The Ultimate Guide to
SEO and Search Marketing for MSPs
- How to optimize your website
- How to SEO your content
- How to choose SEO keywords
- How to use keyword research tools
- Search Engine Marketing (SEM) vs. SEO
- How to increase conversions on your website
In this chapter, I’m going to tell you the fastest ways to check important things like indexing, robots.txt, and your sitemap.
(For even easier auditing, we’ve provided a free automated tool in Chapter 2.)
“Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.”
– Wendy Piersall
Before you get into the content and design part of SEO, it’s critical to make sure your site is set up to index and that nothing behind the scenes is putting up barriers.
Run a simple “site: command” search on your website
Do this by typing “site:yourdomain.com” into Google:
This tells us how many pages are currently indexed by Google. What you’re looking for is an unexpectedly low or high number of indexed pages. You want to make sure that the correct pages are being indexed, but also that spammy, possibly nefarious pages haven’t been created in your domain.
Make sure that that vast majority of pages being indexed by Google are valuable, meaning that they contain content that offers something to your visitors.
Obviously, if none of your pages are being indexed, you’ve got a major problem. We’ll show you how to fix that problem in the next few sections.
Add your site in Google Search Console
There are a lot of reasons why you might want to use Google’s free tool. Right now, we’re simply going to use it to look for crawl errors.
If you discover any crawl errors on your website, you’ll definitely want to address them. This article from SearchVIU explains how to remediate the most common errors.
While you’re in Search Console, you should also check for any security issues that have been detected.
Make sure you have an XML Sitemap
The sitemap helps search engines identify important pages on your website. You can usually find it by typing:
into your browser, resulting in a page that looks something like this:
Once you’ve found your sitemap, take a look to make sure all of your important pages are listed and that no undesirable pages are on the list.
Most MSP websites are built in WordPress, which makes sitemaps very easy to create and manage. Plugins like SmartCrawl, Google XML Sitemaps, and Yoast SEO will automatically generate and update the sitemap for you.
Check your robots.txt file
This file instructs search engine bots on how to crawl your site. You can usually find it by typing: “http://www.yourdomain.com/robots.txt” into your browser, giving you something like this:
You can use the robots.txt file to restrict access to certain pages of your website. For now, what you’ll want to do is make sure your robots.txt file is not restricting access to important parts of your site.
Look for pages with the tag “Disallow:” in front of them to see what’s being restricted.
What you certainly don’t want to see is this:
These two lines tell search engine bots to ignore your entire website. (If your robots.txt looked like this, you’d hopefully know it by now!)
In many cases, the problem can be traced back to this file if it’s having trouble getting indexed.
Check the load speed of your site
Slow load times are a problem for both SEO and user experience. You’ll want to run a speed test and make sure your site loads in around three seconds or less.
This tool will not only tell you the loading speed, but also reveal what’s causing any slowdowns. In most cases, large images tend to be the problem. You may also need to look into things like file compression, caching, and the possible use of a Content Delivery Network to speed things up.
WPMU DEV’s Hummingbird plugin does a great job of this, and the Pro version even allows you to host your content through their CDN with one click.
It’s time to conduct a full site audit and check your on-page SEO.
This is where familiar SEO concepts like keywords start to come into play — but still on a more technical level rather than a content level.
Start this step by running a full site audit.
Run a quick site audit using our free tool
Enter your website and email address in this form to run a site audit. The detailed report will let you know about any SEO errors, loading speed problems, issues with meta data, and more.
Title tags, meta description, headings, URL, body copy, image alt tags
There are six elements to optimize on any web page. These elements are where you want to make sure you’re placing the keywords you’re targeting.
- Title tags – One of the most crucial elements.
- Meta description – Important to the bots and often shows in Google results.
- Headings – h1/h2/h3 headlines on your page are given crawl priority.
- URL – Helps the search engine determine the overall intent of the page.
- Body copy – The bulk of the page’s content.
- Image alt tags – Helps bots determine the content (and relevance) of an image.
DO NOT stuff these elements with keywords
Google can identify keyword stuffing, so it’s no longer a viable tactic. Try to make sure your placement of keywords is organic and readable.
