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Jump-Start Your SEO in 2013 (Part 1 of a 2-Part Series)

Published: February 5, 2013

Author: Jessica Lee

Today’s post is by Jessica Lee, Content and Media Manager at Bruce Clay, Inc. 
You love PPC as a marketing channel and you don’t need to be convinced about the results it can bring to your business. But, do you have a plan for visibility above and beyond the paid click in 2013?
Organic SEO and PPC together can work in harmony and provide greater visibility in the search results. You can drive more traffic to your site using the two together, and you can keep users coming back time to your company by offering great content and solutions that matter to your customers, right on your site.
seo chalkboard
This post could be anywhere from a few general paragraphs to a 200-page manual, but in the interest of striking a balance between being useful and short enough to keep you engaged, we’ll break it into two parts. Today’s post will cover the right SEO mindset and approach, some tenets of optimization, and some technical basics. (We’ll cover content in Part 2 of the post.)
If you’ve only really been doing paid search, the SEO world may seem kinda strange – like a dramatic saga. We’ve got all the main players: Google, the all-seeing eye; the bad-guy spammers chased by Penguins and Pandas all day long; and the heroes: the “White Hat” SEOs, trying to save the search day.
But there’s a reason for all this drama and Google’s constant algorithm updates: similar to the concept of Quality Score in PPC, Google is merely trying to serve up relevant and useful results from trusted websites to users.
So, with all the drama and constant changes to the Google algorithm, why in the heck would you want to deal that organic search mess? Because SEO is a huge factor in relevancy, authority, and trust online. That’s why.
And in turn, over time you can experience more conversions, a potentially better Quality Score (and paying less per click), and an all-around improved experience for your target audience.

A Brief Background on the Right SEO Approach

There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about SEO. The wrong way is to always implement any new trend or trick that comes along to try and game the rankings system. The right way is to provide value to your community, while working within Google’s guidelines for SEO.
Here’s a video to prove Google doesn’t hate SEO ;):

Yes, Google condones many SEO practices because it helps the search engine do its job better. While Google is getting smarter, there’s still a great deal of help it needs in order to understand what your site is about.
In addition, site owners should create a highly crawlable environment for the spiders. Beyond relevancy, Google is interested in making sure the sites it chooses for the search results offer a great user experience once the person is on the site.
SEO can get you more click-throughs to your site and also help you make sure that when people are on your site, they have a great experience. And SEO and PPC can work together as a feedback loop about what’s working – especially when it comes to keywords. So it’s useful to have the PPC person and the SEO person sharing data and working together for a cohesive strategy.

What Sort of Things Make Up SEO?

There are a lot of components to SEO, and yes, it’s a labor of love. While PPC is fairly straightforward, swift, and clear-cut, SEO takes time. You may not see the instant results you’re used to in PPC, but over time, the return can be great.
SEO helps you create a site that performs well, brands your company online, and offers something valuable to your potential and current customers – even beyond the sale.
The discipline of SEO can be grouped into various categories of areas to focus on:

  1. The technical back end, which ensures you have a site that is easy to access by search spiders and offers ease of use by your visitors.
  2. Content, which, when done right, serves as a branding tool, a marketing tool and a relevancy tool, and helps drive traffic.
  3. Social media, which is more and more becoming a trust signal to the search engines.

While each one of these could be a standalone discipline, they all work together for a one-two (er, three) punch. But for the purposes of this post, we’ll hone in on a little of the technical side and a little of the content side that can lend big help to your SEO and organic search in 2013.
And then in Part 2 of this post, we’ll look at how to not only make your content relevant, but also useful to your target audience at every stage of the conversion funnel.

