Using SEO effectively can seem like a headache. Keywords? Links? Content marketing? I’ve been there. If you’re a small business owner, you have enough on your plate, and learning about SEO can seem like more trouble than it’s worth.
But SEO is so much more than a marketing strategy. SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is simply helping Google understand your site so that you can easily connect with people who are already seeking the solutions you offer. It’s a necessary foundation for your brand or business, not an online “trick” that requires endless research.
In fact, according to Search Engine Land, SEO is considered one of the most cost-effective digital marketing practices to grow your business. And, let’s face it — you’ve likely invested hundreds to thousands of dollars on designing your brand and developing your website, but is it worth the investment if no one can find it?
Here are four quick ways you can utilize SEO to find your dream clients and elevate your business in an authentic, non-salesy way.
1. Keep a list of Frequently Asked Questions from your target audience.
Keep an ongoing list of questions that continuously pop up among your target audience. You could find these questions in Facebook Groups, past client consultations, in replies to your email newsletter, or even while taking a class at the gym.
Use these questions for content inspiration. Answer them on an easy-to-access landing page or turn them into blog posts. Pay attention to the specific language your potential clients use and the way the questions are asked. Word questions and your answers in a way that you could see your clients Googling them. If you have Google Analytics set up on your website, you can see which Google searches have led people to your website, and form questions out of those phrases.
2. Take time to use categories and tags effectively.
When it comes to that “tags” box you see when creating a blog post in WordPress, do you fill it with related terms you think of on the fly? Don’t worry; you’re not alone. But it’s time to get organized! Think of categories as the top level, main topics of your blog. Then think of tags as supporting keywords. Choose 5-6 main categories and only a handful of tags for each category. For example, a main category could be “Fitness” and supporting tags could be “muscle recovery,” “at home workout,” and “activewear.”
Metadata is mostly behind-the-scenes data that helps a search engine understand and rank your site. The preview text that appears in search engine results when someone sees your site link is comprised of metadata. Take a few extra minutes to fill in the title tag, meta description and alt tags of your posts. The Yoast SEO plugin makes these updates, and therefore upping your SEO game, much easier.
4. Audit and update your old content.
If you’ve had a blog for more than a few months, chances are you already have a ton of content. In order to make sure your website is working for you, and not the other way around, go through your old content and see which posts and pages could be improved.
Find which posts are your best and make sure they’re properly tagged and categorized. Edit any content that is outdated or no longer relevant. Auditing your content will make sure your site is full of high-quality, valuable content for your readers. For more ideas, check out my post on 50 ways to give an old post new life.
SEO doesn’t have to be so hard
For many solopreneurs, SEO remains an elusive concept that’s just out of reach. But it doesn’t have to be. The four quick tips above are just a few examples of how you can optimize your site for search engines and make it easier for more of your ideal clients to find you.
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There have been so many changes to search engine algorithms over the years that many businesses aren’t able to keep up. For some, what was once a proven keyword strategy becomes a recipe for disaster after stricter SEO codes are put into place. For instance, websites could once get links using techniques such as directory submissions and comments, among other, spammy (read: sneaky and not well-intentioned) techniques that are now frowned upon by Google. Some of these “black-hat” techniques can now even get you penalized.
If there is some confusion about which search metrics are actually important and which can safely be ignored, it’s not just you. The landscape is constantly changing, and those running the show have control — we’re looking at you, Google.
Having said that, it’s clear entrepreneurs who understand the role of SEO and how to use it stand to benefit from higher customer loyalty and increased brand recognition. Here’s what you should and shouldn’t be spending your time on.
1. Take click-through rates (CTR) with a grain of salt
Click-through rates refer to the frequency at which users actually click on a given link compared to how often it is viewed.
The goal is to get people to click because they’re having a positive experience on the site. While actual clicks are harder to generate than views, the figures are measurable. Experts agree that views or impressions are virtually impossible to track and monitor; however, there is mounting evidence that the metric is being used as a ranking factor in natural search engine results pages (SERPs). This effectively pushes popular content toward the top of Google.
What this means for you: While click-through rates might mean more to conversion for a solo business owner (encouraging your visitors to take action), they aren’t as important as views when it comes to search ranking. This means you should be trying to get your content in front of as many eyes as possible and should optimize your content to be easily read by visitors. Keep a clean design and be sure your site is mobile friendly.
2. Broad match terms aren’t worth your time
Over the years, keywords have become the focus of best practices in SEO, and business owners are using them to target their online audiences. However, the nature of keywords continues to evolve.
It’s no longer enough to create broad match keywords for use in pay-per-click ad campaigns or for insertion into blog posts. With the increasing sophistication of search engines and their ability to process queries in ways that a human might, specifics are key.
