By now, I've shed some light on how Google ranks the millions of sites on the Web. As a business owner or marketer, you are on a constant quest to gain Google's trust. And on your quest, you will need to keep exactly five factors in mind. I call them the five ingredients of successful SEO. You already know the most important one: links (the very currency of trust in Google's eyes). The others are keyword selection, meta page title, URL structure, and time. Even if those terms sound like jabberwocky to you right now, I promise they'll be second nature by the time you finish this chapter.
Before we get started, I want to make sure you understand a few basic vocabulary terms that will make your reading of this chapter much easier:
- Keywords—Keywords, or search terms (these expressions are interchangeable), are the words that are typed into search engines such as Google.
- Inbound links—As Google is analyzing its vast database of websites, trying to determine which ones to select as the 10 final, first-page contestants, it puts a high price tag on what's known in the industry as inbound links. Inbound links are links from other websites that point to your website, which hopefully result in your site gaining Google's trust.
- TrustRank—We know from the preceding chapter that the more links your site receives from other trusted websites, the higher its TrustRank will be, and therefore the higher its likelihood of showing up at the top of the search results. TrustRank is one of the two main factors Google uses to determine which results to show on the first page for a search.
- Meta page title—A meta page title, the other main factor used by Google to determine which results to show on the first page for a search, basically is a short description of what your site is about, which people who program websites put into a special area of the website code. It is like the headline of a newspaper. There is a different meta page title for every page on your site, and Google pays special attention to it.
- URL—A uniform resource locator (URL) is the same thing as a domain name, or a web address. It's the http://www.example.com that you type in when you want to visit a website.
Ingredient One: Keyword Selection
Now that you understand some of the basic terminology and concepts behind ranking, let's get down to the nitty-gritty of keyword selection. Selecting your search terms (or keywords) is not difficult. All you do is think about what you would like people to type into Google to make your website pop up. For example, I would like it if my personal website, http://www.evanbailyn.com, were the first result when someone typed in Who is the handsomest man on earth? This would cause people to believe that I am considered the handsomest man on earth. Why? Because Google says so! People put a lot of trust in Google's rankings.
If I managed the website for a personal injury law firm in New York, I would want that website to show up when someone types in personal injury lawyer new york. How did I choose that search phrase? I just thought about it for two seconds and decided that people would probably type it in if they were looking for a personal injury lawyer in New York.
Those phrases, who is the handsomest man on earth? and personal injury lawyer new york, are keyword phrases. I chose them because they seemed like the best searches to bring new visitors to the two websites in question for their respective purposes.
Of course, there are more scientific methods for choosing keywords in addition to the "think about it for two seconds" method. Here they are.
Take an Informal Survey
Ask your friends what they would type into Google if they were looking for the product or service your company sells. If you own a website that sells shampoo for people with dry hair, ask people around you: What would you type into Google if you want to find a new moisturizing shampoo? Their answers might be as general as buy shampoo, or they might specifically search for dry hair shampoo, or they might start with some research and type, what are the best shampoos for dry hair? These are three very different keyword phrases, and it is invaluable to know which of them most people would type so that you can set your strategy.
Use the Google AdWords Keyword Tool
This free tool is the de facto standard for keyword selection in the SEO world (see Figure 2.1). It shows global and local statistics of how many people are searching for the keywords you enter, along with a list of related terms and their search volumes. You can access the tool directly using this link: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. Without a doubt, bookmark this tool for future use.
Figure 2.1 The Google AdWords Keyword Tool. Always change the default Broad match type to Exact.
Capitalize on Competitors' Work
Your competitors have probably already spent a lot of time and energy doing research on the keywords that make them the most money. Why not take a few seconds and avail yourself of all that work? To do so, simply type into Google what you believe to be your main keyword, and look at the blue underlined heading of each of the 10 results that subsequently appear. The keywords you find in those headings are probably the ones that your competitors have determined make the biggest difference to their bottom lines. Why do I say that? Well, first of all, to have gotten into the top 10 results for your main keyword, your competitors are definitely doing something right, SEO-wise, so it's reasonable to assume they know a thing or two about keyword selection. Second, one of the oldest rules in SEO is that you put your main keywords into your meta page title, which Google ports directly into your site's blue underlined heading whenever your site appears as a search result.
