We had a brief overview of SEO, but let’s get a little more into what exactly SEO is and how we can improve it. In this blog, I’ll start that discussion, revealing a little more about how I approach thinking about Search Engines and building a foundation. In a later post, I’ll talk about actual elements of your website and general web presence that build a solid foundation for SEO regardless of the changes in algorithms, platforms, and trends.
The internet has changed a lot in the last 20 years… and months… and weeks. At one time, having a website was “good enough,” but with developments in algorithms and with our society making vast changes in the way we interact with information and one another, strategies have had to adapt.
And that can be daunting.
How do you build and maintain a website that meets the needs of the current demands without making your website your job?
There will always be updates to be made. You have to stay on top of new expectations and platforms. You will need to overhaul regularly (ranging from every few years to every few months depending on your business). It’s just the facts. If you want a web presence, this is something you will need to accept.
What Is SEO, Really?
Briefly, SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is your/your business’ ranking when someone does a web search.
By now, you probably know that.
But while we usually think Google and the like, there are lots of platforms used as search engines that get ignored, including Pinterest, Yelp!, YouTube, map apps, and so on. There are even platforms primarily used for social media or content sharing that are used more and more as search engines, such as Facebook, Instagram, DeviantArt, etc.
So, Search Engine Optimization is making sure you show up at the top of results:
...when people search
...in the platform where they are searching
...for what they are searching for.
Always keep in mind these search engines and search features are working to ensure their customer is thrilled with the results. They want their customers to find exactly what they want (or didn’t know they wanted but do now) in a quick and orderly fashion and enjoy doing it. The search engine looks at your website as well as your presence off your website and matches it with the specific customer’s search, preferences, and activities. But, of course, it does it all through data collection.
And that’s where the algorithm comes in.
An algorithm is essentially a math equation that collects data from multiple sources and compiles it to rank websites/accounts as most likely to please their customer. Most algorithms have secrets, but there are strategies that should always help rather than hinder.
Oh yeah. You can actually hurt your results in the algorithm. But more on that later.
But before you can create this foundation that will last through algorithm changes, you have to focus on your target audience.
Why Is Target Audience Important to SEO?
If you don’t know your target audience and what they want, you’re jumping the gun and probably wasting resources. Building a solid web presence is an investment of valuable resources--time, money, energy, hope--you could be spending elsewhere expanding your business, making profit, and investing outside your business. The last thing you want to do is use all those precious resources making indistinguishable noises to a large, nondescript audience who is already being bombarded with indistinguishable noises from others.
And search engines know this.
Remember, search engines are looking to deliver the best search results to their customers at the moment the customer is engaging in their search. So they use lots of information, including where the customer has just been, the season and weather the customer is experiencing in that moment, if they recently bought a new car, etc.
Algorithms target their customers’ needs based on the customer’s activity and demographic information, and so should you. If for no other reason than to appease the algorithm gods.
But, if algorithms do it, it’s probably a smart thing to do. And in this case, it certainly is.
Think about it:
If you knew Taylor wants what you have and is ready to buy it, you would research Taylor’s specific situation and craft your pitch accordingly.
If you had an audience of 100 random people, not knowing what they need or where they’re coming from, you’d have to say more, say it louder, and water down your message so everyone could identify with it. You might get a sale, but you’d be spending a lot of energy for shaky results.
But, if you knew Taylor would be in a group of 100 similar people, and you targeted your message to Taylor, others in the group would be much more likely to hear it, identify with it, and turn to hear more.
Knowing who is most likely to buy your stuff, where they will be, and what they want is essential to effective communication… and effective SEO strategy.
Once you know your target audience and have developed strategies around it, your SEO is dependent upon two things: your website and everything connected to your website. And of course that gets complicated as we take a closer look.
Which we will do, but this blog is getting long. Stay tuned!
Developing Marketing Strategies can be a challenge, especially without a solid foundation of brand, identity, core values, and knowing your target audience(s). I can help with that. Let’s talk about where your business is and where you want to be!
I get it. I do.
You don't do social media.
Maybe you don't know how to, you don't care, you don't have the time, you can't afford it, or you just don't see how it can benefit you. Many businesses don't ever tap into the full potential of social media.
