Monday, October 16, 2006

Getting Started – SEO for New Businesses

The business plan is sound enough to get backing from a bank. The administration and management processes are established and the business owners are firmly convinced that, after months or even years of exhaustive study, there is a ready market for the goods, products or services offered by the business. There's even a cute mascot as part of the business logo. By this point, someone in the business has thought about designing a website or to marketing a freshly built site.
As an SEO, working with a brand new business is, on some levels much easier than working with an established operation and on others, an extremely challenging experience. While it is simpler to deal with smaller organizations, guiding the owners of a fledgling business through the intricacies of search marketing is complicated by the million and one minor details every new business owner needs to attend to in the weeks preceding their launch date.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of working with a brand new business is the sense of expectations held by the newly minted proprietors. For months they have toiled to get their venture off the ground and hope, (which springs eternal on opening day), quickly turns to a sense of worry if the first few weeks are slow.
If the new business owners have developed a thorough marketing plan, it is likely they have considered and perhaps even researched website marketing. Chances are however, the new owners have not fully explored the range of choices, tasks and obligations that come with marketing a new website.
The most optimal time for an emerging business to contact a website marketing firm is in the weeks before a new website is created. Having the input of a good SEO in the planning and design phase of a new website can actually shave months from the time it takes to achieve strong search engine placements. Along with the necessity of search engine friendly design, there are a number of factors and choices the site designers will face, each of which can make huge differences in the coming website marketing campaign and subsequent efforts.
Before a website is built, a number of necessary assets need to be acquired. Communication between the new business owners, the site designers and the website marketers is critical in the initial planning stages, often necessitating a live or virtual meeting, or at least a conference call. There is a lot that needs to be accomplished, usually in tight time frames. During the course of meetings and conference calls, a general site-plan should be developed outlining the purpose and basic architecture of the site.
To build a new site from scratch, one needs to register a domain name, find a hosting company, accumulate and prepare content for the site, and find complimentary applications to make the site functional for visitors. These tasks need to be completed before the site design phase begins but before one gets to them, keyword research is required.
Keyword research is an important first step when considering building a marketable website. Choices regarding finding the right domain name, content creation and ad-spend budgeting all revolve around keyword selection. The research phase should take a couple of days and many pots of strong coffee.There are a number of tools that make the immense task of pouring over hundreds, perhaps thousands of potential keyword targets, the most useful of which are the imaginations of the new business owners and the website marketers.
Knowing what they know about their vocations, the new business owners should be able to articulate at least twenty frequently used words or phrases that refer or relate to their business. A short list of twenty is a good starting point from which hundreds of other keywords, phrases, or variations can be determined. There are several free tools website marketers and webmasters can use to quickly expand their lists and make a fair selection of winning keywords and keyword phrases.
While brainstorming the short list, it might be useful to take a look at some of the terms used by competing websites from similar business sectors. An easy tool to check on the keywords and phrases used on competitors' websites is the Apogee Competitor Keyword Research Tool. Though the tool is limited to scanning meta-keywords tags it can help find and suggest words others in the same sector are using.
Once a list of immediate keywords and phrases is compiled, the first thing to do is to test unique words against a thesaurus. Running the short list of keywords and individual words found in phrases through a thesaurus can offer numerous variations or alternatives that were not thought of or included on the original list.
Depending on the market the business is trying to reach, it might be wise to research both the US and International spellings of particular words. The Roget's Interactive Thesaurus is a good reference for US English while works well for UK and International English. The list should have grown significantly after consulting the thesaurus. The next step is to prioritize the words by determining the ones that should work best for the new site. There is an array of free tools to help, some of which will also produce more keyword suggestions.
The first and most basic is the Overture Keyword Selection Tool. This ancient and overloaded tool draws its results from searches conducted over the old Overture domain, which is now part of Yahoo Search Marketing. The number of searches per month number should be considered a relative number given the limited number of searches conducted at the old Overture domain. While it doesn't often produce new keyword phrases, it can act as an exclusionary device, showing which words are frequently searched and which are not.
Knowing if a series of words or phrases are well searched is one thing. Deciding if a new site can compete under those terms is another. Before deciding the most frequently used keywords or phrases are the best ones for the new site to focus on, take a few hours to study how competitive different keywords and phrases are.
In search marketing terms, "competitiveness" is a measure of the likelihood a site can rank well organically and compete commercially against other sites at Google, Yahoo, MSN and Ask. There is a lot to think about when considering competitiveness but for brand new sites, keeping it basic is best. Important factors include; the number of sites found under various keywords and phrases in each of the search engines, estimated PPC bids and required click-traffic, and estimated searches per month.
The SEOBook Keyword Research Tool is a good place to start.
The tool is useful for many reasons. Though it is driven by the Overture keyword suggestion tool, it offers estimated monthly search volumes by regional market for Google, Yahoo and MSN, provides links to related global SERPs, and links to price estimation tools offered by Yahoo Search Marketing and Google AdWords. SEOBook's keyword research tool also displays links to Google Trends, Google Suggest, Google Synonyms, Yahoo Suggest, Nichebot and Wordtracker keyword results.
