I know, I know…You’ve read a hundred of these posts and haven’t got anywhere right? Well hold back your cynicism for just a moment because this might be the post you’re looking for.
Over the years as both a full-time SEO and as a freelance developer I’ve worked with a lot of site owners and webmasters who have endeavoured to optimise and promote their own sites. Some have had great sucess, others…not so much. Their various sucesses and failures have built up quite a library of useful tips and tools, and those are what I’ll be sharing in this series of posts.
Today we’ll cover the background work, including crawling and finding your niche, but first a little chat about the best mental approach to SEO.
Many SEOs view their relationship with the search engines, and particularly Google, as being in a digital arms race where the SEOs are constantly battling to get one up on the mysterious algorithm. Perhaps in some sense that’s a fair viewpoint from the pro’s perspective, but it isn’t a helpful mentality for the site owner or webmaster who is trying to “go it alone”.
The search engines are not trying to prevent your site from doing well, they are utilising all the data available to them in order to return what their systems consider to be the best sites for a given query. If your site isn’t being returned for that query, it’s because the search engines don’t have enough data saying that your site is relevant. So, in order to make your site return you need to supply the engines with more accurate data. Keep this in mind and you’ll find the process of optimisation a lot easier.
Crawling: Is Your Site Visible?
In order for the engines to have accurate data about your site, they need to know it exists. If your site is new then you’ll find it helpful to tell the engines about it. They make it easy for you to do this by each providing a suite of tools for webmasters, you can find them with the following links.
You’ll need a login for each of the engines, but it’s worth the effort to do so. Once you’re in you’ll be able to submit information about your site and ensure that the engines can sucessfully access (or “crawl”) your site. Your webmaster dashboards will also be the place the respective search engines notify you of any problems with your site. If you only do one thing from this post, do this, the wealth of information that Google in particular provides is invaluable.
Positioning: Find Your Niche
SEO is just like business in general, you are in competition with other similar businesses to get the attention of potential customers. Finding your niche, the thing(s) that make you stand out from your competitors, will help you to grab that attention for yourself. The more competitive your market is, the more important finding that niche will be. Time for an example? Yes, I thought so too:
Let’s say that you have a site that sells spare parts for cars, if you search Google for car parts you’ll see somewhere in the region of 107 million sites that Google considers to be relevant to that query. That’s an awful lot of competition.
If your business is based in London, that narrows the field a bit bringing the competition down to around 15 million.
If you specialise in Fiat parts (Italian electrics, meh!), then we’re getting somewhere just about 300 thousand competing sites.
And…for the sake of sillyness, if you particularly specialised in Fiat Panda spares you’re in luck as there’s only about 14 thousand results. I think you get the idea.
The great thing about targeting niche terms is you’ve reduced your competition and, more importantly, you’ve “qualified” your audience. If you only sell Fiat spares then getting visits from people who need a part for their Audi won’t help either of you, by filtering your potential audience down to people who want exactly what you have to sell you’ll dramatically increase the ratio of visitors to sales (aka your “conversion rate”). This ability to pre-qualify your audience is pretty much unique to search and it’s fantastic!
Still don’t feel like you’ve gotten anywhere? Look out for Part the Second where we cover on-page optimisation or share your thoughts in the comments.