Search Optimization: Why It
Matters and How to Do It
Paul Gillin, Author
The New Influencers
Secrets of Social Media Marketing
Social Marketing to the Business Customer
Attack of the Customers
Why Should You Optimize For Search?
Number of searches Americans conduct each
month: 15.4 billion
Number per second: 5,750
Avg. number of words in a Google search: 3.2
Percentage of Google searches that have never
been done before: 20
Percentage of B2B buyers who turn first to a
search engines to locate information: 79
Chart source: AJ Kohn, BlindFiveYearOld.com
Journalists Rely on Search
Tools Journalists Use in Reporting
Source: Middleberg/SNCR Study on Media in the Wired World, 2011
Did You Know?
• The top 25 Google results for
“personal computer” only
include one PC maker?
• Links from .edu, .mil and .gov
sites significantly improve your
• The #1 search result for “click
here” is Adobe Reader?
• The more often you update
your website, the more often
Google visits it?
The Panda Proposition
Rolled out in 2011, Panda is a
major revision of the Google
algorithm. It targets:
• Low quality content
• Excessive advertising
• Link farming
Factors Google is now taking
into account include:
• Load time
• Aesthetic appeal
• Quality content
What Search Engines Battle
Choose Keywords That Are “Just Right”
o Don’t target keywords that are “too hot”
(they multiple meanings or are poor
matches for your site)
o Avoid keywords that are “too cold”—too
few searchers look for them
o Use the language the searcher uses: An
Italian tour operator targets “milano tours”
but Americans say “milan tours”
o Walmart calls them “associates,” but
everyone else calls them “employees.”
o Americans search for “crockpot” but
Canadians search for “slow cooker”
o A computer maker thinks “notebook”
sounds classier than “laptop,” but
o Someone looking for “lodging” seeks
something different than someone
searching for “hotel.”
Source: Mike Moran
Don’t Forget The Long Tail
A Long Tail Example
Physical Security Retail
• Google Adwords Keyword Tool
• Google Trends - google.com/trends
• Google Autocomplete
• Keyword Spy - keywordspy.com
• WordTracker - wordtracker.com
• Keyword Discovery -
Keyword Research Techniques
Google Adwords Keyword Tool
Search Google for
“adwords keyword tool”
Select “Exact” under
Click “Download” to
export to Excel
Keyword Research Techniques
Shows seasonal change in search volume
Compare volumes of one keyword to another
Shows geographic breakdowns by country
Keyword Research Techniques
Keyword: “digital camera”
Free & Quick
Limited # of Keywords
Doesn’t show “broad
Keyword Research Techniques
Search Google, then click
Keyword Research Techniques
Searches that Google thinks are related are
displayed as links
• Page Title
• H1,H2,H3 tags
• Page Text
25% is on-page visible
25% is on-page invisible
What we see…
What Google sees
Let’s Look At An Example
Inflow has keywords
in both the domain
and the page title
The word “inventory” appears four times on the home
page and in every page title on the site.
The site description and meta tags reinforced that this
site is about inventory management
But There’s More
Image “alt” tags
feature is a
What you don’t want
Says nothing about
Garbled page title
Poor document title and
description in PDF
Untagged audio file
TIPS FOR OPTIMIZING FOR SEARCH
Get the Basics Right
1. Search Google for your Company Name
2. Click on the “Cached” link next to your organic result
How Does Google See My Site?
3. Click on “Text-only version” in Google’s header
How Does Google See My Site?
The result is essentially what Google sees
How Does Google See My Site?
Put yourself in the mind of the user:
Can you guess what the content of the page will be by looking at the URL?
Use keywords, but don’t go overboard:
Use static URLs rather than dynamic if possible:
Use real words:
Use hyphens – not underscores - to separate words
- some engines don’t interpret underscores & spaces correctly
Source: McDougall Interactive
Inbound links are the secret
sauce of modern search
engines, and the rules change
all the time.
How Do Search Engines Value Links?
The most links
From the best sites
With the right anchor text
PageRank is Google’s
name for its page factor
Source: Mike Moran
Which Link Is Better For You?
Small business inventory management
Both can link to the same page, but the second
link is more descriptive. If it links to you, it
improves your ranking for that search term.
