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SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of making your website rank higher in search engine results with specific search terms/phrases to generate more sales leads for your business.
So let's have a quick reality check on SEO and what you can expect before getting started with specifics. Many people brand new to having a website wonder why their site doesn't show up immediately on google for a specific search phrase. The short answer is that SEO takes some work, time, and patience. Depending on your market, many other inspectors may already have good SEO in place on their websites, so you may already have some competition that's had a head start on you. But that doesn't mean it is isn't worthwhile. With diligence, it can be done and it can be a great source of very inexpensive advertising. Keep in mind that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) has a lot of fine points and it is difficult to always catch them all. Not everything will be covered here, but hopefully this will give you a good foundation.
Should I bother with it?
Yes. Good SEO can generate inexpensive sales leads. That is the ultimate goal. Typically it's cheaper than paid advertising (although you should highly consider running a paid program as well, but that's a different topic). Most of the work will be right at the beginning of the process, but after you are established, the weekly requirements of your time will be minimal.
Services your site needs
Before you get to Work on your site, I would make sure you have the following services setup for your website (you only have to do these things once).
- Google Webmaster Tools
- Google Analytics
- Google Business Pages
- Bing Webmaster Tools
- Bing Places for Business
You will need to verify or link some of these services to your website. In particular, make sure to enable Google's Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics, at least to start. If you have a WordPress site with HomeGauge, you can use either the All In One SEO or Yoast plugins to insert your Google Analytics and Webmaster Tools codes. (If you are brand new to SEO, Yoast may provide more helpful guidance.) The Webmaster Tools will help show you when you have problems with your site and Google Analytics will give you the ability to track your efforts. Google Business Page and Bing Places for Business -- these are what power the local search results on these sites. Don't skip setting these up! These listings are typically displayed toward the top of search engines, often before organic results. Search online to find the current link to sign up for each of these services.
Key phrase research
The first place to start is to figure out what key phrases you want to target. This is a long topic all on its own, and it sometimes isn't as obvious as you may think. To help with this, there are several keyword tools available to help you. The best one to try is Google's Keyword Planner. You can access this tool by creating a Google AdWords account (you can do this without assuming any costs). You can also search for other similar tools online, which there are many. Take some time with this, but the most obvious place to start is "home inspector *my city*", "home inspection*my city*" and any combination of services you offer and geographic locations. Also try those phrases in different orders and combinations. The keyword research tools will help you find useful variations. Google's tools in particular are handy because they will show you an estimated number of search queries for the phrases -- this can help you decide which specific terms are most useful to target. Sometimes slightly less competitive search phrases with relatively high search volume stick out and can be low hanging fruit to grab.
The next thing to work on is the content of your website. This is maybe the most time consuming part of the whole process, but it will also provide you with the most reward. In general, Google recommends you keep your website content straight forward and made for people to read. Google will penalize sites for tactics attempting to game their search engine, like hiding search terms on a page by making them the same color as the background. So create your content with your reader in mind. Note too that unique content will give you the most benefit -- copying content directly from other sources will not be good for your SEO efforts.
Search engines these days care most about these following things as far as your website content / organization goes:
- Page content
- Title tags
- Description tags
- to header tags
- Links / link text
- Alt tags in images
- Keyword density
You'll note that we didn't mention meta keywords. Meta keywords have been officially ignored by Google for several years. Here is an article explaining more about why meta keywords are no longer important in SEO.
First, target your keyphrases in the text of each page. Make sure your content contains the keyphrase you want to target on a given page. Work in the key phrase a few times, but don't over do it. Do not try to target as many key phrases as you can think of on a single page, I would limit it to one or maybe two keyphrases per page. Trying to target too many phrases per page will make each phrase less valuable on the page (see keyword density below). And importantly, make sure the other key items match up with your content, page by page -- your title, description, header tags, image alt tags, should all contain the most important keyphrase somehow. Make your content human readable with at least 250 words per page (may not apply to certain pages, like contact pages). Pages with less content seem to have less weight and will likely give you worse results.
Be sure they refer to content in the page, contain the most important key phrase for the page, and that they are unique for every page on your site. The title is displayed on the browser's title bar, but not in the page itself. It is also displayed in search engine results, so make sure it is friendly to your potential visitors.
This is what the search engine displays to its users below the title (the link). This is code in the page that does not display directly to the viewer. This content should include the key phrase that is in the content on the specific page and also give the user a reason to click on your link.
The header tags on your page give a hierarchy of information to the search engines (they are also visually larger to smaller text). The most important key phrases for a page should appear in your tag -- in WordPress this is typically the name of the page. Other tags can be used with less importance (the higher the number, the less important the emphasis). This helps the search engines rate importance of items on your page. All your normal text should be in paragraphs, not header text. One additional note on text in paragraphs is that important phrases can be made bold (in html these are marked with a tag). That can help give a hint that these words are important on a page.
