As a small or mid-sized business, hiring a quality Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) consultant or agency can be expensive and a painstakingly tricky terrain to navigate. Guiding and effectively managing SEO consultants is equally challenging. What questions do you ask them? What tactics are working? How were results achieved?
Here are 10 do-it-yourself SEO tips that business owners or marketing managers can try before hiring an SEO agency or consultant.
1. Understand your Online Market and Target Customers
Having an offline, real-world understanding of your market and target customers is only half the story. Habits and behavior often differ online in comparison to the offline world. A prominent offline presence does not equate to a dominant online presence. A leading national store that stocks and sells curtains and blinds, for instance, might have much tougher competition from the online-only curtain and blind retailers.
Search online for products and services you offer and take note of the most prominent websites. Study their customer reviews and benchmark their social media presence and activity. You will likely find businesses you have not come across.
2. Master Keyword Research
You probably understand your industry jargon and are aware that your customers might use different terms than your trade colleagues to refer to your services or goods. The process of keyword research provides a rounded understanding of key phrases, search terms, and also online demand for products or services.
All business owners and managers intending to market online should know how to run keyword research.
Also understand your industry’s head key-phrases (general and highest search volume) and long-tail key-phrases (varied and more specific key phrases usually over four words).
Consider printing out and sticking your keyword research on a notice board as a constant reminder of your online focus.
3. Plan your Site
Now that you have an understanding of the most searched keywords and the most relevant long-tail words, you should have an idea of what pages on your website address those search queries.
Having a list on paper or a spreadsheet of all top, mid, and low-tier web pages and their corresponding keyword focus forms the basis of your website’s architecture. Each high and medium priority keyword from your keyword research should have a corresponding page on your site.
Long-tail keywords should be used in blog posts and FAQs.
4. Build your Site
Now that you have an idea of the pages that should be on your site, the next step is to build the best site in your industry with the help of a professional web designer or agency and with user-testing focus groups.
Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, advises site owners to build great websites that users love and want to tell their friends about — sites that users visit over and over again. Any website built in 2013 should be mobile responsive to cater for smartphone browsers. WordPress is terrific for most small and mid-sized businesses due to its simplicity, flexibility, support, in-built SEO features, and access to a vast library of free and premium plugins.
5. Start Blogging or Producing Regular Content
You don’t have to start a blog, but start publishing your own content on a scheduled basis. I am not advocating turning your business into a publishing company by posting content every day. Scheduling weekly, bi-weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly updates is my recommendation — consistency is key. Also, bear in mind that content does not necessarily need to be text — for example, an architectural firm could publish professionally taken photographs of its projects or Realtors could publish weekly video bulletins. Publishing content that is tailored to the content consumption habits of your target audience is the goal.
6. Build your Social Media Network
Join Google+ and then figure out one or two other social media platforms to hone in on. You have lots of options to choose from, like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, and more. Social media enables you to connect with your customers, publishers, and an audience for the content that you produce. Understanding and nurturing these relationships would swiftly produce results and help your SEO in the long run.
7. DIY Public Relations
Public relations plays a key role in off-page SEO. You should know how to:
Establish and tell a compelling story about your brand;
Get media attention;
Pitch not just to journalists but also bloggers and social media influencers;
Use social media to establish relationships and promote your brand.
8. Understand Google Analytics
Have a basic understanding of Google Analytics. Understand the type of reports each Google Analytics tab covers — Audience, Acquisition, Behavior, Conversions, and Real-Time.
This will help you appreciate the concept of traffic and its sources as well as let you read monthly or weekly reports provided to you by your SEO or web design agency.
The importance of analytics in digital marketing is akin to financial reports in accounting.
9. Read at Least One SEO Blog
Familiarise yourself with SEO by reading a factual SEO guide and then subscribing to an SEO blog — time permitting. Here are my key recommendations.
The top free beginner guides to SEO are Moz’s Beginners Guide to SEO, Search Engine Land’s SEO Guide, Google SEO Start Guide, and KISSmetrics’ guide to SEO.
For keeping up to date with SEO changes (especially if you are time-strapped), the two video channels I suggest are Moz’s Whiteboard Friday and the Google Webmasters YouTube channel.
If you have more time on your hands and are keen to follow the SEO industry, then subscribe to Moz, Search Engine Land, and Matt Cutts’ blog.
10. Ask Questions
Anytime you are stuck or need answers, jump into SEO communities to ask questions. Google’s Webmaster Forum offers the largest SEO community on the web. Another good community is the Webmaster World Forum. Others I recommend are Moz’s Q&A Forum, SEOChat — which is where I started learning about SEO, SEO Round Table, and Search Engine Watch Forum.
These communities are also good places for hiring SEO consultants or agencies.
I hope these 10 steps help you save money, get better rankings, and avoid throwing money away. They could also help you become a better SEO client by asking the right questions and utilising the agency or consultant you hire to its fullest potential.
Hope this helps,
Thomas Edison grossed 1,093 patents over the course of his career. He was also reportedly fired from his first two jobs for not being productive. Huh?
Popular opinion might say that’s because creativity needs both stimulation and room to breathe. These workplaces were likely either uninteresting or too stressful, preventing Edison from flapping his inventive wings toward the problems he wanted to solve.
The stressed, many-hats-wearing employee could actually be the most innovative one in the office.
What is the relationship between stress and creativity?
The relationship between stress and creativity is not a toxic one. In fact, small doses of stress — like juggling multiple projects or working under a tight deadline — are likely to produce the best ideas because they motivate your brain to work toward specific goals.
Here are three different kinds of stress, their connection to creativity, and how your career could be on the verge of the most inventive work you’ve ever done with just the right type and amount of stress.
