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Search engine optimization (SEO) of any website is a process of constantly adding to and modifying your site over the course of months and even years. But every process has a beginning. Here are some steps you should take to begin the process of improving your website’s search engine rankings, whether you are doing it yourself or hiring someone to do it for you.

Start With Keywords

All searches start with a set of phrases typed into a Google, Bing, Yahoo or other search box. Therefore, a good place to start is to think through what your customers are searching for. This is a good first step to any website related project, even if you are not doing SEO. Start by putting yourself in your customer’s shoes, what questions are they asking? What problems do they need solved? What services do you offer? What products do you sell? When possible, use combinations of keywords rather than single words. The more specific you get with multi word phrases, the more targeted you can get your marketing to be. Get your employees and co-workers together, especially your sales staff if you have one, and ask them to help brainstorm and start writing down all the keywords and phrases you can think of.

Refine Your Keyword List

Test your keywords to get additional ideas and to refine the existing ones. A great place to start is the Google search box. It has an autofill feature that will suggest to you more detailed keyword phrases based on what other people in your city or state are searching for. Go to Google.com and give it a try. Let’s take one of my favorite topics, hamburgers. Let’s say your business is a hamburger restaurant. Type “hamburger” into the Google search box and you will see a list of suggestions on what others are searching for.

Google autofill

You can see the autofill has given us additional suggestions. The first, “hamburger menu” tells me that people searching are looking for an actual menu, so I would immediately think about making sure my site has my restaurant’s menu, and then using the phrase multiple times throughout my site to capture that search result. The next result is “hamburger recipe”. It might be time to think about adding some free recipes to the site to attract more users. The third result is an example of something we may want to throw out as it may not be relevant to our specific business.

If you want to get more sophisticated, you can get actual volume data on how likely a keyword phrase will attract potential customers. Go to adwords.google.com and set up an account. You will need to enter your credit card information, but Google will not charge you unless you actually activate an ad so don’t worry, use of the included tools are free.

Once your account is ready, click on Tools then Keyword Planner and then Search for new keywords using a phrase and start entering keywords. In this example, let’s test the viability of “hamburger restaurant”.

Adwords Keyword Planner

I’ll leave all other settings on default. Click Get ideas and take a look at the results.

Adwords Keyword Planner

Google first tells us here that, nationally, the phrase “hamburger restaurant” is searched 14,800 times a month. If we include the search term burger joint (third on the lower list), we can capture an additional 40,500 searches a month. It’s not telling you that you should use these search terms, it’s just giving you suggestions. One of the most powerful things about the keyword planner is that you can also constrain your results to a particular geographic area. Here are the same results but only for Honolulu County. You can see below that our phrase is really not searched much in Honolulu, so we may want to expand the keyword list to include a bunch of other options.

Adwords Keyword Planner Honolulu Only

Integrate the keywords into your site

The next step is the actual technical work, but is actually the easiest step if you complete the first two steps correctly. Take your new list of keywords and integrate them into your site. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Each page within your site should focus on a different set of relevant keyword phrases. You’re not just optimizing your front page. Remember, content is everything. If we are targeting “hamburger menu” and “hamburger recipe”, we should have a menu page AND a recipe page and not try to get all of that into a single page of content.
  • Title tags should include the chosen keywords, but should also be descriptive of the page. For example, even though we chose to include the keyword phrase “hamburger menu”, we are not going to put that in the title tag of the home page, but definitely in the title tag of the page that contains the restaurant’s menu.
  • Each page should also contain an H1 tag that includes the relevant keyword phrase.
  • Content should include relevant keyword phrases 1-3 times, at least once within the first paragraph or somewhere near the top of the page. Go through each page and re-write your content to make this happen.

To help facilitate this process, I normally create a spreadsheet of every page on my site, its purpose, title, description, and relevant keywords. Bear in mind, this article is really just the first step of search engine optimization that should be done within the first few days of a website’s launch. For more information on additional strategies over the course of the first few months of your SEO plan, please see my article on Technical SEO. Following that, check out my article on the most important part of search engine optimization, Content SEO, which takes place over the course many months to many years of your marketing campaign.

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