seo digital marketing
What is SEO?
Before looking in some detail at the what and why of SEO, it is worth considering the issue from the point of view of the search engines – or at least, those who own and publish them. The operation of a search engine (SE) is a business model in which a service is provided that attracts users to a website, and any site that attracts significant numbers of visitors can sell advertising on that site. To be successful in attracting users, the SE must satisfy the needs of its users. To satisfy them best, the SE must respond to the users’ searches with results that address the problem for which the searcher is seeking an answer. Therefore, for example, if I am having problems with green fly on my roses, entering the phrase “green fly on roses” should return pages that will tell me why it is happening and how I can prevent it.
To present that information, the search engine will look for pages that appear to address the issue raised by the query. They do that by seeking pages that include the words green, fly and rose somewhere in the content or coding (more of this later). Naturally, there will be millions of pages that include the word green. The same goes for fly and rose. If the American gridiron football team the Green Bay Packers reached the Super Bowl with a running back called Rose who has a reputation for flying down the pitch, then it is likely a web page would exist which included all three words but it would have nothing to do with problems with insects in gardens. However, it is reasonable to assume that a genuine web page about problems with aphids and the like on roses will include the words green, fly and roses. Indeed, the title of the page might be Growing Roses, and have a section called Dealing With Pests, and that section will include advice specific to killing green fly. The SE, therefore, will pick such a page as the top result for the searcher.
Following on will be every other web page that has the three searched-for words on them – ranked in order of what the SE decides is most rel- evant to least relevant (on the day this was written, the phrase “green fly on roses” gave 7,030,000 results on Google and 22,400,000 on Bing, and they all led with gardening- based pages (there is a certain irony that the search also returns this example in the second edition of the book as presented on Google Books). Of course, the SE has to deduce in what context the searcher is using the sought words (gardening or gridiron football teams, in the example above), but then the whole issue is far more complex than my simplistic example above.
For many, this aspect of digital marketing is both mysterious and somewhat mystify- ing, not least because (1) it is dependent on some extremely complicated mathematical algorithms, and (2) the term search engine optimization is something of a misnomer – suggesting that it is the search engines that are being optimized, rather than the web pages, and (3) is it the same as search engine marketing (SEM)?
Let’s address these issues in turn: 1. Yes, the algorithms by which the search engines determine their listings are complex (more on them later), but the maths element is all behind the scenes, and the digital marketer need not hold a computer science or engineering degree to practise successful SEO. 2. Though widely known as search engine optimization, the phrase optimizing (your website) for search engines better describes the activity. Essentially, the digital mar- keter is looking to optimize a web page so that it best attracts the search engines. 3. The term search engine marketing is used to describe the wider impact that search engines have on not only digital marketing, but marketing as a whole. In that context, SEO is an element of SEM.
Let’s consider this last issue in more detail. In this chapter, we will look at how a web page can be optimized so that it appears high up in the search engines’ organic listings.
we consider the use of SERPs as a medium for carrying ads (also called paid placement). Both of these issues might be considered to be elements of SEM. It is the ubiquity of search engines and the way in which they encroach into all aspects of online marketing that prompted me to avoid a chapter that concentrates on SEM. Although many might argue, with some validity, that marketing which employs search engines is a sub-discipline of digital marketing and so is a subject in its own right. I disagree, preferring to divide the use of search engines in marketing into two distinct elements:
● search engine optimization (SEO); and ● the use of search engines as a medium for hosting ads – which is covered in the next chapter – and is commonly referred to as search engine advertising. That both rely on keywords and that organic results are listed on the same SERP as paid ads is normally the basis of any argument to include them both under SEM is, I feel, too simplistic a notion. Although the same keywords are the fundamental reason that organic returns and the paid returns appear on the same SERP, the way in which their presence is orchestrated is very different. In a nutshell – though as you will see in this and the I am being simplistic when I say this – the marketer can pay to be top of the ad section, but it is the search engine that decides who is top of the organic listing. It is for this reason that I choose to cover the organic – or natural – search engine optimization in this chapter, and leave the paid advertising aspect for inclusion on the chapter covering online advertising.
Researching your SEO strategy One of the biggest mistakes that marketers make when creating an SEO strategy is to start with the following question: ‘What keywords should we be focusing on?’ This is not a bad question. In fact it is a very good question, but it should never be the first question asked. The starting point for good SEO, as we have discussed more generally, should be creating the goals and objectives for the SEO channel (for example, will SEO be your primary channel?). Once you have covered those basics the next crucial step is a thorough understanding of your customers.
