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A Common SEO Question Answered

How Much Will It Cost?

Almost daily we get emails and phone calls from people asking how much it will cost to make their website No.1 in Google. Being on the inside looking out it's easy to be dismissive and roll your eyes in despair. However from the outside looking in it's a reasonable question to ask.

The short answer is simple, but might sound arrogant. In general the cost of promoting a page to the #1 slot in Google for a specific search phrase depends on the effort that's been put into the page currently holding the #1 position, and breathe….

Of course this doesn't consider all factors, such as the opportunity to be smarter than the competition, but in general if you look at your competition and think wow, their site's amazing, no matter how much that hurts , then you're going to need to be amazing plus.

One of the hardest pills to swallow where the web's concerned is the one with "My Competition Are Nailing This" written all over it. However, the quicker you take your medicine the better, moaning about how unfair Google are is just wasted breath.

So, the cost of SEO for your website will depend on the market you're in, the effort made by your competitors and how smart you are.

The Very Best SEO Tool Available

A recent post in a business forum I frequent asked the question, what are the best free SEO tools? The replies listed all the usual suspects so I threw something less expected into the mix. My suggestion? A text editor and your brain. Many moons ago I wrote a post titled The Best Free Link Building Software in fact if you search using the phrase best free link building software you’ll see it ranks quite well and brings traffic to this blog daily.

Most people reading the post will however be disappointed because instead of giving them a simple solution to their link building requirements it provides them with a link to OpenOffice and suggest they engage their brain, not something most link builders want to read!

Last week there was a much vaunted SEO conference in Leeds called IONSearch – or something. I followed the proceedings on twitter and was somewhat bemused. I’m sure there were some great SEO tips to be had at the two day conference but some of the stuff feeding through social media seemed to be saying what I’ve been saying for years. The thrust of many of the presentations was – create something worth linking to. Who’d a thunk!

As Google steps up its war on spam, and remember its very survival depends on it winning this war, the need for creating something of value increases. What’s happening, despite what all the get links quick pedlars will have you believe, is quality is once again winning the day. Thinking about your customers, and what they want and need, and taking the time time to deliver it will win the day, it has too. One approach to this kind of link building is explained here.

So I’ll say it again, the best SEO tools are your brain and a text editor (or graphics editor or spreadsheet or code library or anything else that helps you create something of value). With social media etc getting your messages out there is easy, creating messages worth shouting about remains the tough bit.

Hint – If you’re a Mac user and want to use what I consider to be the best text editor around, try Ulysses.

Get More From Your Google Searches

Most of us use Google every day and for many it can be a frustrating exercise trawling through irrelevant search results before finding what you need. Power users don’t have this trouble, they know how to get what they need quickly by laser targeting their searches and here I’ll show you, in plain English, how to do the same.

The Basics

Without using any of the fancy tricks I’m going to show you later, you can have a much better experience with Google by following these simple rules:

  1. Use multi-word phrases – quality butcher Aberdeen is going to return better results than simply typing the word butcher. Feel free to use long search phrases, and we’ll cover how to make these even more effective later.
  2. Use natural language – again quality butcher Aberdeen is going to be better than Aberdeen butcher quality.
  3. Use quotes – if you know the exact phrase you’re looking for consider using quotes round your phrase . For example if you’re looking for websites who accept guest posts1 you might search using the query chicken recipes “guest post”. With this example adding the quotes round the words guest post reduces the results returned from 10.5m to 1.5m! Don’t worry I’ll show you how to further reduce these numbers later!
  4. Use the * wildcard – Again if you’re looking for websites who accept recipe guest posts, but not specifically for chicken recipes, use * recipes “guest post” this will return pages that match many types of recipes and accept guest posts.
  5. Excluding results – Let’s say you’re looking for guest post opportunities on recipe sites but you are not interested in writing for sites specialising in cake recipes. Something like this would do the trick * recipes “guest post” -“cake”. Alternatively * recipes “guest post” “cake” OR “pie” would find results relating to sites who accept guest posts on the subject of cake or pie.

