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Saturday, 21 February 2015

Your Guide To No Budget Search Engine Success

A Five Step Plan

My job's sometimes hard but never harder than when I'm talking to someone who has invested their hard earned money in a new website only to discover nobody visits it. I had one of those conversations this week and I could hear the pain coming down the phone, "but our website's as good as the others, why is Google not showing it in search results?", then I made his day worse with some hard facts, not easy. People really are confused and simply don't know what SEO is.

Struggling with SEO

So if you're in the same boat, no traffic and no money, what are your options? Well, while not quick and easy the Red Evolution 5 Step Plan to No Budget Search Engine Success will start things moving in the right direction and I'll kick off with a list so you can skip to the bits you need.

  1. Understand your perfect world Google™ rankings.
    It's not just about being "listed" in Google's™ search results, it's about being listed for the words and phrases likely to generate business. Do you know what they are?
  2. Understand why other sites and pages already enjoy the rankings you want.
    It might be by accident but it's more likely a result of a calculated and well executed plan! What's your plan?
  3. Establish what you need to do to start the journey towards your perfect world Google™ rankings.
    Just like alcoholics seeking a way out of addiction the first step is to acknowledge the problem and have a grown up conversation about the task in hand. Moaning and looking for a silver bullet is a fools errand.
  4. Start doing the things you've decided might help.
    Doing something is almost always better than prevaricating. Like most things in life committing to this exercise will bring change, usually for the better.
  5. Measure, adapt and keep moving forward.
    With very few exceptions there are no overnight sensations when it comes to SEO. Be prepared to work hard for incremental improvements.

Now, before I go into any detail I want to share a quote by W. H. Murray a Scottish mountaineer and writer who said about a planned expedition;

"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now."

Begin it now

 The takeaway from this is the word committed. For the following 5 step plan to work you need to commit to it and keep doing it. You'll doubt it's effectiveness, you'll stray and start looking for easy options, you'll despair at Google's™ indifference to your efforts. But stick with it and you will start to see things happening. You'll see traffic start to build, you'll see rankings improve and you'll generate business.

So Let's Get Cracking!

So here we go on our journey of discovery. As the title suggests this plan is designed for people with NO BUDGET. I will point out how certain stages can be improved with a modest spend but fear not if you have no hard cash to invest, the plan still works.

Say Hello to Robinson & Rose Accountants

Well we needed a fictitious company on which to base the five step plan so I thought why not a firm of accountants! For the record any similarity to a real company called Robinson & Rose is purely because the world is a huge place and it just happened there was...

Robinson & Rose are a new firm of accountants based in Birmingham (that's a city in the UK!). They're a start-up accountancy business formed by Sharon Robinson and Claire Rose two forward thinking chartered accountants who've left their jobs with KPMG to do their own thing. Go girls!

They've used their savings to buy a nice office and have a swanky website designed and built. For the website they used trendy web firm Clueless, Pretty & Expensive and all their friends have congratulated them on how cool it is. That said it's yet to generate any enquiries and according to the web stats not many people look at it. Unfortunately in all the excitement our intrepid entrepreneurs never considered what might happen if they couldn't secure any business and in fact just assumed by building a website people would beat a path to their door. A familiar misconception.

1. Understand Your Perfect World Google™ Rankings.

In a perfect world where you could pick up the phone, speak to a Google™ geek and advise them when to put a link to your website in their search results what would you say? Robinson & Rose would say "Please show our website for any search phrase that contains the words accountant and Birmingham...".

They reckon that would nail it and send them visitors that might buy their services, and do you know, they might be right. But why guess? Why not investigate using one of the great research tools available such as SEMRush. This tool, although paid for, offers some great basic information for free!

Putting the phrase 'accountants Birmingham' into SEMRush, like this, provides some interesting data including the fact that there are almost 400 searches a month for this phrase. Now I'll say right away that this data may not be 100% accurate but at the very least it's suggesting people do use that search phrase.

With a little budget you could test the accuracy of the data with a PPC campaign, but that's for another post and falls outside the remit of no budget SEO.

So, using SEMRush, for free, you can build a list of keywords that should, if you ranked for them, send you some valuable traffic so what next?

2. Understand Why Other Sites and Pages Already Enjoy the Rankings You Want

Sticking with SEMRush we can see a list of the websites that already rank in Google™ for the term accountants Birmingham. Number one at the time of writing is a firm called SKN Services and clicking on their name in the Domain column shows us a host of SEO information about them.