Persona development The best way to do this is to create audience personas. Consider the audience types you have and try to create no more than five distinct personas. This approach will help you considerably when you move to the next step of keyword research.
but it is worth taking a quick look here at how personas apply to SEO. As we have already discussed, personas are a useful way of understanding the per- sonality and potential behaviours of your customers. This becomes useful in SEO (and paid search) in predicting what the user may search for. As we move into the next phase of keyword research (below) this is extremely useful to understand. If, for example, our persona is a woman in her early thirties with a young family who lives in central New York, we can start to understand some of her daily needs. We can be fairly certain that she is time poor and will want things now, so she may use words such as ‘now’ and ‘fast’. She is likely to want something in New York as it is often harder to travel any significant distance in cities than in rural areas, so she may do a lot of searching for ‘in New York’ and other local terms.
She will probably search for children’s products and may also search for helpful tips on parenthood such as ‘how much milk should I give my baby’ or ‘best things to do with kids at the weekend in New York’. She is still young herself though, and so it is likely she will search for babysitters, restaurants and perhaps bars and clubs. She may well buy her groceries online as it is easier than dragging the children around the local store. All of this insight that we can gain from the persona can steer our initial keyword research and we can then use the below process and evolve the campaign over time. Keyword research Having created personas the next job is to start to build your focus keyword list. This might seem daunting, especially as some companies have target keyword lists that run in the thousands. However, if you break down the process into the following steps the process is relatively painless:
● Step 1: create logical segments. ● Step 2: mine your data. ● Step 3: mine secondary data sources. ● Step 4: sense check.
Note that within this section we will use the term ‘keyword’ as a catch-all for search terms. While some searches are just one keyword, increasingly people use natural language and therefore longer phrases.
Step 1: create logical segments Most businesses sell a multitude of products or services, some of which might well be quite diverse. So a good starting point is to split your products/services into logical segments. The good news is that if your site hierarchy is logical you have probably already done this. Then consider each segment in detail. Which are the most valuable to you? How do customer types vary? Which should you prioritize? Step 2: mine your data An obvious step is to mine the data you already have. However, even in the digital world we sometimes go backwards and, sadly, in October 2011 Google implemented changes that mean it is now extremely difficult to work out the keywords or phrases that site visitors used to find a particular site. What used to be simple (check analytics) is now very difficult. This is due to Google removing the keywords returned within Google Analytics and instead simply labelling all SEO traffic as ‘keyword not provided’. This has been a frustration for many digital marketers as knowledge is a crucial part of building any strategy.
However, this SEO cloud may have a silver lining, as ripping keywords directly from analytics could be self-fulfilling prophecy, ie your strategy would be too focused on what you currently rank for rather than what you could rank for. That said, it is worth looking at the data you do have. A good starting point is considering the most visited landing pages as a proxy for user intent. In addition, you may have some data from other search engines, or even historic analytics data, which can help add to the keyword set. But do not just rely on data that is stored in hardware – brainstorming is a great way to quickly start a keyword list. To do this, review each persona and write down the keywords you think they might use. Spend no more than five minutes for each and focus on the simple/more obvious terms. Once completed, remove any duplicates and you will likely have a fairly short list. This is a good thing – these are most likely your ‘halo’ terms, or in other words the terms that are most commonly used and therefore have the potential to drive a lot of traffic. At this stage though you don’t need to worry whether you have nailed all your halo terms, so long as you have a few the others will come out of the woodwork during the following phases. Step 3: mine secondary data sources By this stage you should have established some keywords. The next step is to expand that keyword set. Thankfully there are many third-party tools that can help do this. Rather than offer up a list, simply Google ‘keyword research tool’ or similar for the latest and greatest. Naturally, one of the best is provided by Google itself (as of course it has more data than most), the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. To access this, you will need an Adwords (Google’s paid-search advertising platform) account, but you don’t need to actually advertise to use the tool. Using the tool is fairly self-explanatory, it acts somewhat like a thesaurus offering similar and related terms and, importantly, gives you an idea of the search volume. You will very quickly find that your keyword list has grown substantially. However, the quality of the data you get out is completely dependent on what you put in, so don’t be tempted to skip the previous steps. There are of course other tools, both SEMRush and KeywordTool.io are well-respected alternatives. Step 4: sense check So now you have a big list. The temptation at this stage is to begin, but a sense check is needed. A very common mistake is to focus too heavily on the search volume: while it is important (as you don’t want to pin your business hopes on a term that gets only 10 searches a month) it is only one factor.
