The six most basic steps to SEO success

I was talking to a few clients on a conference call the other day. I was helping them get their site integrated with Google services and optimize their copy for search crawls. As I was running through various tools like and Google’s Keyword Tool and URL Builder, I could tell that they were a bit frustrated. No one likes to learn new programs, and when you’re starting out with a new website, everything looks like code.

I calmly explained to them that their site was already well-positioned to climb in the search engine rankings. What I was showing them were additional tools and tips to apply each week to generate effective, new content and to strengthen the authority of their old content. They realized the benefit of tracking data and the value of experimenting with more unique keywords, but they felt like they were too far behind the curve to ever catch up to the leaders within their region and industry.

I responded that this is a fantastic time to be entering the market. I truly believe that. It’s never been easier for laymen to manage websites with little to no experience with HTML. It’s easy to get bogged down in the technical details of running a web-based business, but the keys to success are the same as with brick-and-mortar businesses. The most important thing you can do is represent yourself and your products/services as authentically as possible and offer your customers a positive experience.

A new era

We’re entering a new era in marketing where authenticity and personalized service are overtaking convenience and discount pricing as the determining factors in sales.

This is the age of the boutique business. Black Friday is followed by Small Business Saturday almost everywhere. Market leaders and category killers are mimicking their smaller, more nimble competitors. You see it with everything from microbrews to crafts to food trucks. The customer experience is paramount, and happy customers take to social media to spread news of their satisfaction to the four corners of the virtual world. That’s not the kind of advertising you can buy. It has to be earned, and that’s leveled the playing field to a certain extent.

As usual, Google recognized this shift. As a result, they’re changing their search algorithym to penalize sites that are “over-optimized.” As Google’s Matt Cutts recently explained:

The way that I often think about SEO is that it’s like a coach. It’s someone who helps you figure out how to present yourself better. In an ideal world, though, you wouldn’t have to think about presenting yourself and whether search engines can crawl your website, because they’d just be so good that they can figure out how to call through the Flash, how to crawl through the forums, how to crawl through the JavaScript, how to crawl through whatever it is.And, for the most part, most search engines have made a lot of progress on being able to crawl though that richer content.

And the idea is basically to try and level the playing ground a little bit. So all those people who have sort of been doing, for lack of a better word, “over optimization” or “overly” doing their SEO, compared to the people who are just making great content and trying to make a fantastic site, we want to sort of make that playing field a little bit more level.

As you can see, Google is committed to matching searchers with the results that best meet their needs. If you’re new to the marketplace, or if you’ve had trouble establishing yourself thus far, this is a great time to rethink the way you tell the world about what you have to offer and why they should come to you.

Where to start

When people ask me where they should start when it comes to optimizing their site, I usually tell them to follow these six simple rules:

  1. Let efficacy drive your efforts
    The old adage that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure” is as true as it’s ever been. Luckily for you, the tools you need to measure your progress are incredibly effective and, best of all, they’re usually free. If you don’t know what’s working and what’s not with your website and outreach, then how do you expect to get better? Change doesn’t happen on its own. Be diligent and dispassionate about putting numbers to everything. Focus your efforts where they’re working, even if it means following a direction you didn’t anticipate.
  2. Be authentic
    Don’t over-promise or under-deliver. There’s a common, natural desire to present your business as a one-size-fits-all solution to everyone, but too many details often lead to ambiguity. Be honest and direct. Specialize in one thing even if you’re great at many things. Once you get a customer’s attention, you can find out what he/she really wants/needs and establish your credentials all over again in that tangent. The important thing is to draw the customer to you in the first place.
  3. Be concise
    Oftentimes, less is more. Say whatever you have to say in as few words as possible. You might be tempted to go on at length about the features and advantages of your services, but the only thing your customers want to know is how the things you’re selling will benefit their lives. For instance, why would you spend ten minutes or 1000 words telling me about your proprietary process to protect and foster grass seed when all I want to hear is that I can cut you a check and my yard will eventually look better than my neighbor’s?
  4. Be accommodating
    Don’t try to force the sale. Don’t try to trap your visitors. Don’t try to capture information that you don’t really need. People are accustomed to getting information for free. If you hold back information, or ask too much from them, they’ll put up their guard. People operate on “feel” more often than they realize. If most of your customers expect professionalism, then try to come across as professional. If most of your customers expect casualness, then try to come across as casual. But remember to be the same person representing the same, single offering. Don’t try to be everything to everyone or you won’t attract anyone.
  5. Be entertaining
    Successful marketers don’t draw a distinction between education and entertainment. If you can strengthen your message with images and properly authorized media, then don’t be afraid to add it to your arsenal. But remember, you’re looking to get the maximum possible output from the minimal possible input. Less is still more, unless more is more, if that makes any sense. In other words, don’t bloat your message unless you’re adding more value to it. It’s all about finding the right balance. Your traffic analytics should tell you if more is more or if less is more.
  6. Make it easy for your customers to act
    You should treat your website (and your overall marketing strategy) like a funnel. The mouth is as large as you need it to be. Everything else in your plan is working to direct customers from the top of your funnel to the narrow spout. That spout is a contact page, a shopping cart, or whatever call-to-action you’ve established to drive growth. Don’t oversell, but show them where to buy. Why would you make a prospective customer work to give you money? Get out of their way.


Still not convinced?

If you think your situation is different and you need more personalized advice, feel free to contact me and we’ll review your strategy and determine the best way to generate positive results. (See what I did there?)

The six most basic steps to SEO success
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