What this means for you: Make sure the keywords you choose relate to your target audience, are associated with your visitor’s purchase intent (what are they there to do or buy?) and closely resemble what people are typing into search. For example, use detailed keywords like “order running shoes online” or “how to make a green tea smoothie” as opposed to simply “running shoes” or “green tea.”
3. Forget about bounce rates
What is bounce rate, exactly? This is a figure that represents the percentage of single-page sessions on your site (they enter and leave on the same page) and tracks the average time users navigate your pages, factoring in refreshes to avoid a skewed estimate.
In many ways this metric can be said to mirror that of click-through rates, but the most important thing to note is that bounce rates are not considered by search engines in any way, shape or form.
Ultimately, bounce rate is more concerned with the ingrained behaviors of search engine users – such as pogo-sticking — jumping from listing to listing because the first page doesn’t fit your needs. As such, bounce rates rarely have anything to do with your site’s optimization levels.
What this means for you: All that said, your content should still pass the five-second test. In five seconds, visitors will be able to judge your website and determine whether or not they would like to stick around. In those five seconds, they should be able to effectively determine who you are, what products or services you provide, and what value you can offer them. These things are conveyed through your site’s design and copy. If you can communicate these three elements in five seconds or less, you’re on your way to better conversion and ROI.
4. Always question your conversion rates
Conversion rates are the rate at which users convert, or take the action that you’d like them to take — whether that be a newsletter signup, a purchase, a download, or something else entirely. Conversion rates are arguably the most important metric you need to consider, as the more people you can get to spend money through your site’s checkout process, the better. The thing is, there are a number of A/B testing success stories that are reinforcing outdated best practices. What’s best for one company may not be best for you, so you shouldn’t always mimic their success stories and hope for the same results.
It’s important to remember that business isn’t one-size-fits-all, especially when they are operating in different industries or provide different products and/or services. To that end, keep conversion rates in mind, but don’t go overboard in pursuit of them.
What this means for you:Depending on what your goal is, you will need to take action to get your visitors to convert more easily. If your goal is to build your online community through newsletter signups, your focus should be on sharing quality content and making sure your readers have an easy way to sign up. Try having a call-to-action (CTA) at the end of each post, directing your readers to a sign-up form. It’s also a good idea to have one, non-intrusive pop-up for a newsletter sign-up, and to only require the essentials. Rather than requiring them to fill out multiple fields, have the form only include name and email address — or even just the email address. The easier the process is, the more likely they’ll be to convert.
5. Share counts don’t count for much
We all know that social media is the hot topic of the day and there’s a lot of buzz around social sharing. Yet the truth is, it holds very little significance in the grand scheme of your SEO.
There are correlations between the number of shares a website receives and how well it performs, but these figures are too easily inflated, according to McGill University researchers. Their impact is also short-lived, and can’t really influence your ranking for the long-term.
What this means for you: Don’t focus entirely on share counts as a measure of success. Before you can take this metric seriously, you should think about installing powerful analytics tools, provided they’re able to identify and filter out any bots that may be distorting a significant portion of your share counts. (Google Analytics does the majority of this automatically.) Check out the link above to find the tool that’s best suited to you and can help you best track your statistics and use the data to make good choices.
What you can do to improve your business’ SEO
Now that you’re more aware of the pitfalls surrounding some superfluous metrics surrounding SEO practices, you’ll be in a better position to take the necessary steps in growing your business through web traffic and conversions. It takes time to figure out what works for your business and is sustainable for you, solopreneur, but it is certainly worth it.
My friend Joanne is a successful virtual assistant. Her clients adore her and consistently send her referrals. She was counting on her website to bring in new clients as well, but her site wasn’t seeing much traffic.
When I asked her what she does for search engine optimization (SEO), Joanne said:
“I have no problems with SEO. I come up first when I google my business name.”
Ding, ding, ding. SEO myth alert!
Unfortunately, this is a common conundrum for solopreneurs. And it requires a different mode of thinking.
Potential new clients don’t search for your business name because they don’t know who you are (yet).
What do they search for?
Think about the last time you were online. It’s a pretty safe bet you googled something (that might even be how you ended up here). And if you googled something, you were most likely looking for a solution to a problem.
People visit websites because they’re looking for solutions. Even when they’re playing Candy Crush, they’re solving a problem, like boredom or procrastination.
Let’s say I’m a single mom who runs a business from home. I’m struggling to get everything done before my kids get home from school. I could really use a hand, but don’t want the financial commitment of hiring an employee.
A virtual assistant would be a solution to my problem. It would help me get everything done without having to hire an official employee.
