Whenever I’m asked what I do for a living, my go-to response is that “I work in marketing and public relations for a software company.”
That’s a sufficient reply for most social situations, but on occasion I’m asked more specifically about my job responsibilities. Inevitably I’m stopped as soon as I mention “search engine optimization” or “SEO.” While this is a small part of what I do, I’ve found that it fascinates people – they tend to look at it as something of an enigma. “I’ve never understood search engine results” or “Google makes it all up anyways” are common responses, but the probing questions regarding SEO never stop there. Regardless of the industry you are in, search engine results are likely playing an increasingly important role in your company’s ability to be found by prospective customers and others interested in the products/services your business offers. As I’ve been receiving an increasing number of emails regarding SEO from Buildium customers, I figured I’d start by laying out some of the basic tried and true practices that can help your company rank more highly in search results.
What exactly is SEO?
According to Wikipedia, search engine optimization is the “process of improving the visibility of a website or web page in search engines via the ‘natural’ or unpaid search results.” In plain English, when you go to Google and run a search for anything, say “Boston Property Management,” it’s the process of improving how close to the top of the search results your company appears.
Where do I start?
Now that we’ve cleared up exactly what we are talking about, I’m going to lay out a 3-step guide as to where you should start. SEO is a hugely complex subject, but these basic concepts should get you started off on the right foot.
Step 1 – Identify relevant keywords
Before you do anything else, you must identify the “keywords” that people are searching for in order to find businesses like your own. A good way to do this is to think about what you would search for if you were looking for your business. Say that you run Joe’s Property Management, a company located in Boston, MA. The keyword “property management” is likely too broad of a keyword, although it applies to your business. “Joe’s Property Management” would likely be a better keyword, although it would only be effective to the extent that people had already heard about your company and were familiar with “Joe’s.” A better option might be “Boston Property Management.” By bringing location into the keyword you’re letting potential tenants and property owners know that you offer property management services specific to the Boston area. If everybody that was looking for property management services in Boston came across your company first in the search results, that could be valuable for your business, no? Likewise if you manage only residential properties adding the qualifier “residential” to “property management” might be a good way to drive relevant traffic to your site.
If you are new to SEO I’d focus on identifying one or two highly relevant keywords to start. You can then use Google’s Keyword Tool to search for how often each of these keywords is searched for on a monthly basis and how much “competition” there is around a particular keyword. Keywords with low competition are easier to rank highly for, and the more monthly searches a keyword has the more opportunities your business has to be discovered.
Step 2 – Set Your Title Tags
On-page SEO refers to making technical changes to the back-end of your website that make it easier for Google or any other search engine to identify what your site is all about. There are many different on-page aspects that you can change, but in my experience changing the “title tags” has the greatest impact on search results. A title tag is the text that appears in the tab at the top of your Internet browser whenever you open a website. Above you’ll see the title tag for amazon.com – “Amazon.com: Online Shopping for…” As a general rule, the closer to the beginning of the title tag you put your keywords the better. You’ll notice that immediately following the words “Amazon.com” are the words “Online Shopping” – keywords very important to Amazon. If you don’t have a technical skill set, you’ll need your web master or whoever manages your website to change the title tags for you. But adding keywords relevant to your business into your title tags will help you rank more highly for those terms.
Step 3 – Link Building
I think it’s fair to say that link building is the lifeblood of SEO – nothing will have a more dramatic impact on how highly you are able to rank for the keywords you have targeted. Search engines look at how many inbound links are directed at your website – an inbound link is a link on another website that directs visitors to your website. By putting your keywords in the “anchor text” of the links back to your site, you help yourself rank higher for those keywords. For example, if you want to rank highly for the keyword “Boston Property Management” having links on other sites that look like this: Boston Property Management; will help you rank more highly for that keyword. To start link building, reach out to current clients, associations, or anyone else that is interested in your business and has a website to see if they’d like to swap links with you. You offer to link to their site and vice versa – it’s a mutually beneficial process. That said, link building is time consuming and often frustrating. You should accept this and link building should become an ongoing part of your SEO strategy. One final note – link building is very much a quality over quantity activity. Links from highly “authoritative” websites – sites that have a high volume of visitors and are considered by search engines to be credible sites – are much more valuable and will help you rank highly in search results more quickly. For example, a inbound link from Amazon.com would be much more beneficial than 10 links from small online shopping sites. It will also be much harder to convince Amazon.com to link to your site, but that’s the nature of the beast. Website “authority” is often measured using Google’s PageRank.
Hopefully SEO is beginning to look a little less scary and you have an idea of how your property management company should begin to rank more highly for keywords vital to your business. If you want to jump into the deep end and take SEO into your own hands rather than hiring somebody to handle it for you, there a number of SEO tools available to you. A useful paid tool is SEOmoz, and a great free option is Google’s Webmaster tools.Read more on Marketing