Search Engine Optimization Demystified

Book cover of Marketing in the Age of Google

I take some pride in knowing a thing or two about search engine optimization (SEO), the fine art of making websites their most visible to Google and other search engines. Using a combination of content and technical strategies, I can help corporations and small businesses maximize their position within normal or “organic” search results, as opposed to those purchased ads found at the very top of a search result page.

Achieving high rankings within organic search results is not only cheaper in the long run, but it is also a much more effective form of online marketing than paid ads and provides a greater return on your investment. According to Vanessa Fox, a former Google executive and author of Marketing in the Age of Google, web searchers click on organic results 85 percent of the time, and organic results are two to six times more visible than paid ones (11). Additionally, while search queries increased 68 percent in the United States in 2009, paid clicks increased only 18 percent during that same time. Clearly, the best return on investment is with organic search results.

Two Sides of SEO

But as a small business owner, what can you do to improve your site’s search engine optimization in the organic realm? As I hinted earlier, there are two sides to search engine optimization — one I’ll call Linguistic SEO, which involves writing your site’s content using select keywords appropriate for your audience, and the other Technical SEO, which is how you code your site and link it to the various search engines. Unless you’re ready to immerse yourself in a geeky cult of priestly complexity, you’re probably better off avoiding Technical SEO, though it wouldn’t hurt to know some basic terms when talking with your web developer. If you already own a website, one way to get up to speed is to use a free SEO audit tool like Waudit or WooRank to discover problems on your site so a professional can help you eliminate them.

Instead of dabbling in the black arts of Technical SEO, concentrate on Linguistic SEO, which involves making sure your site content lines up correctly with your audience and their information needs. In many ways, this type of analysis is no different than traditional forms of marketing or the rhetorical analysis used by ancient Greek rhetoricians to prepare political speeches. But because Linguistic SEO is so closely linked with the technical side of search engines, Linguistic SEO is also quite different in that content must remain focused on relevant keywords that are not only appropriate for your particular audience, but also popular in searches for your particular type of business. If you own a pet store, it helps to know those terms most people use when searching for pet supplies.

InboundWriter: An Easy SEO Tool

There are literally hundreds of tools out on the Web that claim to help you unlock the secret of search engine optimization and keywords, but one of the best tools I’ve found (and one I’d recommend to anyone writing site content) is InboundWriter, which comes in either a web-based app or a WordPress plugin. InboundWriter does two things very well—1) it analyzes existing copy and compares it against a database of popular keywords to reveal those similar to your own text, and 2) it provides real-time feedback on how to position keywords to improve your content’s search engine viability.

But even this relatively simple tool will be worthless unless you build your web marketing strategy on a rock-solid understanding of your target audience. Without that, all the tricks in the book and all the code in the world won’t do you any good. You have to develop extreme empathy with your audience and then always keep in mind how they think, search, and act. Also keep in mind that whatever changes you make on your site, it can take as long as two months to see a visible difference in your search engine rankings. So just be patient.