Since I’ve never heard of Joanne, I’m not going to search specifically for her business. So what would I search for instead?
virtual assistants in [location]
hiring a virtual assistant
what to look for in a virtual assistant
how to find a virtual assistant
This is where SEO comes in.
SEO is not about showing up first when someone googles your business name. That should happen even if you do nothing to optimize your website for search engines.
SEO is about showing up in google when someone searches for a solution to their problem.
What can Joanne (and you!) do to get found more in Google?
Identify the problems your potential clients are trying to solve. What problems do your side hustle or business solve? Consider what you think they are, and survey current or past clients to find out what they searched for when they found you. Get in the mindset of your ideal client(s) here.
Make a list of phrases they would search for to find solutions to those problems. Based on your own brainstorm as well as survey feedback, construct a list of phrases and keywords that should be strategically used to describe who you are and what you do.
Use those phrases and keywords on your website. Producing great content is the key to pleasing search algorithms, but keyword-stuffing will get you nowhere. Intersperse the phrases and keywords you’ve determined your clients will use strategically, and surround them by valuable, quality content.
By figuring out the problems and solutions her potential clients are searching for, Joanne now has an arsenal of keyword phrases for SEO. She can use those phrases in headlines, sales pages, and blog posts to help potential clients find her online.
Did you fall for this SEO myth as well? Now that you know how people search online, you can fool-proof your website by more effectively optimizing it for search engines.
If you’ve enabled Google Analytics for your website, congrats! You’re a step ahead most. But are you really taking advantage of the full power of the tool to help your business grow?
Good news: there are just three things everyone must do inside of the Google Analytics platform to get the full capabilities, become a more advanced user, and generate more insightful reports. But, they take a bit of know-how. Even better news: I’m here to share that with you now. Grab a cup of coffee and get ready to implement!
1. Set Up Internal Traffic Filters Properly
You check your own website, don’t you? So do your designers, interns, and your mom. We call that “internal traffic.” And it artificially skews your data. The fix? Filter internal traffic out. Basically, anyone who isn’t a customer needs to go!
Just plopping in an exclude IP filter isn’t the best way to do it. Why? Because of this very important tip to remember: when you set up a filter in Google Analytics, you cannot undo the effect it has on your reports.
Let’s remedy that. Instead of setting up a permanent filter, it’s best to create a new view, and leave one main unfiltered view untouched. This unfiltered view will hang out in the background – don’t use it to run reports, but leave it as a backup in case other filters or reports get messed up. It’s a blank slate to return to.
To create a new view:
Click on Admin from the Analytics home
Select your account + property
Use the view drop down menu to create a new view
If you’re creating a new view for your website, select website, name it and then click save
Then, in the new view, add in any exclusion filters you want to get rid of internal traffic. (Truth be told, this step itself could be its own blog post — but luckily, Google has a great resource if you’re stuck here.)
Don’t know what your IP address is? Need to find the IP address of your website team, friends, or parents to filter that “internal traffic” out? Look yours up, and ask your team to do the same, using a super simple IP Address Lookup tool or by Googling “What’s my IP Address?” Then, simply add it to your filter. One stipulation: if you or your team members have a dynamic IP like I do, or use a mobile device to check your website, it gets a bit more tricky but is doable with cookies.
2. Set Up the Right Goals & Tweak Based on Insights
Your website is meant to influence people to do certain things, whether it’s to buy a product, contact you about your services, or even to visit more pages. Goals are the tracking method to determine when people are doing those actions, and can help you figure out what’s preventing people from doing them if they’re not.
But the key isn’t setting them up. The real insight comes from knowing which ones to set up and how to interpret the results.
Consider your website and the intentions behind it. What do you want your visitors to do? Is it easy for them to do this? Are you clearly asking them to do what you want?
Once you’ve set up Goals, generate reports to analyze how visitors are navigating through your website. Built-in tools for this include In-Page Analytics and Behavior Flow, both under Behavior in the sidebar. The In-Page Analytics report shows you a screen shot of your website and tells you where people are clicking to navigate through pages, which can help you tell when things aren’t eye-grabbing or positioned well. Behavior Flow reports on the series of pages visitors go through on your website, including where they drop off and how they navigate.
What path does a person take to complete a Goal? Is it easy? Who drops off where? These kinds of questions can help you make better choices for your website design and content.
Take my own Behavior Flow report for example. Most of my visitors enter my website through my Homepage, then navigate to my About page. Those that don’t exit at that point continue to my main Services page. I could improve my conversions by doing more to keep visitors from dropping off from my About page and use a stronger call to action to make a clearer path to conversion.
What you’ll find is that the best websites constantly analyze this data to find better ways to convert visitors into customers instead of watching customers exit at undesired places. A website is a constant work in progress, remember!
