Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 1

Search engine marketing should be a staple in your online marketing strategy. It is cost effective and it works! Some businesses rely heavily on the customers acquired through search engine traffic to make their money, which is why there was such a big uproar recently when Google made some “changes.”

Over the next several newsletters we are going to cover the topic of search engine marketing. We are going to look at selecting targeted keywords, the process of optimizing your Web site for the major search engines, how to submit your site to the search engines and directories, paid placement campaigns, and everything in between. We will also look at common mistakes to avoid when optimizing your Web site.

We recently addressed Link Popularity. A strong links strategy is a very important factor in the search engine placement equation and if you are not familiar with the topic I recommend reading about it here.

Our series of search engine marketing newsletters are not going to get too technical or bogged down in statistics – you will just receive the fundamentals to get you started. Search engine placement is an ongoing process with tactics that change on a regular basis. Once you know the basics you will be in a much better position to hone your skills and keep up to date with the latest trends.

We begin our coverage of search engine marketing by looking at the different techniques you can follow to generate a master keyword list for your optimization efforts.

Tips & Techniques

The first step of natural search engine optimization is to select the right keywords for your business, products/services (including descriptive words), and your target market. Understand who you are targeting and build your search engine optimization efforts around your audience.

Keywords are the terms and phrases that your target market uses when searching for the products and services you sell in the major search engines and directories. Your keywords will be used in everything you do and are the key determining factor in how you rank in the search results among many of the major search engines.

You need to choose keyword phrases that are going to bring sustainable targeted traffic consisting of potential customers. If you simply go after general traffic then you can end up with a lot of traffic that never leads to any business. Bottom line; never target keywords that are not related to your Web site or are simply too generic. What you may think is the perfect keyword phrase may not be used at all by your target market in their search queries, which is why it is so critical to research and validate your keywords. People do not think in terms of marketing department ‘hype’ words; they use what comes top of mind. Ideally, each page of your Web site is going to focus on a different set of keywords that are specific to the content at hand. If you were to focus on the same set of keywords on every page then you will only ever hit one small portion of your market potential because you are only ever going to hit those same keywords over and over again – it is self-defeating. As a guide you will want to target somewhere between 2 and 5 keyword phrases per page, but no more than that. What we want to do first is gather a big list of all possible keyword phrases. To make the data easier to manage you can create different keyword list profiles that represent individual topics as opposed to trying to cover all topics in a giant master list. For example, if you had two product lines then you could create a keyword list for each product line. Naturally, some keywords will be shared across the lists, but it is important to understand that the people looking for one topic (e.g. Jobs) are not necessarily the same people looking for another topic (e.g. Autos) and as such they are going to use different keyword combinations in their searches. How do you create your master keywords list? Here are 4 solid techniques for generating a list of potential keyword phrases:
  1. Brainstorming and Surveying,

  2. Review Competing and Industry Leading Web Sites,

  3. Assess your Web Site Traffic Logs, and

  4. Deploy Keyword Suggestion and Evaluation Tools
The idea is to gather all the keyword phrases you can within reason at this stage. We will worry about funnelling the list down later.

Be sure to record the keywords you gather in a text document in your word-processing program or in a spreadsheet. Including them in a spreadsheet or database of sorts makes them much easier to manipulate and sort when it comes time to prioritize the keywords and weed out dead weight.

As you work your way through the list of techniques you will want to cycle back to some of the techniques because you will come across search terms that can expand the scope of your original efforts and open the door to new, more targeted phrases that you might have missed the first time around.

Brainstorming and Surveying: Sit down with a pen and paper to jot down all keywords that come to mind. Bringing other members of your team in on this process can fuel some great ideas. There is nothing scientific or technical to be concerned with here – sky’s the limit, but try to put yourself in your customer’s shoes.

Try to think as your target market would if they were to do a search for information on a topic contained within your site. Do not just think about what people would do to find your site, but what they would do if they didn’t know your company existed and were looking for the types of products and services you sell.

Here are several questions to help you with your brainstorming process:
  1. What industry are you in (e.g. travel)?

  2. What is the focus of your Web site (e.g. a resource, a guide, a store)? What would people search for if they were looking for a Web site like yours?

  3. If your customer were to take a guess at your Web address, what would it be? Remember, they do not know who you are, but they know what kind of products/services they are looking for.