1. The ‘Task-Switching’ Stress
In a recent behavioral study conducted by Columbia Business School, researchers had participants engage in creative brainstorming for multiple projects while using one of three work styles. Some could change projects whenever they wished, others split their focus in half, and a third group continuously shifted to a different project at a set interval.
And the most original team was …
Group three! So-called “task-switching,” although much faster-paced, shakes up the thought process before it hits a wall — and it often does. Mine did in this very blog post.
“When attempting problems that require creativity, we often reach a dead end without realizing it,” the study’s authors explain in Harvard Business Review. “Regularly switching back and forth between two tasks at a set interval can reset your thinking, enabling you to approach each task from fresh angles.”
Frequently changing gears forces you to change your view of each task as you revisit it. This style of working fosters more creativity and avoids the “rigid thinking” that occurs when you focus for too long on the same project. You know what this feels like: the mental block from writing, designing, analyzing, or thinking about one thing so hard, you exhaust the subject.
Changing the subject refreshes your view of each undertaking, curing this classic problem. In other words, Thomas Edison’s creativity likely has a direct correlation to the size of his patent list …
Where You’d Find It
Graphic design and video production — especially in agency settings — are volume-dependent work. An awesome YouTube channel needs a consistent stream of content. But you’re only as awesome as your bandwidth allows, right?
Wrong. Task-switching says a diverse workload can make you more efficient and effective. Think about it: The more creative assignments you have on your plate, the broader your mental canvas, and the more opportunities you’ll have for inspiration as you shift back and forth between each design or video you’re working on.
2. The ‘Meaningful’ Stress
Recently, two Chinese psychologists published a study about job stressors and their effect on the creativity of more than 280 employees in various businesses. What they found is that not all stress hampered good ideas. The stressors that were seen as constructive and challenging to an employee’s goals and development had a direct link to idea generation.
On the other hand, the stress that was seen as as a hindrance to those goals did the opposite.
What made the difference? The first stressor holds meaning to an employee, and it’s another way stress can make us more creative.
Teresa Amabile, professor at Harvard Business School, explains this idea in her book “The Progress Principle.” She suggests there are four stress conditions where you’d feel the heat:
- “On a treadmill”: Your work is high-pressure but low in meaning.
- “On autopilot”: Your work is low-pressure and low in meaning.
- “On an expedition”: Your work is low-pressure but high in meaning.
- “On a mission”: Your work is high-pressure and high in meaning.
Here’s a matrix of this concept by marketing consultant Kim Tasso:
Image via Red Star Kim
Both “on a treadmill” and “on autopilot” are highly repetitive work environments and therefore less engaging — requiring little creativity. However, “on an expedition” and “on a mission” are more goal-oriented and more meaningful to you as a result. That meaning is precisely what kindles creativity, according to Amabile.
When people reach goals they consider meaningful, Amabile writes in her book, they “feel good, grow their positive self-efficacy,” and “get even more revved up to tackle the next job.”
The relationship between stress and creativity here depends on how you perceive the stress you’re under at any given time. Is it connected to a goal you find meaningful? Does it push you to accomplish this goal? If so, that little dose of stress may be helping you think outside the box and grow your career.
Where You’d Find It
Marketers are no strangers to work that has a specific endgame. SEO strategy, social media management, and conversion optimization are some of the most rewarding projects to take on because they’re usually attached to a meaningful, quantitative goal.
Having goal metrics chained to your ankle may not be the most comfortable, but they’re a positive form of stress that can actually inspire some of the most creative problem-solving approaches over the course of your career.
3. The ‘Deadline’ Stress
Perhaps the most common work stressor of all, time constraints are the plague of everyone who’s paid to do anything. But as the above two scenarios prove, certain amounts of pressure are important to keeping a creative task moving forward.
For this third stressor, let’s look at a case study by Amabile detailed in “The Progress Principle,” wherein she surveyed creative teams from seven companies across three industries. She found that although tight deadlines did hinder creativity, so did mild deadlines. Spoiler alert: The third situation — moderate deadlines — produced the best ideas.
The first situation carried a tight deadline where people were performing high-pressure, low-meaning “treadmill” work. These employees’ efforts simply weren’t making an impact, and therefore they didn’t see enough meaning in the work to think creatively. They faced crises, ad-hoc tasks, and the proverbial fire drills that kept them busy but no closer to finishing their core project.
Mild deadlines were the detriment of creative thinking as well, particularly if they allowed people to fade into large project teams, trail off to assist others, or stew for too long over the same assignment (remember “task-switching”?).
This brings us to Amabile’s main finding: Workers who were under a low to moderate deadline — the middle option between “tight” and “mild” — showed the most creativity across each organization, followed by those under tight deadlines. The stress of a due date may not be exciting, but a time-sensitive environment can give your work the focus it deserves and help you fend off the distractions that can derail an inspired train of thought.
“If people and companies feel that they have a real deadline, they understand it, they buy into it,” Amabile wrote in a Forbes article. “They understand the importance of what they’re doing, and the importance of doing it fast — and if they’re protected … so they can focus, they’re much more likely to be creative.”
Where You’d Find It
Few marketers know the plight of a deadline quite like content creators, but you already know what I’m going to say here: Bloggers need deadlines. One crazy tight deadline may result in lower quality, but the weekly or monthly quotas you have to meet are what keep you honest and your content focused on the needs of its audience.
Don’t let an article that welcomes stress, well, stress you out. The relationship between stress and creativity is a complex one, and any one of these stressors in excess can ruin creativity. Too much pressure, too many tasks at once, and assignments with too short of a turnaround can all cripple the final product. Keep in mind that breaks as you need them are just as healthy as the constraints of the project itself.