I could go on but these basic steps will help you find what you need much quicker. Play around with these methods yourself and see how the search results change then read on for some more advanced search techniques.

Further Fine Tuning

File Types

You may notice when searching in Google that the results include web pages, PDF documents, Word documents etc. Let’s say you’re specifically looking for an MS Word template, perhaps you’re writing a business plan, and you’d like to use someone else’s hard work as a starting point. This search would find what you’re looking for “business plan” filetype:doc. Of course you could use the tips from above to further fine tune this, for example “business plan” “butcher” filetype:doc might be useful if you’re writing a business plan for a butchers business.

Searching a Specific Site

Let’s say you know there’s some information on a specific website but you just can’t find it. For example you’ve heard about our superb SEO explained cartoon but try as you might you can’t locate it. This search would be the way to do it seo explained It should be self explanatory what’s happening here.

Find Matching Page Titles

It’s well known in SEO circles that a page’s title element is the single most important part of the page if you’re trying to rank that page for a particular search phrase. Therefore it makes sense that being able to find pages with a specific word or phrase in their titles might return relevant results. For the rest of us the page title element is the blue text you click on in a search result. Searching for pages using a specific phrase in their page title is simple and here’s how I’d look for pages with the phrase SEO explained in their page title intitle:”seo explained”.

There’s also a similar operator called allintitle to be used when you’re looking for page titles that contain each of number of words even though they don’t create a phrase. For example if you want to find pages with title elements that contain the words seo local guest post you could use allintitle:seo local guest post. This would be more effective than intitle:”seo local guest post”. In fact the allintitle version finds 40 results, the intitle none. In short use intitle to search for exact phrases, with the addition of quotes, and allintitle to search for random words when you want the page title to contain all of them.

And Finally

Hopefully this little foray into improving the way you use Google to find what you need more efficiently has whetted your appetite to learn more. This excellent book will give a lot more detail and in my view is well worth a read. Learning to be smarter with search is a smart thing to do.

  1. A guest post is an article you write for a website other than your own. For the most part people do this to secure a link from the article back to their own website because this can hep improve rankings. There’s more to it but that’s the basic idea.

I Need Quality Links

Following on from my last post about link building I’m going to say a few more words about the thorny subject of quality links and how to secure them.

It seems some folks are still getting their knickers in a twist over this despite all the freely available information on the subject, not to mention the information available from Google. So, in words of (almost) one syllable, you don’t get quality links when you haven’t got quality content. Put another way, you don’t get quality links if you haven’t got content people want or need. You can try and square this anyway you want but in the end unless you’re a web designer who can plant links on your clients websites (naughty web designers) links that are worth having have to be earned.

Time and again I read posts in forums, not to mention emails from potential customers, asking the question how do I get quality links or if they’re thinking of hiring us making the statement you must be able to get us quality links. This is of course assuming they understand the relevance of links in the context of SEO.

To be honest in most respects link building is a PITA. Not because getting links is hard, it isn’t, but because creating link worthy content is and more important explaining this to many businesses is nigh on impossible.

I think this difficulty arises from one simple truth, that being most businesses think of the Internet or web in terms of what they can get out of it rather then what they can give it. Changing this way of thinking is what makes link building so hard.

Yet how many of us turn to WikiPedia when doing some research, or a white paper, or the linked in Questions section? The simple truth is most of us use freely available useful information on-line daily basis. Who creates this often useful information? Who are these people who help others free of charge? More importantly why aren’t you one of them!

If you spend time and effort creating content people want, content other than self promotion, your pages will receive links, rankings and traffic. What’s more if the information helps the people who find it, you’ll gain their trust, and people do business with people they trust. It’s a kind of virtuous circle.

Interestingly many in the SEO industry have now realised the way forward is to create and share great content. This has always been the case but people are finally getting it, they didn’t for many years preferring to spout forth on the latest get ranked quick scheme. If there’s one thing Google’s Panda and Penguin updates has really put right it’s this unhealthy trend, if not completely then significantly.

