Congratulations, you have a website.
But how is it performing? Are people finding it? The right people? How are people finding it? What’s happening when they get there? Are they finding what they need, are they initiating outreach to you, or are they clicking off?
Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical for just about anyone with a website, yet precious few are taking the necessary steps to address it with their sites. I like to compare it to an observation by Mark Twain, who once quipped, “Everyone complains about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.” So it is with SEO.
There are many theories and approaches when it comes to optimizing websites. Though we are confident in our own, this post is not intended to be an examination of SEO methodology. What it is, however, is a beginner’s guide to the questions you must ask before embarking on an SEO campaign — a list of the data you need to collect in order to attack the challenge intelligently and strategically. Suffice it to say, any SEO program that is not ongoing, regenerative and designed to perform against defined metrics will not be successful in the long term.
Step One: Install Google Analytics (or a like traffic analyzer) on your site
You need to have a tool in place to collect, manage, report and analyze the data relative to your website’s performance. You will want to know the answers to critical questions like the following:
HOW ARE VISITORS CURRENTLY FINDING YOUR SITE?
This will help you define what you need to change and will be a key indicator as to the opportunities you are missing by either doing nothing or maintaining your current optimization program. Broadly speaking, visitors will be happening upon your site via:
- Directly entering your website address (URL) – This crowd you’ve already won. No sense preaching to the choir.
- Performing some sort of search query to find it.
- Referring site – Some external (or even internal) site or page that is linking to yours, and that people are clicking.
WHAT’S HAPPENING WHEN THEY GET THERE?
You need to crunch the numbers a bit to see if your site is fulfilling the needs of those who find it via search. You will examine things such as:
- Duration on your site: How long do visitors spend there before clicking off?
- Most popular pages: What do people want more of?
- Bounce rate: At what rate are visitors clicking on your site, then clicking off because it’s not what they were looking for?
- Popular entry pages: Where are they initially landing?
- Popular exit pages: Where and when are they deciding they’ve had enough and move on?
- Click-throughs: Are visitors going deep into your site, beyond the first page they land on? What path are they taking?
- Are they performing your call to action? Are they requesting more info or hitting the Contact Us page?
This data is important not only for search analytics, but also as a way to help you decide what changes, if any, need to be made to the actual content, architecture or navigation of the site itself.
OF THOSE USING SEARCH, WHAT ARE THEY SEARCHING FOR?
The percentage of visitors using search to find your site is probably too low. But apart from that, which search terms are they using to land on your site? Are they searching for:
- Your company name, or some version thereof; or
- A more generic keyword or phrase, such as “detroit pr firm” (in our case)?
An initial look usually reveals that the vast percentage of those visitors using search to find a website are doing so by entering the company’s name into the search box. This is okay, but these are additional members of the choir. Those folks are going to find you whether you have an SEO campaign in place or not (provided your site is even remotely indexable for search.) You don’t need to worry about them.
It’s the second category listed above that you want to win: Web searchers looking for the best possible provider of a product or service, who are starting a search blindly.
WHICH SEARCH TERMS DO YOU WANT THEM TO USE TO FIND YOU?
Of course you want to win searches for your company name, but what are the more generic search terms you want to win? Many companies do not perform the simple and intuitive task of defining the search terms they want to compete for.
- Make a list of the terms you want to win.
- Start with a list of 10-20.
- If you have more, prioritize them and put them into preference tiers.
- Share it with your business development and leadership teams, and even trusted outside viewpoints, such as clients and vendors.
- Get consensus on the list. You can add to it later, but make sure you’re starting off on the right foot.
This may not be the very first search terms your campaign sets out to compete for initially, but it will start to shape the SEO program. For example, if your site is not performing for search at all, and you decide you want to win the keyword phrase “auto insurance” tomorrow, good luck. But you may take that list and start small, then build up what I call the “Holy Grail” search terms, which are the most generic and the most commonly searched. But you have to build up to it. Start with, perhaps, “independent auto insurance agency detroit.”
Step 2: Review, analyze and chart your course.
Only after that crucial first step can phase two commence. You need to know and address your shortcomings before you can embark on a journey to address them.
N.B. This is only a “starter’s kit.” If you’ve gotten this far, the real magic can begin!
I’ll stop here, so we don’t get ahead of ourselves. Because that is the problem most companies are facing.