Since the phrase ‘search engine optimisation’ first appeared, the task of attaining and keeping good positions in the search results has become a lot more challenging.
This is due in part to the explosion of internet usage; there is simply a lot more competition on any given key-term and industry niche. The other part of the story is the evolving search algorithms employed by search engines like Google which – in theory at least – constantly improve how they index, sort and rank the contents of the web.
But don’t be too daunted – good SEO starts on your site or blog and even in a competitive, thriving sector you can see fast returns from investing a little time in your onsite search engine optimisation. In this post I will be explaining how to build the foundations of an effective SEO strategy with key term analysis and selection.
Careful targeting and implementation of keywords is the bread and butter of SEO.
Presuming you have identified your blog’s niche topics, look carefully at your industry and competition to start building a list of head & long-tail key terms. Get creative – identifying, developing and ultimately owning specific long-tail terms is a great way to corner your part of the market.
For example, you won’t get far against the competition on a phrase like holidays – but you stand a much better chance on something more specific like Caribbean Golfing Holidays .It helps to visualise your list of key terms as the ‘real-estate’ you are fighting for.
Head terms are the most obvious, least specific phrases that define what you do. Whatever specific long-tail terms you are aiming for, the head terms they are derived from should be included throughout your content.
For example a back-packing blogger can’t afford to ignore phrases like backpacking, budget, gap year, travel, hostels, camping… think sideways, list as many as you can, sort them, and analyse your competitor’s use of terms.
Tail terms and long-tail terms are progressively more targeted and specific, but relate to your head terms. What are people actually searching for on Google that is relevant to your blog? Can you identify a gap that you could fill?
With our previous travel-related head terms, examples might include backpacking in Australia, hitchhiking in New Zealand, best hostels in Scotland, cheap gap year travel, working to travel, volunteering in Australia… the list is endless, but time invested here can pay off in many ways including plenty of good ideas for posts.
Keyword research tools can be of great help, and the Google search box itself is very useful. Log out of any Google accounts you have (it skews your results) and start typing head terms in the search box. Google’s auto-complete suggestions will pop up as you type; this is actually an amazing way to see what people are searching for, and can be a great insight into specific search trends. The Google Adwords keyword tool is invaluable for understanding the competition, search volumes and value of key terms across your industry, and it also generates large numbers of related phrases you should be aware of and consider. Many people favour various tools from SEOmoz and the ageing but still very handy Wordtracker.
Applying your keyword strategy
Do your keyword research, learn as much as you can about your market, make a prioritised spreadsheet with your head and long-tail terms, figures and search volumes. When you feel your key term research and understanding is extensive enough – you’re never actually finished – you can begin to apply your key terms to your blog, and content.
Your keyword strategy should be consistently applied to all the following areas;
- Alternate text for images
- Author Biography
- Breadcrumb trails
- Bullet points
- Footer links and sitemap
- Header Tags – H1, H2 and H3
- Image descriptions
- Internal and external links
- HTML Keywords and meta description
- Navigation and menus
- Outgoing and incoming links
- Page content & all posts/articles
- Post/article titles
- Title attribute in links
- Title Tag
- Your main page copy
- Your URL
The development of your keyword strategy will apply to all the areas of your site as you take it forward. But don’t over-optimise! Remember a simple rule of thumb when it comes to keywords;
If it looks like keyword-stuffed spam to you, don’t publish it!
Repeating the same phrases too many times in a way that doesn’t read naturally or look right to humans will also look wrong to search engines. If this is the case, Google will quickly penalise you for spam – not good. As complex as SEO can seem, most high-ranking web content does so because it is great content that people want to read and find useful or entertaining. This should be every travel writer’s aim, because as almost any SEO will tell you – high quality content wins.
Once you have launched or re-launched your newly optimised site, you need to use analytics software such as Google analytics to constantly track, understand and refine your keywords and their performance. Use your instincts as well as technology – look at how people find your content, what worked and what doesn’t.
Good luck out there!