Search engine optimization is based around two distinct categories: those that are con-cerned with the website itself, and those that are outside the parameters of the site. In this and the following sections of this chapter, we will look at these two elements in turn, starting with the on-site aspects.
The SE algorithm will consider the placement of the keywords within the web page, so let’s consider some of those placement factors – or at least, what they are perceived to be. To fully appreciate these issues, it is a good idea to put yourself in the place of the search engine. Its aim is to provide the searcher with results that will best satisfy their objectives of making that search. With this in mind, it is necessary to optimize your web pages to help the search engine achieve that objective. The keywords can be placed in two aspects of the website:
(1) that which is visible to the human visitor – its content, and (2) that which is part of the source code of the page and so is visible only to the search engines. Let’s consider them both in turn. The web page content Also known as the body text – because it fits into the source code in the body command – this is the textual content of the website that the visitor will read. Some put forward the argument that this is the most important aspect of SEO, and there is some validity – and sense – in their line of reasoning, which is this. If the search engine is looking to meet the needs of the searcher then the keywords that they use should be an inherent, organic aspect of the site’s textual content. For example, consider this chapter as if it were a web page. Obviously it is about search engine optimization – that is its title. Now consider the keywords you might type into a search box if you were seeking answers to the sort of questions and issues I address in this chapter. I will (almost) guarantee that those key- words appear within my text. Three obvious search terms would be: “search engine optimization”, “SEO” and “keywords”. Now have a quick look to see how many times those three phrases appear on the pages of this chapter. How could I possibly write about the subject area without using those words? And that is the search engines’ view as well – with the contrary also being true, a page that does not include those terms can’t really be about SEO. Having said that, no matter what the benefits of keyword inclusion, you do not want a web page with content that reads something like: Search engine optimization, keywords, SEO are important to keyword, SEO and search engine optimization for web page’s SEO, keywords and search engine optimization. This too contains the keywords, but it makes no sense to the human reader – and the search engine spider also realizes that it is search engine spam (nonsensical content designed to appeal to the search engine). How often the keywords should appear within the text is debatable, though there is evidence that the search engines take frequency into account. For this reason, there is some sense in keeping textual content short – key- words appearing twice in 50 words is a better ratio than four times in 400 words. There would also appear to be an advantage if the keywords are the first words on the page, or at least in the first sentence or paragraph. Once again, however, I refer you to organic content – a web page (or book) about apples would be strange if the word apple wasn’t in the first sentence or two. The source code The argument in favour of including keywords in a web page’s source code is that it helps the search engine spider identify the page’s subject. In reality, with the exception of the page title – on which most agree – search engine optimizers disagree on the valid- ity of this practice. However, given that each entry takes only a few minutes, the invest- ment is not extreme – and as all of the entries should correspond with the actual content of each page it does encourage good content development. The first batch of source code entries are the meta tags. These describe the contents of a web page, and can include status information, the author’s name or the name of the web design company, for example. In the early days of SEO, because the meta tags were there to describe the page, the search engines focused on them. However, they are easy to abuse and, for this reason, the search engines reduced their reliance on them. The excep- tion is the title tag – because it actually appears in the browser (at the very top of the browser window) it is a valid descriptor and so it is abused only by the foolish. Other meta tags include the description and keyword tags. The latter is – it seems – universally ignored by the search engines. The former is also useless in SEO terms, but it is worth consideration as it can appear as the descriptive text for the web page on the SERP. Other places within the source code that may – or may not – be useful for SEO include:
● The alt attribute for an image. These are textual descriptions that appear as an altern- ative (hence alt) for an image. Alt text tells the visually impaired what the image is – a legal requirement in the UK and much of the EU. Once again, the process is an exer- cise in natural SEO. If the image is a picture of the church in Humberston, the alt text should be ‘Humberston church’. Not only does the visually impaired user know what it is, but the SE does also – so anyone searching on “Humberston church” will be pre- sented with the page that features that picture. This is particularly true if the user has searched on the images facility of the search engine. Sadly, many web designers treat both the disabled and search engines with some disdain and simply tag the image as the file name – for example or with nothing at all. ●This is the source code instruction that is used on page or paragraph headers (hence ‘H’) which makes the text bigger and bold. Again, the natural aspect of SEO comes into play. If a website on Manchester United has a section on former players, there is likely to be a page for David Beckham. That page will – naturally – be headed with the player’s name. Consequently the words David Beckham would be in an H1 tag at the top of the page. It is obvious, therefore, that a search engine looking to match a search on “David Beckham” would offer up that page as containing content that is about the footballer. Note that other H tags present the text smaller than H1 – although H2, H3, H4 and so on are not thought to carry the strength of H1 in optimi- zation terms. The same principle applies to the bold command – the notion being that if a word is bolded within a paragraph then it is important to the reader and the subject – so the search engine gives it more credence than other words on the page.
