WEB EXCLUSIVE: SEO Strategies

Search optimization intelligence is not what it used to be. Here, experts reveal bulletproof tactics to help your website rise above the cyber fray.

Most spa owners understand the critical role that search engine optimization (SEO) plays in the digital age. To stay competitive, you need to rise above the thousands of other day spas and salons that could surface with a targeted Google search (think: “massage deals in Chicagoland”). Simply put, with strategic SEO, you’ll give your site the best chance possible to be found by major search engines—and therefore, potential clients.

However, many of the most common SEO gaming tactics of yesteryear—keyword-stuffing, spamming and posting duplicate content—won’t currently serve, and may even hinder, your spa’s performance in web searches. To find out how modern SEO functions, DAYSPA picked some digital masterminds. These experts filled us in on what's going on behind the search engine scene, and also lent a handy guide enlisting the dos and don’ts of effective SEO.

THE GREAT SEARCH RACE
Today, getting ahead is all about shareable content. Each of our SEO experts noted that in the past year, Google has tweaked its search engine to punish those sites that use “cyber trickery” to appear more popular and important than they really are.

“The ‘old’ tactics of blog spamming, random social bookmarking and spinning content for article directories and blogs are dead,” explains Jon Rognerud, founder of Small Business SEO.

This is good news for small businesses that regularly provide fresh, authentically interesting content that is truly valuable to the web community. “Today’s single most critical factor in SEO success lies in creating content that is so useful and meaningful to your target audience that they want to consume it, then share it with their own audiences and talk about it," says Susan Gunelius, author of Content Marketing for Dummies. “Shareworthy content is something people will share with their own audiences across the social web, and it will lead to more traffic and incoming links to your site.”

These audiences that Gunelius speaks of primarily stem from outside blogs and social networks. “New people will click through to read shared info from your site, and if they like it, may share it even further,” she says. “Over time, your site develops tons of quality incoming links, which are vital to boosting your site’s authority and search engine traffic. You have to look at it through a long-term, rather than a short-term, lens.”

Rognerud sums up this approach as, “content creation plus content marketing,” adding, “Really, SEO is now all about building pages and content for the best user experience.”

Moreover, experts emphasize that it’s high time to get socialized! In the past year, Google has begun granting higher ratings to sites that are heavily involved in social media—a trend that’s expected to continue for the foreseeable future.

“Social media has blurred the lines between all aspects of marketing,” says Tiffany Amorosino, co-founder of Boston’s Bella Sante Spas (all three locations of which are SEO superstars). “We live in a world where Facebook posts double as paid ads, and tweets are a form of journalism. Google and other search engines are adapting to social networking at an impressive rate and including social sites high up in results. It’s time to stop thinking of SEO and social media as separate entities, and integrate them into a more robust social strategy.”

Join the “Big 5” social networks (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest), and update and interact with clients and resource partners regularly, and our experts say you should see better returns on the search engines.

Here are some more SEO Dos—and Don’ts:

DO...

Produce fresh, shareworthy content. SEO experts recommend at least three website updates per week, which ideally should include gripping text, stunning images and irresistible video. If you’re not a natural-born digital entertainer, consider hiring a good copywriter with graphics skills.

Solicit quality links. Google rewards spa sites that have links from other popular and valuable websites. Try to score as many links from these types of sites as possible. One tip: Offer to guest blog for a popular site in exchange for a link back to your spa site.

SEO-optimize all video. Web marketing experts say the future of the web lies in video—in the sense that people consume video more than any other online medium. Google has seen the writing on the wall, and is heavily rewarding spa sites that optimize their video properly via strategic keywords and metatags. “Video optimization is one of the fastest ways to achieve visibility in Google results,” says Small Business SEO’s Rognerud.

Use Google Analytics. This free, powerful program will analyze visitor activity on your spa site, and offer insights on how to improve spa site experience and popularity. “It tells you how many unique visitors and visitors from search engines you receive; which pages are receiving the most traffic, where that traffic comes from and how users navigate; and also offers the ability to track for conversions,” Rognerud says. “Plus, it integrates easily with Google Webmaster Tools and Adwords—Google's pay-per-click advertising platform.”

Use SEOMoz. This low-cost software service “includes all the things you need for beginner and/or more seasoned SEO,” says Rognerud. “Google's search algorithm has hundreds of variables, and things change often.” Last year more than 500 changes were made, according to Google, and keeping track of these is not easy. “The SEOmoz platform helps you to understand what is going on within on your website, as well as technical issues like broken links, redirects, robots issues, traffic stats and other external factors,” Rognerud says.

Consider launching a WordPress spa blog. Wordpress is designed, to a great degree, to automatically SEO-optimize your Web site. In fact, the auto-optimization is so powerful, the platform is regularly recommended by Google.

Nail the minutiae of SEO. Above all, learn how to enter proper keywords, page titles, tags and the like—they're the fundamentals upon which all other SEO is based. It's tedious, technical work—and it pays off. For a comprehensive guide to getting the techie stuff right, check out Google's SEO Starter Guide.

DON’T...

*This list contains old-school sleights-of-hand that can easily send you to the bottom of today's search engines, courtesy of Content Marketing for Dummies’ Gunelius:

Don’t stuff keywords. Keyword-stuffing is the practice of unnaturally repeating keywords in text and articles on your site, resulting in stilted and boring text. This technique used to work back in the early days of the web, but Google is now wise to the ruse, and mercilessly punishes sites that attempt to foist it over unsuspecting visitors.

Forget about hidden, keyword-laden text. Some business owners are under the impression that Google will not detect heavily repeated keywords, or text that is hidden to the naked eye. No such luck. Again, Google and other major search engines became aware of this ploy years ago, and will punish any and all who attempt to game the system in this way.

Don’t post duplicate content. There was a time when posting the same article with links back to a website multiple times could result in higher search engine returns for that site. No more. Again, Google frowns on the practice, and punishes businesses seeking to unnaturally inflate the importance and value of their websites.

Forget worthless content. Believe it or not, search engines can auto-analyze copy that purports to be informative, but is little more than advertising, or a page filled with links. Do this, and you might as well post a "Banish me to the netherworld, Google," banner on your home page, says Gunelius.

Don’t pay for links. There are any number of promoters on the web who are willing to sell you hundreds or thousands of paid links that will lead back to your site and artificially inflate its importance in the search engines. If you’re caught doing this, however, you’ll become a web pariah. “Buying links is one of the biggest mistakes you can make,” Gunelius says. “It might give you a short-term traffic boost, but ultimately, it will end up doing more harm than good.”

Don’t hire the wrong SEO expert. “The SEO industry is becoming diluted with amateurs who are out to make easy money at your spa's expense,” cautions Brian Rotsztein, internet marketing and SEO expert. “Be mindful of who you hire. There are too many sketchy companies that will make SEO-related modifications that leave websites looking highly disorganized, gimmicky and as if they were built in 1999, with no consideration to usability or conversion.”

Bella Sante’s Amorosino stresses the importance of carefully vetting any SEO consulting firm prior to hiring. “Many of these companies still use ‘Black Hat SEO,'” she says, referring to the aforementioned frowned-upon methods of spamming, using link farms, etc. “This provides little more than unqualified and sometimes fake traffic, and can lead to your site being blacklisted.”

Joe Dysart is a business consultant and writer based in Manhattan.

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