Links / link text
Links are another way on your site to highlight key phrases. In this case, you can use key words/phrases inside the text of the link to point to unique pages on your site that focus on that key phrase. This works best if pages are highly targeted and these links are either part of the text content of the site or are on separate navigation elements.
Alt tags in images
These are useful to help pad your site with keywords and give meaning to images on your site. Google's image search shouldn't be overlooked in your SEO efforts.
Ugh, this is a tough one. This is the percentage of how often your keywords or phrases should appear in your content compared to the rest of the content on a page. The important message here is to limit your SEO efforts on a page-by-page basis to one or two key phrases. We too often see our customers try to target every single geographic area they could possible serve, all on one page, or maybe on all of the pages of their website. The trouble with this approach is that it waters down the value of each one of those phrases on the page. So the search engines will likely not rank any of them very well. The better approach is to pick one, maybe two, and really focus on them on a single page, including them in all the elements of the page (title, description, content, alt tags, etc.). The actual density of keywords that is ideal, is an impossible number to pinpoint. 5% may be a reasonable start. You will likely need to experiment with your content to achieve the best results.
Text Quantity and Quality
If you want to attract more search engine activity, it's smart to have plenty of content/pages. Having more quality content can really help. To garner search engine interest, you will want a page to have at least 250 words or more. Having several pages of related content helps give you a variety of traffic sources. Also, be sure to spell check. Google will penalize you for bad spelling!
Ok, so there's even more onsite stuff, and from here it gets pickier and pickier. For most of our customers, however, getting up to this point in a quality fashion is a great start. You can do an online search for SEO topics and should be able to find all the information you need.
How do I insert/edit these things on my website?
If you have a WordPress website with HomeGauge, editing these things on each page is easy. I would recommend installing an SEO plugin, if you don't have one already. The most popular are All In One SEO and Yoast. For new users, Yoast might be the most helpful. With the plugin installed and activated, when you go to edit a page on your site, you will be able to insert your title, page content, and description. Yoast has an added benefit in that it will warn you of common problems, like making sure your description and title's keywords match the content of the page. For adding alt tags to your images in WordPress, just click on the image, then click on the edit icon.
Offsite? I thought SEO was about what is on my website -- content, keywords, etc? It is about those things, but these days, search engines value offsite SEO maybe even more than what's on the site itself. This is a big topic, but there are some fairly easy things you can do to get pointed in the right direction.
Set up your social media sites
Create business pages at the very least for:
- Google Plus
Beyond those, there are many others. Do all of them that you like. One thing to note though is that some of them work a lot better with regular interaction. If you have a facebook or google plus page, it helps to post to it once in awhile. Also, if people post to your page, you should always respond to them, even if it's just to say thanks. Being active on these sites will make them more likely to post your content to your network, ultimately pushing more traffic to your website.
You may or may not know that search engines give more value to sites that have links pointing to them from other sites. It suggests that the site getting linked to often must be some kind of authority. Plus, the better quality/more popular sites that link to your site help more. Sites with authority, like .org's, .gov's or .edu's count even more. I cannot stress enough how important this is to the success of your SEO efforts. So the question quickly becomes, how do I do that? The answer is varied. For a quick and easy start, you can post to popular public message boards, being sure to have a link to your website in your footer. You may need to keep up with this effort for it to work. You can post articles to help sites. You can write articles for online journals. You can (and should) create your own YouTube channel. You can make a press release. In each case, be sure to include a link to your website. There are many great free options.
What should my link look like?
This has changed recently, so be careful. In previous years, it was advantageous to put keyphrases in your link on external sites, so the text that was clicked on might have said "home inspection *my city*". These days, that practice will penalize you in the search engines. So instead you should just have your domain name shown.
One powerful tool in SEO is having a keyword rich domain name, especially for a business with a tight focus, like a home inspection company. If you aren't fully invested in your domain name already, I would recommend considering changing your domain name to one that contains some keywords. An example could be home-inspection-asheville.com. Don't be frustrated that someone already has the domain name you were looking for, just be creative and try some variations. I would stick with a .com if you can help it, but it isn't required.
Should I have a lot of keyword rich domain names pointing to my website?
No. An old tactic was to get a whole bunch of domain names with different keywords and point them all to your website. This can hurt you more than help you.
This article was meant to help get you started in your SEO efforts. SEO is not magic. Mostly, it is very straight-forward, common sense. The search engines have been at this a long time and know exactly how they are gamed. Good content and offsite SEO will go a long way. Also, don't forget there is an almost endless supply of SEO information available to you online. Search away!
Why do I need a responsive (mobile friendly) website for SEO?
Starting in April 2015, Google began lowering the rankings of websites that are not mobile friendly. This is just one of many things to consider with your SEO efforts, but if your site isn't mobile friendly now, it's something you need to address to improve your site's ranking.