So let's say I sell gift baskets. Is the right keyword for me gift baskets? Perhaps it's gift basket as a singular. Or perhaps it's order gift baskets online. I'm not sure, but I'm going to see what my competitors think by typing gift baskets into Google (see Figure 2.2).
Figure 2.2 Don't overlook what you can learn about the keywords your competitors deem important.
After a quick glance at the headings of these results, I can immediately see that my competitors believe the keyword gourmet gift baskets is a lucrative one. Two out of the top four websites have the keyword gourmet in their headings or descriptions. So I will now add it to the list of keywords I want to optimize for my gift baskets company. It also seems that my competitors like birthday gift baskets, food gift baskets, and wine gift baskets. All three of these keyword phrases will be considered because I know from looking at these websites that they have put a lot of work into their companies, so they probably have a good sense of which keywords deliver the most new sales.
Another somewhat sneakier and more awesome way of capitalizing on your competitors' hard work is using free traffic measurement services to spy on the keywords for which your competitors are already ranking. I used to think that this kind of tool couldn't possibly exist because only I have access to my internal traffic logs and therefore know which search keywords bring my site the most traffic, but then I tried running the tool against my own site and found that it was about 90% accurate.
The best free keyword-spying tool is Alexa. Go to http://www.alexa.com, type in a competitor's website, click the Get Details button, and then click the Search Analytics tab. On the right side, you will see Top Queries From Search Traffic (see Figure 2.3).
Figure 2.3 Alexa.com's Search Analytics report for imdb.com, showing the top keywords delivering traffic to IMDB.
Using Alexa or other free keyword-spying tools is one surefire way to know which keywords are actually delivering traffic to your competitors. The keywords from which they receive traffic might be the best keywords for you; however, keep in mind that just because a keyword delivers traffic to a site doesn't mean it delivers new sales to a site. If there were a New Sales Spying Tool out there, it would be quite popular. However, the next best thing to a New Sales Spying Tool is a pay-per-click campaign.
Spend a Few Bucks on a Pay-Per-Click Campaign
There is no better way to understand the effect of your website showing up on the first page for a particular keyword than instantly getting it to the first page and seeing how many sales you make from it. This is essentially what you can do with a Google AdWords campaign (http://www.google.com/ads/adwords/). For a few hundred dollars, you can get your website to show up above the regular (organic) search results, in the shaded Sponsored Results area. While the sponsored results are less trusted by the average searcher than the organic results, there are definite advantages to spearheading an SEO effort with a brief Google AdWords campaign.
The most significant benefit of running a paid campaign on Google is that you can quickly learn which keywords produce the most sales for you. In the keyword selection process, this knowledge is invaluable. Not only can you try out the couple of keywords you think would bring the most benefit to your business, you can try out hundreds of keywords at once and not pay unless someone clicks your ad. In doing so, you might stumble upon the fact that the plural of your main keyword performs much better than the singular; one of your three most obvious keywords outperforms the other two by a wide margin; or some random keyword you never would have thought of is a sleeper, producing numerous sales.
When you gain a better understanding of your best-performing keywords, you can gradually wean yourself off the expensive Google AdWords system and focus on SEO (although there is nothing wrong with keeping a pay-per-click campaign running at the same time as doing SEO, as long as you are carefully watching the campaign to make sure you are making more money than you are spending). Google AdWords can work very well for targeting the lesser-searched keywords in your industry because of the rule that you pay only when someone clicks. I have some clients that use paid search only for those lesser-searched keywords and focus their entire SEO efforts on the three or four big keywords that bring in the most sales; this approach generally works well. I give a full tutorial on how to start a Google AdWords campaign to complement your SEO campaign in Chapter 6, "Google Adwords as a Complement to SEO."