Take this article as an example. The chances are you’re reading this for one of two reasons:

  1. You clicked a link to it from one of my social feeds
  2. You found a link to it in Google or elsewhere

You might think it’s rubbish and move on (to save you the time here’s a link to Google to help you search for zero effort link building techniques), or it might have helped you understand the mysterious world of link building and as such you now trust me and would consider hiring me.

The bottom line is something I wrote at 22:30 on Saturday 13th April 2013 while watching Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy on LoveFilm might have helped you and as a result we might do business. It might be a long shot but it stands a better chance than a page of self congratulatory marketing speak. Doesn’t it?

I’m lucky, I like writing and I like helping people but you know what, to misquote something said by Gary Player or Jerry Barber, the more I write the luckier I get, and when I say luck I mean the better my rankings, the better my traffic and the better the fortunes of my company.

I’ve said this stuff just about as many ways as it can be said. I may try again another day but for now I’ll end by saying stop trying to out smart the PhD’s at Google and start giving, if you do you’ll gain.

Search Engine Success Starts By Thinking

Search Engine Optimisation constantly evolves, but this doesn’t mean you need to constantly change your website to stay on the right side of Google. Rather it means the good guys are slowly winning out over the bad. Let me explain.

It used to be the case that to rank in Google you simply needed to hire an ‘SEO’, and I’m being generous calling them SEO’s, to build you a ton of links from their network of eh……websites (webshites). Links from these networks worked well for a long time meaning you didn’t need a good website to gain rankings. Not so now.

While the link economy allowed poor websites to rank, the good guys hard work didn’t pay, or at least the dividend from the hard work was low. However Google’s updates over the past two years have made serious inroads towards ensuring the link cheats are brought to book and removed from their index, or at least demoted from the top spots.

OK, history lesson over, what now?

As search marketing specialists we are often approached by businesses who want to improve their rankings. Fine. However they have no idea how this might happen, again fine, that’s what we do. Unfortunately they often think that as search marketers we somehow weave a magic spell to make their website, as it stands, a site that will rank in Google. Not so.

Obviously we can do all the standard things such as ensuring their site is well optimised whilst at the same time removing technical road blocks, but we can’t magically make their content link worthy, and that’s the hard bit.

I’m reading a great book just now by Eric Ward called the Ultimate Guide To Link Building. It’s a good read but in a nutshell it’s telling readers you’ll only get good links to your web pages, and the rankings that come from these links, if you have something worth linking to. I said is much in my article on link building techniques written a couple of years ago.

So in nutshell if your web pages simply say something like our company is really great, buy stuff from us people aren’t going to link to you, why would they? This rather inconvenient truth is what stops most people getting link building.

If that’s you, read on.

Imagine for a moment (ahhhhh, real fruit as chewy as, Fruitella), there are 10 shops selling outdoor sporting equipment. Each shop sells the same brands of gore-tex jackets, walking boots, tents and everything in between. They all have websites, their prices are comparable and their product descriptions similar, after all there are only so many ways to describe a purple jacket made from gore-tex by Haglofs, other brands are available….

As things stand there’s very little link worthy content on the sites, they’ve all got great pictures, a slick e-commerce system to allow easy purchasing and lovely pictures showing the products but nothing much to differentiate them. As such there’s no way Google can differentiate between them, remember Google’s not that bright, it needs links to tell it if content’s any good.

The owner of one shop decides to take action. She asks people to submit stories, photographs and videos of people using the kit they sell. Show us how you use the great outdoor kit we sell and win a pair of Zambalan walking boots she announces on her website and facebook page. Before long her website has real reviews from real people about the kit she’s selling. People see these reviews, find it interesting and share links to it with their friends, some even talk about it and link to it from their blogs. Ta-da! She’s now got great unique content with links to it and Google can differentiate between the on-line shops ranking hers number 1. Simple.

OK, I admit, too simple, but surely you can see where I’m coming from, simply telling people how great you are isn’t enough, those days have gone and they’re never coming back. If you want your website to appear in search results you need to work at it, lazy marketing isn’t going to cut it.

Questions on a postcard.

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