At Provoc we are always looking for opportunities to work with new people and learn from these collaborations. One of our most recent, and most enlightening, experiences came in working with John Nicholson, Managing Partner at Marketade. With over 10 years of experience in internet marketing, John has accumulated a wealth of knowledge in search engine marketing, social media, website analytics and conversation, as well as consulting and start-up experience. Our partnership with John was, in fact, so positive, we thought we should share it and his insights with our followers. Here are some of words of wisdom from John on the importance and impact of SEO today.
How do you define SEO and why is it important?
SEO - or search engine optimization - helps your website rank higher on Google et al when people search for your type of organization. SEO is for organic (free) search listings. SEM - or search engine marketing - is for paid search results (sponsored links).
SEO is critical because Google is the default vehicle for many people when they’re looking for products, services, causes, jobs, volunteer opps, reviews, and so on. For most media channels -- whether it’s Facebook, newspapers, or TV -- people are generally trying to ignore marketing messages. But on Google they’re often seeking them out. And that’s why searchers are so valuable to anyone promoting anything via a website.
What are the most important initial SEO steps on a website?
1) Figure out what commonly searched keywords are most relevant to your organization -- focusing on what makes you unique. 2) Integrate those keywords into your website’s title tags. Do this and you’ll be well ahead of 95% of your competitors.
Which blogs/sites do you follow daily to keep up to date?
I follow some SEO gurus on Twitter somewhere between daily and weekly; but if you’re just getting started with SEO, go with more old-fashioned methods. Yes, Google is constantly changing its algorithm and search results, but the ways to do SEO haven’t changed much over the last 10 years. Books and in-depth articles from reputable sources (often from years ago) are the best way to learn.
I read Jill Whalen’s newsletter thoroughly each week; her article archives are a great resource for both newbies and advanced SEOs. I also periodically check Bruce Clay’s newsletter, recent Search Engine Land articles, and Matt Cutts’ blog. When I was first learning SEO, I read and enjoyed Peter Kent’s Search Engine Optimization for Dummies (much better than most Dummies books) and Shari Thurow’s Search Engine Visibility. Finally, there’s a lot of overlap between SEO and usability. It’s not his focus, but I learned a lot of great SEO principles from Jakob Nielsen’s Designing Web Usability and Prioritizing Web Usability.
Which free tools/sites can help nonprofits with their SEO?
Google’s keyword tool is a great way to find out what search phrases people use related to your business. I spend hours with it every time I work on a new search project.
I also encourage non-profits to apply for a Google Grant. It’s for AdWords, not organic search, but paid search experience will make you much smarter about SEO. And a Google Grant lets you gain this intelligence for free.
And keep in mind that all the keyword tools and intelligence in the world won’t give you great SEO if you can’t write well -- and in particular, write well for the web. Learn as much about good web writing as you can. Nielsen is a great resource for this as well.
What are some good examples of page titles that can help a site rank higher on organic search results?
Do a search for a product or service in an industry that’s hyper-competitive online -- like financial services, travel, or retail -- and you’ll see lots of good examples of title tags in the first few results. Try car insurance, hotels in LA, or designer dresses.
How does including links help with SEO?
Google treats links as votes of confidence -- or signals that a particular page is relevant for a given keyword. If you’re a climate change expert, and EPA.gov links to your site on a page listing climate change experts, that’s a strong signal to Google that you’re a good match for “climate change expert” searches. Get enough such votes from authoritative, high-ranking web pages and it can really help your rankings.
Great content that people naturally want to link to is that best approach here. Though some outreach can help.
Google also pays attention to links within your site. So, for instance, if you have a paragraph on your homepage talking about “our climate change experts,” link that phrase to the appropriate page under About Us.
How do you see the future of SEO?
I think the fundamentals will stay pretty consistent. One area that’s gotten a lot of buzz recently and that will be interesting to watch is link spam. This has been around for a while but a growing number of big companies have been outed recently, and the general problem of crappy sites cluttering search results seems to be getting worse. Bruce Clay makes a good case that, to deal with the problem of link spam, Google is going to increasingly focus on social media “likes” over inter-site links, and that local search results are going to push out organic results.
Whatever happens, doing smart keyword research and having relevant content are going to continue to play a key role -- both for SEO and user experience. And there’s still tons of room for improvement in that area for most sites.