SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is a complex field and one that is constantly evolving and changing. One of the reasons there is so much value in an experienced SEO professional is because, unlike other technical and marketing fields, there is no standardized academic literature for SEO. The only way to know what really works is through testing and experience.
Nonetheless, there are some fundamentals in SEO that haven’t changed very much since the beginning. Combining the knowledge of these fundamental principles with some useful tips on how to implement and leverage them can empower even the novice to make progress in their SEO efforts.
The 3 Fundamentals of SEO
Before diving into the tactics, let’s quickly go over the fundamentals of SEO. Knowing these basic building blocks can help you to better understand the reasoning behind any SEO initiative, as well as clearly define hypotheses, strategies, and diagnostic audits.
Content + On-Page SEO
Websites are all about content. Pages need something for users and search engines to consume, and this comes in the form of text and media (images/audio-video). This content should ultimately be authored for the user (to best serve their needs and funnel them into the desired activity), but must also give the search engine what they are looking for. This can sometimes be a tricky balancing act.
Additionally, there is data that describes this content/media. This data is usually not seen by the end user, but is very helpful to search engines, browsers, and other programs. This is called “Meta” data, and is a crucial aspect of on-page SEO.
Meta data includes: meta descriptions, meta robots tags, canonical link elements, hreflang link elements, as well as title tags.
Site Architecture + Internal Linking
Think of a world without search engines. Moreover, think of a world where websites don’t even have internal search (not even Amazon or Ebay). How would you find what you wanted? Well, you’d have to browse through the site until you found what you are looking for.
You’d probably start browsing at the homepage, and go to a relevant (and broad) category, followed by a more specific category, until you found exactly what you wanted.
This is a good fundamental principle to keep in mind, as it speaks to why linking is crucial for the web. It’s also the foundation for how search engines discover and rank content.
Internal linking (i.e., when a website links to its own pages), is necessary for users to be able to find your content, but also necessary for search engines to be able to discover it, index it, and determine its relevance.
There are many ways to approach internal linking, but as a general principle, you should ensure that all your pages are discoverable by a simple crawl starting at the homepage.
Off-Page SEO + External Backlinks
Again imagine a world without search engines. The very early days of the web (some of you might be old enough to remember this), the only way to navigate and discover websites was through linking. Websites would reference one another if they had useful and relevant resources. There would even be entire webpages dedicated to linking out to other sites (and these pages were very useful back then!)
Fast forward to the creation of Google’s algorithm, the now famous “PageRank”. This algorithm took these links as “votes” to the authority, trust, and/or relevance of a webpage. It would use these votes as part of their ranking algorithm to determine which web pages were most relevant for a specific search term.
Furthermore (and this was the revolutionary part of PageRank), links were given increased value if they came from domains which themselves had lots of backlinks.
While the specifics of the algorithm have changed (largely due to abuse by spammers and aggressive SEOs), the fundamental principles are unchanged. External backlinks are how Google separates the mediocre from the good, and the good from the great.
Google Maps/Google My Business
While not an SEO fundamental, we would be remiss if we didn’t mention Google Maps/Google My Business (GMB) when it comes to local business SEO. Starting a few years ago, Google has been extremely aggressive at including the “Local Pack”/“Map Pack” in virtually all local service queries (even those that don’t contain a local city modifier).
GMB optimization is an entire body of study separate from SEO in general, but it shares many similarities. The algorithm, which powers the map listings, is tied to the regular organic algorithm (although not exactly similar). This means the more authoritative your site is from an SEO perspective, the better your maps listings will do as well (generally speaking). This goes for your on-page as well as off-page optimization.
Therefore, your GMB performance will improve as you work to improve your overall SEO. We’ve included some specific tips in this article on how to do it effectively.
Implementing the Fundamentals – A DIY Guide
So, now that we have covered the SEO fundamentals, let’s dive into actionable tips on how to implement those basics for your business.
