For many engineers, marketing and sales are land of mystery. Having worked in both worlds (marketing and engineering), I can assure you that a significant number of things that occur in marketing are um... fluffy. Just go with it. But what if I told you there was a magical corner of marketing that was one of the most data-driven places on the internet? Where understanding how to hack a tiny piece of a massive company's algorithm can rapidly create free traffic and sales? Without lots of awkward dinners, "coffee meetings", and other corporate politics? Sound interesting? Welcome to SEO - the art of getting Google to listen....
For many websites, the most important things you can do to build an audience is position it to rank highly in Google's search results. This is pretty much a requirement for ad-supported sites in non-commercial niches; the amount you earn from ads is unlikely to fund acquiring customers through advertising. The good news is a) there's a huge potential audience and b) for many search terms, it isn't hard to rank if you have a plan (targeting, solid content, good outreach).
Useful Reports for Beginners
Getting your site ranked in google, at the 101 level, comes down to:
This process is referred to as search engine optimization (aka SEO). This is easier than it sounds - most sites get NONE of this right; getting a few pieces right makes a difference.
New webmasters should also play it safe in which tactics they chose. There are tricks in the SEO industry to rank quickly - and some even work, for a while. Most of them will get you clobbered in the next google update. Avoid using aggressive SEO tactics until you fully understand their risks. Never risk sites you want to own for the long haul.
Keyword selection is essential properly positioning your content. There are three key tasks involves in keyword planning. First, identify the universe of search terms relevant to your subject. Next, identify which search terms have enough volume to be worth targeting. And finally, closely inspect the most promising terms to identify which ones you can win at. To get the data required to do this, we use a tool called SEMRUSH (link above, they allow some free use with a signup) - they collect data on how many people search google for a particular term and analyze the rankings to understand how individual sites are doing.
Lets start with understanding the set of potential keywords. I use two approaches. First, enter a term related to the product / service / content that you are marketing. This will display some basic information about the search term and incumbents ranking for it. Next, look the right of the report... you should see a "related terms" report (on SEMRUSH's reporting interface). Now pull up that report - it will give you a list of terms which are similar to the original term (including ones that aren't obvious, which are often GREAT targets to rank for.). The free reports give you a handful of results; paid plans give you a huge volume of results you can download and data-mine further in Excel.
The second approach is even more fun. Identify several competitors in your niche. Now, enter THEIR websites into the tool. The tool will generate a list of search terms their site ranks for, with an estimate of how much of their sites traffic is from a particular search. Compare this list with your target keywords, add any new ones you see. Repeat this for every major competitor in your space. For those of you with ad accounts, you can also get insights on where they are targeting their advertising spend.
The SEMRUSH reports will give you an estimated volume of traffic for each of these search terms. There's an art to picking which ones to pursue. Here are a couple of tips:
Once you've identified the keywords you want to target, you need to develop some written content around those topics. Even if you're focused on a product or a relatively static content asset (like a web tool or reference site), it still makes sense to have some type of blog associated with the site. Write long articles - avoid the 300 word blog post - and be sure to load up those articles with a variety of the targeted keywords. Post Length has been cited as a key ranking factor by google, along with recency / update frequency. You should make an effort to incorporate these keyworks into your page title and various areas of the page which have been highlighted in some form.
This is becoming increasingly important. While Google has been murky about "how" this process is occuring (to prevent gaming by the SEO crowd), its pretty clear that there is some consideration of visitor satisfaction affecting website rankings. Set up Google Analytics for your site (and get the mobile client) and be sure to watch things like bounce rate (# of people who read one page of your site and leave), time on site, and performance by mobile / desktop browser types. New sites should also incorporate mobile friendly elements into their design.
Backlinks are a complicated topic and there are a lot of scammers out there. The simple explaination is that "linking to a site" is viewed as a form of endorsement between the various sites that make up the web. Sites which have many links, particularly links from other highly regarded sites (murkily defined) in highly relevant topics (also a bit vague) will generally outrank sites with fewer and/or less credible links. These take time and a certain amount of good content to develop.
SEMRUSH can be helpful in reviewing a competitor's backlinks to identify ones which we may want to pursue acquiring. Pull a competitor backlink report and skim the results. Backlinks from sites which appear to be individually curated and edited by a human being with significant amounts of related content tend to be viewed as more credible by Google. I've used their PRO service for years and it's our primary tool for competitor research and sizing new opportunities.
And that - quite honestly - is the essence of the model. Pick your keywords carefully, incorporate them into your content, and cautiously get links from high quality sites. We've placed the search tool box from SEMRUSH below in the event you want to dig a bit deeper into the tool to see what it can generate. We do recommend some patience with SEO; even in the best hands, it can take months (or years) for a site to rank to its true full potential.