SEO For 2013 & Beyond: SEO Made Simple For Beginners (2013)
Chapter 2. PLANNING SEO FOR YOUR WEB BUSINESS
Understanding Your Web Business
For the sake of brevity, let me consider that your web business is one that has one or more websites meant to bring in web traffic in order to sustain and grow your business. A web business can be fully online where all the transfers of goods/services/money happen on the web with no involvement of any physical delivery.
There can also be partially-online web business where requirements are conveyed on the web, but the order fulfillment is done by actual delivery of goods or services.
In this case, the exchange of money can take place either on the web (e.g. buying a book as in Amazon’s website), or physically (e.g. cash-on-delivery orders as in eBay auctions). In either case the website has to play the important role to attract and retain visitors, many of whom may convert to paying customers.
Prof Michael Rappa of the North Carolina State University has in this article2.1 listed 9 basic categories of business models on the web. He says:
In the most basic sense, a business model is the method of doing business by which a company can sustain itself -- that is, generate revenue. The business model spells out how a company makes money by specifying where it is positioned in the value chain.
The 9 web business models according to him are:
5. Manufacturer (Direct)
Each business model has many sub-categories. For example, the Merchant model has 4 categories under it – Virtual Merchant, Catalog Merchant, Click and Mortar, and Bit Vendor. One of these in the long list will likely be the one similar to your web business.
Though Prof Rappa’s list is essentially US-based, the same concept will to a large extent apply elsewhere too.
Essentially then the first steps are to know:
1. the nature of your web business, so that you know
2. who your target customers are, and
3. how you plan to approach them.
When you have the answers to these 3 questions it will be easier to plan and structure your website in details.
What Really Matters
Like any brick and mortar business, your web business has to have a proper identity of its own. This is the most basic of all the planning you do for your web business. An average visitor to your website should at the first glance know what your business is about.
Many people believe that once your business has a website, it will succeed. This is not true, and if you apply your mind for a while you’ll realize it is not true. Let me explain.
Let us suppose that by merely having a website your business succeeds. In that case other businesses – your competitors – can and will follow the same method since making a website is so easy these days.
Eventually, in a short time you’ll discover that the visitors’ ‘attention span’ you are targeting is cluttered with many players, each vying for the same pie as you.
Evidently therefore, just to have a website does nothing to help your business unless you do something to your website that makes it get noticed in the clutter, thereby attracting larger share of eyeballs among interested web visitors.
For this to happen, your website needs to stand out amid the crowd of competition. How can you do this?
An easy way can be if you announce a ‘gift for visit’ scheme for your website. You will likely get lots of visitors in a short time to your website. Many of them will come only for the gift, with scant attention for the rest of your website. In the end you may find you’ve given away much more compared to what you’ve gained from the scheme.
Well, there has to be better ways to get ‘qualified’ traffic to your website. We’ll come to more specifics later in the book, but suffice it to say that a major factor in the success of your web business is how well your website is optimized for both the visitors and the search engines.
Connecting Business with SEO
SEO – we discussed before – is one of the ways to market your website. Very well! But pray consider…whatever would you be marketing if you don’t have something to offer in your website to get something in return?
So, willy-nilly, it is the consideration for business that you want to do SEO to your website. The consideration could be selling a product or service or collecting email addresses of the visitors who come to your website in exchange for a free e-book or something similar.
Business and SEO are kind of complementary to each other. Performance of SEO is directly related to the performance of website & performance of business. This is important. Why?
Suppose a website offers snow-jackets to the people in the desert. Do you think the business will succeed? No chance really…even if the SEO has been done well. Then again, if a website is ugly or flash-only site, no amount of SEO is likely to help the business.
So, when is SEO best for a business?
Here are some indicators:
1. Your product is relevant & has demand in your target market.
2. Your website is designed well with an eye on usability.
3. Your website has a system of adding fresh, targeted, relevant contents.
4. Your website has strategically located landing pages or squeeze pages to attract & organize flow of traffic.
5. Your website does not follow wrong, dubious, unproven SEO strategy.
6. Your website’s performances are measurable for some basic parameters.
7. You have patience to watch SEO work bit by bit, and acknowledge that unlike other marketing, SEO does not give results immediately.