A cool feature to this tool is the links to vertical databases such as, blog search and designed to offer ideas on how people generally relate to the various words or phrases entered. This gives search marketers a chance to get into the heads of potential visitors, some of which might use different words than those indicated by previous research.
By now, a list of hundreds of keywords should have been generated along with stats and figures to make selection analysis simpler. (It should be noted that there are several professional keyword research firms available to conduct this crucial research.)
There are two types of keywords and phrases to think about, organic search phrases and pay-per-click search phrases.
When seeking strong organic search results, new sites should try to target less than ten keyword phrases at the start. Choosing the best keywords and phrases comes down to weighing the most descriptive combinations of words against the competitiveness of each variation.
For instance, if there are a lot of sites competing at Google or Yahoo for a term that is less frequently searched, chances are that term is not a winning one to target. Conversely, if there are less sites competing for placement under terms or phrases that generate a fair amount of search traffic, chances are those terms or phrases are good targets.
A primary keyword phrase comprised of two or more words gives a new site the best chance to succeed. A series of secondary phrases, some longer than others, should apply to relevant pages of the planned (or pre-existing) site.
Hundreds or even thousands of keywords and phrases can be targeted through paid-search but there are tricks to finding the best ones and keeping up with the costs of click-traffic they generate.
As the name suggests, Pay-per-Click search charges based on the number of times an Internet user clicks a particular paid-ad. Site owners bid for positioning with the highest bids (per click) tending to place on the first page of search results. Google and Yahoo both apply a secondary algorithm that promotes ads that are more frequently clicked on, offering them better placement if they generate greater click-traffic revenue than others.
Knowing the bid rates of each of the keywords or phrase under consideration is important, as are the relative click-through rate and the estimated traffic necessary to keep an ad well placed. When the initial keyword selection is complete, tasks can be assigned to various people involved in creating the new site. The copywriters can write and the techies can concentrate on building a search engine friendly site.
Writing the copy becomes easier as site development progresses but knowing the target keywords is important for the copywriters. They need to know which words or phrases to weave into the site content and where. Based on the basic site plan, the copywriters should be able to quickly develop their first rough drafts to place on the pages being built by the designers. The first part of building a site is finding a good hosting company and registering a domain name. It is generally best to select the hosting company first because part of the process of registering a domain is telling the registrar where the URL is meant to reside.
Choosing a hosting company can be pretty difficult. There are a number of things to consider before buying a block of time and cyberspace. Does the hosting firm, or ISP, offer strong customer support? Can the server handle the technologies called for in the initial site plan? Is there blog support? Can log-files be easily accessed?
If it takes a day or two to research and select a good hosting firm, the time is well spent. The business is planning on using that hosting firm for as long as possible. Changing servers is often as difficult and time consuming as moving from one house to another.
Most hosting companies can help register domains for a fee. There are much less expensive domain registrars out there but registering through your chosen hosting company saves a bit of time and minor technical hassles. Domain name selection can be simple or difficult, depending on the names one wants to pursue. General wisdom says the domain name should be the same as the business name. That's not always possible, as the various owners of Atlas Moving Company, Atlas Pizza and Atlas Gym must already know. If the business name is not available, using a variation on the strongest keyword phrase wouldn't hurt. would work for the fictional Puget Sound Widget Works Company.
When registering the domain, buy rights to the name for several years. The amount of time a domain is registered for makes a difference in some search algorithms which use registration dates as a means of determining the seriousness and long-term stability of a website.
Once the domain is assigned to a hosting company, the skeleton of the website can start to take shape on the host server, fleshing itself out as the site is designed. This is an important stage for SEO involvement for a number of reasons.
The way a website is designed and laid out plays a determining factor in the search engine and financial success of that site. A good SEO can work with the primary designers to affect a search engine friendly design and help avoid search-unfriendly techniques and technologies.
A good SEO should also be conversant in website usability issues. Usability is the term describing how simple or difficult it is for the average visitor to move around a site and complete whatever goal or task the site is designed to promote. For instance, if the site owner wants to sell blue widgets but it is very difficult for a site visitor to navigate their way to the purchase area, that site would not be considered very usable. The most successful sites make it easy for visitors to get from the Home page to the information, service or product purchase they came for. Because of this, search engine optimization has become a much more technical, statistics driven practice involving the "funneling" of website visitors from home page to goal-destination pages.
Flashing ahead several weeks, the site design should be completed and fleshed out with content. Now the real work for SEO's begins but that work will be accomplished much faster and for far less money than it would have been had the SEO team not been involved from the get-go. Note to new site owners.Don't expect rapid search engine placements with new websites. Sometimes new sites rank well very quicly but more often than not, new sites sit in the low to mid rankings for months before cracking the lucrative Top10. Some SEOs call this tendency the Google Sandbox however others suggest no such sandbox exists. Jennifer Laycock from Search Engine Guide covered the perceived sandbox in early June.


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