SEMRush suggests they get almost 400 visitors a month from Google's™ organic search results, the non paid ads. It also gives us a list of the search phrases they rank for, including their ranking position, and how much traffic each phrase might generate. I hope by now you can see how we've very quickly got some great information about a competitor which in turn helps us decide what it might be worth ranking for.

Of course there's lots more you could do to build a list of phrases worth ranking for in Google™ but let's keep this simple and free!

But why are they ranking at number 1 for this search? Unfortunately there's no definitive answer to that, Google keeps it a closely guarded secret, but we do know that links from other sites play a significant role and clicking on the Backlinks menu item in the right hand column gives us a list of the places SKN get links from. Perhaps there are some opportunities for Robinson & Rose to secure some of this link action as well?

3. Establish What You Need To Do To Compete

Another great tool to use is Moz. Once again it's a paid service but with this one you can secure a full 30 day free trial and it's well worth both using this and perhaps signing up for an account at the end of the trial. Your call.

Create a free account and use the Open Site Explorer™ tool in the Pro section to analyse the sites currently ranking for the phrases you now know you'd like to rank for, the sites you found in SEMRush. For Robinson & Rose that would be accountants Birmingham. This tool will show you lots of data including how many links they have, with a little more detail than SEMRush, their social media activity and their Domain Authority. You can think of Domain Authority as the domains ranking potential or ability to rank in Google. You'll also see the page's Page Authority which is like Domain Authority only it's for a specific page.

If you're thinking, quite naturally, why will this information help me then I'll explain. Pages rank in Google's search results for a reason. As I've said before most of those reasons are a closely guarded secret only Google knows but "we" do have some insights. We know links to a page/site are important, we think social media mentions and other signals are important and we think content's important along with age, size etc.

Open Site Explorer™ will give you insights into why the pages that rank do so. If you punch the web page address of the page on your site you want to rank and compare the metrics of it to the metrics of the pages that rank some basic GAP analysis will help you understand the difference between your pages and the pages in the search results. From there you might either:

  1. Give up
  2. Create a plan to push your pages up the rankings

When I say "give up" I'm not being defeatist but you really do have to pick your fights with SEO. Say for example the top 20 search results for a particular search are the BBC, Amazon, The Guardian Newspaper etc is it likely you will be able to create a page and push it up past these guys? It might be, but it might not, be realistic and honest with yourself and remember, chances are there's another less competitive search phrase with your name on it!

4. Start Doing The Things You've Decided Might Help

By now our heroines at Robinson & Rose have figured out what to try and rank for and they've also sussed out what their competitors have done to secure the rankings they have. They now need to decide what to do and create a plan to make sure they do it.

It's very likely your plan will involve Inbound Marketing. In a nutshell this involves creating great content covering subject areas your potential clients are interested in. For example we figured our potential clients wanted a simple explanation of SEO, so we created a really novel solution to that problem, SEO Man! Over time people shared links to the page, we nudged it out into social media land and before long a link to it appeared on page one of Google™ for the search SEO explained. Not rocket science.

We didn't have to beg for links or pursue some dodgy strategy, we created fab content that people wanted and Google™ rewarded our efforts. The thing is, creating fab content is hard, trust me when you've been building websites for as long as me you know how much people struggle with content. Unfortunately when you're on a no budget strategy you're gonna have to build a bridge and get over it, you are going to have to create awesome content. Doing so may bring you some very rewarding results!

5. Measure, Adapt And Keep Moving Forward

One of the most important things to remember is understanding how all of the above needs to be measured. How will you know how effective your work is if you don't measure your traffic and enquiries. A great tool with a free option that's just easier to use than Google Analytics™ is Clicky™. Install this into your site and you'll see a ton of great real time data about your visitors.

Along with this make sure you ask people who call and email how they found you. Ask them what they searched for - sadly Google™ no longer provide this information - so you can build up a body of data about what people are interested in.

Monitor your site closely and understand which pages are popular and which aren't. Understand your customers!

And Finally...

To recap, first you're going to figure out what your perfect world Google rankings are, the ones that will generate business (keyword research etc). Then you're going to look at the site's currently ranking and figure out if you can compete and how (competitor analysis). You're then going to hatch your plan, execute it and measure the results. Tada!

In competitive niches it's hard, make no mistake. Be creative, research your market thoroughly and understand what they need. Stick at it, appreciate it's a slow process and build a website that deserves to rank!

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