Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the more mysterious aspects of digital marketing. It’s difficult to understand and manage, driven by arcane rules, and dominated by “leave me alone in my cave and let me work my magic” vendors. And the rules are made—and changed frequently—by Google, which still dominates the search market by a wide margin. But it’s important; you can’t claim to be successfully engaging in online marketing without doing a proper job on your SEO.
We all know you can’t manage what you don’t understand. Our goal is always to help you understand, so you can manage the effort more effectively, no matter who is doing the actual work.
With rare exceptions, Google is the gateway to your customers. In fact, Google is your first customer, a bot that has to be impressed enough to rank you higher than your competition.
And, just as with human customers, you must “make it easy [for Google] to buy” your content.
Google reportedly changes its algorithm 8 or 9 times a day and uses up to 200 different criteria to determine ranking. Even so, it is definitely possible to systematically rise in search rankings when you make the right decisions and consistently plug away. (Note: Anyone who claims to get you on the first page “overnight” is blowing smoke.)
Most SEO consultants talk a lot about content relevance and domain authority; they’re right. We will, too. But I also think we should start with the basics, because, in our experience, so many companies get that wrong.
SEO for CEOs: The basics
Google has to be able to find you.
Make sure that your site is being crawled and indexed by Google. You can go to Google Search Console (it’s free) to see how many pages Google has found on your site, or even if it is finding a specific page on your site.
There are ways that a developer can ask Google not to search a page; make sure your developer hasn’t mistakenly told Google not to crawl a page that you do want public. One client we helped had a wonderful site with super-helpful content. It deserved to rank highly. But it wasn’t ranking – at all. Turns out the “robots.txt” command basically told Google not to search the entire site!
Your site also needs to have a site map, which your developer should have submitted to Google.
Now we need to talk about what Google finds when it crawls your site.
Google has to figure out what your site—and each page—is all about.
When Google crawls a page, in order to index and rank it properly, it has to be able to figure out what the page is all about. This is where the rules come in. Remember, we’re trying to please a bot. A smart bot, but still a bot.
The first place to start is to make sure your titles, headlines, and meta descriptions are as solid as they can be.
We are all familiar with what the individual entries look like on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP):
- Title—This is the first clickable line of copy in a search result, and should also be embedded into the HTML for the page as the page title. It should definitely include the appropriate target keyword(s).
- Meta Description—This is the black copy under the title in the search results. The goal here is to “sell the click.” The copy should be written more for the reader than Google; Google doesn’t pay much attention to the metas.
- Headline—Once visitors get to the page, the page headline should provide no surprises to the reader and continue to deliver on the promise made in the meta. The headline should include your important keywords and should be very specific.
If Google doesn’t find a meta description written for the page in the backend of your site, it will insert whatever it wants to. Sometimes it does this anyway, but if you do write metas correctly and have your developer load them onto your site, you will increase your chances of having control over what your readers see in the search results.
Writing titles, metas, and headlines is SEO 101, but you’d be surprised how many CEOs and business owners don’t even realize this should be done, and so don’t put these wheels in motion. Ask your developer to do a “crawl” of your site and load the page links, metas, titles, and headlines into a spreadsheet, and then look it over. You’ll want a good writer to write all these for you; in fact, there are writers who specialize in such things.
Google has to find relevant content on your pages and blog posts.
“Relevant content” is a bit of a mushy concept. Thinking of it as “helpful content” is more constructive. The more helpful you are, the better. Skip the sales pitch; your bounce rate (how many visitors come to one page and then leave) will go uncomfortably higher if all you do is sell, sell, sell.
Bounce rates matter to Google. It’s one of the criteria it uses to determine if your site is holding the interest of your visitors and providing useful information.
You’re in the middle of your movie. You know all about your products and services. But your website visitor is coming in cold, and what you really need to address is their Mindset—their desires, concerns, and questions—the second they come to your site.
Buyers have lots of questions; sellers seldom answer them all.
You need to know what their desires, concerns, and questions are. If you guess, you lose. Interview your best customers and ask them to describe their Mindset when they set out to buy. After interviewing as few as 5 customers of a given type, you will know exactly what you should be saying on your site.
And then all of your site should set out to address that Mindset.
People forget that Google, too, is in a competitive industry. It can only retain its dominance if it continues to deliver what people want to find. So the more your content contains what people are looking for, the more Google will raise you up in the rankings.
You need to do extensive keyword research.
Well, not you, but someone who works for you needs to document the keyword phrases that your competitors are being found for. SEO is a zero-sum game; everyone is fighting to appear in the top ten positions.
There are numerous tools that show which keywords your competitors are being found for; which keywords result in the highest number of click-throughs for your competitors; and how difficult it is to compete for that keyword.
The keyword phrases that are most competitive tend to be “broad”—such as “office furniture”—so it is often better to work harder to be found for more specific (“long tail”) keywords such as “black Aaron office chair.” This is not magic; it’s a deliberate content strategy.
We build a complex spreadsheet for our clients that displays all of this competitive keyword information so we can make lists of the relevant keywords we want the client to be found for. Then we write educational, helpful, relevant page and blog content that includes those keywords.
Using keyword, customer, and market research, we constantly find new topics to address that bring in desired site visitors. And we make sure that our clients’ sites answer their customers’ questions, making it much more likely that they will buy from our client than from a competitor.
This takes work. But if you chip away at it, your work will result in more traffic, more engagement, and more conversions (sales).
We’ve covered relevancy; let’s talk about authority. The higher your domain authority, the higher you will rank. Authority is mostly measured by the number of quality sites linking to your site, and the number of links you have on your site that link to other parts of your site.
Other important ranking factors include site speed and site quality (broken links, duplicate content, empty pages). Google pays a lot of attention to site speed. You can check your site’s speed at Google’s PageSpeed Insights.
As a digital agency determined to help our clients succeed, SEO is top of mind for us, 24/7. But if you are the leader of your company, it needs to be high on your radar as well. It’s where most of the marketing battles are being fought these days, and the competition is very stiff. It’s yet another area of your business where you have to be playing your “A” game.