8. And finally, you are ready to be in touch with the latest SEO happenings since web marketing is constantly changing.
Many of these points may not make sense right now. But they are covered later in the book.
Planning For Long Term
When I joined my first job in a large oil company in India I used to marvel at the time and effort being spent for determining the 10-years and 15-years growth strategies to be followed by the company.
I felt there was no need for this because you never really know what is going to happen 10 or 15 years hence.
I was naïve those days, and though I later realized that 10 or 15 years is perhaps too long a time to plan in advance (in some cases proving counter-productive), I also concluded that a business may turn out fragile during crisis if it doesn’t have some sort of long term planning, usually for the coming 3 to 5 years.
For a web business, the long term planning will take care of the matching growth of both the business and the website so that ideally neither lags behind the other at any point in time.
According to Jeremiah Owyang2.2, there is a need for web strategy for every website, and that a web strategist is responsible for the long term planning and ongoing programs for a website.
Thus, the role of the web strategist will be to oversee all the 3 aspects of web business, namely community, business, and technology. He will be more a businessman who has to seek the right balance between the 3 aspects.
For a small business, often the owner himself is the web strategist, and he has to decide the directions of both the business and the website so as to profitably run the web business.
Since he too aspires to grow big over time, there has to be some sort of planning behind all the actions he takes for his website.
A typical 1-year long-term plan for a small website could be as under (Figure 2.2).
2 Main Pillars of Any Website
Consider Google as a marketing company that serves its users by providing them the best, the latest, and the most relevant results in response to their search queries. If the results satisfy the users, they are likely to come back to Google again and again for finding more information in the future.
As a website owner your interest will be to make the site as a whole and all its pages ‘friendly’ in the eyes of Google. When you do that, you increase the chance of having the pages ranked high in the search results.
How do you do that?
Interestingly, Google gives the most important advice2.3 to the webmasters:
“Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines”. It further says, “Don't deceive your users”.
Google does want you to create user-friendly web pages, because – and you need to understand this – your web pages are like fuel to Google’s need to retain the position as the number one destination for getting the best search results.
Take a look at the following schematic diagram (Figure 2.3).
The 4 actions shown above are as under:
1. User looks for info using a search term.
2. Search engine directs user to relevant search results.
3. User clicks on a search result and goes to the webpage.
4. Going back to step 1, if user is satisfied with the webpage, he uses the search engine again for other terms.
The 2 pillars – users and search engines – are shown in perfect balance between the web pages and the search results. This means there is no difference between what users and search engines see at a webpage.
Suppose now the webpage has too many keywords clogging the body text. When a user reads that he will be immediately put off by the excessive usage of the keyword and will likely leave the page in disgust.
Taking a step forward, if the user finds similarly bad web pages when he clicks on the other search results, he may develop a poor impression about the search engine he is using. Consequently, he may stop using the search engine for future needs.
Obviously, no search engine wants that, and so it is in their interest that the web pages they rank at the top are really helpful for the users.
At the other end, suppose the webpage is really helpful and contains wealth of information. But it does not have a title, nor any meta description, nor a meaningful heading, nor any easily identifiable keyword.
When this happens, the search engines cannot recognize what keyword should the webpage be indexed for, and so it fails to bring this webpage in the top search results.
To conclude, ensure your webpage has all those indicators like a proper title, description, and a heading, each with the main keyword for that page. The body text may have a sparse sprinkling of the keyword.
Stop excessive usage of the keyword. Also do not take recourse to any technique that seeks to befool the readers or the search engines. You will likely not succeed that way in the long run.
What Is a Keyword
There are many ways to define a keyword, or key-phrase, if you may. From the perspective of a user, a key-phrase is actually a search-term he is using to look for information.
At the other end, when you as a webmaster are using a particular set of words more often in the contents of a webpage, then that set of words becomes the keyword or the key-phrase for that webpage.
The question is why would you do that?
As explained in the previous chapter, all the actions of the search engines – from indexing webpages to ranking them in the search results – are done automatically by robots. It is true that the robots are controlled by the software programs or algorithms created by humans, but after these programs are put to action, the work is automated by the robots.
