I get a lot of people tell me about their ideas and how thy want to start a website about “widgets” that will be terribly profitable. Some have even come with an NDA while others have a 3 year old site that is stale and out of commission (literally). Everyone thinks they can get enough out of me in one lunch to get them on their way. Most of the time they leave the meeting a little more humble about the process and with a deeper respect of the dedication needed to build a site that will bring in natural traffic.
Weather you are starting a new site or reviving a site that has not focused on SEO, the first step is universal. Stalk your competition. You need to do some keyword research and determine which phrases to attack. Keep in mind that Google has about 60% market share, Yahoo close to 20% and MSN/Live just under 10%. With that in mind, make sure to monitor Google Suggest. Google Suggest is the pre-populated search queries that greatly shortened the long tail for most sites. It is an aggregate of the most popular search queries so the results are likely more competitive and obviously a place you want to play.
There are plenty of tools to help you with keyword discovery but you get more benefit from attacking your competition by hand. Do yourself a favor and get SEO Quake for Firefox. This tool will give you everything you need for some good quality web stalking.
You obviously know a term or two for your niche. If you don’t then you have more problems then a lack of traffic. Look at Google Suggest and determine if any of the force fed results are a better match for your product. Run the query and look at the top 20 or so results. Ignore the Wikipedia and YouTube listings. Go to the #1 player and lets take a look at how they got there…
1. Look at the URL – Is it the home page or a deep page of an authority site? Are the key terms in the URL? Is the TLD a .com/.org/.info?
2. Look at the Page Title – Does it contain your keyterm? Does it begin with the keyterm? Is it the same as the rest of the site?
3. “Ctrl-F” the Keyterm – Is it a focus of the page?
4. Run Query “site:www.example.com” in Google – Is it a deep site? How strong is the rest of the site in relation to the keyterm niche?
5. Check the Meta Keywords/Description – Do they exist? Do they contain the queried keyterm?
6. Check the Pages Backlinks – How many links are showing up in Yahoo Site Explorer? How many in Google? Are they all from the host domain or are they disbursed to various sites? Are they buying links?
7. Check the Google Cache Date – How long has it been since it was visited last?
8. Check the Whois Record – How old is the domain? Is it the same owner as other results in the top 20?
9. Check the Internal/External Links – Is there a ton of AdSence on the page? Do they have a large amount of Internal or External links on the page? Are they selling links?
10. Check Yourself – Be honest, would you buy from this site? What colors/fonts are they using? How is their page structured? Is the page easy to navigate? Is there a definate call to action? What is it?
So there are a lot of questions to ask yourself here. You may or may not know how to find the answers (I heard Yahoo has Answers). In order to understand how to approach your site, proper research is needed on your competitors. Knowing how they build their sites and what types of marketing campaigns they use is crucial for dominating the field. 80% of natural clicks occur in the first three positions. If your goal is not to own those positions then SEO is not for you. It takes patience and dedication to get there and the journey starts with stalking the competition.