Search Engine Optimization. It’s the multi-faceted, often murky set of standards by which all websites are judged and ranked by search engines. A good SEO strategy will ensure that your desired audience (ready-to-go bidders, in this case) finds your website naturally and easily.
The rules that govern best SEO practices are constantly changing, trying to keep up with the algorithms that the various search engines keep updating in an effort to follow the evolving technology and trends of the Internet and bring the best results possible to searchers.
Luckily, there are some hard and fast rules that remain relatively constant throughout the various iterations of SEO algorithms, and resources available to help cover those bits that do change. Let’s take a look at some of the general best practices to ensure that your website is optimized in the best way possible for bidders to find your auctions.
Follow latest SEO guidelines.
To start broadly, one of the basic rules to keep in mind is that the rules are always shifting. This page on Search Engine Land contains a pretty good easy-reference table that is kept up to date with currently relevant factors in what they call “The Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors.” Bookmark this page and return to it as needed to make sure that you are accounting for everything on your site. They go into a lot of further detail in the paged linked above, but let’s take a cursory look at some of the higher-level factors.
The 2017 SEO Periodic Table can be seen above. Visit the link above for a larger version. Each box represents a different element of SEO success. The “On the Page” factors to the left are things you can directly control: your words, content, keywords, media, and so forth. The “Off the Page” factors are those things that are mostly beyond your control, but the overall quality of your site can affect them. This includes things like “Authoritativeness” (do other websites link to you?), “Engagement” (do people stay on your site very long or bounce quickly?), and “History” (how long has your site been around?).
That whole site serves as a pretty good reference, with elaboration on each of the factors in the image above. It would probably be worth your time to read it in full when you have time, as it can give you a rather comprehensive look at SEO. For now, though, let’s continue with the broad strokes.
Provide the right content.
In the widest sense, the most important thing you yourself can control about your website is the quality of the content you put on it. Of course, this can be broken down into further specifications (as outlined in the source above), but the main idea to take away is that you need to be conscious of the forms and quality of content you put on your site.
This can include photos, video, and text, at the most basic level. These are the elements you directly control that search engines crawl over and analyze. Simply placing the right keywords strategically and naturally in your webpage is the easiest way for you to affect your site’s ranking.
Remember, search engines can’t read your mind. While you may think it’s obvious from an included picture that an item has X characteristic, unless you spell it out in text, the search engine won’t know about it. That means you need to consider every relevant characteristic you might want people to know about, and include it in some form.
However, it’s important to not just throw a lot of terms at the wall and hope something sticks. Search engines these days are smart enough to know if you’re “keyword stuffing,” which is a method of trying to include as many (even slightly relevant) keywords in a document as possible, failing to use them naturally. Keyword stuffing will turn human readers off of your content, but will also penalize you with search engines. Find the proper keywords and use them naturally. Tools like Google’s Keyword Planner can help you with this.
Of course, depending on what keywords you’re using, it can be hard to rank against other results out there on the Internet. One good method of making sure the right people can find your site is to utilize what are known as “long-tail keywords.”
Long-tail keywords are just more specific keywords, usually three to four words long, intended to capture more highly tailored searches than most other sites might be competing for. For instance, something like “antique loveseat furniture” is probably better than “antique loveseat,” and a lot better than just “furniture.” There are less overall searches for the long-tail keyword, but also much less competition. It will be much easier for you to rank highly for “antique loveseat furniture” or some equivalent, and thus let highly relevant searchers find you. If you need help thinking of long-tail keywords, try Wordstream’s tool to generate similar results for a given term. These keywords should be included in your item and catalog names and descriptions wherever reasonably possible, while avoiding spamming them over and over and becoming guilty of keyword stuffing.
Another thing to keep in mind when coming up with keywords is the prevalence of voice searches in today’s searches. The increased prevalence of mobile phones has led to an accompanying uptick in voice searches, where people ask a question out loud for a hands-free experience. This leads to more conversational search terms being used, and is thus something to keep in mind when optimizing your site. There are several resources on the web to help you out with this.
In addition to the words, an easy way to make sure your site seems attractive and relevant to search engines is to add plenty of multimedia, such as pictures and videos. Google prioritizes sites with multimedia over those that simply have a lot of text. Include accurate “alt descriptions” (basically the filenames) for your photos so search engines know what the photos are about.
Provide more content to browse.
Within reasonable limits. Generally speaking, the more relevant interconnected pages and content you have on your site, the better odds you have of ranking higher in searches. The reasons for this are two-fold:
- More pages with quality content gives search engine “web crawlers” more material to analyze and rank you for. The more active your site is, the more highly ranked you will be.