Link Building: Leveraging Partnerships and Contacts
As a business owner you might not have the same spammer tactics as some of your SEO competition, but you do have something those clowns don’t: Real life business contacts.
These types of legitimate relationships are the best kind of leverage for link building. They can get you links from places that are extremely difficult to get otherwise. Here are a few common link types that can be garnered from your business partners:
• Vendor and Partner Lists – Very common for B2B products and services, getting listed on a site’s vendor list can give you perfect relevance and likely a good bit of authority. It might even lead to referral traffic.
• Reciprocal Links – This is somewhat outdated but can work well if it’s relevant (i.e., within the same or similar industry). See if your partners have a link page to get listed on; they will likely ask for a link in return (which is OK).
• Guest Blog Posts – You’ll be surprised how many people will be open to guest posts on their company blog (as long as you are prepared to offer expertise and insights). There is a ton of value in sharing your experience from years of work in the industry, and people will recognize that.
Step-By-Step Guide to Take Action:
1. Create a list of your partners and/or vendors; include website URLs.
2. Do a quick Google search with the following query template:
a. site:example.com (Partners OR Vendors OR “Useful Links” OR “Links page” OR “Our Links”)
b. site:example.com (Blog OR “Guest Posts” OR Contribute)
4. Manually evaluate the potential of each site (use your best judgment).
5 . Reach out via e-mail or phone to ask about placement.
This same type of tactic can be used for cold outreach, but you’ll obviously be different in how you craft your initial e-mails, introduce yourself, etc. It will also have a lower success rate when approaching people out of the blue (which is why leveraging pre-existing relationships is so effective).
Link Building (and then some): Leveraging Local Events
Being active in your community not only can ingratiate you to your neighbors and help drive referral business, but it provides lots of opportunities for newsworthy happenings.
Newsworthy happenings means the potential for mentions in local publications, which means extremely relevant and authoritative links (the kind that are hard to duplicate via other methods).
Here are some of examples of events you can hold or partner with other businesses to produce:
•Local block party celebrations – (4th of July, Memorial Day, Labor Day, etc.) – these can be organized for a relatively cheap overhead, as many participants will bring their own supplies.
•PRO TIP: Make a website dedicated to the block party; this will attract links. When all is said and done, 301 it to a landing page on your main domain.
•Charity Fundraisers – It might seem sleazy to leverage a charity or natural disasters to your gain, but I would view it this way: You aren’t making any money; all proceeds go to charity. The only benefit you get is exposure and links, and what is really wrong with that?
·Make it niche specific and bring in your partners; for example:,“Plumbers for Puerto Rico”, a hurricane recovery fundraising event. After everything is done, you can 301 this to a landing page on your main domain and get all that topical relevance and anchor text relevance.
·Added benefit here: If you do it carefully, all the expenses may be tax deductible.
Now, before you go ahead and devote resources to these events, keep in mind the following:
• These should be events that give you links as a side effect of their popularity. They aren’t only for links, so consider all the other benefits of them: Referrals, community involvement, charity, networking, etc.
• Promotion is key for these to be effective. Reach out to bloggers and local journalists to pitch them well before the event is set to happen. They will love to be in the know (makes them feel special:-)).
•Consider also leveraging for a press release, which has some added SEO value (although the real benefit will come from specific coverage in local publications).
Keyword Research – Leverage Industry Expertise and Customer Interactions
Keyword research is usually handled in the realm of SEO nerds, digging through Adwords Keyword data and Search Suggest data to find valuable topics and keywords to cover.
There are good reasons for this. Often times what industry experts expect to be the most popular phrases are not actually the most popular, and only quantitative data can show us this.
However, being the subject matter expert, business owners can provide much deeper insight into the industry topics and terms than a SEO professional might uncover. Let’s take a look at some examples of this:
• Tangential services and products – Some services don’t exactly relate to your core offering, but can still be provided. Tree services can do firewood delivery, roofers can do sidewalk repair (among many other things). These don’t necessarily get picked up in the keyword research, because they aren’t semantically related.
