A small business can’t possibly compete online with the Kogans of this world, right?
Wrong – so long as you pick your battles.
Armed with keyword search tools and your own, shrewd judgement, you can stake out your own small, lucrative territory in the Googleverse by optimising for ‘long-tail’ terms.
And an effective way to do this is by producing high-quality content that answers the questions Google users are asking – whether that’s articles, videos, infographics and so on.
So what are ‘long-tail’ terms?
Usually, one or two words long with huge monthly search volumes, ‘head’ keywords tend to be dominated by the biggest companies. Long-tail keywords, which often involve more words with lower search volumes, represent a more realistic route onto page one of Google search results for small businesses.
So while yes, retail powerhouse The Iconic is number one for ‘buy clothes’, the rather less famous Rusty Zipper tops search results for ‘buy 1970s retro fashion’.
There should be three parts to your
First, you need to decide which long-tail terms to target.
You can’t do everything so you need to target, say, 10-20 keywords with a reasonable balance between monthly search volume (the higher the better) and competition (lower the better). The lower your domain authority, the harder it is to compete, and the more this balance should tip towards less competitive terms with lower search volumes.
Google AdWords still has the definitive keyword tool – no surprise given Google is privy to all data driving its search results. Enter the most obvious term for your product or service to generate a list of alternatives.
AnswerthePublic is another free tool that generates related questions to your keyword – the hows, whys, whats and whens (e.g. for books: ‘Why books are better than movies’ or ‘which books should I read’).
Enter any promising questions into Google Keywords to see how they score. Question-based keyword phrases are becoming more important with the rise of Siri: people speak in sentences but typed searches tend to be 1-3 words long.
Other useful keyword tools include:
- Google Suggest
- Moz Pro
- Keyword Tool
- Google Trends
Once you have a shortlist of promising terms, it’s time to find flaws in the competition.
Open an incognito browser (it’s called InPrivate if you’re using Internet Explorer and not Google Chrome) – because its searches are unprejudiced by previous search activity – and click on the top five pieces of content in the search results, one by one.
When were they published? Google likes fresh content.
Though some publishers periodically update content, some content will obviously be out of date.
What is their domain authority? (Check this with the free moz.com toolbar) Is it badly written with long sentences? Does the page take a long time to load? (You can get specific load results with Google’s free PageSpeed tools)
User experience becomes more important with each Google algorithmic update. If you can produce something that beats the top five on all these points you can be confident of eventually reaching the top five search results – which account for more than two-thirds of all clicks
As well as creating new articles you can refresh promising archive pages. Use Google or Adobe Analytics to find out which historic articles get the most traffic.
Updating them with the latest information or optimising their keywords and other
Build a hub page – a definitive guide to the topic – for your long-tail term. Then link to and from subsequent articles on this topic. HubSpot does this brilliantly with, ironically, the term ‘SEO’. Think of the hub page as the hub on a bike wheel and the spokes as related articles.
Subheaders should answer the reader’s main questions on this subject but still include the focus keyword. So subheaders for a hub page on 1970s prog rock could be: ‘a history of prog rock’, ‘prog rock bands’, ‘decline of prog rock’ and so on. AnswerthePublic is a useful tool here.
And periodically update your hub page – as we said before, Google likes up-to-date content. ‘Evergreen’ content, which means it remains relevant and up to date for longer, is easier to maintain (e.g., ‘1970s fashions’ is highly evergreen; ‘popular smartphones’ would need frequent updates).
Some tips for on-page
- Is your headline interesting? Does it offer an unexpected solution (‘How to look good on a budget’)? Is it provocative? (‘Why it’s time to ditch give up on diets’)
- Focus keyword: ideally at the beginning of the headline and URL slug – although this is becoming less important as Google becomes more sensitive to linguistic nuance
- Meta description appears under the headline in Google search results. Its purpose is to entice people to click rather than determining Google rank
- Image file name and image alt text: prosaic, descriptive (so a picture of Nike Gazelle trainers? Simply: ‘Nike Gazelle trainers’)
- Include periodic contextual links – to relevant articles on your site but also externally. Ask yourself: is this link helping the user find the information they need?
- Link to the most authoritative related page on your site (see hub posts above)
- Use bullets and subheads (like we are here!)
- Short sentences and paragraphs. Don’t be too hung up on this. Google probably ascertains the average sentence length. If it’s good, clean copy for a print magazine it’s probably good, clean copy for Google too
- Word count: 400 minimum is a good rule of thumb
- Use images, tweets, gifs, videos and so on for variety. Google increasingly analyses dwell time and bounce rates. Infogram, Apester and Thinglink are great tools for charts, infographics and other visuals
- Include CTAs for social sharing – so people can tweet, share on Facebook and LinkedIn (social shares influence
Moz On-Page Grader will offer clues on how well optimised your page is – though its advice is imperfect, so take as a guide, not as the gospel.
Get relevant, high-value links to your piece of content by asking people or brands quoted or mentioned in your article to link to it from their press section or elsewhere on their site.
If you source guest posts from external writers, offer them suggestions that cover keywords that benefit you as well as matching their own expertise.
Put aside some time, say, once a month to gauge the success of your strategy using analytics software – and Adobe Analytics is arguably the best out there, though it can be pricey. Google offers rather comprehensive software for zero cost.
Among other invaluable metrics over any period you specify Adobe Analytics tells you:
- Percentage of visits from search
- Number of unique users
- Dwell time of articles
You can also compare your key metrics – share of traffic from search, from social and different countries, among others – to those of your competitors on SimilarWeb.
Moz Pro is also invaluable – for page maintenance, determining whether you are climbing or descending Google rankings for your target terms and how well optimised your back links are.
Finally, the higher you climb on Google the harder it gets to climb further still. It can take 6-12 months to really reap the dividends of your strategy – so be patient, and stay positive.
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