And honestly, that's ok. If you aren't going to do it right, it can actually hurt you more than it helps you.
But, unfortunately, you still need to be on social media, and there is a bare minimum you should put into it. And that's what this blog is about.
But first, a story,
Jenny posted on Facebook, “John and I are finally getting a night away from the kids! And since we don’t have to worry about finding something the kids will actually eat, we’re looking for recommendations on local Indian food. Come at me FB!”
The most recommended restaurant from Jenny’s Facebook friends was one of those “ole-in-the-wall, mom-and-pop type places, Indian Kitchen. No one tagged it, and Facebook didn’t automatically pull it up as a recommendation, so Jenny had to search for it. She found one check-in from four years ago, but no actual Facebook profile. So she went to Google. Again, she found only the address and phone number.
And let’s be honest, no one likes to call a restaurant and actually talk to someone.
So Jenny went back to her post, clicked on a recommendation for The Bohri Kitchen (which had a link). She confirmed it would be open and her favorite Indian dish was on the menu.
Jenny and John loved their experience at The Bohri Kitchen, and it became a go-to date night spot. And for years to come, she would fondly reminisce when her memories showed her first check-in with a photo of her and John, so young., and think, we've got to go back there!
And she never thought about Indian Kitchen again.
You're welcome for the bit of cheese.
This scenario happens a million times a day, though the people and the businesses may vary somewhat. A teen sci-fi romance writer looking for the right publisher. A curly-haired, middle aged professional woman looking for a stylist. A mid-scale home renovator looking for a new fencing installer. They get recommendations, then follow up. And they end up wherever they find the info they need.
Unfortunately, this means some of the best providers, even when recommended, will never be a contender simply because they don’t have their information where they need it to be. Which, in summary, is wherever their customer goes to look for it.
I know this because there are analytics that prove it,
And as a potential customer, I do it, too.
The truth is, you don’t need active, vibrant social media that does #AllTheThings in order to be successful. In fact, there are a lot of instances where you can have plenty of success without a social media strategy.
For instance, I have a client who consulted with me about building her social media, but when I started talking to her about her ideal client and her business goals, we agreed that social media is a waste of time for her right now. She would be much more effective at meeting her business goals by focusing on developing a user-friendly website and building one-on-one, in-person relationships with her potential clients.
But that doesn't mean she doesn't need to give her social media presence some attention. When she’s done the leg work and her ideal client is ready to reach out, she has to be accessible! And in most cases, that’s as easy as having a basic presence on social media.
So even though you may not need to have the biggest and best social media, there is still benefit... and an expectation... for all businesses and solo professionals to have at least some sort of presence on social media. And the benefits far outweigh any nuisance, because:
So here is the bare minimum of what your presence on social media should look like.
BEFORE YOU GET STARTED
Always always always, before you do anything, take some time to understand who you are/what your business is, what your values are, what products and services you provide, what value they are to your customer/client, and who your ideal client is.
Worlds of work and trouble and frustration and stalling and wasted effort can be eliminated if you take the time ahead of the process to figure these things out.
And this is the foundation for completing even the bare minimum of your social media presence.
WHERE YOU SHOULD BE
You should not be on every platform. Period. But there are definitely places you should be.
Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter
These are the basic three. Again, people use these platforms as a directory. Sometimes visitors to your profile are looking to engage, but a lot of times they are looking for a website, address, etc. Just make sure you’re there with the bare minimum (see below).
This doesn’t make sense for everyone, because their business may not be “business suit professional.” But consider that people may be interested in interviewing you, writing about you, inviting you to speak at a function, inviting you to their board, etc. Having a complete, professional profile on LinkedIn helps get you there.
Industry-specific platforms like Yelp for restaurants, Goodreads for authors, DeviantArt for artists, etc.
Though these aren’t technically social media platforms, they have a social component to them. But more importantly, they are often shared on social media, and they are a Go-To source for people in your industry, and your ideal client/customer likely knows that. Wherever your ideal client is looking, be there.
Google business profile
You know when you search Google for a business and over to the right there’s a summary? Too often it has almost no information, or worse, it’s incorrect or just ugly. Near the bottom of that profile is a link that says, “Own this business?” Follow that link and get her done.
