategy includes signs that your site is updated frequently with new content. Additionally, pay attention to social media, especially Google+. Google’s latest update has Google+ playing a more important role than ever in rankings. Immediate areas for focus include tying your content to your Google+ account and working to get “+1” votes of approval from your readers.
There’s a lot that goes in to creating and maintaining an effective search engine marketing strategy. Attaining and keeping favorable positioning in search engines, most importantly Google, is an ongoing process with many moving parts. If you’re working on search engine marketing on your own, it’s smart to begin with the basics: good keywords focusing on the needs of your target audience, a strategic use of specific title and meta tags, and a well articulated plan for linking a consistent stream of fresh content with your social media channels.