The Promised Land

As a small business you know you must market yourself to get business. So you put up a website and wait for the sales to start flying in. Afterall, everyone knows that “if you don’t have a website you don’t exist” -- at least that’s what pretty much every Google Survey Results has told us for the last 10 years.

Small businesses get this part -- 71% of small businesses in the U.S. have a website. The problem is just because you exist on the Internet doesn’t mean people are visiting or buying. So what do you do next?

If you’re like most, you reach out to your local SEO Marketing Firm and they eagerly state that they can help, but it will cost you. According to RankPay, the cost will average between $1500 and $3000 a month to make it happen. Oh and there is a 12 month contract requirement. At this point, you may have passed out and thought “I must have heard that wrong or hit my head on the way down to the floor! That’s $36,000!” After you recover you decide “I’m going to figure it out and do it myself.”

Let me be the first to welcome you to the world of Digital Marketing. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an art, and just like when you were in kindergarten, your art work might be worthy of your parents fridge, but it doesn’t mean Google or Bing will love it. So to help you out we’re going to go through some of the important things you should know to survive and succeed out in the real world of Digital Marketing.

#1 - Clean Up Your Own Mess

One of the first things you learned in Kindergarten was the simple fact that if you made a mess then you were going to have to help clean it up. So you built a website without planning in the area of SEO. Don’t beat yourself up about it. In 2014, $57.29 billion was spent in the U.S. on Digital Marketing according to statista.com and every year it increases. In fact it is estimated to be $103.37 billion industry in 2019.

That means everyone else out there most likely created a mess and had to clean it up, too. You are not alone. Everyone had to start somewhere. Here is your general plan to clean up the mess:

  • Research: SEO is ever changing so you need to read, read, and then read some more. After that you have to validate your research. Then learn all you can about Google Analytics and Google Search Console. Understanding those tools will show you how you are doing.
  • Planning: Rome was not built in a day. Measure twice, cut once… whatever planning metaphor you want you use. SEO is not something you want to just throw up there and see what sticks. Create an attack plan. The first time you do this make sure to plan it out over a 12-month period. SEO is the long game.
  • Implement: Take that well laid-out plan and do something with it. Fix those page titles, write better page descriptions. Get down in there and do the work. Share. Get backlinks. Get busy and make that plan happen.
  • Rinse and Repeat: SEO is not a one and done thing. This also does not mean that it’s now your new full-time job. Once you’ve implemented your plan you will need to start over, or rather evolve it. Take it slow. Maybe next year your plan is half as long, but with everything “fixed.” Meaning, it becomes more about tackling harder tasks that might take longer, but have a higher impact.

#2 - Not Everything You Read is True

In Kindergarten you learned that there are these things called facts and then there works of fiction. The funny thing with SEO is that facts have the funny thing of turning into fiction after a while. For example the sage advice from yesteryear was the simple and very popular opinion to say blog and they will come. You can still find articles where they state all you have to do to get great traffic is just post 5 times a week or have a 100 pages on this one thing and Google will love you because you have a ton of content. Sorry to be the one to break it to you, but those days are gone and have been for some time. Google is about quality content and sites following the recommendations.

If you are just starting out in SEO, the first thing you want to do is read Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide . That’s right Google themselves is trying to help you succeed. This 30 some page document will give you solid footing for your SEO work. Everything you read after that just references back to that guide.

We are not saying everything out there is a lie or people are knowingly trying to trick you. It’s quite the opposite. There are a ton of great authors out there that blog and that really want to help you, but even good advice like these may have fallen out of grace. Make sure to check the dates! If in doubt check out 201 Powerful SEO Tips by Brian Dean or The On-Page SEO Cheat Sheet by Neil Patel as both are great articles that are updated as needed.

Just remember, believing in SEO Myths, The 5 Most Common SEO Myths by Jason Parks, or other too-good-to-be-true tricks can derail your efforts faster than you can recover from them. So make sure you follow the guides that have been through that for you.