For that reason the necessity of using keywords arises so that (in absence of human intervention) the search robots can identify their importance in a particular webpage, and index the page accordingly.
Consider now the importance of keywords from another angle. Let’s say your webpage is about automatic monitoring of blood pressure. Let’s also suppose you are not aware that the most popular search term used by the searchers is ‘automatic blood pressure monitor’.
In such a scenario, you may be using other keywords like say, blood pressure measurement, automatic blood pressure measuring, etc. But these keywords will not bring enough traffic because they are not the ones used by the searchers.
In short, keywords are important for 3 reasons:
1. They are the ones actually used by the searchers
2. They help search engines identify the nature of the webpages and the website
3. They help establish the rank-ability of the pages, and also the authority, reputation, and brand value of a website over a long period of time
7 Features of Keywords
There are 7 core features of keywords with regard to their use in webpages and what they seek to convey to the search robots:
1. Keywords are a combination of words that are used more frequently in a webpage than any other combination of words.
2. Keywords are used in strategic places in a web page, such as the title, description meta-tag, heading, body, alt tags of images, and in one or two hyperlinks that lead to other pages.
3. The keywords must be relevant to the topic of the webpage in particular, and to the website in general.
4. The keywords are expected to be bolded or italicized at one or 2 places to mark them out when a visitor sees the page, and also for the search engines to take note of.
5. The use of keywords in various combinations in several pages over time should be able to define the reputation and authority of a website on its niche topic.
6. Keywords in a page are those that are used by other pages in your website and other websites to link to that page.
7. Finally, and the most important of all, the keywords must be those that are actually searched by the users to find information on the web.
Understanding Visitor Intent & What You Can Do
In April 2008, a team of 3 researchers led by Jim Jansen, the then assistant professor in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology, analyzed more than 1.5 million queries from hundreds of thousands of search engines users.
Their findings showed2.4 that about 80 percent of queries are informational and about 10 percent each are for navigational and transactional purposes.
Thus it can be argued that 80% of the web visitors are purely stop-and-go types, meaning they do not likely have a specific purpose in mind. The balance 20% - shared equally between navigational and transactional types – are much more specific, and these are the visitors more likely to bring business to the website.
To give an example, the search for the term Panama is too generic. It is not clear what the user is actually looking for. In contrast the terms ‘Panama holidays’ and ‘buy Panama holidays’ clearly indicate what the user wants to know. These are the navigational and transactional search queries respectively. Look at the image above (Figure 2.4).
Notice the differences. When a visitor types in Panama, she is not sure what to expect from the results. However if she types in ‘Panama holidays’, she is narrowing down her search. At this stage she can be said to be interested in buying Panama holidays, but perhaps she just wants to gather information.
Finally, when she types in ‘buy Panama holidays’, her intention is absolutely clear. Some experts call this type of searches as wallet-out keywords. This means the searcher is on the verge of making a transaction.
It is therefore obvious that a business related website has to account for the 20% of the searches that are informational and transactional in nature.
In other words, if you are selling a product or service in your website, then you have to mainly focus on how to attract and retain the 20% visitors that are informational or transactional in nature.
In that case the 3 main pages to guide your visitors will be the home page, the product page or pages, and the blog or content pages. While the homepage will show the main objective of your website, the product pages must be specific about the items you are selling with clear calls-to-action.
It is a good idea to start a blog which will be like a reservoir where you build up contents relevant to your products. And the purpose here is 3-fold – to inform, educate and engage the visitors who come directly to these pages.
Why Keyword Research Should Precede Domain Name Selection
All too often when a website is thought, there is a rush to select a domain name before any meaningful planning has been made for the site. And in many such instances, the focus quickly shifts away from what actually needs to be done, which is not a welcome sign for a new website.
Ideally when you plan a new website, your first concern will be to find out whether the product or service you want to offer in your website has enough demand in your target market. This requires researching keywords related to your product or service, because keywords are the bridge between your website and the web to connect with the prospective visitors.
A list of important points to consider for a startup website is as under:
1. When you plan a website, find out if your product or service has enough demand.
2. To know the demand of your product or service, find out the relevant keywords that best describe your product or service, and see how popular those keywords are.
