Back when I was a kid, a series of books came out that taught me everything I ever needed to know about Search Engine Optimization.
Where’s Waldo had page after page of crowded pictures, huge, epic scenes with lots of action, all intended to hide a single, red and white stripped character: Waldo. I spent hours scanning those pages, trying to figure out the puzzle and find Waldo faster. Little did I know that twenty-five years later I would use the lessons from Where’s Waldo to better understand SEO.
Think Like Google: Don’t Hide Your Website
The Waldo books worked by hiding Waldo in big tableus and forcing you to find him. Similarly, by virtue of its sheer size, the Internet hides your website: visitors either have to know the link to your site or find it by searching. When they do search, chances are they will go to Google to do it, so knowing how Google works will give you an advantage in getting your website found.
Google is the biggest search engine in the world. As of July 2012, Google accounted for 87.6% of all searches globally, meaning that almost 9 out of 10 people start their search for information by going to Google. Social networking has certainly diversified the way we search, however a 2011 study found that 58% of users first turn to search engines before going onto social media, and that 42% who start with social media eventually turn to search engines.
So, whether users start their search with Google or confirm findings with Google, learning how to think like Google should be a TOP priority for anyone with a website. In order to learn to think like Google, you need to understand how Google works.
Getting Inside Google’s Head: Keywords and Search Engine Basics
Getting inside Google’s head requires a basic understanding of some SEO terms.
Keywords – Keywords are the word or phrases used to make a search. Usually Google will auto-suggest related phrases and instantly display different results as you type. In Waldo terms, this may not be Waldo himself, but a stripped sock or his fuzzy ball hat that is strewn about the page to throw you off his trail.
Target Keywords – These are the Keywords that you have decided you want your site to show up on the Search Engine Result Page (“SERP”). Determining which Target Keywords requires careful analysis, trial and error and the help of some good SEO tools like Google Webmaster Tools, WordTracker and SEOBook. Here Google would be looking for Waldo in the specific context of the picture, for example, Waldo on the beach.
Paid v. Organic Search Results – Users can bid on Keywords and phrases through the Google Ad Words tool to compete for top positions on searches containing those words. The price of the Keywords will depend on how often the search terms are searched for and what people are paying for them. Paid Search Results will display at the top and sides of SERPs. Organic Search Results are those results that appear under the Paid Search Results, and their position on SERPs depends on a combination of trusted inbound links, keywords used in the site hierarchy and the age of the site.
Crawling – Google visits billions of webpages using robots called search engine spiders. These spiders “crawl” your entire website, indexing all of the pages. Google sends the spiders every two or three days to index your site and update the information it has. It also uses links that it finds on your site to discover more webpages and index them.
Indexing – Google stores and categorizes all of the information that its spiders find. This Indexing process allows Google to track and rank pages. It also allows the system to Match your terms with the results it thinks will be most relevant to your search. This process has gotten a personal touch with the introduction of Google+ which will deliver more personalized results (previous pages you have visited, pages your friends recommend, etc.) if you are signed into Google when you search.
Page Rank: Google Juice for Your Website
Google determines who gets the top spot in results by an algorithm called “PageRank.” Named after Google co-founder Larry Page, this program works like a huge online voting system, other websites are the voters casting votes for your site by linking to it. “Inbound Links” from other sites tell Google that your site has authority and that others trust you.
While Page Rank may seem like the most democratic way to determine who gets the coveted Page 1 spot in a given search, there have to be ways to prevent gaming the system (it would be easy to generate counterfeit Inbound Links with a script or spam bot). Therefore, Google assigns different weights to the Inbound Links your site gets based on the Page Rank and authority of the linking site. So for example, if you are writing about social media and baking, a link from Mashable.com (Page Rank 8) gives you more credibility in Google’s algorithm than a link from ChrisBrogan.com (Page Rank 6). Both of these sites are authoritative in the social media space, however the vote from Mashable has more weight than the vote from Brogan (of course best case scenario, both of them link to you and many others as well – this is how you start to really build a cascade of authority).
The bottom line: PageRank is important. Use a tool like PRChecker or the Google Chrome extension to see what your PageRank is. We’ll come back to Page Rank and link building when we discuss “Off Page SEO” tactics below. For now, let’s move into what your primary focus should be when getting started with SEO: “On Page Optimization.”
On Page SEO: Making It Easy to Get Found
Finding Waldo provided a sense of accomplishment that made the books fun. There was nothing more annoying than turning the page to find him circled in the puzzle. This took put the search beyond your control and killed your engagement with the book.
