Think about the last time you needed to find something. Maybe it was the name of George Clooney’s birth place, the nearest coffee shop, or the best recipe for chocolate chip cookies (Lexington, KY, a Starbucks probably, and no one knows, respectively). You almost certainly plugged your question into a search engine, and if you’re like about 30% of people, you clicked on the first result. Getting to the top of the SEO charts is a mandatory part of any business’s success in the modern marketplace, and it’s not too hard to get started. 

1. Find the Right Keywords

The first step in optimizing your site is finding the right keywords. If you have even a passing familiarity with SEO, you’ll know that you want to optimize your site for search terms that tie in clearly to products or services you offer. But the best keywords contain more than just relevant references to your business.

The process starts with keyword research. Imagine what a prospective customer of your business might be searching for when trying to find a product or service like yours. Think about what their problems and priorities are, and how they might explain that to a search engine query.

You’ll almost certainly come up with a substantial list or words and phrases your potential customers might use to find your business, so the next step is picking the best options. You’ll want a keyword that sits at the nexus of popular and accessible, meaning that searchers use it frequently, but it’s not dominated by household brand names. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great place to get started on finding frequently-used, competitive keywords. If you want to dive deep, take a spin with Moz.com’s Keyword Explorer, which will rank search terms based on use, competitiveness and perceived opportunity.

You’ll also want to focus on picking keywords (or combinations of keywords) that telegraph intent. For example, a shopper searching for “shoes” is probably much further from buying something than a shopper searching for “blue nike air size six.” These longer search terms sit on what is known as the “long tail,” meaning they occur much less frequently than other search terms. Yet despite their relative unpopularity, they’re much more likely to convert into sales than a super-popular one-word search term.

2. Gauge the Competition

Take a spin through your competitors’ websites and see what they’re doing. Not only is this great competitive intelligence, but it’s also a great source of inspiration for your own search terms. If a larger, more successful competitor is dominating an industry you aim to disrupt, observing their SEO strategy will help you emulate and compete with them.

To determine this, you’ll need to either take advantage of some dedicated SEO software or do some digging into your competitor’s site. You’ll want to look for things like the keywords in page titles, meta tags, headlines and body copy. Look out for words that appear repeatedly, and make sure to look at the sitemap to try and parse what keywords are being targeted. If you’re not sure how to do all that, team up with an SEO professional to get started.

3. Create Amazing Content

In an ideal world, every visitor to your site would have their credit card out the moment they arrived. However, in our less-than-perfect reality, people are most often looking for content. They want to see something informative, helpful, funny, unique, creative, or inspiring. Take a quick look at what gets shared on Facebook and you’ll see this concept illustrated over and over again. If you want more visitors to your site, creating content that people actually want to see – and share – is crucial.

But what do your visitors want to see? For a lot of industries, blog posts that help explain common questions or provide useful guidance are going to be the most successful. Shoppers aren’t often sure what they need, and if you can provide them with fair, realistic advice, the additional time they spend reading your content will do wonders for your SEO and your conversion rates.

4. Publish Content Regularly

Bringing more visitors to your site isn’t just a goal of your SEO campaign – it’s also integral to its success. The more visitors that come to your site after searching for a specific term, the more you’ll see your site rise in the search engine result pages (SERPs) for that term.

To make this happen, you need to give people a reason to come to your site. While the excellent content you’re producing will go a long way towards that end, even the most useful how-to posts won’t help if your content never gets updated. You don’t need to be producing new pieces daily, but a few weekly blog posts will help you in more ways than one.

First, it gives visitors an excuse to become regulars. If they love your content, they’ll visit again for new material, even if they aren’t currently interested in buying what your selling. Second, search engines are biased in favor of frequently updated sites, since they don’t want to show users ancient web pages. And finally, a recently-updated blog is an excellent way to convey credibility to a new client. The last thing you want is a “most recent” post that’s a year old.

5. Optimize Your Site

Of course, optimizing your site’s HTML is a key part of the SEO process. This is a long, complex process, but the first step is getting your chosen keywords into the right place. Some critical places include your webpage’s title tags, meta descriptions, and page headings. You’ll also want your terms organically placed inside of your page’s copy, and using relevant, descriptive search terms in your images’ filenames and alt tags will improve your ranking as well.

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