3. If your chosen keywords are highly popular, go finer and choose niche keywords for your website. For example, if ‘resume writing’ is a popular keyword, it is better to opt for niche keywords like ‘resume writing for stay at home moms’ or ‘resume writing for government jobs’, etc.
4. Depending upon what keywords you finally choose, re-plan your website accordingly. Your product or service will also have to be modified in line with your chosen keywords.
5. After this stage is over, and you know you have one or more profitable niches to cater for your business, the next job will be to look for suitable domain name for your website.
In the next chapter (Chapter 3) we will look at some of the ways of doing keyword research.
How to Find the Right Domain Name
It is always tricky to choose the most appropriate domain name for your web business (note I use 'web business’, and not ‘website’). Should you go for catchy phrases (like google, yahoo, ebay, amazon, paypal, etc.), or prefer one that has primary keywords in it (like seobook, searchenginewatch, etc.)?
If you own a well-known existing brand your task is easy. The domain name can be the brand name. If this is not the case, then selecting a domain name can indeed be a difficult job.
Let us look at some popular beliefs among website owners.
1. Belief Number One -
Having keywords as domain name does not help! I beg to disagree. You may say search engines give no special favor to keywords in domain name. Perhaps this is true!
However, having keywords in domain name certainly helps visitors. It is easy for a lay visitor to understand what to expect in say jewelrydesign.com than in jdesign.com. Don’t you think so?
2. Belief Number Two -
Many believe that company name should be the domain name because that helps to build a brand. They are awfully wrong! Yes, if your company is Unilever or Wal-Mart or Nike or Sony, then you certainly don’t need a different domain name.
But if you plan to start now or have a company that is just about a year old, it makes less sense to go for company-specific domain name. Brand comes after a business is built, not the other way round.
With that in perspective, here are some points to consider for domain naming:
1. When starting a new website/web business, a short and memorable domain name is preferable. If you can manage to get a domain with your primary keyword in it, and still a short one, it is better.
2. If you own a well-known brand name, you may still want a highly relevant domain that doesn’t carry the brand name.
3. Some excellent websites that help in researching domain names are GoDaddy.Com, DomainSamurai.Com, NameBoy.Com, DomainTools.Com, etc. A couple of sleek clever tools are DomainTyper.Com and Domai.nr. A unique service from NameChk.Com tells you availability of your selected domain in different social networking sites.
4. If you have deep pockets you may want to buy a website, if only for the domain name. Try out Flippa.Com, a great marketplace for buying and selling domain names and websites. Watch the geographic location/influence of the domain name you may consider buying.
Often, if you have an established business, you may want the same name for your business and the web domain. This can be a good decision, but the trouble is you may not get the domain name you want because it is already taken by someone else.
In that case you may have to compromise by either changing the domain name to something less desirable, or giving different names to the business and the domain.
In this connection take a look at the article, How to Name Your Business2.5, where the author charts out 5 steps of doing it:
1. Put It in Black and White
2. Consider Your Business Structure
4. Check for Availability
5. Register It
Structuring Your Website
A website is like a big tree with the root being its homepage. As you work with your website, you’ll discover that the maximum weightage in terms of PageRank usually belongs to the homepage. The homepage is connected to all the webpages in stages, which is akin to a big city that has tentacles connected to distant suburbs.
The strength of a website depends on how well it is structured. When the website grows to thousands of pages, it can still be astutely managed if it is planned well.
At the core of it, structuring a website is about knowing how its different arms will eventually branch out as more and more pages pile up. It’s about identifying the likely future course of web business with the option for course correction midway if any such situation arises.
Let me take an imaginary example below (Figure 2.5), which is about the small Central American country Panama, which has the vital Panama Canal, connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific Ocean.
Let’s say the main business of the website is to sell tour packages to the visitors from other countries. Let’s also suppose that the owner of the business finds out in a survey that there could be many tourists who’d like to buy properties in the island, and there will be others who’d like start a business in view of the massive expansion project of the Panama Canal.
So the website may have 3 Tier-1 pages to begin with – property, tourism, and business. There can be more as the business expands.
The homepage will touch upon the main direction of the website depending on the type of your web business (refer the section, Understanding Your Web Business). In this case it will be about selling tour packages for different segments of visitors.
