6 Tips to Help Build Your SEO Strategy
Book publishers are up against tough competition for readers’ attention, and nowhere is this more evident than in a Google search. On a search results page, we not only compete against other book titles and authors, but we also compete with our own distribution channels, free Web content, video, news and even Google’s own scanned copies of our books.
If you find yourself frustrated that you don’t rank in Google as high as you think you should, you’re not alone. So what’s a book publisher to do?
The most challenging aspect of search engine optimization (SEO) is knowing where to start. The following SEO tips are intended to help you think strategically about SEO before you tackle the more tactical aspects of “optimizing” your site.
1. Learn to think like Google.
If you want to gain a competitive advantage in search engines, you need to understand the challenges search engines face. Without properly structured data that is clearly labeled and tagged in a search-friendly, machine-readable format, much of the world’s information will continue to be left undiscovered by Google. SEO is a response to this human-machine language barrier. Those who learn to speak both languages will be better positioned to thrive in Google’s ecosystem.
Despite Google’s recent copyright-infringement settlement with U.S. book publishers over its Google Book Search tool, these same publishers are at risk of becoming increasingly irrelevant for searches on their own brands. Google’s book-scanning program is not a solution that provides content owners much control over how their titles are found. To increase the volume of our voice in the search results, we need to transform our assets into Web properties and promotional initiatives that will influence not only if our content will be found, but how it will be found.
2. Define your SEO strategy before you build your Web site.
When SEO is treated as an afterthought in the Web development process, it shows. Even the smallest site architecture or content updates can lead to unintended consequences that undermine your site’s ability to realize its full potential in search engines. Those who get ahead of the development curve with an informed SEO strategy will save themselves a great deal of pain down the road.
Since many existing sites will need to be restructured to some extent to accommodate the search engines’ particular quirks, SEO should not be viewed as a separate marketing channel, but as a practice that helps drive the Web publishing and promotion process. Wait until after your new site is launched to focus on SEO and you not only may be faced with the prospect of rebuilding the new site, but in many cases may find yourself saddled with ongoing maintenance as a result of issues such as modified URLs or broken links that were once supporting the ranking power of every individual page on your site. These issues can plague your IT department for years to come.
3. Your SEO SWOT analysis: Evaluate your position in the search marketplace.
SEO shouldn’t take place in a vacuum; you need to consider the competitive landscape and take inventory of your brand’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). Marketers familiar with SWOT-analysis reports know the value of using this structured format to help your team see the brand in a larger context.
These reports can help lead you to a strategy that takes into account a wide range of environmental conditions. Some questions you might ask: What types of content do we have the rights to leverage? Are there specific types of queries that Google is under-serving? Which keyword phrases are most likely to convert into sales? How difficult will it be to compete for our keywords in the future?
A failure to properly evaluate the competitive landscape might set you up for a race you can’t win. Take the time to organize as much information as you can into your SWOT chart, and refer back to it as you map out your SEO strategy.
4. When you think about your search strategy, consider your brand strategy.
When it comes to playing “king of the hill” in Google, a strong brand is one of your most powerful assets. Brand confusion on the search results page should be taken into consideration at the earliest stage. Since many of us share our names with other online entities, we may find ourselves competing for visibility. While trademark laws offer some protection against brand confusion, search engines provide no such assurances.
Consider my recent experience as I was looking for inspiration on a new design project. Despite Google’s best intentions, it failed to deliver any information about “Robin Williams,” author of the popular computer and design titles. Rather, almost every listing on the page was dedicated to the actor/comedian.
These considerations apply to ranking for any query, regardless of whether it is a branded keyword or not. This understanding, combined with a working knowledge of Google’s ranking criteria, can help you shape a strong search-friendly brand strategy.
5. Map out your brandedkeyword strategy.
While your keyword universe should eventually expand beyond queries that contain your brand name, these revenue-generating, branded keyword phrases are your low-hanging fruit. Your customers are using Google to find your imprints, authors, titles and related products; and as an SEO-savvy brand owner, you are uniquely positioned to rank in a long list of related “long tail” queries that include your brand name.
For example, productivity guru David Allen’s customers might be searching for “line extension” phrases related to his “Getting Things Done” title; each of the following queries will return very different results in Google: “getting things done book,” “getting things done books,” “getting things done audiobooks,” “getting things done ebook,” “gtd templates.”
Since David’s company benefits from direct sales, he is leaving money on the table when his customers find that sites such as Amazon.com show up for more than their fair share of these queries, while his own site, DavidCo.com, is often nowhere to be found. With a bit of SEO elbow grease, he should be able to rank for a much wider range of queries containing the words “getting things done.”
6. Prioritize: Pick one brand name to start.
Is that spreadsheet of branded keywords starting to look a bit overwhelming? As your strategy starts to take shape, you’ll quickly realize that you can’t do it all. Truth is, you shouldn’t even try. The key to successful SEO is to have a clear focus. That focus hinges on understanding the nature of the keywords that you target.
If this is your first SEO project, consider choosing either a new release or a backlist title that does not yet have its own dedicated Web presence. This is a great way to practice SEO, because existing Web sites often come with baggage, and attempting to optimize an old site can lead to mistakes that trash previous SEO successes. Since brands typically come with their own “long tail” of keyword phrases, you’ll probably find that optimizing a brand-new site for each of those terms will be more challenging than expected.
Of course, branded keywords are just the beginning. Once you’ve figured out how to consistently optimize for your branded keyword universe, you will find yourself better prepared for the more competitive arena of optimizing for more generic category keywords.
Book publishers such as Random House, Fodor’s Travel, Pearson and O’Reilly Media have enlisted Jamie Low’s expertise as a SEO strategist, consultant and trainer for their in-house search marketing initiatives. He is the principal of consulting firm SearchEngineMarketing.com, a founding partner of the Joblr.net Search Marketing platform, and has recently launched SEOforBookPublishers.com.