If you don't invest in SEO, you might find yourself "SOL" in 2012! In my last blog post, I defined SEO and gave you the minimum you should know about optimizing your website's code, structure, onsite content and offsite factors. Today's post is going to give a quick overview of how to choose the best keywords and how to track your success.
Choosing the Right Keywords
Keywords make up the foundation of any SEO campaign, but very few business owners dedicate the time and recources necessary to do it right. Choose the wrong keywords and you'll find yourself with high organic rankings and no website traffic or sales! You can outsource keyword research, but if you run a very small contracting business, you might choose to do things on your own.
Start by brainstorming the keywords you think a prospective customer would use to find you. Ask people that call you what they searched. If you do this, you'll find that your customers think very differently about your product / service than you do!
For example, you might think of yourself as a "design build firm", but very few homeowners search using this phrase (if you get a visit to your website from this phrase, 9/10 times, it's another "design build firm" doing research!). If you're an electrical contractor, you know that most of the people calling to tell you that they "blew a fuse" probably don't even have a fuse to blow! Picking the right keywords means getting into to the mind of your customer... even when they are incorrect!
Adding Structure to the Process
Once you get your initial list of keywords, you're going to need to prioritize them. As mentioned in my previous post, your target keywords should be "mapped" or assigned to the various pages on your website. If you don't have a page for "heavy ups" (not that any one would ever search that!), you should revise an existing page or create a new web page (which is one reason why having your website on a CMS, like Wordpress, is very helpful to SEO). Since you probably don't have time to create web page after web page, choose ~100 target keywords to start.
Choose keywords based on:
Use a spreadsheet and create columns for the keyword, web page (the page on your site it's assigned to), search volume, competition, web conversions and phone conversions. NOTE: When I say "conversions", I'm referring to LEADS. To get search volume and competition, you can either use paid keyword tools (something I don't recommend when you're just getting started) or free tools like Google's Keyword Tool. You really won't be able to get conversion data unless you have accurate tracking set up on your website AND an active pay per click advertising campaign.
If you choose keywords that do not receive a high volume of searches, you won't see a return on your SEO investment. If you choose high search volume keywords that are overly competitive, you may not ever rank for them. If you choose keywords that have a decent search volume and are low enough on the competition scale that you can actually rank for them, you might find yourself with rankings and website traffic, but no leads. This is why figuring out which keywords convert is so important.
Other steps you might want to take when choosing keywords for your website include reviewing the keywords your competitors have used on their websites and using the Google Suggestions feature.
Tracking SEO Results
Better data equals better results. No where is this statement more true than with SEO. Don't make the mistake of relying on your organic rankings to measure the success of your SEO efforts. You may or may not realize this, but the organic rankings you see on your computer are often far differnet from what your prospects see on theirs. Why? Because search engines use your data (unless you turn these features off) to personalize the search results you see!
Because the search results are personalized (and because organic rankings aren't really the goal of SEO), you need to use other metrics to measure your SEO success. At a minimum, this means setting up Google Analytics (and configuring it correctly - fewer than 5% of contractors do this) and integrating it with other tracking tools. Basically, you want to know how many leads - web and phone - you received from organic search.
The amount of traffic you receive from non-branded organic search - people searching for the product/service you offer NOT using your name (i.e. "Baltimore plumber" vs. "Len The Plumber") - and the number of leads (web and phone) you receive from organic search are MUCH better measures of SEO success than improved organic rankings.
Choosing the right keywords and using the right metrics to track your SEO success are critically important, but often overlooked. Everything described above is the minimum you must do. If it sounds time-consuming or complex, read this article (SMBs (small medium sized businesses) consider SEO the single most important marketing channel).
Once you see the return from SEO for yourself, you'll laugh at some of the stuff you hear other business owners saying... things like, "I invested $200 per month in SEO and it didn't do anything to help my business." Statements like this are analogous to a 250lb person saying that exercise did nothing to help them lose weight (then you find out that what they were calling "exercise" was walking five minutes per day!!). Like everything in life - the devil is in the details! Do SEO right and you'll be thanking me forever (if these blog posts contributed to you getting a move on). Do it with little thought or planning and you might as well not do it at all.