Use tags, categories
Register with aggregators
Ask for “link love”
Promote outbound links
File a site map
Bookmark and tweet
Use Google Plus
THE FUTURE OF SEARCH
Search Is A Moving Target
TIME PERIOD RANKING CRITERIA
Pre-2000 •Web page content
2000-2010 •Web page content
•Authority as measured by
Post-2010 •Web page content
•Authority as measured by
inbound links and social
•Who is searching
Success will depend on using multiple
platforms and promoting through
multiple social channels
Performance Factors May Include
• Inbound Links
• On-site "Likes"
• MozRankSEO Authority 1-10
• LinkedIn Group Members
• LinkedIn Company Followers
• Facebook "Likes"
• Twitter Followers
• Google+ Followers
• YouTube Views
Search engine optimization is a complex and highly specialized discipline. It can’t be covered in just one hour, but I can at least go over the basics. I’ll also give you some tricks that nearly any one with a website presence can use to get more search visibility.
Why should you optimize for search?Numbers like these provide pretty compelling evidence. The volume of search activity is growing steadily and the quality of search engines is improving. About 80% of B2B buyers start the buying process with a search, and I think it’s safe to say that nearly every buying decision has search embedded somewhere in it.Two numbers are interesting in this chart. One is that the average number of words in a Google search is increasing. This indicates that people are getting more savvy about using search engines and are specifying longer queries. This means that your search strategy needs to be focused more than ever on the so-called long tail of highly specific keywords. We’ll get into that a little later.Another amazing statistic is that 20% of all Google searches have never been done before. This means that try as you might to anticipate the ways which people will find your company, they’ll always come up with something new. Your keyword strategy needs to be fluid.
One of the often overlooked values of having good search visibility is for public relations. It’s safe to say that every journalist uses search routinely these days, but increasingly they rely upon information on company websites, expertise from bloggers and even Wikipedia profiles for background information. This is another strong endorsement of the value of blogging. Not only do blogs perform well in search, but they are perceived to have high credibility because they’re written by humans.If you don’t have a Wikipedia entry, consider starting one. Be aware that promotional language is strictly forbidden in Wikipedia, and nearly all facts must be attributed to independent sources. Make sure whoever creates your Wikipedia entry does so from a position of absolute impartiality
Here are a few interesting facts about search engines. Did you know that:The top 25 Google results for “personal computer” only include one PC maker? What this demonstrates is that valuable advice is considered more important than product information by the top search engines. Note that the first five responses to this search query all relate to definitions and history of the personal computer. If you want to maximize search engine visibility, be helpful.Links from .edu, .mil and .gov sites significantly improve your search performance? The reason is that those domains are controlled by the US Department of State and cannot be purchased on the public market. Search engines assume that domains ending in those suffixes are high quality because of the government stamp of legitimacy.The #1 search result for “click here” is Adobe Reader? I’ll explain later why “click here” is such a useless phrase to use in a link. Suffice to say that Adobe doesn’t get much benefit from owning that search term.The more often you update your website, the more often Google visits it? That’s part of the big Google Panda update of 2011. Panda also introduced performance into Google’s criteria. The faster your site loads, the better it is for your search results.
I won’t go into Panda in detail, but it’s important to understand as an indicator of Google’s direction. Panda was a major revision of the Google search algorithm, and it’s been updated several times since 2011. One of Panda’s primary purposes was to combat the growth of so-called content farms. These are websites that produce large amounts of keyword-stuffed copy that isn’t particularly useful but that’s intended to overwhelm search engines. Panda evaluates a website for aesthetic appeal and quality content, although how it determines quality content is a Google secret. It’s safe to say that content that is shared and commented on now fares better in Google then content that isn’t. Google also begin factoring server performance into search results on the theory that sites that load quickly provide a better user experience.
Here’s what Panda was intended to combat. There are millions of spam sites like these that scrape content from elsewhere and tossed it onto a page like ingredients in a Cuisinart. The text makes no sense, but certain key words are repeated at optimal intervals to attract search engines. Not only are these sites a waste of space, they are usually filled with plagiarized material. Google is getting better and better at ignoring this stuff, but it’s a game of leapfrog between the search engines and the spammers.
A good search strategy begins with keyword selection, so let’s start there.
The long tail refers to the term coined by Chris Anderson in his book of the same name. It refers to the fact that in many consumer markets the top handful of brands sell about as much as all the other competitors in the market combined. For example, the top 100 books on Amazon sell about as many copies as the other million or so that the retailer also sells.The idea is that if you can optimize for the long tail you can have a pretty good business because the buyers who seek niche products are more likely to pay a premium for them. The same works in search. High competition terms like “cloud computing” are nearly impossible to own. However, subsets of that keyword may be much easier to capture.
Let’s look at an example in the security world. You’re never going to be the number one Google search result for “security.” However, as you move down the long tail, to “physical security” and “physical security retail” your chances improve because there’s less competition. If your company provides on-premise security services for retail companies, why would you want to optimize for a more general term? You want to go where the buyers are. You could even go a level lower and optimize on “physical security retail Minneapolis” if your business was regional. There’s a very good chance you could own that term.