How do I check if my website is mobile friendly?
You can start with Google's online Mobile-Friendly test:
My site isn't mobile friendly. How do I make my website mobile friendly?
If you have a WordPress website hosted by HomeGauge, there are 2 primary options for making your site mobile friendly:
- Use a responsive WordPress theme
- Use a WordPress mobile theme plugin
What is a responsive website?
Responsive websites make use of flexible layouts and images to build webpages that detect the visitor's screen size and change the layout accordingly. In other words, responsive websites change appearance somewhat depending on if you're looking at the site on your desktop, tablet, or mobile phone -- they are designed to look good on all screen sizes.
What's the advantage?
The biggest advantage is that you only need to build a single site, and that site will work on all modern devices. You will not need to worry about building a separate website optimized for mobile.
Can I see an example responsive website?
This site you're on right now is a responsive site. You can try viewing it on your mobile device or even just try making your web browser very narrow. You'll notice some differences when viewing it on your mobile device / narrow screen, such as there will only be 1 column, the menu will look different, and some other things.
My current site isn't responsive, what are my options?
If you are hosting a WordPress website with HomeGauge, you can switch out your website theme with a responsive theme. It may require you to work a little bit on the new theme to contain your logo(s), information, and color scheme. If you don't want to do this work yourself, you can contact us about doing the work for you for a small fee.
Do I need a responsive website / is there another approach I can take?
You probably should have a responsive website going forward. Any new websites should plan on using a responsive layout from the start. Responsive websites are the current trend in website design and are the most modern approach.
Another thing you can do if you are hosting a WordPress website is install a mobile theme plugin. This is a different approach, but can save you some time. To do this, go to your plugins section of your WordPress dashboard and install a mobile theme plugin, such as "WPtouch Mobile Plugin" (there are several others if you search). What these plugins do is detect if the visitor is using a mobile device, and if they are, they switch out the theme completely for a separate mobile theme. The only downside is that these mobile themes tend to be somewhat limited. However, for the most part, they do a good job.
How do I insert SEO keyphrases on a page in WordPress?
After logging into your WordPress Dashboard (How do I access my Wordpress dashboard/back-end?), go to the WordPress menu "Pages - All Pages". Find a page in the list that you want to edit, hover over the title and click "Edit".
There are a few important items on this page to work on.
- The Header Title - This is the name of the page found at the top while editing the page in WordPress. This will appear in your menu and also as the main header on your page -- this is the important tag. Your main key phrase that you are targeting on the page should appear in this heading. "Asheville Home Inspector" might be a good example for a home inspector in Asheville.
- The Page Content - This is what makes up the main readable content of the page. Be sure this content also contains the same key phrase you are targeting on this page. Making the phrase bold, or turning it into a link to another page are common ways to give greater strength to the key phrase in the page content. The key phrase you are targeting should appear naturally in the content of the page at least a couple of times.
- Page Title - If you are using the All-In-One-SEO or Yoast plugin, below the area where you type up your page content, you will find an area to insert your custom page Title. Titles should be different on each page of your site and should contain your keyphrase that you're tageting on the page. Keep in mind that the title should still be human readable, and be something a person would want to click on when searching on google (this is what shows up as the link in google search results).
- Page Description - If you are using the All-In-One-SEO or Yoast plugin, below the area where you type up your page content, you will find an area to insert your page description. Like the title, this is a longer description of what's on the specific page, and should include the same keyphrase somehow. This is what gets displayed on google search results below the link and it should also be friendly to read -- it should make your potential customer want to click on it to view your website.
- Page Keywords - If you are using the All-In-One-SEO or Yoast plugin, below the area where you type up your page content, you may find an area to insert your page keywords. These are the old meta keywords. These days, these are ignored by google (and maybe Bing). You can freely ignore these, or you can add a few in if you really want to. If you do add some in, make sure they only contain keywords that are on the specific page, and keep it down to just a couple. Our recommendation though, these days, is just to leave them out altogether.
- Image Alt Tags - After you insert an image into your page (by clicking on the "Add Media" button in WordPress, you can click on the image, then click on the "edit" icon that pops up. You will see a field for "Alternative Text". It's helpful for your keyphrase to appear in one of these images on the page, if it makes sense to do so.
- Try to focus on only 1 or 2 key phrases per page. You can add as many additional pages as you want with your WordPress website to focus on other key phrases.
- Avoid adding a long list of geographic locations on one page, unless you are doing it as navigation links, at the bottom or in the sidebar, each pointing to unique pages on your site.
- Make the content on each of your pages unique. This includes unique titles and descriptions.
- Don't overdo it. Keep the frequency of your key phrases on a page to a reasonable level. If it looks like it's too much, it probably is.
- Check on your progress over time, checking on your position in google from time to time for certain key phrases, but give it some time after each major change you make. Google doesn't update instantaneously and can sometimes take a week or more.