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Module 2: How to Plan a Website That Sells
Section 3: Search Engines and Your Website
Post 2: Writing for Your Second Customer
This post is about search engine optimization (SEO) through quality content. SEO helps you rank better in Google and the other search engines. A higher rank means more traffic, which should mean more sales.
SEO is an interesting field. Many website owners have tried to out maneuver the search engines. It may work in the short run, but it often hurts them in the long term.
One such practice was “keyword stuffing” – repeating a keyword over and over again. Search engines no longer reward it. In fact, they punish it.
We suggest a long-term strategy. Focus on providing helpful information to your current and future customers. Keep your second customer, the search engines, in mind as you write it.
Here’s how you do it: Pick a clear focus for each page. Title it accordingly. Fill in the details with compelling content.
Speak in code
Let’s dive a little deeper into keywords. Think of keywords as your own secret code between you and your customers.
You need to talk like they talk. More specifically, you need to talk like they search.
What terms do they use when they search for the products or services you offer? These are the keywords or key phrases you want to use in your copy.
For example, we know our clients don’t tend to describe themselves as an “entrepreneur” or “small business owner.” They prefer “business owner” or better yet just “owner.”
When you get the language right, it resonates with your ideal customers. It also helps your search engine results, so you get to talk with more of them (through your website, of course).
The importance of search
This is sort of a detour. But it’s critical to your success, so we felt it necessary to include it here.
When it comes to your keywords and / or key phrases, research shows page position makes a tremendous difference, as you can see in this chart:
The top three positions are seen by 100% of the people. The fourth is seen by 85%, still a good number. However, it falls quickly as you move below the fold. By the time you reach the bottom, only 1 out of 5 people ever see it.
And we’re still only on the first page! Can you imagine how few people see anything on the second page or beyond? Very, very few.
Here’s an eyetracking study which confirms these results:
Do you see the Golden Triangle? That’s what it’s sometimes called. (You may also see an “F”. Sound familiar?)
Going back to the chart, it doesn’t mean the #1 rank (viewed by 100%) is worth twice as much as a #6 rank (viewed by 50%). Remember – buyers are readers.
However, you are missing opportunities if you don’t rank well. So what’s the secret to ranking well? We can end the detour and get back on the main road.
It pays to chase your (long) tail
You’re probably familiar with the Pareto Principle (aka the 80-20 rule) – 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Applied to search, one might think: 80% of your traffic comes from 20% of your keywords or key phrases.
However, it’s likely that the opposite is true: 80% of your traffic will likely come from 80% of your keywords. This is called the long tail. Visually, it looks like this:
The head represents the most popular terms. The body is for popular terms. The tail represents the least popular. But here’s the irony:
Most businesses get most of their business from the long tail.
Amazon is a master of this – as documented by Chris Anderson for Wired Magazine (and subsequently in his book, The Long Tail). They make 57% of their sales from the long tail.
Let’s move past dinosaurs to some real numbers. Here’s a chart from Moz, using data from Experian Hitwise:
So you can see that 7 out of 10 searches are for a keyword or key phrase outside the popular terms. As you move from general to specific, you get closer to your ideal customers.
Aha! We just completed the loop. Now you can understand why it was so important to hone in on who you really serve.
But let’s not stop there. Here’s one more thing you should understand about these less popular terms:
There’s less competition as you move down the tail.
So it pays to chase your long tail. It will help you attract more of your ideal customers while your competitors keep beating each other up while chasing the mass.
How to find long tail terms
Long tail terms are simply popular terms with one or more qualifiers. You take a word and turn it into a two- or three-term phrase. Presto! Long tail!
Let’s use a Chicago-based insurance broker as an example. It’s a local business, so they can use geography to move down the long tail.
What if they weren’t local? They could focus on a specialty. Let’s say their ideal customers are business owners.
Yes – they provide personal insurance, but it’s generally a follow-up sale. They get in the door by providing insurance for the business.