#3 - Live a Balanced Life

SEMRush - Site Audit - Limit 100 There are many different aspects to Digital Marketing. There is the content strategy, on-page SEO, off-page SEO, Social, Technical SEO, etc…

Don’t try and do them all at once.

SEO is very much a waiting game. If you change everything at once then more than likely your rankings will actually go down at first and then might bounce back up to a higher level. But what action cause the bounce back? Did adjusting page titles help? Was it the change of URL structure? Was it expanding your content? Or was it XYZ?

You will not know so how do you know what to fix or improve. Take it slow by finding the big wins first then start to move down the list of issues.

So what are considered big wins? Well first off you need to figure out what is wrong. Head over to SEMRush and sign up for a free account, then create a project for your domain. Let it scan the first 100 pages of your domain. Congratulations you now have a 100 pages worth of action items. Some might be easy things. Some might be difficult. But now you can say I have research that shows I have these errors and issues that need to be fixed. This will help you build a plan.

First, tackle any page titles and meta description warnings/errors as these are the two items that a user searching on Google will generally see first. Then fix reported page errors (4xx or 5xx). Page errors annoy your end users and it also doesn’t help with Google.

Then wait.

While you wait:

  • Review your Google Search Console results.
  • Measure and compare Google Analytics pre- and post-changes. Remember to note what changes you made when so you can easily see what changes affect your site the most.
  • Do more research.
  • Start planning and writing new content.
  • Build out a plan to extend existing content.

After a few weeks fix some more errors and a few more warnings. Release a little bit of new content. Expand some content on a few pages.

Then wait.

Repeat until you have no more errors or warnings. Then get in the habit of releasing new quality content. Not every day but at a pace that allows you a good amount of time to research and write great quality content.

Again it goes back to the Research, Plan, Implement, then Rinse and Repeat.

#4 - Use Your Imagination

SEO is not a science, but an art. If it was a science then you could easily use a nice laminated checklist of simple to do tasks and be on page 1 of Google for every keyword. Again sorry to say that checklist doesn’t exist. What you do have are guidelines that will help, but it is up to you to get people to come to your site. So how do you do that?

At the moment Google is rewarding great, unique content that answers users questions. Recently SEMRush released their Ranking Factors Study 2017 to help marketers with their content strategy . 12 factors that SEMRush believes influence your search rankings. Six of those factors are “tied directly” to your content and three more factors are “related” to your content. So content is important to getting ranked.

How do you produce good content? Start by taking a look at Brian Dean's article On-Page SEO: Anatomy of a Perfectly Optimized Page . In that article he explains what items are important for producing great content that is loved by Google. You know what else, he used an Infographic to get his message across. You are not limited to just words for content. Sometimes the best content is media. Now this doesn’t mean make every page an infographic or you have to have a video for everything. It means use your imagination to get people to visit your site and stay and look around.

#5 - Be Aware of Wonder

Remember the wonder of playing with new toys as a kid? It felt great then (and still does now), but remember that curiousity killed the cat.

Every year SEO trends are forecasted by a plethora of great minded and very smart authors believing that they know what Google is going to do. In some cases they are right and some cases they are wrong. SEO and Digital Trends in 2017 by Gianluca Fiorelli is a great article full of well researched and data -backed predictions. But they are just predictions of what a very secretive company might be doing this year.

So reading that article and the many like it should be taken as more as an “FYI this could happen”, not as here are things you need to add to your current plan. Not yet at least. Some of those items are going to cost a company a good chunk of change to implement and might not be fully utilized until next year or the year after that. It begs the question: how much of a ranking factor is it really?.

As a related point, be aware of the issue of over optimization. That is doing everything under the sun to optimize your on-page SEO. At a point it will actually start hurting your SEO. Don’t believe it? Well the following tweet is from Gary Illyes who is a Google Webmaster Trends Analyst so he should know what he is talking about.

#6 - Share Everything

Remember the lesson of sharing is caring. Well in today's social media driven world you have to share your content. You wrote a great blog post. Great, share it with the world. Created an interesting infographic? Awesome job -- now share it!