Optimize Your Site for Search Engines

Google is concerned with how good of an experience your site offers users – no matter what side of the paid search/organic search side you’re on. This includes site performance.
Check out this video of Hal Varian of Google talking about things that affect Quality Score in AdWords. At around 4:00, he briefly mentions page load time as a factor. In this case, we know page load time is a factor in Google’s search algorithm. (There are a lot of other things he mentions in this video that SEO helps to address; more on those things later.)
But optimizing the back end of your site isn’t just for users. If a search spider comes to your site and simply can’t crawl it efficiently, it hinders your ability to be found in the search results. The name of the game is making it as easy as possible for the search spiders to crawl and index your site.
world wide web
To kick-start this process, look at the code on the site. Sometimes sites have a lot of extraneous code that slows the spider from reaching the most important content on the page so it can determine what that page is about (a relevancy cue). Often, this code bloat can be a result of your content management system or your design code.
You’ll need someone who can help you identify this. The standard for clean, crawlable code on the Web is found at the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). This is a great place to start validating your code. You’ll want to consider whether or not you’ll externalize the CSS or JavaScript to reduce the size of your Web page as one way of addressing possible code issues.
In SEO, we want to make sure the foundation of the site is optimized before we go adding more campaigns and content to it.

Make Your Site Relevant with Optimization

Just as in PPC, relevancy of the content on your website is important. Relevancy is essentially the match of the content to the query (keyword) – what the page is about.
But let’s take a step back.
How does the search engine spider know if the Web page is relevant for a search in the first place? While there are a great many factors (more than 200) in Google’s determination (aka its algorithm), we know one way to help communicate to the search spider what the page is about is to optimize that page with the keywords.
Let’s take a Web page that you’re driving traffic to from your PPC campaign as an example. How much more relevant do you think Google will find that page if the keywords are found in the Meta information of the page and throughout the body content? (More on Meta info in a second.)
This is SEO 101 for some, and I’m sure many of you paid search enthusiasts are already doing this – but if you aren’t, not to worry. That’s the beauty of SEO and search marketing in general: we get to continuously tweak and improve our site and our campaigns.
So let’s talk a little bit about Meta data in SEO. This goes back to making sure your site is crawlable, and that the code is set up in a way that allows the search spiders to access the most important content on the page for SEO: the Meta information and the body content.
The Meta information is found in the “Head section” on the code side of a Web page. (If you go to a Web page and right click, choose “view source” to quickly assess where on the page the Meta information lies – it’s comprised of a Title tag, a Description tag, and, sometimes, a Keywords tag. See that Meta information article I linked to above for more detailed info).
Anywho, the Head section should be positioned up towards the top of the page so it quickly communicates what the page is about to the spider.
But it’s not just for spiders. For search engine users, the Meta information is what renders the snippet in the search results, and this helps users make a decision about whether or not they want to click-through to your site.
The following image shows you a result for the query “kittah”. In this case, Urban Dictionary doesn’t have their Meta info set up properly, so Google just pulls a snippet of text.
This happens to a lot of sites, and is actually something you want to avoid – because your snippet might not be as hilarious or relevant as this one. So you want to control this space on the search results.
kittah serp
This is prime real estate, people, so taking care to craft thoughtful, keyword-rich content is key. You want to take just as much care with the Meta information as you would crafting a PPC ad.
For great optimization of your body content on the Web page, make sure you use the important keywords in your text, but use them naturally. Oftentimes, optimization of body content occurs naturally as you are writing about a topic due to the nature of the subject matter.
Of course, there are those situations where you’ll want to be a bit more precise with how you optimize your Meta information and body copy. Like if it’s a more competitive landscape.
But there’s a dark side to optimizing Web pages and Meta information, too. And this is probably one of the bad things you’ve heard about SEO. Optimizing Web pages can get you into trouble when you don’t do it properly.
This leads us to a little teaser for Part 2 of this post: how to provide useful content that both your readers and the search engines love, which, given the time-honored tradition of “keyword stuffing” that Google has vowed to eradicate, has not always been a factor in SEO. But it is now.
Any questions or comments so far? Thanks for reading, and stay tuned.
Jessica Lee Bruce Clay Inc.– Since 2005, Jessica Lee has been in the business of content and communications, with the past several years focused on the Web marketing space. She currently oversees content marketing for Bruce Clay, Inc., a global Web marketing firm. Jessica is also a contributor to the book, “Search Engine Optimization All-in-One For Dummies” (2nd edition). Connect with her on Google+ or follow her on Twitter @BzzContent.

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