● Hyperlink text.
These will be relevant to the SEO of the page to which they deliver the user. Rather than making a link on, for example, click, or follow this link – which mean nothing to a search engine – keywords should be used as the link text. Continuing the example of a Manchester United website, the former players page would have a link on it to the David Beckham page – if that link is on the words David Beckham, then that is telling the search engine that the target page is, indeed, about that player.
● Part of the technical/design aspect of the website, but not in the source code, is another opportunity for keyword inclusion – the inclusion of keywords in the domain name and directory and file names used on the website. This makes it clear to both humans and search engines what the content of that page is. Although some doubt is laid on the SEO value of these, giving web page files names that match their content seems to be the type of logical practice that search engines favour. My own website is not likely to be about , for example. By the same token, however, having too many slashes (/) in the
The website’s history is something that the optimizer has or has not – there is no oppor-
tunity to change or influence the way the search engines see the past of that site.
However, there is a way around this – though generally, it is suitable only for pure online
businesses or at least those offline businesses that rely heavily on their web presence for
branding or sales leads. This potential solution is to buy either a domain name or a name
that has hosted a site for a long period of time. In the case of the domain name only,
how long a domain has been registered – whether it is used to host a site or not – is part
of the search engine algorithm. Hence, a name registered in 1994 will carry more status
than one registered in 2016. Careful research on any of the hundreds of sites that feature
domain names for sale, or simply checking on the owner of a not-live name or publisher
of a website, and making them an offer may result in not only a name with history, but a
website also. In the case of the latter – though it will cost more – it may even be the case
that the website is already listed in the search engines for keywords that are relevant to
your organization. Obviously, there is a cost involved with buying a name or site, but
that cost should be considered as either a justifiable marketing expense – or even a
prudent capital gain.
Before embarking on any link-building campaign, however, it is worth conducting an
audit of what you have to offer, and how good you are at delivering it. This is for two
reasons. First, it is pointless promoting anything that users will not be impressed with –
they are not going to link to anything that does not in some way benefit them. However,
more importantly, if you offer a good product at a reasonable price and deliver it with
excellent service then satisfied customers will talk about you online – and that will inev-
itably lead to links to your site. Essentially, this is the natural growth of links that search
engines are looking for and value so highly.
Decision time The website’s history is something that the optimizer has or has not – there is no oppor- tunity to change or influence the way the search engines see the past of that site. However, there is a way around this – though generally, it is suitable only for pure online businesses or at least those offline businesses that rely heavily on their web presence for branding or sales leads. This potential solution is to buy either a domain name or a name that has hosted a site for a long period of time. In the case of the domain name only, how long a domain has been registered – whether it is used to host a site or not – is part of the search engine algorithm. Hence, a name registered in 1994 will carry more status than one registered in 2016. Careful research on any of the hundreds of sites that feature domain names for sale, or simply checking on the owner of a not-live name or publisher of a website, and making them an offer may result in not only a name with history, but a website also. In the case of the latter – though it will cost more – it may even be the case that the website is already listed in the search engines for keywords that are relevant to your organization. Obviously, there is a cost involved with buying a name or site, but that cost should be considered as either a justifiable marketing expense – or even a prudent capital gain. Once it has been recognized that link spamming is neither a sound, long-term strategy nor one that any legitimate organization should undertake, link development takes on a role that is akin to the offline practice of networking. That is, you need to get your organ- ization, brand, product and reputation known in the online circles in which your customers move. Before embarking on any link-building campaign, however, it is worth conducting an audit of what you have to offer, and how good you are at delivering it. This is for two reasons. First, it is pointless promoting anything that users will not be impressed with – they are not going to link to anything that does not in some way benefit them. However, more importantly, if you offer a good product at a reasonable price and deliver it with excellent service then satisfied customers will talk about you online – and that will inevitably lead to links to your site. Essentially, this is the natural growth of links that search engines are looking for and value so highly.