WHAT YOU SHOULD HAVE ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA
Again, you don't have to go all out, put all your products/services on there, post every day, etc. But the items below are pretty important in ensuring you are using your social media presence minimally but optimally.
Complete bio with INFORMATION... not just flavor.
Too often we are tempted to have our personality shine without grounding it to what we actually do. No, it’s not as fun. But when someone goes to a page, they want to know what is actually going on, if they have the right place, and why they should be there. That’s where the bio/description comes in handy.
You can, of course, accomplish both the basic information and establishing a voice for the business, but make sure you do it well. So when in doubt, follow this format.
Keep in mind, too, that many platforms have word count and media restrictions (links, hashtags, etc.), but others have multiple opportunities for your About info. Just make sure you have the basics front and center before you start getting cute or weird or whatever your flavor is.
As mentioned, people use social media as a directory, so you want to make sure you have all the relevant ways you want someone to contact you. This may include a website, email, phone number and physical and/or mailing address. But don’t include information you won’t respond to or you don’t want someone to have.
Website and other web presence
Not all businesses need a website, but if you have one, especially if you update it with content, you need people to go there.
Where possible, you should have all platforms connected by links. Your FB should mention your Insta, your website should note all the places you are, and so on. And if you are more active on one social media over another, make sure you direct people to that platform in your bio.
Your logo and professional photos
Even if you have bare minimum on your profile, this is a major opportunity to leave a positive… or negative… impression. Make sure the logo(s) and leading photos of your business, your product, and yourself are professional or as close to it as possible.
If you can’t afford professional photos, ask someone who isn’t a professional but who has really good photos of the things you need pictures taken of (not people who take good selfies, it’s not the same). Ask them to take some shots or at least teach you how they take their shots. Definitely offer to pay them for their work, even if it’s not what they do for a living.
And for the record, selfies don’t count for this. You’re welcome to add some in addition to more professional photos, but if you are your business… and most of us are... you should have a professional photo.
A pinned post
Many platforms allow professional profiles to pin a specific post(s) to the top so that this is what people see first when they visit. You can include a welcome post, a bit About your business, directions for how to contact you, what visitors can expect, and any relevant updated information (seasonal hours, free delivery, coming soon, etc.).
AND DON'T FORGET!!!
Keep your information updated!
Set a calendar event, task, or jot down in your planner a day every six months or so to check all your profiles are active and accurate. It’s so frustrating to go to a profile for information and it’s outdated!
So no, you don’t have to be a social media queen. But it’s better for your business to have a foundation of complete and accurate information. Once you have this established, you can let it be or you can take it to the next level of social media optimization with regular posting, interacting with potential customers, and then deep diving into analytics, optimizing each platform’s peculiarities, and developing and managing your own groups (where the gold is!).
If you’d like help, I can do that. I help individuals and businesses develop their social media from bare minimum to custom vibrant, high traffic strategies and services. Let’s set up a 30-minute discovery call so we can see where you’re at, where you want to be, and how I can help get you there!
Elements of Good Blog
You need to write a blog. Maybe it’s for your own website, maybe you’re a guest on another blog. Regardless, you need to make sure every blog you write is as effective as it can be.
There are different definitions of “effective,” depending on why you’re writing a blog. Maybe...
But it’s not enough to just write and hope it works. There’s no, “Well, it may not help, but it can’t hurt, right?” Because the truth is, a bad blog can hurt. There’s a misconception that if you write blogs, it will help your website. But that’s not necessarily true. Bad blogs can...
It’s not enough to just put some half-effort, generic content up and hope for the best. You need forethought and intentionality to make a blog work for you.
Before you get started, before you even make an outline… because I know you make an outline, right?... take a few minutes to think about the blog. You need to know three main things going in, your Purpose (what you want to accomplish with this blog), your Audience (who is most likely to respond to this blog), and your Focus (what exactly are you going to write about).
What do you want people to do after reading this blog? Buy your book? Go to your portfolio? Follow you on Twitter? Before you even start writing, think about what you want your reader to actually do when they’re done. Examples:
Think of me as an expert and hire me as a fantasy comic illustrator.
