As a result of my blogging bits and general dabbling with simple websites I often get asked about general webby stuff, and in particular search engine optimization and online marketing options. So, to kick off a new series to complement my usually irreverent and very unprofessional personal blog posts, here is my first reasonably professional introductory article…..
SEO Shortcuts are a Myth
To cut what could be a long story short, and to avoid repeating what can be found on a billion other web pages already out there, the most important factor that influences search engine rankings is regularly updated quality content. There are no real short cuts. Newly devised shortcuts or loopholes are picked up and dealt with quite swiftly by the search engines, and engaging in bad practice will result a site being penalised.
Quite simply, you need to play by the rules.
Regular new and updated content keeps the search engines coming back. Quality content improves ranking and engages your audience. URL titles, keywords tags and other metadata are becoming less and less important, and in some cases simply ignored by search engines. What counts is the visible content – the stuff that is actually on the page.
One shortcut is paid traffic – pay per click type advertising through Google Adwords for example. This will get you up there, but at a cost. A lack of content driving organic traffic to your website will increase that cost.
These days an effective online presence requires a website be backed up by some sort of social media marketing. Used properly this can be a major driver of traffic to a site, and improve search engine rankings.
SEO, even when done well, is not a magic wand. It is a useful tool that can help, and like most tools needs to be used properly. Much like building a house, building a complete online presence requires many tools and a range of materials, and all the individual components of the build need to have a purpose and complement each other.
The Good and The Bad of Niche Markets
SEO is easier, sometimes very easy, if you have a niche market – a narrowly defined local interest or non-mainstream hobby for example. A small island in the South Pacific that most people have never heard of might be another. Or a business on a small island in the South Pacific that most people have never heard of.
Take for example this site – a personal blog by a guy called Jonny on an island called Taveuni. There aren’t that many Jonny’s on Taveuni, and the proportion of Jonny’s on Taveuni running a blog is exceptionally low. Pretty niche stuff. Type “jonny taveuni” into Google and you’ll find me everywhere all over Page 1. Type “taveuni resorts” and all my friends resort homepages are there. SEO for this particular local market is simple – my one page of property for sale appears on page 1 for “taveuni property for sale”. To achieve that selling a house in London is somewhat harder.
The flip side of a niche market and the easy-as-pie local SEO is low traffic. The vast majority of visitors to these sites already have some knowledge of that market, topic, or theme – that’s why they are searching for it. For niche locations such as Taveuni, they either already live there, already visiting, or have been and gone before and looking to return.
Widening The Net To Catch A Larger Audience
Local business’s that make there money from a non-local population need to gear their SEO and online presence to a wider market. For Taveuni business’s then stepping up a level to compete with other similar business’s Fiji-wide on all fronts (website as well as all the usual social media channels) opens up a much larger potential audience. Gaining that audience, however, is much harder – bigger pond, bigger fish, more competition.
Take this site again as a simple example – there are more Jonny’s to compete with in all of Fiji, and on top of that I have my namesake (almost) Jonny Wilkinson, a rather famous dude who happens to have played rugby numerous times either in or against Fiji. Type “jonny fiji” and page 1 is full of his lovely blonde locks, and rather annoyingly he fills pages 2,3,4,5 and ever onwards. But, my little hand-cupping superstar is not actually in Fiji, not most of the time anyway. Type “jonny in fiji” and you might find me squeezed in between him somewhere on page 1, or “jonnyinfiji” and I win hands down.
Google Trends can be a good place to get an idea of the difference in search volumes for particular topics and search phrases. Let’s start with some things that Taveuni prides itself on as attractive to a potential audience, apply them to a wider Fiji search and also compare against a general Taveuni search for the last 12 months:
“fiji diving” and “taveuni” are within a few points of each other, but well below other Fiji-wide travel and tourism type searches.
So, what happens if we do a similar comparison focused purely on Taveuni travel and tourism?
Lets take a look:
I think this clearly shows why any business that thrives on revenue from non-locals needs to draw its audience from searches that are higher up the geographical food chain.
Targeting and Monitoring Your Audience
Google Trends also shows the relative frequency of search phrases by geographical region, and this can be used to target a potential audience. For example, “fiji hotels” searches originate almost entirely from Fiji. Overseas visitors search for resorts, accommodation, flights, travel deals, travelling to Fiji, how do I get there. Someone living in Nadi and embarking on a trip to Suva will search for a hotel, rather than a resort. This kind of knowledge can help to pinpoint particular markets and create content accordingly. Where are the searches for diving coming from ? Honeymooners, surfers, business travelers etc. What terms do they use when searching ? How do the Germans differ from the Americans ? Google Trends and other tools can help to answer these questions.
Whilst Google Trends is useful it isn’t particularly precise when it comes to the numbers – each search term is shown as a relative volume rather than an absolute number of searches. Google Webmaster Tools, Google Adwords Keyword Planner and Google Analytics are additional tools that can help flesh things out. If you are running your own a business full time, then the additional overhead of managing these tools on top of creating content, quite possibly maintaining your own website and managing social media may not be an option. However, it is useful to have an understanding as to the usefulness and purpose of these tools, how your Webmaster should be using them, and the benefits they can bring.
In summary, the mythical magic bullet that shoots a site straight to the top of the rankings does not exist. It takes time and effort on many fronts using different tools and techniques, some creativity and intuition, and usually a large dose of patience. All the good work can take many weeks or months to pay off, and when the pay off does start to kick in the work needs to continue in order to maintain the total online presence that has been built. Sit back and relax, and that time and effort will have been wasted.
That’s it for this first installment – feel free to leave a comment below or suggest changes and additions, or even a topic for the next article. All articles will be reviewed and updated regularly based on the feedback.
In future articles I will be covering some of the tools already mentioned, and others, in more detail, and explore related themes such as content creation, social media marketing, search engine marketing, SEO best practice, working with images and video, and more. And – since travel and tourism is a major business category here in Taveuni and Fiji – trends in online travel and tourism marketing, how online travel agents are affecting independent operators, how to compete and drive direct bookings.
Vinaka Vakalevu – thanks for reading !!
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