Over the past couple months, I’ve been speaking to lots of business owners about their online marketing plans for 2012. And most people want to get more traffic from Google.

However, most business owners don’t have a clear strategy for SEO. They want to get ranked higher, but don’t really understand what it takes. And as a result, they’re not taking the action they need to take to get rankings, traffic and sales.

So, in today’s post, I’d like to share my simple approach to SEO.

Here are 3 key ingredients of an effective SEO strategy.

Ingredient #1. Research

The first step is to research. By that, I mean find out what the demand is — what people are searching for.

The best tool for this is Google’s keyword tool — and the good news is that it’s free.

Use Google’s tool to create a big list of keywords, and then export them into a spreadsheet.

Next, review your top 5-10 competitors, and see which keywords they’re targeting.

This is an important step — don’t skip it.  Analyzing your competitors can help you identify keywords that are proven to generate sales.

First, look at which keywords your competitors are targeting in their Title tags. If you find that a bunch of your competitors are targeting the same keywords, there’s a good chance you should be too.

Next, use KeywordSpy.com to see which keywords your competitors are advertising on with Google AdWords.

You might be thinking, “We’re talking about SEO, not advertising. Why look at their PPC keywords?” If your competitors are spending money on certain keywords, they’re probably pretty valuable and worth optimizing for in the natural results.

After using the Google tool, and performing competitor research, you’ll likely have a spreadsheet with hundreds of keywords.

At this point, you’ll want to have 2 columns in your spreadsheet:
1. Keyword
2. Volume

Make sure to fill in the “Volume” (searches per month) column for all keywords, using Google’s keyword tool, so you can compare the volumes.

Note: I recommend you use ‘Exact’ match for the volume, because that’s the most accurate measure.

Sort the keywords by volume, and you’ll see which keywords have the greatest demand.

Your next task is to score and prioritize these keywords based on relevance, and “map” them to your site.

Ingredient #2. Relevance

Now you’ll want to add a few extra columns to your spreadsheet: Relevance, Page 1 and Page 2.

So, your spreadsheet will now have 5 columns:
1. Keyword
2. Volume
3. Relevance
4. Page 1
5. Page 2

Go through the keywords and score them based on relevance (1-10; A, B, C, etc).

Now, you’ll want to “map” these keywords to the pages on your site. That’s what the “Page 1” and “Page 2” columns are for. Often you’ll have more than 1 page that’s relevant to a given keyword.

What if there are relevant keywords with good search volume that you don’t have relevant pages for? Simple. Create new pages relevant to those keywords.

And in order to make your pages relevant to particular keywords, you’ll want to edit the following critical elements:

Title tag. This tells Google what your page is about. It’s also the blue underlined link in the search engines. Limit your title to 65 characters. Try to include relevant keywords, but write it like a compelling headline so you make your ideal customer want to click.

Meta description. This doesn’t influence search engine rankings directly, but it can get you more search traffic. Google often shows the meta description below the Title in the search results. And so a compelling meta description can increase your click through rate. You should write your meta description like an ad that convinces your ideal prospect to click. Limit to 150 characters.

Headers (H1, H2, H3, etc). These are the visible headlines and sub-headlines on your page. Incorporate your keywords naturally, but write for your website visitors not for Google. The main job of your header isn’t to please Google, but instead to reassure your website visitor that she’s in the right place — so she stays on your site.

Body copy. Again, you should write for your website visitors, not for Google. Incorporate your keywords naturally where it makes sense. But don’t force it and don’t over-think it. Your main goal with your body copy ought to be to engage your visitor, deliver what she was searching for (e.g. provide real value), and persuade her to take the next step.

And I want to stress that last point about providing value. If you really want to get ranked #1, it’s not enough to just be relevant.  I recommend creating content that actually deserves to be ranked #1. More on that in a minute.

Ingredient #3. Reputation

The third major ingredient is your website’s reputation.

Google wants to display websites that are authoritative on a given topic and trustworthy.

What does Google look at to determine your reputation?

For years, the most important factor has been incoming links to your website from other websites. Links are still a very important factor.

But today Google is also looking at social signals to judge reputation, including Facebook shares, tweets, and of course, Google+.

There are limitless ways you can improve your website’s reputation, too many to try and cover in a blog post.

But the best and most reliable approach, by far, is to create content that is useful or entertaining. Create stuff that people actually want to link to or share.  In other words, create content that deserves to get ranked #1 in Google!

OK, so those are the 3 main ingredients an an effective SEO campaign…

…But What Do I Mean By “Effective”?

Well, I’m assuming your goal with SEO is to profit — e.g. earn a return on your investment of time and money.

So let’s talk about how to profit with SEO.

Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to get ranked #1 in Google and not make any more money.

Over the years, I’ve worked with more than a few businesses that gained Top 10 Google rankings for their preferred keywords… and those rankings had virtually ZERO impact on their revenues and profits. And after doing that a few times, I learned my lesson.

So, before you start investing in SEO, I recommend you follow these 3 rules…

3 Rules to Profit with SEO

1. Test your keywords with Google AdWords, first

People get excited about SEO because they want rankings and traffic, but rankings and traffic shouldn’t be your measures of success. What really matters is conversions.

So, before you invest in SEO, I recommend you test keywords with Google AdWords. If you’re unwilling to do that, or restricted due to budget, then my advice above about competitive analysis via Keyword Spy is a helpful (though imperfect) shortcut.

2. Setup proper tracking

I’m assuming if you’re reading this blog that you’re selling products or services online via your website.

In order to track the success of your SEO campaigns, you’ll need to set up Google E-Commerce Analytics, so you can see what kind of sales, revenues, and profits you’re generating from organic search engine traffic, what the revenue values are for different keywords, etc.

Once you see how much (or how little) you’re actually making from SEO, you’ll be able to make much smarter decisions about how and where to invest (or not).

3. Reinvest in the winners

This is pretty straightforward. Look at where you’re getting results, and invest more resources there.

For example, if you see that you’re generating sales from a keyword where you’re ranked #10, then invest more resources to crack the Top 5. Or if you’re on page 2 and generating sales, try to crack page 1.

Take Action!

It’s important to go into an SEO campaign with a solid strategy, because it takes considerable investment of both time and money — which adds up to a big opportunity cost.

But don’t spend weeks and weeks debating and second-guessing your strategy. The most important success factor for SEO is that you take consistent action.

Hopefully my 3-step gameplan and tips will help you design a profitable SEO strategy for your online business.

Got Questions?

If you have any questions about SEO, post them in the comments section below.