They do some research on keywords. (We’ll tell you about the tool used to generate these statistics shortly.) Here’s what they find:
While the industry sells “commercial” insurance, roughly 3 out of 4 owners want to buy “business” insurance. This emphasizes a point:
Know your customer so well you can talk like them.
If we were this broker, we’d be talking about business insurance – but not without another qualifying term.
They’ve moved quickly down the tail, but they need to go further. Adding their location will do the trick.
Once that’s done, we’re near the end of the long tail. Sure, the numbers look low. However:
40 people every month are seriously searching for this specific product. If our fictional broker speaks their language, they’ll probably have a new customer. Other firms who are more vague will lose them.
Another broker in Chicago focuses on providing insurance to individuals. With some research, they learn the following:
“Homeowners insurance” is in the body of the dinosaur. “Condo insurance” is in the long tail. By adding their location, they move further down the tail.
We show this example because “condo insurance” may also be a good term if they sold nationally. (We say “may” because it would depend on their competition and other factors.) We learned this the hard way:
If you’re selling nationally and beyond, you want key phrases
with thousands of searches a month, not tens of thousands.
There’s too much competition otherwise. Your chances of hitting the front page of search results increases as the number of searches decreases.
A tool to get search statistics
There are a number of tools out there to help you find great long tail keywords and key phrases. We’ll keep it simple – use Google’s Keyword Planner. It’s where we got the statistics we shared above.
No, it’s not the greatest tool in the world. Yes, it has its haters.
But it’s intuitive and free. So we believe it’s a great place to start. You can graduate to a more robust tool later.
(1) Google requires you to create an AdWords account to use the Keyword Planner.
(2) They offer a great deal of support on the site. We recommend you start with this article on getting keyword ideas.
(3) We would have provided a step-by-step tutorial, but past experience has taught us they’re often out-of-date before we get them done. So we’ll let Google keep us all up to speed on what they’re doing.
Another way to generate keyword ideas
You don’t have to strain your brain to find good keywords. Benchmark your best competitors!
Now – we feel the need to begin with a caveat. Their keywords may not be your best keywords. But if they’re ranking above you, it sure won’t hurt to see what they’re doing.
You may be able to “spy” on them easily (and legitimately). Here’s how:
- Go to the page they’re ranking for (e.g. their Home Page)
- Find a blank space on the page – somewhere without a picture or text
- Right click
- Select “View Page Source”
The keywords aren’t always visible. But if they are, you’ll see something like this:
We thought we’d keep it simple – this is from the Home Page of an actual insurance broker in Chicago with good search rankings at the time. While there are no surprises here, it did confirm “business” rather than “commercial” as the way to go.
While it’s tempting, we don’t recommend you start here. We suggest picturing your ideal customers conducting a search for what you do. What are their terms?
Then use competitive analysis to double check your work. You’re really making sure you didn’t omit anything obvious.
Sample long tail strategy
Scott M. Aber is a CPA just outside of New York. One of the industries his firm has served successfully is restaurants. He wanted to grow that business.
Of course, there are thousands of restaurants in the Tri-State area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut). But competition for their accounting business is fierce.
To cut through the clutter, they created a page devoted to restaurateurs. They optimized it for “NY Restaurant Accounting.” They now rank first for that term (as well as a number of related ones).
Note: They offer a free, downloadable Special Report. When visitors sign up, they leave their email.
Once Aber has that, he can communicate with them directly. He also offers tips for restaurant owners on his blog.
What’s the result? They’re adding a new restaurant customer every month, on average. They’re very happy about that, especially since it’s costing them nothing. Next, they’re going to repeat the process with a different industry.
Source: Reputation Capital Media
This is a great way to grow your business. Start with your ideal customers. Create the content you need to go after them. Once you’ve maximized that opportunity, go after the next one.
Let the long tail wag the dog. It leads to BIGG success!
Congratulations! You’ve completed the reading for Section 3. So complete Part 2 of the Search Engines and Your Website Guidebook (along with Part 1 if you haven’t done so before).
Of course, if you do have any questions, you can simply email us at
firstname.lastname@example.org with “BTS QUESTION” in the subject line.