  4. What products and services do you sell? What are some of the descriptive words or benefits of your products/services that might be familiar to your target market? For example, if your site offers information on resort spas then one descriptive keyword you might choose could be “massage.” Also, include words that describe the benefits of these services or the service in more detail such as “massage therapy” and “fully body massage.”

  5. Are there any regional or geographic implications to consider? For example, there could be spelling differences to account for. In the United States the target market might look for “color laser printer” and in Canada the target market might look for “colour laser printer.” Depending on the audience you are trying to communicate with you will need to tailor keyword phrases accordingly. Also, people will typically blend a destination or major landmark with their keyword search. If you are going to Dallas you are going to look for “Dallas Hotels” not just “hotels.”

Your current corporate materials, brochures, and other marketing collateral can be a valuable source of keyword phrases. Begin by indiscriminately highlighting any words that people might search on if they are looking for products or services your company has to offer.

To assist you in developing your keyword list consider asking your customers for their input. Ask what keywords they would use to find a site like yours. You can always turn to a thesaurus for additional ideas if you get stumped as well.

Review Competing and Industry Leading Web Sites: Check out your online competition. The term “competition” is referenced quite loosely in that industry leaders who you may not compete directly with are also included here. Look at the sites you have a record of and look for sites in the major search engines using some of the keyword phrases you have gathered so far.

You want to see what sites are in the top 20 positions and understand them. By reviewing top ranking Web sites you can look for themes and patterns in the sites that will give you a good indication of what they are going after and how they are doing it. You can then turn around and apply this newfound knowledge to your own Web site.

When reviewing competing Web sites you should look at the same general areas you would optimize on your own Web site. The most critical keyword placement areas include:
  • Page titles
  • Header tags
  • Alt tags
  • Keyword meta-tags
  • Description meta-tags
  • Hyperlinks and the page content surround hyperlinks
  • Textual page content information – beginning, middle, and end
  • Between the "NOFRAMES" tag of framed Web sites
Page titles and text-based page content are the most important of the noted placement areas. Keywords meta-tags are not used so much anymore, but are still applicable and can be referenced to locate keyword phrases for your master list.

To check your competition’s meta-tags in Microsoft Internet Explorer you simply go to their site, then click on “View” from your menu bar and select “Source” from the drop-down menu. This will bring up the source code for that respective page in whatever your default text browser is. For most people this will be Notepad. Looking for the same information in Netscape is just as easy. From the menu bar select “View” and then select “Page Source” from the drop-down menu.

The best recommendation is to Test, test, test!

You can get a good idea of what works and what does not by getting Yahoo!, Hotmail, and AOL accounts and test sending your newsletter or emails to those accounts. Also, test your emails in popular email browsers such as Outlook and Eudora. Play around with their spam filter settings and see how that affects the deliverability of your messages.

Not only can you learn from the sites that catch your eye, you can also learn from your competitors’ mistakes.

Assess your Web Site Traffic Logs:
Your Web site traffic logs can be a source of pertinent keyword information. You can view your traffic logs to see what search terms and search engines people are using to locate your Web site and to monitor the progress of future search engine optimization efforts.

If you are not sure whether or not you have access to a Web site traffic analysis program check with your current Web site host to see if they provide one to you. If not, there are plenty of tools available to you, some of which are included in the resource section of this newsletter.

.It is important to note that the search terms displayed may not be the most relevant; they just happen to be the search terms people are executing to find your site during the selected timeframe. Applying new search engine optimization techniques with relevant keywords will change how people find your Web site.

Regardless, your traffic logs can be a source of inspiration for generating your master keyword list. Note the search terms people are currently using and add them to your list. For a more complete look at the search phrases reported on your Web site change the date range to cover a larger spread.

When your site is optimized your Web traffic analysis tool will become your best friend in monitoring your success.

Next issue we will look at keyword suggestion and evaluation tools. Much of the time you spend researching and choosing keyword phrases for your Web site will be spent in helpful tools such as WordTracker.From there we will look at filtering your keyword list along with the guidelines for selecting appropriate keywords.


Tools & Resources 

At this stage in the game there are not many tools and resources you need. A good head on your shoulders and access to your favorite spreadsheet program are all you really need to get started. Here is a collection of a few resources for locating potential online competitors via search engines and Web traffic analysis tools, should you need them.

Search Engine and Directory Guides:

Hang on to these guides. They will be useful for locating search engines and directories when it comes time to submit your Web site.

Web Traffic Analysis Tools You can view more Web traffic analysis tools on my Web site.

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