Buy my book, Drawing Dragons.
Follow me and interact with me on IG.
Determine who, as exactly as possible, will be most likely to do what it is you want to do. Create an imaginary persona if you need to, but give them qualities, interests, and problems that you can help solve. Examples:
Rambling on and on typically doesn’t appeal to readers. Have a central focus/ idea/topic and stick with it. But be specific. Don’t give a general overview of illustrating dragons. Focus on one aspect. Then focus even more. And then even more. And so on.
Deciding your purpose, audience, and focus is the starting place. Your blog will be more effective, whatever that means for you, if you know who the reader is and how you want them to get where you want them to be. Throughout every step of the writing process you need to keep these three things in mind.
But, of course, there’s still a little bit more to it than that!
Once you’ve determined your Purpose, Audience, and Focus, you can finally get to writing. When you feel you’ve at least got a good, fleshed out outline, take a moment to consider how you’re going to polish it up. Here are a few things to consider when you’re putting the final touches on your blog.
Length- Longer blogs (1,500 to 2,500 words) perform best for SEO... as long as they’re interesting and/or informative. Don’t just go on and on for 1,500 words. It’s more about quality than quantity, but it should be quality and quantity. Make sure your writing is well-organized, entertaining, and, if possible, informative. Just think about who would want to read this, what are they looking for, what do they want to continue reading for 15 minutes or more.
Title You want a title that will describe what you’re writing, but you want it to also be intriguing. Meet the interests and/or needs of the audience you’re targeting. Also consider echoing the readers’ thoughts. Ask a question they might be asking when they come across your blog. Or better yet, answer the question they didn’t know they were asking. Examples:
Poor quality, oddly sized/spaced, and irrelevant images can harm your credibility and frustrate your reader, inspiring them to leave.
Also, if you work on the back-end of the blog, make sure you name the file, tag the photo where possible, and provide alternative text, all using as many keywords as you can, to improve SEO (and be cool to the visually impaired).
Links Incorporating links to relevant, reliable sources that actually get clicked can improve your reader’s experience as well as your SEO, but they can be tricky if not done well. Here are some tips:
Formatting Keep in mind that reading on a website is very different from reading a hard copy. It’s much easier to lose your place on a computer, which can be frustrating to the reader and may, in fact, inspire them to leave. Use appropriately placed visual cues and breaks, like:
Effective formatting allows the reader to stop for a brief moment, readjust themselves without losing their place, and skip parts they wouldn’t necessarily want to read… which is ok if you want to keep someone on your page instead of making them trudge through the mud and potentially lose interest.
Call to Action This is a sales term that means, “Getting your reader to do what it is you want them to do.” But don’t think of it as a sales pitch. Think of it as giving the reader what they want.
If you put the forethought into the blog, then you wrote a focused blog with purpose for a particular audience. Likely you’ve gotten your reader to a place where they want to do the thing you want them to do. So let them do it in as easy a manner as possible.
The easiest and most obvious way is with text that says exactly what you want them to do and a hyperlink to where they can do that thing. Definitely have this at the end of your page. Examples:
But you can add calls to action within your writing in more subtle ways as oart of the sentence, context, etc. Examples:
Of course, sometimes you might direct them to another page that has the call to action on it, like a related blog or product page. The idea is to empower your reader to do the thing they now want to do.
Side note: If you’re guest blogging, don’t forget to use your bio for a call to action. In many cases, this is where people are looking for more information about the author, and chances are the reason you’re guest blogging is to get something from the reader.
Obviously there’s more to writing compelling blog copy than this brief list I’ve provided. But with these basic elements of a good blog...or any content, honestly... you’re far better off than simply writing a good paragraph or two.
And if you realize you’re in over your head, you can always invest in professional blog content for your brand. The right content writer will be able to align your goals with your content and create interesting, personalized content that improves engagement and SEO.
Aaaannnnddd here’s a summary checklist for you!
The Gist of SEO
As our digital society develops, algorithms become more and more complex.
Tara Cloud Clark provides freelance consultation, strategy, and implementation for Branding and Identity, Social Media and Content, and Project Management. Here she provides tips on these topics.