If you’re new to search engine marketing you may be confused by the contradicting information that you see online. If you’ve attempted to optimize and market a website you’ve probably learned from experience who is providing valid advice and who is pushy hype.
Although this is by no means a complete look at the subject, here are ten things that I have learned to be true about search engine marketing.
1. SEM Requires a Solid Foundation
While there are a lot of factors that play a role in determining your website’s chances for success, you’re very unlikely to achieve and maintain high rankings for competitive words and phrases if your site is poorly constructed. Search engine optimization includes far more than page titles, headers and alt tags, but a website built with a properly optimized foundation will have a much better chance for success.
Sure, there is more to it than how your site is coded, but the code is the first piece to the puzzle. Poorly-structured websites, even those that receive significant search engine traffic, are not reaching the potential that exists with some relatively simple planning.
If you are building a new website or blog don’t cut corners to get it launched quicker, make sure it is done right. You’ll save yourself the headache of trying to optimize the site after it has been built.
2. SEM Takes Time and Work
If you want to rank well for competitive words and phrases, you will have plenty of competition that is willing to invest time and money into beating you. That’s not to say that you can’t out do the competition, but at least be realistic that it will not be easy.
If you are targeting less competitive long-tail search terms, ranking well may not be as difficult, but time-consuming keyword research and content creation may be needed. If it was easy everyone would have top 10 rankings, and that’s obviously not possible.
3. There is No Magic Secret
Many people that are new to internet marketing are led to believe that only a handful of people out there hold a precious secret to automatic and almost effortless search engine rankings. Those who are selling e-books on the subject would like you to believe that with their magic formula you can quickly and easily dominate the competition.
The truth is, if it’s easy 1) everyone already knows about it, or 2) it will likely get you banned by search engines if you get caught. Of course there are plenty of great products and writers out there who provide genuine information, but the market in this field seems to be overrun with hype that preys on new marketers looking for fast results.
4. Most Traffic Will Not Enter Through Your Homepage
If you’ve been online for any amount of time and you pay attention to your website’s statistics, you’ve probably noticed that the majority of visitors who find your site through search engines actually come through secondary pages. This is especially true for blogs, in which case the individual blog posts are usually more optimized for specific search phrases than the blog front page.
If you are focusing all of your optimization efforts on your homepage you are missing valuable opportunities. Each page on your website/blog gives you an opportunity to target different words and phrases.
Understand that many of your visitors will not be arriving via your homepage and set up the navigation so that they can still easily make their way through your site without needing the homepage.
5. Your Pages Need to Convert
High search engine rankings for competitive phrases will bring a lot of traffic. However, unless you’re content to just see high counts of visitors, your work is not done. If you are doing business online there is obviously some ultimate goal that you want to accomplish from your traffic. Do you want them to buy a product, subscribe to your blog/newsletter, click on a PPC ad? Traffic is just the first part of the equation. Converting that traffic is equally important.
The first step is to know what you want from your visitors. Now, set up your pages to lead them to take that action, whatever it may be. (For information on creating effective landing pages, see Copyblogger’s article Seal the Deal: 10 Tips for Writing the Ultimate Landing Page.)
6. Results Are Not Permanent
Just because your website has good rankings or bad rankings today does not mean that things will not change. Especially for very competitive phrases, even highly-ranked sites need to at least monitor their rankings and be ready to take action if they fall. If you have achieved high rankings you can continue to tweak your pages, or you may want to leave them alone to avoid making changes that negatively affect your rankings. If your website is not ranking well, especially if it is new, don’t worry. Keep working to optimize your site and improvements are likely.
7. Quantity and Quality Are Both Important
Obviously, having high quality optimized pages is important to gain search engine traffic. But don’t overlook the value of having a large number of pages on a site that are all contributing to the overall traffic numbers. Websites that have established themselves as authority sites in the eyes of the search engines can quickly achieve high rankings for new pages, while other less established websites may have been competing for the same traffic for a much longer time.
Having a huge number of pages indexed by search engines is one way to increase the amount of traffic you receive. Blogs are a great example of this. With each new blog post that is published there is now one more page that is capable of drawing search engine traffic. While this may not make a difference from day-to-day, if you can post frequently and regularly, it will make a big difference in a year’s time.
8. Having a Game Plan is Crucial
Search engine marketing requires you to have a strategy and an idea of how you are going to accomplish your objectives. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough to just create content and watch the traffic flow. Taking some time at the start of a new project to determine your game plan can save time down the road and it can make your project much more successful. If you’ve already got a website and you’d like to get more visitors from search engines, it’s not too late to develop a game plan.
9. Keyword Research is Worth Your Time
One of the frustrations with search engine marketing is that it can be very tedious. However, targeting the right keywords can be the difference between failing for extremely competitive phrases or thriving by targeting less competitive phrases. Keyword research is a big part of developing the game plan that was mentioned above.
If keyword research is done at the start of a project you’ll be ahead of the game and able to build the site around the words and phrases that you want to target. Fortunately, there are a number of useful tools to help with this process, and many of them are free.
10. Unethical Shortcuts Have Consequences
If you are looking to build a website for the long-term, make sure you don’t violate any of the terms of ethical search engine optimization. Unfortunately, the search engines themselves have the right and the ability to determine what they consider to be ethical or unethical. Recently there has been a lot of attention on Google’s “punishments” for websites that buy and/or sell links. This is this most highly-publicized example right now, but other black hat techniques can also result in getting your site banned by search engines.
While this is certainly not an all-inclusive list, I think it does address a number of important issues related to search engine marketing. What other items would you add, or what do you disagree with?
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