Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 4: Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
By Aaron Taylor
The professional services marketplace is undergoing fundamental change. Today's buyers are relying on the power and convenience of the Internet to find and vet professional services firms. As marketing moves away from traditional referrals and toward a practice of sharing knowledge, a firm's reputation depends increasingly on its command of ideas. In this fourth of a multi-part series, we describe how search engine optimization is changing the way professional services are bought and sold.
Last time, I described how content marketing can be used to engage readers and build trust in your firm. By writing (or speaking, or filming videos) about challenges faced by your target clients and ways to solve those problems, you demonstrate your expertise and become a source of valuable information.
But this isn't Field of Dreams. Just because you write doesn't mean they will come. People need a way to find you. And the most common way inquiring minds find information these days is through their favorite search engine. And for 66.4% of us, that means Google.
Get to Know SEO
So you've written your blog posts and articles. Doesn't Google just magically find your content and slurp it into into it's vast database? Maybe. But even if Google indexes your latest masterpiece, there is no guarantee that real people will ever find it. If you didn't write the piece with search engine optimization (SEO) in mind, there's a good chance that it will land on page 183 of the search results for a term that next to nobody ever uses. That just won't do, will it?
As it turns out, there are a number of techniques to improve your chances in the search engine lottery. The discipline of SEO is too extensive to cover in detail here and, like the search engines algorithms it tries to tame, SEO is constantly evolving to meet the changing moods of Google and its brood. But there are some fundamentals you need to understand if you want to attract a loyal readership and grow you professional services firm in the future.
Keywords Unlock Success
Before you even begin writing, you need to assess the field conditions. Which words and phrases are people kicking enthusiastically about in cyberspace and which ones sit unnoticed on the sidelines? And which terms are so competitive that you don't have a chance of ranking well? These words and phrases are called keywords, and they are the secret to making your content findable. But how in the world can you figure out which keywords are right for you?
Fortunately, there are tools that are designed specifically for discovering and vetting keywords. These tools come in a variety of flavors (Wordtracker, Keyword Discovery, SEOMoz and many others) but one of the easiest for a beginner to understand is Google's own keyword tool.
Enter a word or phrase into this tool, and you will be rewarded with a wealth of useful information, including the competitiveness of your term (low, medium, high), the approximate number of monthly searches on the term globally and locally, and a list of similar and related keywords you may want to consider. Unless your website is particularly popular, you may want to stay away from highly competitive keywords. Unfortunately, these are often the very words you would like to rank for. But you can usually create excellent related keywords that are much less competitive by adding your city or some other qualifier to the search term (such as “cpa roanoke”).
You will also want to look for terms that receive a relatively high number of searches (otherwise, what's the point?). So you will be balancing these two dimensions as you hunt for good candidates.
Spend some time looking for viable keywords. Keep a list in a spreadsheet. And keep in mind that many of the more specific phrases — those that consist of multiple words — are not only easier to rank for but are more likely to attract highly qualified visitors to your content and website.
Use Your Words
The next step, if you hadn't guessed, is to use those keywords in the content you develop. Usually, a single keyword is sufficient per piece of content. But what does it mean to use a keyword? How is it done?
Without wandering into the weeds, here is simple formula you can use in your own pieces:
- Publish your piece on your website as an HTML page, not a PDF (PDFs can be indexed, but they lack many advantages of HTML).
- Use the keyword in your article title .
- Use the keyword once in the first or second paragraph of your piece, then use it at least two times again later on.
- Use the keyword in your page title (this is the text that appears in the top bar of your web browser when you visit a page — if you don't know how to edit this, ask someone who does).
- Link to your new page from another page on your site. If it's a blog post, this is less important.
This simple strategy should give your pages every opportunity to be indexed and ranked by the search engines. If your keyword is competitive (this also a factor of how “authoritative” your site is deemed by the search engine), your content may even appear on the first page of search results.
Ideally, you want to land in one of the top three spots in the search rankings for your keyword, though this may difficult for firms with low website authority to attain at first. The top three listings get the lion's share of the clicks.
One way you can improve your rankings and website authority is to encourage other website to link to the content on your website. This tells search engines such as Google that people think your stuff is important, and that gives your page and your site a little boost. Think of every link to your website as a vote, and the more votes you get the more the search engines will reward your website content with higher rankings.
I don't have room to go into link building strategies in this article, but if you want to read more about them, check out our website planning guide. It also has lot of great information on SEO and what it takes to build a lead-generating website.
It's also a good habit to promote your new content through social media, such as LinkedIn, LinkedIn groups and Twitter. When you spread the word in these channels, you encourage more visitors, increase the likelihood that someone will link to your writing and begin building your firm's reputation in the social sphere. We'll look at social media's role in modern marketing in our next issue.
I've focused primarily on promoting your content using SEO, but all of these lessons can be applied to the rest of your website, as well. Building a website today without considering SEO is shortsighted and unfortunate. Without this fundamental tool, your marketing can't take advantage of the efficiencies and power of the Internet. Your competitors are already beginning to use SEO to generate new leads and business. Why miss out?
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 1: Research
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 2: Positioning
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 3: Content Marketing
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 5: Social Media
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 6: Analytics
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 7: The High Performance Website
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 8: Email Marketing
- Elements of Modern Professional Services Marketing 9: The Role of Traditional Marketing Techniques
- Website Planning Guide