This is a common question. “How do you get to the top for crowded keywords like shoes, women’s clothing, etc.”
First, I’ll not answer it directly and explain why not taking the crowded keyword approach is better. Then, I’ll ignore my first answer and give you a direct reply. :)
To me, SEO isn’t only about ranking on page 1. More so, it’s about making money by strategically ranking.
What I’ve found in doing SEO for a decade now is that the broadest words and phrases are often the least effective to target. For example, I would rather have 10 sells from 100 targeted visitors than to have 5 sells from 10,000 non-targeted visitors.
There are also several negative-SEO effects to targeting too broadly.
- Your website’s bounce rate goes through the roof. By not strategically targeting exactly what you sell vs broad industries that include unrelated products, you may (temporarily) get an increase in traffic. However, those visitors will come and quickly leave. That quick “bounce” is a trackable statistic by Google. The worse it is the more a search engine deems that your website is not relevant. So, in effect, by targeting too broadly you can actually cause your rankings to decrease, even for the items that you do specifically sell.
- If you have traffic that is increasing but not targeted then the visitors are less likely to buy. This lowers your conversion rate. Conversion rate is also considered a variable that search engines take into consideration.
Search engines try to pretend they’re a normal shopper. They want to show your website in top rankings if it is a satisfying result. If many other people bounce from your website or you have a significantly lower conversion rate than your competitor, then they assume that your website must not be a satisfying result for them to show in search queries.
Ok, so really, Damon, how do you just rank anyway?
SEO involves hundreds of ranking variables that can be influenced thousands of ways, literally.
When I start helping a business optimize their website the first area that I start is to audit their website’s performance. That process alone, at last count, was a 110+ point checklist. I’ll start with some of the basics.
1 – As mentioned above, search engines try to mimic the experience that an everyday shopper would go through as part of how they rank websites. No one likes a slow website, right? Well, neither does Google.
User experience is part of optimization. Ensuring that your website loads quickly is a great place to start. You can use a free tool like www.GTmetrix.com to get an understanding of what areas of your website could be improved to load quicker. This doesn’t mean that your design has to change. It means that the code that delivers that design could be made more efficient to deliver the same pretty design, but quicker.
Another free tool to check page speed issues on your website is Google Developers PageSpeed Insights.
2 – If you use the PageSpeed tool you’ll notice that it give you two scores for your website, the mobile version of your website and the desktop version. This is because Google can rank your website differently for mobile.
A year ago this week, Google rolled out a mobile-friendly ranking algorithm. In theory, your website can be a rockstar and rank on page 1 for people searching from their computer, but your website can be in oblivion and never show up in 100 results for someone searching from a phone if your website is not mobile friendly.
This boils down to Google mimicking customers, again. Nobody likes a website that they have to zoom in 10x to see the writing on their phone, or they can’t figure out navigation, etc.
Having a mobile-friendly website used to be a competitive advantage. A bonus. Now, it’s required.
It is important to first build a solid foundation of a website before you get into the recurring part of optimization.
Ok, so now you have a fast running, mobile-friendly website. What’s next?
3 – Most people ask about backlinks (links from other websites that point to your website). How do you find backlinks that are valuable, that search engines follow? How do I get a lot? How do you get backlinks, period?
As recent as 2014, despite search engines knowing that many people manipulate backlinks, Google confirmed that links are still a valuable signal.
In some ways, backlinks can be compared to a vote in a popularity contest. The more links = more votes.
There is a catch though. It’s better to get 10 backlinks from high-quality websites in related industries vs. 1,000 backlinks from unrelated, spammy, unmoderated websites. You want to be guilty by association in a good way. You want good websites to mention you.
While backlinks are still valuable, they’re not everything. In fact, for some clients, I don’t build backlinks at all.
When you get into aggressively building backlinks you are clearly manipulating things. While it can be a rewarding pursuit for some, at some point there’s always a gray area to watch out for. At some point you will create a pattern, a foot print, or have too obvious of an increase in link velocity (link quantity X rate of acquisition). When that happens, you will get penalized by Google.
Yeah, yeah. I want to do it anyway. How do I do all these things you tell me to be careful about anyway?
There are several ways to pursue backlinks. First off, never submit to directories. Ever. The sole purpose of link directories is to add links. There is no unique purpose or value to link directory websites and search engines know that. If you submit to directories it’s not a matter of if you’ll get a penalty, but when.
Likewise, don’t spam forum signatures and profiles. If you actively engage in a forum, that’s fine. But don’t spend countless hours or run automated software to shove your link into forum after forum after forum. Google knows that game, too.
I’m not saying that commenting on blogs is a good or bad SEO tactic, but it is a tactic. This is the tactic of reading a blog post and adding a reply, and sometimes having the ability to include your link in the reply.
If you are going to comment on other peoples’ blogs, do so legitimately, and do so in related industries. If you sell shoes, don’t go commenting on Joe Schmoe’s chicken farming blog.
An easy, free tool for sourcing blogs to comment on is www.DropMyLink.com. It allows you to input a keyword to find websites based on that keyword.
4 – Since much of ranking is based on brand awareness and credibility, it is important to create a “buzz” about your product or website. When other websites mention your brand or domain (but don’t hyperlink it), that is called a citation.
Do some outreach to other website owners to feature your brand. Ask customers that have bought your product to review it. Get people talking. You can also Google terms like “blogger outreach software” to find tools that can help you identify blogs that are relevant to your industry, their basic traffic statistics to identify higher value websites, etc. The more that your brand shows up, the better perceived value that it gives to search engines.
5 – Since chatter about your brand is important, press is good, too. Consider writing press releases on a regular basis.
Writing a press release is different than writing blogs. Blogging goes on your website and is about your industry. Press releases go to news outlets and should be about your business specifically. Did you launch a new product line? Did you hire a new VP? etc. Remember, it’s news, not blabber just to talk.
Several years ago I wrote some tips on how to come up with press release topics and basic formatting suggestions. I find that the blog post is still relevant today. You can find it here:
6 – In addition to bragging about your awesome operations in press, highlight your industry knowledge on your website, too. If you think about it, Google can only rank what it can read. Let Google know why you are more of an authority in your industry than your competitors by talking about it.
If you really know shoes, then consistently blog about it. I recommend blogging at least once a week. If you can’t commit, don’t start. There’s not point. Pick a schedule and stick to it. If you use a platform like WordPress, you can future date posts. That’s what I do. I don’t have the time to write every Friday at, say, 10 am. Instead, once per month I write 4+ topics ahead of time and future date them. That way I regularly put out fresh content without having to regularly interrupt my schedule.
Out of the 6 bullet points above, 3 and 4 are where most business owners run into issues when competing against gigantic stores in competitive spaces.
This is where I’ll get back into why it is not a good idea to target too broad of keywords.
If you break SEO down to just backlinks and citations, your competitors already have years of a headstart on you. Without using automated software to blast out low-quality backlinks, it will take you years upon years to go from 0 backlinks to 5,000. By the time you invest that much time and money, will the page 1 ranking bring a large enough return to justify it?
A better alternative is likely to be more specific. Instead of targeting “shoes,” target “women’s yoga shoes,” or anything specific. You immediately cut your competition down 98%, and you fine-tune your demographic for a low bounce rate + high conversion rate. Less is more.