The goal is not to go viral. The goal is to drive traffic and to increase brand awareness. The more you share in your area of expertise, the more likely you’re going to be seen by an influencer in that area. If that influencer likes your content they might reshare it with their followers. If they really like your content they might reference it. That would be an Instant win for your site as now an influencer is saying that you are worthy. Google takes note and you get a ranking boost for having a great backlink.

Backlinks are one of the largest ranking factors, if not the largest, because it tells the world that I trust this site. And Google’s goal is to get you quality answers to your searches. They take note of sites that are trusted.

Also, don’t share just your content, find and share other experts great content. This way, your audience is getting more great content and you are proving you are a great source of content. It’s a win win! Don’t know how to get started? Read “ The Smart Marketer's Guide to Social Media Aggregation ” by Cynthia Johnson and learn some best practices from an absolute pro.

#7 - Play Fair

Cheaters never prosper. We all learned that in Kindergarten and most of us pushed the limits until we were caught.

Well that is true in Digital Marketing as well. Neil Patel published the article Confessions of a Retired Black Hat SEO: 7 Crazy Tactics That Yielded Big Gains in which he shared some of the less than ethical approaches he took to get money and SEO rankings. In most case he reports that Google eventually did catch him abusing the system and punished the site in question.

Razvan Gavrilas , founder and Chief Architect of CognitiveSEO, wrote 44 Black Hat SEO Techniques That Will Tank Your Site . If you are thinking of doing something that is a little underhanded odds are it will fall into one of those 44 techniques which most likely will be discovered by Google and their huge team of developers. Then your site will be blacklisted, resulting in Google completely removing you from search results.

The end result is all of your hard work gone. So play fair from the start..

#8 - Treat Others How You want to be Treated

The Golden Rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. So simple.

You want backlinks from influencers in your niche. You want people to share your content. You want your site to be popular and get tons of quality traffic.

Guess what? You are going to have to share other people’s content. Create backlinks to other sites. Help other sites get traffic. You are going to have to tell your users that you give a vote of confidence in someone else’s work.

Why is this important?

By putting external links in, you demonstrate that you’ve done your homework by researching the topic and you want to highlight other experts. This gains trust of your users and towards influencers. It shows that you’ re smart enough to know that there are others out there that know what they’re talking about.

Neil Patel wrote

When I write a post, I link out to anywhere from 5 to 20 external web pages that contain helpful and relevant content.

I don’t claim to know it all – that’s why I include the views of other expert’s in my posts. It’s also helped me earn more links and increase revenue since 2007.

#9 - Listen

Remember your teacher saying, “OK class, it’s time to listen up!” Then everyone would stop and look at the teacher and listen to what they had to say in case it was something cool like it was time for recess. Sadly, most of the time it was not recess, but rather something not interesting to you… so you stopped listening.

So how do you get your users to find your content interesting. This part is actually easy -- you ask them and you listen to them. Create surveys and email them to your existing customers. Ask people as they are leaving your store. The more people you ask, the more ideas you can get. If it is interesting enough that a person stated you should write about it, then it’s likely other people will be interested, too.

Remember Google wants you to answer questions for their users, so why not start by answering questions of your users.

#10 - It is OK to Ask for Help

The breadth and depth of SEO can be c hallenging. Don’t assume you can handle it all by yourself. Some companies like Sharp Notions offer a Digital Performance Analysis service. Or “SEO Audit.”

This analysis of your site will most likely cost some money, but the result is that you should get an action list of all the things that are in the need of fixing, areas to work on, and things to consider. Basically a plan of action that you could take and easily build your plan.

About Shawn Carr

Founding Partner

An accomplished Senior Software Engineer specializing in the Microsoft .Net Framework and SQL Server with experience in the full lifecycle of the software design process of both Data Driven Windows and Web Applications utilizing the latest technologies and best practices.

Certified: Google Analytics, Google Mobile Sites, Google AdWords Certification - Video Advertising, MCSD: Web Applications, and about 13 more Microsoft certifications that have since expired.

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