3. Enable Demographics & Interest Reports
How well do you really know your audience? Google Analytics can give you all kinds of information about your audience that can help you gain more insight. Enabling Demographics & Interest Reports will provide information about gender, age, and interests. Do what the pros do: use this info to better target your content and advertisements in appropriate places.
Quick tip: while you’re updating your code, confirm that it’s in the <header> of your website. To do this, you’ll need to look at the source code between the <header> tags of your website using tools like the Web Inspector in Safari. If the code isn’t between the <header> tags, Google Analytics is executing after the page finishes loading instead of immediately. This means if someone visits and your page doesn’t load completely before they navigate away, you’re missing data!
Once you have the reports enabled, you can dig deeper into the data to find out more about your audience. I found that while most of my audience was made up of females between 25-34 as I suspected, my audience was made up of a lot of movie and TV buffs! This insight gave me ideas about content marketing in relation to popular TV shows or movies to attract attention by using relevant examples for them.
You just launched your personal or business blog. Awesome! Now what? Before you get too busy publishing posts, responding to commenters and growing your online presence, please do yourself a favor. Take a deep breath and press the pause button. In order to get your blog wheels rolling and attract thousands of page views each month/week/day(!!), it is essential to give your website a solid technical check. What does this mean? Well simply put, you need to make sure that Google is viewing your website (and its brilliant content) the way that it should- enter Google Webmaster Tools (GWT).
GWT can show you things like:
Which pages on your site are included in Google’s index?
What, if any, errors were found when crawling your site?
What other websites are linking to you?
How many impressions has your website received in the search engine results pages (SERPs)?
In this quick guide, you’ll learn how to get started with Google Webmaster Tools, as well as a few of my favorite features within the tool to help your site flourish.
Set Up Google Webmaster Tools
To get started, visit the Google Webmasters website and sign in with your Google account (or create one). If you already use Google Analytics, Gmail, etc., then you’ve got a Google account and you can use that same login to access Webmaster Tools
Scroll to the bottom of the page and enter in your top-level domain (example: http://www.mydigitalally.com in the case of my site), then press Add a Site
You’ll then be prompted to verify your site. While there are four different options to achieve this, I highly recommend the “Link to Google Analytics” option for the SEO novice. Note that this option requires you to be logged in with the same account as the one you are using for Google Analytics
If you must be difficult, (kidding!) there are other options. You can 1) upload an HTML file to your server, 2) add meta content tag to your <head> tag, or 3) add a DNS record to your domain’s registrar in order to complete the process
Voila! You’re done.
Now you have a Google Webmaster Tools account that is successfully linked to your website. What’s next? On the left-hand side of the GWT dashboard, you’ll see various drop-down buttons that show all of the options available within the suite of tools. I highly recommend perusing all of them, but there’s a catch. Before you make any changes, be sure to do your homework. Long ago, there was a girl that erased all of her analytics data with one naïve, innocent click (and perhaps that girl was me…). Don’t be that girl.
My Favorite GWT Features
Submit an XML Sitemap
By submitting an XML Sitemap, you are directly telling Google which pages you want them to index. There are tons of resources available to help you create an XML Sitemap. If you’re using WordPress, I recommend Google XML Sitemaps.
Set a Preferred Domain
You may notice that a lot of websites choose to prefix their domain with “www” while many others do not. What should you do? There is no golden rule for choosing to utilize the www prefix or not. However, you must choose one and stick to it. Because http://www.domain.com is technically a sub domain of domain.com, the engines may see these URLs as two different pages and thus split your rankings. You should institute a 301-redirect to whichever version you prefer from the non-preferred version (if it’s not done automatically – thank you WordPress!) and then select your preferred domain structure in Google Webmaster Tools as seen below:
The Fetch as Google feature is perhaps my favorite tool within GWT. Originally created in 2011, I regularly use the Fetch feature for two very different purposes:
1. Troubleshooting a page. As Google puts it, “The Fetch as Google tool lets you see a page as Google sees it. This is particularly useful if you’re troubleshooting a page’s poor performance in search results. For example, if you use rich media files to display content, the page returned by the tool may not contain this content if Google can’t crawl it effectively.”
2. When I publish a time-sensitive post. After fetching a page, you have the option to submit it to the index. When I’ve just written a post that is timely in nature – about a news event, upcoming festival, etc., it’s important to get traffic as soon as possible. If Google doesn’t re-crawl your site for a few days, you may just miss the boat. Using Fetch, you can tell Google right away that you have new content that searchers will be interested in reading. I recently used this in the case of my review of the Dove Real Beauty Sketch Ad, as seen below:
Time to go become a webmaster! May the force be with you!