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In part 1 of this blog series, I provided a quick overview of what it takes to get your site ranked high in the organic search results on Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.; how paid links (and various other spammy link building strategies) came to be, and how Google is fighting them. In today’s post, I’m going to provide you with some penguin-proof SEO strategies as well as a few ethical link building tactics (read my first post if you don’t know what Google Penguin is).
The Ultimate SEO Question
Every business owner wants to be ranked on the first page of search results for keywords relevant to their business, but the real question you have to ask yourself is, “do you really deserve to be there?” As I’ve mentioned repeatedly on this site, Google wants to connect searchers with the most relevant and authoritative website for any given search query. So, if you’ve just opened a plumbing company in Washington, DC, and you’ve yet to do a single job for someone other than a family member, do you really think you should be on the first page for “plumbers in DC” – when there are dozens of far more established DC plumbers? If you answered “yes”, you’re lying to yourself.
To rank well organically, over an extended period of time and without threat of penalization, you need to establish your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it and promote yourself in a way that adheres to the search engines quality guidelines.
The Two Types of SEO
As you think about things from this perspective – Google wants to match their searchers with the most relevant and authoritative websites given the search term used – you start to realize that there are two types of SEO. The first is giving deserved businesses their place at the table. Kolb Electric has been around for 90+ years. They are one of the largest residential and commercial electrical contractors in the Baltimore Washington area. But Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc. would never know this because, up until very recently, they had a poorly structured, 10 page website. As a result, the company frequently could not be found on the first page of the search engines for relevant keywords (they still don’t have the visibility they deserve, but we’re working on that!).
The second type of SEO, put ethically, is “acting as if.” A new, but tech savvy contractor realizes that it’s far cheaper to look like an authority online than in the “real world” and goes “all in” with online marketing. Going “all in” with online marketing and SEO allows the small contractor to leap-frog bigger and more established competitors resulting in more web visits, leads, and sales. In a short period of time, the tech savvy contractor has grown from “the new guy” to one of the industry leaders, and the formerly larger and more established companies are scratching their heads wondering what happened.
Sound familiar? It should because it happens ALL the time.
Of course, some small companies don’t jump to the top of Google by “acting as if.” Some are merely violating Google’s webmaster quality guidelines and leaping to the top in an undeserved manner. You don’t really have to be an SEO expert to recognize one of these companies when you see them. Take the SEO industry as an example. When you search for various SEO related keywords, you typically find two different types of websites – those that seem almost as if they are an empty shell (a few salesy pages loaded to the brim with promises and guarantees) and those trying to educate and provide value first, then sell. (For the record, we try to do the latter – check out our Case Studies, Blog / Learning, and FAQs and tell us if we’re succeeding!)
How to Become Relevant and Build Genuine Authority
Making your website relevant should be easy. First, think of the keywords someone would use to find your website. Second, make an exhaustive list of them. Now, outline all the pages of your website – homepage, about page, services page, service A, service B, project photos, testimonials, blog, blog post 1, blog post 2, etc. To be seen as relevant by the search engines, you need to make sure that each page of your website is specific and targeted toward a handful of related keywords.
Here’s a basic example…
Let’s say you’re an exterior remodeling company in Maryland and one of your specialties is cedar shake roof installation. You have a single “services” page that lists all the services you provide – from roofing and windows, to patios and siding. Your competitor, on the other hand, also has a main services page, but he also has a page for each individual service – a page for roofing, a page for siding, etc. Even more than that, your competitor has individual pages about the different types of roofing materials he specializes in – cedar shake roofing, raised seam metal roofing, slate roofing, etc. All other things being equal, which site do you think Google will see as more relevant for the search phrase, “cedar shake roofing contractors in city state”?
If you guessed company number two (aka the competitor), you guess correctly.
To be relevant, all you need to do is embrace the content marketing revolution and fill your website with valuable information that is hyper-targeted to your prospects – content that explains what you do and who you serve. Of course, this assumes your website is structured in a way that the search engines can find, read, and index (a website audit can help you determine this). Establishing authority, on the other hand, is much more difficult – especially in the short-term. It’s also nearly impossible to fake (at least for an extended period of time).
Although there is no “one path” to becoming an authority, with few exceptions, you need to be a leader.
Being a leader means knowing more about your industry, trade, service area, prospects, and customers than anyone else. Think about the real estate agent that knows a neighborhood like their own reflection in the mirror. They know the weather, landscape, the builder, the architecture, the history, the traffic, the schools, the people, etc. Compare this person to someone simply going through the motions. You ask them a specific question and you get an answer like, “you know, I’m not really sure.” To be recognized as an authority, you have to be THE expert, and you have to get out on increasingly larger stages and speak as such.
If this process sounds overwhelming, take a tip out of Jim Collins book, “From Good to Great.” One of the tip Jim gives in the book is to focus on the one thing at which you can be the best in the world. Whether that thing is very broad or incredibly niche, is up to you. If you’re very ambitious or you’re already running a nationwide window company, you might define a goal to “become the best window replacement contractor in North America.” If you’re just getting started in the industry, you might define your area to be 20 miles around Annapolis, MD.
Becoming an Authority Online
Establishing yourself as an authority online isn’t really that much different from being recognized as an authority in the “real world.” Here are 2 steps to get you there quickly:
1. Build a remarkable website.
Your website is the centerpiece of your online marketing presence, so before you dive into every conceivable online marketing strategy and tactic, build a fantastic website. A fantastic website tells a story about you and your business – what you do, how you got started, what makes you different, who you serve, how you serve them, etc.