Here are some tools you can use to research keywords, and we’ll go into a couple of these in more detail. Google Ad Words Keyword Tool is a wealth of intelligence on what people are searching for. Google Trends works at a high level. It isn’t that helpful in selecting keywords, but it will show you what’s growing in what’s slowing.Google Autocomplete is a fairly recent innovation. It’s good for entertainment value, but it actually can be helpful in showing you how people complete some of the most popular search queries. You have to turn this feature on a Google, as it isn’t enabled by default.The remaining three services are all helpful in keyword selection. They all carry a fee, but they also give you some services for free.
Google Ad Words Keyword Tool is the most valuable of the group. This shows you the relative popularity of keywords in global monthly searches as well as the popularity of related keywords. The great value of the keyword tool is for discovery. It can point you to keyword combinations you hadn’t considered that generate a decent amount of search activity. It also tells you what it will cost you to purchase keywords for search engine marketing. That’s one way to calculate the ROI of your search engine optimization efforts. For example, if you get 1,000 visitors through organic search for a keyword that costs two dollars per click, that’s $2,000 in advertising equivalency.I should note that the “global monthly searches” figure is relative, not absolute. Google never discloses actual search volumes, so these numbers should be used only in comparison to each other
Google Trends operates at a higher level, showing you keyword activity over time. This can be useful in detecting whether the keyword combinations you want to dominate are growing or declining in popularity. This chart shows one of the more dramatic examples of changes in consumer attitudes as expressed by search queries. As smart phones have evolved to include more sophisticated cameras, the volume of queries for “digital camera” has declined. If your primary business is making or selling digital cameras, this might set off a warning bell that you should look into some new markets.
I mentioned Google Autocomplete earlier, also sometimes referred to as Google Suggest. It shows you recent and popular search terms for a query as you type it. There’s nothing scientific about this tool, but it may give you some ideas for keyword combinations you hadn’t considered.
Google also has a useful feature called related searches that is sort of a miniature version of the keyword tool. It shows you other popular search terms that are related to the one you specified. Again, it might give you some ideas.
Let’s turn now to the fundamentals of search, that which you can control and that which you can’t. HubSpoti s an online marketing software and services firm that publishes a lot of excellent advice for free. Register on HubSpot.com and you’ll get a steady stream of information that helps you be a better online marketer. I’ve included several of their recommendations here.According to HubSpot, 25% of search performance relates to elements that are visible on the page. One of the most important factors is the URL or domain name. That’s the root level name of your website. For example: DunkinDonuts.com. If your domain name includes keywords that you desire, it works to your benefit. Some companies like to promote new initiatives by creating websites with domain names that use keywords; for example “data center” or “storage.” there are some benefits in search visibility but some loss of search benefit for the parent brand. You have to balance those factors.The second most important factor in on-page search results is the page title. That’s the group of words that appear at the top of the page tab in your browser. You may not even notice them, but search engines pay a lot of attention to them. You want to be sure they contain your most critical keywords.Moving down the stack, the H1 H2 and H3 tags denote different headline sizes, with H1 being the largest. Keywords in headlines get a little more attention from search engines than keywords in text.Below that are the keywords in the text itself, but even then not all keywords are created the same. Those in bold text or that have hyperlinks get extra attention from search engines.
25% of your search visibility is invisible to the average viewer. One critical element is the page description, which is the 160 characters that describe the page to search engines. The only time you see these descriptions is in search results. They are invisible on the page, but search engines look at them closely because they say what the page is about. Be sure your descriptions use the right keywords and tell your story within 160 characters.Meta-keywords used to be more important than they are now, and some people say they’re not important at all anymore. These are also terms that describe your site, but in the form of keyword combinations. I wouldn’t worry too much about these, since the search engines do seem to be deemphasizing them and they can actually have the unintended effect of telling your competition what keywords you are using.Alt Tags are text descriptions that are applied to images and menu items. They’re another way of telling the search engine what the page is about. Search engines can’t interpret images, of course, so it doesn’t hurt to include alt tags as a way of adding a little extra keyword juice to the page.
The bottom line is that search engines are basically dumb and blind. They don’t see your pretty pictures, movies or Flash animation. What they do see is text, and they’re very good at munging through a lot of text and figuring out what it all means. The easier you can make it for search engines to figure out what your page is about, the more they’ll like you.If you search on some popular keywords in your industry and look at the commercial pages that come to the top, you’ll see some consistent attributes. They all have well-written page titles, clear and unambiguous headlines, frequent repetition of certain keywords and very little Flash animation or multimedia. Anything that slows down the page hurts search performance, which is one reason Flash animation can work against you. What works best is flat HTML pages with simple messages at the top in large text and relatively few words on the page.