- More interconnected pages keeps regular viewers of your site engaged and more active on your site. Ranking algorithms can tell how long people stay on your site on average. Longer visit times cause your site to be ranked higher.
Create pages that link back to one another to keep viewers active. Try not to let them get to a dead end on your site. Always provide an obvious next step (like I’ll do at the bottom of this article) to give your visitors a reason to stay on your site longer. Try to keep pages updated with the latest content so that Google and other search engines know you content is relevant and worthy of being prioritized.
If you’re using an SAE site for your online auctions, you can easily create pages with additional content by navigating to the Theme page of your Auctioneer Dashboard. In the “Custom HTML Pages” module at the bottom of this page, you will see an option to add new pages. These are simple, HTML-rich environments hosted within your SAE instance that can be used to easily create additional content for your bidders and viewers.
When adding new pages or updating the content that you already have, optimizing it for SEO effectiveness, try to keep in mind that some changes can take time to reflect in search engine rankings. New pages can take as long as 4 to 6 weeks to be properly indexed and recategorized by Google.
If you have a Sharp Auction Engine bidding platform, every catalog and item within those catalogs is assigned a new page with a unique identifying URL. Your SAE site starts as a blank canvas, but the more you use it, the more this web of interconnected, publicly-facing pages grows, at the same time increasing your standing with search engine algorithms.
Be sure to take full advantage of each of these pages, adding multiple photos for items and using effective keywords in each description field. Create more events, add physical addresses wherever applicable, and categorize properly. Any hot items or catalogs you want to draw special attention to can be directly shared via Facebook or other advertising platforms, helping to draw more traffic directly to your business.
Analyze your data.
You’ll never know what to change or optimize if you don’t look at your website’s metrics. Google Analytics provides a ton of free, valuable info about your website’s visitors, including their location, how they found your site, how long they stayed on each page, and much more. At SAE we allow for easy Google Analytics integration within your bidding platform so you can keep tabs on the success of your marketing efforts, among other things.
It’s important to verify your customers’ demographics. They may not be who you think they are. Many auctioneers have reported that the majority of their bidders come from within a 50-mile radius, even when conducting online auctions. Google Analytics can provide you with this information should you wish to confirm. Your results may vary slightly, depending on how niche your market is and where you are directing your advertising.
Google uses geographically filtered listings for some results, where people searching for a term in a certain area are given different results than people searching for the same term in a different area. If you were to just search “Toyota” in Google, you will probably find a local Toyota dealership near you in the top two or three results. This is of course not the same result someone searching in a different city or state would receive.
This same concept can aid your business if you play your cards right. Make sure search engines know where your business is located, and include the address in each auction you create. Doing so can help categorize your business as a local authority for “auctions” and more specific searches. The more local searchers that visit and share your links increase this local standing, leading to (ideally) snowballing results. The more people in your area who are viewing your pages, the higher your site will rank for other searchers in that area.
You should also be sure to register an official Google Business profile as well. They don’t cost anything and can help people find your business.
Despite all this, search rankings can still, to an extent, be pay-to-play. With a big enough budget, companies can bypass all of the standard SEO rules for naturally ranking, and instead simply pay Google or other search engines to be shown first in results for a given keyword. These paid results are distinguishable from natural results, as they include a small green text reading “Ad” underneath them, but over time they have morphed to look more like natural results. Businesses can bid per click on certain keywords, and whoever bids highest will be shown first. Depending on the competition for the particular keyword, the per-click cost of a paid ad can cost a business anywhere from a few cents to several dollars.
While having a large advertising budget for things like this obviously helps a lot, the best strategy is still a combination of good SEO practices (as outlined here and in the linked resources) along with some paid marketing. Even small boosted ads of $3 a day on Facebook can lead to a great return on investment, as we will cover in a future entry in this series, along with other means of paid marketing online.
SEO can be a tricky thing to master, but even a little bit of optimization and effort can go a long way. There are more than 20 variables that affect your site’s ranking. Some are things you directly control, and some rely on external factors. Achieving good SEO can be a difficult enough job that most mid-level and up companies have a full-time person on staff dedicated to optimizing their website and churning out new, relevant content.
If you can’t afford that though, simply educating yourself about and following the basic guidelines will put you ahead of a lot of the competition. Be patient, and wait for the results to come in.
You don’t have to go it alone, our software has built-in SEO tools. Sharp Auction Engine offers a free 30-day trial.
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