In almost every industry, your website should also contain information that helps your prospective customers make better decisions. You can do this with a blog, with customer testimonials, with photo galleries, with case studies, frequently asked questions, or all of the above. When someone searches “plumber in DC”, there are typically at least a dozen or so questions floating around their head – things like:
- Who is the local go-to-guy?
- Will they be able to get to me today?
- Have they fixed problems like mine before?
- What type of payment do they accept?
- What can I expect?
By proactively answering these questions – and these are just the tip of the iceberg – not only will you convert more visitors into leads and sales, but you’ll also find more of your pages ranking on the first page of search results (which equals more website visitors).
2. Promote your content.
Once you have an awesome website filled with truly useful content, you need to let people know it exists. There are a million ways to promote a website. The point of this post is not to cover them all. What we’re trying to do is provide you with an easily understandable framework that a) will work and b) will not get your website penalized by Google.
> Issue a press release.
Tell the world – the online world in particular – that you’ve got a new website. Be sure to tell them what makes your website different than every other website in your industry. For example, Quality Window & Door is one of the largest window suppliers in Maryland. When we launched their new website, we tried to focus on the things NOT found on every other window company website – things like their Comparison Wall of Windows and their Window Buyer’s Guide.
It’s worth noting that press releases are commonly abused in the SEO world to the point that you shouldn’t expect a direct rankings benefit to come as a result of sending one. The point of sending a release is to start to get the word out about your new site. If there’s nothing really remarkable about your site, you might want to save your money and NOT send the release. Likewise if you’re planning to stuff your release full of keyword-rich anchor links back to otherwise unremarkable pages on your site.
> Reach out to partners, vendors, current/past customers, and complementary local companies.
Like the press release, refer them to your website as a resource and ask them to share it with others (it actually has to be one if this tactic is going to be effective). Ask them how you can make it even more valuable for them in the future. What would they like to see you write about? What questions would they like to see you answer? If applicable, offer supporting content for their website (in exchange for a link back to your site – either in the article or in an author byline).
Again, like press releases, millions of SEO companies are abusing the “guest blog post” concept. If your plan is to write up some “thin posts” – something a non-expert in your industry could have written in 30 minutes doing research on the web – and ask your business owner buddies if they will publish them on their blogs, you might as well go play a round of golf instead. In order to be effective, your guest blog posts, articles, or whatever other content you create, has to be substantial – it has to add value to readers.
> Use social media to promote your content.
For some businesses social media is a no-brainer. For example, there’s no bar or restaurant that should not be on Facebook. How much time / money a local plumber should invest in social media marketing is a more difficult question to answer. At a minimum, you should create social media profiles to protect your brand and your online reputation. You should also use social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube, to promote the content you create on your main site.
If you’re creative, no matter what type of business you have, you can use social media sites to build a community. Every homeowner is going to need a plumber at some point in their life – typically about once every 2-3 years. Where do you think they are going to turn for a recommendation? Most people go to Google and do a search, but increasingly, they also head to Facebook to ask their friends and family for a recommendation. If you can build a social community for your business, you can create the equivalent of a free referral network.
Be warned though – over sharing can quickly cause a growing community to vanish.
Remember, to rank well organically, over an extended period of time and without threat of penalization, you need to establish your company as THE authority for what you do in the markets you do it and promote yourself in a way that adheres to the search engines quality guidelines. Either you already are an authority in the offline world, but your web presence doesn’t indicate it or you are a new company. If you already are an authority, in a way, the hard work is already done. All you need is a good online marketing expert to guide you and a bit of patience. If you’re a new company, the only ethical way to the top is to “act as if.” You need to act the part until it becomes who you really are. Anyone remember Howard Stern declaring himself the “king of all media” long before he really was? Now, by saying this, I’m not suggesting you overstate your credentials, but let’s be honest – the”king”, in this context, is a bit ambiguous.
Anything done for SEO gain only is going to backfire. You know the saying, “easy come, easy go.”
The only viable link building strategy is to create content that is legitimately worth sharing/citing, etc. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about press releases, guest blogs, or infographics. If your link building strategy is to crank out guest blog posts that virtually anyone with a keyword could have created and fill them with links back to your site, that might work for a few more months, but eventually, Google is going to see what’s going on (my guess is that they already have) and flag it. At best, the links you’ve built will be valued at zero. At worse, your site gets penalized – meaning your rankings drop or your site is removed from Google’s organic listings altogether.
Want a tip for detecting when something is remarkable?
It’s the idea that everyone else thinks is crazy. Some people probably think that Quality Window & Door is crazy for putting a wall full of their competitor’s windows in their showroom, but that’s what makes QWD’s wall of windows remarkable. These guys have expert knowledge not just of their own products, but of their competitor’s products! They are going to help you pick the right replacement windows for your home – even if that means buying them from someone else.
Next time you look at a search results page, think about what Google is trying to do – match searchers with the most relevant and authoritative companies/websites. Don’t pay too much attention to the sites you see today. Recognize that in some industries, every organic listing is someone “gaming the system.” With the changes Google has been making, I don’t think you’ll have to worry about these folks for very much longer.
Instead, use your knowledge of your industry/market, think about who SHOULD be there. Ask yourself, “do I deserve to be there for XYZ keyword?” If the answer is, “YES!”, your solution might be as simple as getting some of what you have in the offline world on your website. If the truthful answer is, “probably not”, think about what you can do to “act as if.” What content could you add to your website to start to get people to recognize your company as THE authority?
And when you get tired of trying to answer this question on your own, contact us!
About The Author: Ben Landers is the President and CEO of Blue Corona, a data-driven, inbound internet marketing company. Submit an inquiry to book Ben to speak at your next conference or event.
View more blogs by Ben Landers