We can think of On Page SEO like finding Waldo on your own. On Page SEO includes all of the things you can control: Anchor Text in link tags, Title Tags, Metadata, URL structures, content and more. Off Page SEO are when someone else circles the page.
We always focus on On Page SEO first because without great site content, optimized to bring site visitors you can forget about attracting links to your site or getting guest writing gigs to boost your visibility. It all starts with your content, and the strength of that content will depend on knowing your audience and delivering content that is valuable to them.
Step One: How Would Your Audience Search For You?
Waldo tried to hide in plain site and throw you off by dropping his socks and hats all over the picture. Do the opposite: you want to hone in on keywords and phrases your audience would use in searching for you and use them in your On Page optimization. Ask yourself questions like:
- What problems or challenges do my target audience have?
- What would they type into Google when looking for answers?
- Are there any terms or combinations of terms they use which create more specific searches I can target?
- Which terms does your competition seem to be focusing on?
From these questions you can begin to build a list of Seed Keywords and phrases that can be entered into a tool like Google Keyword Tool to determine your Keyword Niche and Related Keywords. The results will also show you how many Global and Local Monthly Searches are done using those keywords, and what the competition is like if you want to bid on the keywords in Google Ads.
Your working list can then give you a good idea of the likely traffic to be generated by your keywords and phrases and the potential for your page showing up high in search results. A high volume of search with a low threshold of competition may indicate an opportunity to build a Keyword niche. High traffic and high competition for a term presents a decision: do the potential returns of competing for that Keyword justify the high costs in terms of Google Ad Words or even the effort that will be needed to compete organically? Using the Keyword tool can give you clearer answers to these considerations and help you make informed decisions, all for free.
Step Two: Prioritize Your Key Words and Add Them To The Picture
When searching for Waldo you have to prioritize which parts of the page to look at based on where you haven’t found him already. With Keywords you need to sift through a pretty long list of Keywords without any idea of which ones would be best to optimize page copy or run Google Ads off of. The rule is the same for Waldo and Keywords: don’t waste time in areas that will not payoff. Narrow down your target market keywords and prioritize which leads you should focus on.
Ultimately you want to have a list of five priority Keywords that you can work with. You can get there by doing a few assessments, such as:
- Assess the most Popular keywords to determine potential volume searches
- Assess the most Competitive keywords to determine “hot” Keyword markets
- Assess Popularity/Competition ratios based on “anchor text” and Title Tags to determine which Keywords are not only popular and competitive, but also being optimized correctly
- Review Target Keyword List and verify Keyword Research
- Verify and update Keyword Research with PPC Testing
Once you get the list narrowed down it’s time to move onto Step 3 where you will create landing pages to test your Keyword choices for optimization.
Step 3: Create Content and Make a Scene
As mentioned above, what made Waldo books great were the giant scenes that author Martin Hanford drew around Waldo to give context to the search. The number one thing for effective SEO is great content. Of course first you want to make sure your terms both get the traffic you want and are right for your audience. These steps are what you want to be thinking about when creating the scene that will be your content:
- Build a landing page to test each of your target keywords
- Use PPC ads test conversion opportunities for your keywords (email sign up, sales, etc.)
- Adjust these pages later for design, SEO, and editorial
When you are first testing your content for SEO purposes it should still consist of valuable information that your target audience will gobble up when they hit your site. The purpose of creating SEO test pages for each of your terms, however, is to see not only what generates traffic, but what generates traffic that will convert. Then you can narrow down your Landing Pages to the one or two you will focus on moving forward.
You can also then incorporate the Keywords you have discovered to be most effective into the rest of your web copy. Some quick pointers for this include: include:
- Using a Keyword or phrase in the Title of your site (especially in the Title Tag Metadata) and in the Header information
- Using Keywords or keywords or phrases in your headlines (H1 and H2), particularly if you can ask a questions like “What Can Waldo Teach Me About Finding a Wife on the Internet?”
- Using Keywords in context in Paragraph text where applicable
Keyword Density refers to the number of times a keyword or phrase appears on a page in relation to other words. Make sure your Keyword Density stays between 3% to 5% so that search engines do not flag your site as a spam site.
Waldo Can’t Teach You Off Page SEO
Off Page SEO refers to everything outside of your control. It involves tactics to attract links to your site, build authority on the Internet and inspire community in your Keyword niches. Waldo can’t teach you about this, but we will give you Seven Tactics to Off Page SEO Success here at My Media Labs in our next SEO Basics post.