• Customer Interactions – A great source of keyword research is customer service interactions. In larger enterprises, they support tickets that can be mined for common questions and potential keyword opportunities, but for small companies this will usually come from experience and your daily interactions with customers.
·Use these interactions to formulate your company’s “FAQ” (Frequently Asked Questions) page. This not only serves the user but also provides relevant content for the website.
After you’ve brainstormed tangential services and products and observed what customers are asking for, you are ready to start the keyword research.
A full site audit completed by a trained and experienced SEO professional is extremely helpful in this area as well. This will feed your on-page and on-site optimization strategies. However, the above tips can help to supplement them and get a more complete and comprehensive keyword strategy.
Google My Business – Location Proximity
GMB rankings are very much tied to proximity; i.e., how close a business location is to the searcher. Thanks to mobile searches and GPS, Google knows very precisely where a user is located when they are searching, and they will provide maps results accordingly.
How can we leverage this? Easy; verify as many locations as possible:
• All office and branch locations need their own GMB location.
• Home addresses and home offices should also be verified (this might be a little “greyhat”, but I’ve done it over a dozen times; it’s fine).
• Try to establish locations in high value areas. The closer you are to your target geography and demographic, the better.
A common example of this is a business that does lots of work in a major metro, but has their offices located in the outskirts (cheaper rent). This makes perfect business sense, but leaves you out of the running when it comes to GMB listings.
Do what you can to get a legitimate location verified; however, DO NOT do any of the following:
• DON’T use virtual offices or virtual mailboxes. These are heavily abused and can get your location blacklisted.
• DON’T use the UPS store or other services that provide mail addresses. These are well known and can get you filtered out of results or fully blacklisted.
Google My Business – Leveraging Customers for Reviews
Reviews are also a ranking factor when it comes to Google My Business, and a pretty significant one at that. I think this is a great upside to the local listings, because you can leverage your positive experiences with customers to help your rankings.
I’m unsure whether soliciting reviews from customers is against some type of guidelines (it probably is), but I think that’s pretty much ridiculous. I think there is nothing wrong with at least reminding customers that you have a GMB, Yelp, or other profile, and that reviews would be appreciated. This isn’t technically solicitation.
Do what you can, in a thoughtful and tasteful way, to encourage reviews, but I wouldn’t go as far as offering discounts or compensation in return for reviews.
Dominate the SERPs – Leverage Review Sites for Traffic
If you’ve done any amount of searches for local services, you’ve likely come upon sites like Yelp, HomeAdvisor, Houzz, or Angieslist. These huge authority sites dominate the niches across home services.
When trying to rank #1 for your target term, the annoyance of Yelp and HomeAdvisor taking up the first 2 spots will be very apparent. However, when you can’t win with competition, sometimes you can win with collaboration.
If you work to get listed on all these authority sites, you can effectively take up multiple spots on the first page of Google. This will increase your exposure to your target market (and can often be done for free, if you don’t feel like advertising with those sites).
Take a peek at a few of your main terms, and see what authority sites show up on the first page. Get your company listed on those sites ASAP. You may need to work a bit to get actual visibility, but that’s a whole other story (hint: add images, text, get listed in lots of categories, and get lots of reviews).
SEO isn’t rocket science, but it does have a bit of a learning curve. For beginners and business owners that are looking to take on some SEO responsibilities and grow your organic traffic, there are plenty of effective tactics to undertake, including the ones we’ve listed above.
As you start to immerse yourself in SEO, you will become more familiar with exactly what the search engines are trying to reward and how your activities as a business owner, community member, and industry expert can be leveraged to that end. Once you arrive at these realizations, you will already by outpacing your competition.
About the Author
Michael Hayes has been helping business owners succeed online since 2008. He is founder of Darby Hayes Consulting, a SEO firm based in New York City. He can be reached at mike (at) darbyhayesconsulting.com.
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