So let’s take a look at one company that does this very well. If I enter “inventory management software” into Google, the number one result is a company calledInFlow. I say “if I enter” the query term into Google, because Google returns different search results for each person depending on their past behavior and other things Google knows about you. Search is becoming very personalized, so it’s difficult to generalize about what rises to the top. But in this case it’s inFlow.Looking at InFlow’s page title and description, we can see that this company is eager to hammer home the message that it’s about inventory management software. In fact, the word “inventory” appears no less than five times in the page title and description. That isn’t an accident. Inflow believes that five repetitions is about right to drive home his message to the search engine without stepping over the line into spamming.
When we visit the InFlowsite, we see some other nice ways the company optimizes for search. Note that the domain name is “inflowinventory.com” rather than “inflow.com.” It so happens that inflow.com is owned by Sungard Data Systems, so probably wasn’t available to the company, but the alternative at least has the advantage of containing an important search keyword. If InFlowhad its choice, it would probably prefer to use its brand as its domain, but this is not a bad second choice.We see that the term “inventory” is repeated twice in every page title. Looking into the HTML code, we see that every page has a well-written summary of its contents that again repeats the term “inventory” several times. There can be very little doubt to the search engine that this company is in the inventory software business.
InFlowalso sweats the details. If you hover your pointer over the menus on its site, a boxpops up that again repeats the words “inventory software.” That’s nice. Social sharing buttons enhance legitimacy. No one knows for sure what the impact of these sharing widgets is on search performance, but it’s becoming pretty clear that inbound links from social channels like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn are beneficial. One of the advantages of including these widgets is that it makes it easy for people to endorse the site through a tweet or a link on Facebook. The Facebook counter is an important endorsement for the site because it displays to the world how many people have “voted” for it. If you have a branded presence in a social channel, I recommend you have these buttons on your website.Finally, we see a valuable inbound link from PC Magazine in which the words “inventory software” are part of the descriptive text. I’ll talk in a moment about why that’s important. All in all, InFlow does a nice job of covering all the major details of search optimization.
A lot of sites don’t, however. Here are some common mistakes you see that represent missed opportunities to optimize for search. One of the worst is the dreaded “home” page title. This is the default title that tools like Microsoft FrontPage use, and if you don’t change it, it goes live on the Web. Google has no idea what to do with a page called “home,” other than to added to the millions of other pages in its index that are labeled the same way. This is a major oversight in search engine optimization.Moving on, we see another common mistake: the garbled page title. This happens when a page is put on the Internet with no title at all and it’s up to the search engine to figure one out. Search engines are not very good at this, which is why you see a lot of results like this one.The same thing happens with PDF documents. Only in that case the search engine usually displays the title of the document itself. Since most people give documents arcane names for internal use, it’s bad practice to make these live on the Web. PDF is a particularly common offender, because many companies publish documents to the Web by converting them from Word into PDF and putting them on the server. If they don’t give the document a descriptive name, you get results like this.The same goes for document descriptions. Search engines actually handle PDFs pretty well, but the descriptive information they need is contained in the fields that PDF provides for that information. If you don’t fill out those fields, the search engines have to figure out from the text what the document is about, and we know they don’t do that very well. In my experience, PDF documents that are published online rarely have any descriptive information at all, which is a missed opportunity.The same goes for audio files, which are commonly used for podcasts, investor briefings and interviews. Audio files have a set of descriptive fields called ID3 tags that tells search engines what the audio is about. If you don’t fill them out, the search engine has nothing to work with. In my experience, these fields usually aren’t filled out.
So let’s get on this and tips for optimizing your own site for search. We’ve covered the basics, and now here are some specific tactics you can employ.
Here’s how you can check to see what Google is looking at when it visits your page. Search Google for your company name and look for the link at the top that says “cached.”
Open that page and then click on the link at the top that says “text-only version.”
The next page you’ll see is a naked, boring river of text that’s ugly to you and me but a sight for sore eyes to a search engine. This is what Google sees when it visits your website. Actually, you have to look one level deeper at the HTML to speak Google’s language, but this is good enough for our purposes. Ask yourself if this is the best possible description of what you do presented with the keywords that matter to your customers. If it isn’t, then you know exactly where you need to make changes.
