And just like that, I launched a powerful volley over the net to the other company, neck and neck with me for #1 position on Google for “Whiskey soap.”
That’s called Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and it influences where you show up on search results for various search terms. It isn’t difficult to do, as long as you know what you’re doing, and it’s possible (even preferable) to do SEO in ethical and non-obtrusive ways (the above was a bit obnoxious, but to illustrate a point).
Why do you care about where your products show up in a search?
Because the closer to the #1 position your product or page is, the more likely you are to get that click onto your site. And if that page is relevant to what the person was searching for, you’re likely to keep their interest.
If someone searches for Whiskey Soap, they are either looking for how to make whiskey soap or to buy some whiskey soap. Either way, my page is pretty relevant to their interests.
You might be asking yourself why I wouldn’t be trying for the #1 position of “soap.” First, there is almost no way to top the search results for “soap.” There are so many kinds of soaps (laundry soap, bath soap, television soaps, etc) and my soap is pretty specialized. I’d bet most people would not be into soap that smells like campfire or leather. Not only that, but a major, reputable company has the #1 position: Soap.com. Having the search term in your base URL is a pretty strong indicator of relevancy.
Second, Google wants to stay the #1 search company in the world, so they keep refining their indexing to ensure they deliver the most relevant results possible.
Things that used to work 10 years ago (metadata keywords, for example) don’t work today. Why? Because some companies used these tools to drive traffic to their site even though their site actually had nothing to do with those keywords, which was bad for the searcher. The searcher just wants to find what they’re looking for, not the thousand irrelevant messages that smarmy SEO marketeers want them to see.
These days, it’s all about showing actual relevance to Google.
By showing that your content is genuinely relevant, Google will accurately index your pages no matter how their algorithm evolves.
Before you can start improving your SEO, think about what people who buy your product are looking for. Think specifically about what differentiates your products from everyone else’s and jot down these differences. For example, Dove makes grocery store sensitive-skin soap. Squid Balm hand-makes sensitive-skin soap. I make outdoorsy-scented soaps. But people don’t search for “outdoorsy soap;” they search for “campfire soap” or “pine soap” or “sage soap.”
Then think about what SEO battles you can win. Yes, you’ll be optimizing for all the terms, but there are some winning battles (“whiskey soap“), some long, cold winter battles (“pine soap“and “sage soap“), and some hopeless causes (“lavender soap“). I will never get on the first page of results for “lavender soap,” no matter what I do. I am too small and the ocean is too big. And the first page is all that matters.
Do searches for these terms and see what the competition is like. Do they have the search terms in their URL? Do they use the search terms in the titles of the page?
If you are a dork, this is where things get exciting.
You are going to take those companies on. Really, it’s a race to first place. And through systematic effort, you can totally do it. The key is consistency. I’ll give you the important tasks, but it’s up to you to be diligent in using them.
Though Google’s requirements are always changing, there are some very effective ways of showing relevance. Here they are in order:
- Your site URL. If you only do or sell ONE service or product, make it part of your URL, and your business name. This gives you a tremendous advantage.
- Your page URLs. Have the search terms in your individual page’s URL, if you can. So, for example, I want people to find Hair of the Dog when they do a search for “whiskey soap.” I have included “whiskey soap” in the URL, even though the soap isn’t called “whiskey soap.” It’s called Hair of the Dog.
- Your page titles. The page title is what shows on the search results pages, so you want to make sure it looks relevant. Google will bold the search terms that the searcher used, so they’ll stand out in the search results. Just because fewer people look at the page title doesn’t mean you can ignore it.
- The headlines of your pages. Google looks for the headlines on your pages (identified by <h1> to <h6> tags) and weighs their relevance to the content of the page (duh, right?). If you can include your search terms in a headline, all the better.
- Cross-linking within your site. This feels tedious to me, but it’s very important. Whenever you use the search terms in your site, link those words to the page you want to be associated to those terms. Not only does this bolster the credibility of that page’s relevance, but it also bolsters your whole site’s relevance because Google thinks you’re talking an awful lot about those search terms.
- Your pages’ meta-descriptions. These are the descriptions that show up on the Google search results pages. They’re slightly less important than page title, but still can help Google index. Don’t just toss a bunch of keywords in there, though; write out a cool, useful summary of each page’s content. Google will show it below the page title and URL in their results.
- Links from other sites. It’s a big one, but it’s hard to just make this happen. If a blogger or, say, Pyragraph (ahem!), publishes an article and links the search terms back to your site, that’s a HUGE help to your search rank. And the more credible the organization (based on traffic), the more valuable this link will be. So, for example, Laughing Squid linking to our site with the words “unicorn poop” made me look really good to people searching for those words on Google.
Can this all get super annoying to people? Yes. So be careful with improving your SEO score.
If you get carried away with SEO, you can turn your site into an unintelligible jumble of search terms. That’s why you want to focus on one search term per page. And if you think about it, your page probably is only really tightly relevant to that one search term anyways, and the rest is just wild optimism.
So use these tools for good! Search on your terms every couple weeks and see how you’re doing in the race. Google now personalizes results to you (and of course it’ll give you your own results first), so for global results, click the globe button in the upper right corner of the search results. Good luck!