Each Tier-1 page will concern about a separate aspect under the overall aegis of the web business. Tier-2 pages will thereafter take off for each Tier-1 page. In this example, the Tier-2 pages for tourism could be places to see, tour packages, and eco-tourism. Again, there can be more Tier-2 pages as the situation evolves.
There, as you can see, the website is structured in such a way that by adding contents it can expand at Tier-2 level, and also at Tier-1 level without letting the structure go awry.
Admittedly, content planning and development need skills and good understanding of the web business. Usually the practice is to have just a few mandatory pages like About, Contact, Main Product, in your website, and have a blog and a forum.
Both the blog and the forum can have endless pages. While you as the web business owner write a great deal about your product in the blog, your customers and visitors can use the forum extensively to speak out their minds.
Since I wrote about blog in the previous section, it is perhaps natural that I extend my thought on that. WordPress is an ideal solution for growing your contents in an organized manner.
It is an open-source Content Management System (CMS), powered by PHP, a scripting language, and MySQL, a relational database management system (RDBMS). WordPress is arguably the most popular blog software on the web that makes it very easy to add contents like text, image, video, audio, etc.
There are 2 ways you can use WordPress. Let WordPress host your blog, or you host your own WordPress blog.
If you are hosting the blog yourself, you have to hire the services of a web host, and then install WordPress in the space provided to you. It is not difficult to do, and most web hosts have detail guide to help you start your blog.
Other than the fact that you can grow your website content almost ad infinitum, there are some compelling reasons why you may want to use WordPress for your web business site.
· Free themes or web designs are available in plenty. WordPress has more than a thousand free themes for use in its directory2.6, suitable for almost every conceivable web business. What’s more, you can change the theme you choose any which way you want (if you know a bit of HTML coding), or go for a different theme any time. No need to pay a web designer that often costs heaven.
· Easily assign nested, multiple categories to articles, get clean permalinks for the articles, use tags for the posts, and so on. All of these go to make a well-organized content structure for your website, which is very good from the SEO viewpoint. In fact in a 2009 presentation Google’s Matt Cutts spoke eloquently about using WordPress2.7.
· The most clinching factor in favor of WordPress is the rich plugin architecture that lets you do so many things in your blog. Check out for yourself some 10,000 of them in the WordPress Plugin Directory2.8.
Words of caution:
If you are new to it, you may feel overwhelmed by the reach and power of WordPress, and that may result into indecision and possibly inaction. Remember, you only need to stick to the essentials, and not try out too many things at a time. Because at the end of the day it is your web business that is important and WordPress is just a tool in that process. I recommend watching WordPress tutorial videos on YouTube for any troubleshooting. Also there is a large collection of tutorials videos available at the website, WordPress.tv.
Growth of Website in Tandem with Growth in Business
This is a very important aspect of SEO vis-à-vis your web business. When small businesses start prospering, they soon come across a strange dilemma. Should they attend to the rush of prospects, or should they first put the fledgling business on a solid foundation?
The easy answer will be to attend the ever-growing prospects. But wait. In doing so, isn’t the business owner spreading himself too thin?
In most cases this is what happens. In the pursuit of more and more business, a small business gets crippled bit by bit unless the day comes when it closes down altogether. This happens because the small web business continues to deprive itself of the need to strengthen the foundation on which to let it sustain and flourish.
To do that it will need long-term planning, and going by the 80-20 rule made famous by the Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, require concentrating only on those that give the most business.
In his famous 2 million copy bestseller, The E-Myth Re-visited: Why Most Small Businesses Don't Work and What to Do About It2.9, Michael Gerber stressed on the need to make distinction between working on your business and working in your business.
The link between web business and website will appear obvious if the latter brings in the majority of your prospects. Even in such cases, when it is clear that you need to keep your website well-attended and updated, the circumstances may lead you to neglect your website in order to garner more business.
On the other hand, if the website is the source of a few customers, or if your business is going through a rough patch, there may be a tendency to overlook the needs of proper grooming of your website. After all, you may wonder, what difference does it make?
But difference it does make, at least to the way the search engines look at your website.
If the website’s growth lacks the vitality of frequent updating relevant to your business even when it is sort of languishing, the web business is bound to suffer as time passes.