Here are a few other tips from my friends at McDougall interactive, a search engine optimization firm based in Eastern Massachusetts. Can you guess what the content of the page is by looking at the URL? That’s a good question. It’s usually optimal to have your company name as the root domain for your website, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have sub sites that use keywords in the subdomains – for example, DunkinDonuts.com/muffins – or sites that use completely different root domains. Incidentally, InFlowsoftware is owned by a company called Archon Systems. Since no one knows what an Archon is, the company was smart to set up its inventory software business under a separate domain.Use keywords but don’t go overboard. I wish I could tell you what overboard is, but Google doesn’t go into much detail on that. Use your best judgment. If repetition is overbearing or looks like it might be an attempt to game the system, then you should probably tone it down a little.Use static URLs rather than dynamic if possible. Many content management systems default to dynamic URLs because they’re shorter and easier for the computer to organize. However, they don’t do you any favors in search. In this case, “why you should own bunnies” is a much better URL than “blog ID 123.” If you use WordPress, be sure to change the setting to enable this because WordPress uses dynamic URLs by default.In the same vein, use real words instead of SKU numbers and inventory codes. And interestingly, it’s considered better to use hyphens to separate words rather than underscores because search engines interpret them differently. This probably isn’t a big deal, but it’s worth knowing
I mentioned at the top that you can control about half of your search visibility, but what about the other half? That’s where links come in. Inbound links are the secret sauce of modern search engines, and their impact on search results is as important as it is mysterious.Google’s great innovation was its use of inbound links – which are links from other websites – as a validation mechanism. The founders believed that inbound links from high quality sources conferred validation that the content is useful. Believe it or not, no one had built such a product in the first six years of the commercial web. Google is very secretive about how it’s weighting mechanism for evaluating inbound links, but we know that the more links you have from high quality websites, the better it is are your search visibility. We also know that high-quality websites are those that also have a lot of links from other high-quality websites. This is the great recursive puzzle of the searchable Internet.
You can get a taste of the volume of inbound links by using the “link:” command in Google, as demonstrated here. This will give you an assortment of sites that Google knows link to you. The result of this query is not exhaustive or even very accurate. If you run the same link query on two different days you get two different results, and Google has never claimed that it’s anything more than a sampling. But it will give you an idea of who’s linking to you. And after all, it’s kind of fun to see who’s linking to you anyway.
Link quality isn’t just a matter of the link source. The term that the linking site uses is also important. There’s a word for this: “anchor text.” Anchor text is the blue underlined text that makes up a hyperlink, and those words matter. I mentioned earlier that Adobe Acrobat is number one for “Click here.” I can assure you that Adobe would much rather that people use terms like “best portable document format” or “awesome publishing tool” when linking to Acrobat but that isn’t the case. Usually it’s just “click here.”If you’re InFlow, you would much rather that people link to you with a term like “small-business inventory management” than a term like “click here.” Search engines can learn something from “small-business inventory management.” It describes the pages being linked to. When search engine see “click here,” they toss that link onto the big pile of useless stuff right next to all those page titles that say “home.” Actually, the “click here” link does have value because it is a link from an outside source, but you’re not getting the full value if the text isn’t descriptive.
Let’s close out with a few remarks about the future of search, because this is a constantly shifting landscape.
All search engines seek the Holy Grail of providing the most useful content in interpreting what the searcher wants from just a few questions expressed in a query box. The way they do this is evolving as the Internet becomes more social. In nearly days of search, content on a webpage wasabout all search engines had work with. Google changed the rules by adding links to the equation. Going forward, it’s clear the customization and social sharing will play an increasingly important role.
Search is going to get a lot more personal, and we’re seeing that today. If you are signed into your Google or Bing account, the search results you get reflect your past browsing behavior and even the contacts in your address book. In fact, Google now favors in its search results links recommended by your friends and content authored by your friends. If you use Google apps like Gmail and Google Docs, you get even more personalized results. Bing presents results from your Facebook network and recommends links shared by your friends there.Search engines increasingly scour the social web to look for content that’s relevant to you based upon the social networks you participate in. The key to success in search is to spread your content across as many networks as possible. While the links from these networks may not always influence search results directly, you’re increasing your chance of being discovered by others and linked to by them. While the search engine providers are mum about how important social links are to their results, it’s clear from independent research that recommendations on social networks are increasingly important. Success depends upon using multiple platforms and promoting through multiple social channels.
These are just some of the factors that we can expect to influence search results in the future, and this is by no means an exhaustive list. The point is that building a network of followers and connections creates awareness that has ancillary benefits in search.
Thanks for joining me. I hope this has been a useful introduction to the mechanics of search. Here’s my contact information if you’d like to reach me and discuss this topic, or any topic regarding the evolution of the social web, in more detail. These are also my two most recent books. Buy them.