By John Thyfault, Vice President of Search & Social Strategy, Beasley Direct Marketing
In Parts 1 and 2 of this series, we dealt with boosting your SEO using a technical site review and keyword research. In this installation, we talk about improving SEO through a web content audit. While there is significant overlap with keyword research, analyzing how your content is structured as a whole and what it contains has turned content into the kingpin of search engine optimization. You must have effective content that will resonate with your audience, directly addressing their issues and written in the same language that customers use to search for your type of product or service.
First, use the language that your customers use to search. Google, Bing, Yahoo! and the other search engines look at your website as a whole, not page by page. As you are doing your content audit, you need to take the same perspective. Search engines look for the content that best matches the language used by the searcher. You need to understand the language your users/potential customers are entering into search engines, as this will be key to ranking well.
There are many ways to discover this language. Probably the easiest is to speak directly to your customers. Ask how they would describe your products/services and what their benefits are. Also talk to your own customer support staff and sales people. Both groups have more day-to-day contact with customers and potential customers than anyone else in your company. They will often have the greatest insight into the language customers are using.
Beyond these, look at your competition. Examine how they structure their websites and what language they use to communicate their offerings. Look at industry-specific analysts, blogs, and press coverage to understand the language the industry uses to talk about your category of products or services. Frequently, third-party analysts will create an industry term or classification that gets picked up in common parlance.
As you study these four areas, you’ll begin to see common terms and phrases shared across the industry. Ideally, these phrases will be three or more words and will be specific to your own offering. Research has shown that “Nearly 60% of all impressions, clicks and conversions occur with 11-20 characters.” (Head vs. Long Tail Keywords Analyzed: Impressions, Clicks, Conversions & Profitability, Search Engine Watch, Thumasathit, 10/4/12)
Once you have a good list of keywords, study the potential traffic and competition associated with those terms (and try to expand the list if possible). There are a number of tools that can give you the numbers, such as Google Adwords, Google Keyword Planning Tool, WordTracker.com, keyworddiscovery.com and spyfu.com. Using these tools will allow you to expand your keyword list to give you new combinations and ideas. They will provide overall monthly traffic volume on competitive sites, giving you a relative benchmark for the amount of traffic competitors are experiencing using the same keywords.
Your next step in analyzing your site’s content is assigning these keywords on a page-by-page basis. As you go through this process, you can narrow down the number of keywords on the list by determining which ones are the most critical and eliminating the weaker ones. However, you may have one key phrase that works across all pages.
At this point, you move beyond keyword analysis and begin digging into the content of your site and its semantic structure. How the site is organized, the quality of the content and “shelf-life” of the content all come into play.
Take a step back and analyze how your site is structured and organized. Search engines award more points to sites that are well organized by subject. This is your opportunity to send the right signals to Google et al by having a site organized by subject, and where all pages related to and supportive of one another.
Create a semantic map of your site. This is done by taking each directory by page and looking at the page title, meta-description, headlines, and subheads on each page and laying them out on a spreadsheet. This is a relatively simple way to understand how your site is structured and how the different pages relate to each other. Once you have this semantic map, take your keywords and insert them into the content on each page where they are likely to draw search engines’ attention. These areas include page title, headlines and areas on the page with visual emphasis such as a bulleted list, italicized copy and subheads. Be sure that the keywords you’re inserting really encapsulate the essence of each page on the site. This careful and systematic mapping of keywords will help to increase your search engine visibility.
Let’s look at a sample site and create a quick semantic map of the creative services sections of the site, specifically the email, direct mail and search marketing pages.
Figure 1: Semantic Map Example
Source: Beasley Direct Marketing
While having descriptive keywords in the right positions is valuable, nothing trumps having well-written copy in active voice that encourages the customer to take the next step in purchasing your product/service. Google actually cares about active voice, so take a close look at this. Search engines look at how long people stay on each page and it’s been shown that passive voice tends to make people bounce of the page faster. (Understanding the Impact of Dwell Time on SEO, Search Engine Journal, Patel, 6/11/14) Many companies that sell technical products tend to fall back into passive voice as a matter of habit, so if yours is a high tech business, take a good, hard look at your content for passive voice.
Be sure to include longer-format articles, not just descriptions of your products and services. Google wants to see that you are providing information to the market that customers will find informative and helpful. There are several formats that come under this heading, such as white papers, tutorials and case studies.
When you are describing products/services, good copy includes not just features but customer benefits. Tell people why they want to buy and show them that you have solutions to their problems.
Refresh your content if it ages. It’s best to have content that can maintain its value over a long period of time, but when content ages, keep your site relevant by clearing out the deadwood. Make sure that your site (which Google and others examine as a whole, remember) tells a coherent story, supported by strong content.
Of course, in the final analysis, you are writing primarily for the customer, not for the search engines. Keep your customer firmly in mind when writing website copy—but be mindful of that list of keywords and mapped content at all times.
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John has more than 18 years of marketing, sales and product development experience, and he brings a proven track record of successful campaign, program and product development expertise. His knowledge of search engine optimization and marketing, combined with an in-depth understanding of customer identification, market analysis and segmentation, allows him to deliver high returns on our client’s marketing investment for both business-to-consumer and business-to-business markets.
Prior to working with Beasley Direct, John was Senior Client Services Project Director at ThirdAge.com, a first wave baby boomer lifestyle and community website. At ThirdAge he successfully led major client sponsorships for Fortune 100 companies in healthcare (Tylenol), financial services (American Century), technology (Intel & IBM) and consumer products areas (Revlon & Viactive). He was responsible for strategic and tactical goal setting, project management, new product creation and web site production. John previously worked in Channel Marketing and National Account Sales for IDG Books Worldwide, the publishers of the immensely popular “…For Dummies” book series. Additionally, he managed the wholesale distributor sales channel for Tor/Forge Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press.
John is active in local marketing associations, including the Direct Marketing Association, the Business Marketing Association and is currently serving on the board of directors for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association.
John has taught search engine marketing fundamentals extensively. He has led workshops for the Silicon Valley American Marketing Association, Northern California Direct Marketing Association (DMAnc.org) and the Business Marketing Association. He also teaches Search Engine Marketing at UCSC Extension (Silicon Valley).