SEO plugins like Yoast or SmartCrawl can help you edit the title tags, meta data, and URL of your pages in WordPress.
SEM / Search Strategy
Ranking high on Google is meaningless if people don’t go to your website and actually convert.
(Whether that means buying something, downloading a lead magnet, calling your office, etc.)
In this chapter, I’ll talk about creating your Search Marketing strategy to promote higher conversions. (Be sure to watch my video to get more details.)
“Today it’s not about ‘get the traffic’ — it’s about ‘get the targeted and relevant traffic.'”
– Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
Develop an SEO Marketing Strategy
Ranking #1 on Google is quite an accomplishment, but it’s not the end-all-be-all goal of SEO.
Getting traffic is one thing — what you do with it is something else entirely. If just getting people to click over to your website was enough to close a new contract, even the meanest email marketing campaign would bring you hundreds of new clients.
Obviously, it’s not that simple.
A complete SEO Marketing strategy includes everything that happens after you’ve shown up in someone’s search results. What are you linking them to? How will that convert them into a customer?
This is where a deep understanding of your prospects and keyword research become important. Determine who you’re targeting and then identify the questions they might be typing into Google. Build content around answering those questions and SEO that content for those queries.
If you’ve shown up in search and satisfied the query with a blog post, video, or other content, you must present the visitor with a compelling offer and a conversion opportunity. This is usually another piece of rich content — something with real value to it — that they can obtain in exchange for their email address and other contact details.
Once you have their contact information, you can feed them into an email marketing funnel that’s targeted to them — the benefit of targeting their niche from the beginning.
Over 80% of B2B sales occur as the result of email marketing, so you want to make sure you’re getting ALL traffic into a well-built email sequence with continuing offers and CTAs.
In this video, I talk in depth about funnel-based SEM.
Planning SEO Keywords
This is what most people think about first when you start talking about SEO.
In this chapter, we’ll start brainstorming SEO keywords and getting your on-page search optimization on track.
Why are keywords important to SEO?
I’ve learned from experience that most MSPs are targeting — or at least tracking — the wrong keywords. Yes, even providers who are paying for SEO from an outside company. (This happens a lot when the SEO allows the MSP to choose the keywords.)
What makes them the wrong keywords? They’re usually far too competitive for the amount of work the MSP can put in (think “IT provider” with no regional focus) and they’re not targeted to an audience.
This mistake is usually the result of “absent-minded keyword selection”. In other words, the process went something like this:
MSP: I want to rank higher on Google.
SEO: Okay, on what search keywords?
MSP: I dunno. *Shrug* Cloud? BDR? Just use a list of our services.
(Note: This could be an internal conversation or an actual discussion with an SEO or agency. Let your imagination be your guide on this one.)
This sets them out on a long journey of disappointment. One that relies far too much on luck to produce results.
How to Brainstorm the Best SEO Keywords
- Let’s not use luck. Instead, let’s SEO based on some understanding of human behavior and how search engines work.
We’re going to start with two key methods that we use at YSE:
- Reverse engineering searches
- Audience-based search intent
Start by brainstorming a list of top-level keywords
- Remote Desktop
Reverse-engineer the search with Google Suggest
Follow up with related searches
The next step in reverse-engineering search behavior is to check out related searches.
Just run a Google search on one of your brainstormed keywords and then scroll to the bottom of the results to find something like this:
Audience-based search intent
We’ve created an SEO Keyword Planner to help you select the audience and determine their intent. Download it here.
SEO Keyword Research
In the previous chapter, we talked about brainstorming keywords.
This is just the first step.
You’ll want to use a few handy tools to research SEO keywords for the best results. Great keywords are going to be targeted, relevant, and somewhere on the competitive spectrum that’s accessible to you.
Keyword research tools
Keywords research tools help you find — and more importantly choose — the best keywords for your SEO efforts.
Let’s take a look at a couple of top choices.
Ubersuggest generates keywords from Google’s search suggestions. The addition of data like search volume, CPC, and keyword difficulty make it pretty useful.
Another thing I really like about Ubersuggest is that you can plug in a domain name and see what keywords any site is ranking for. This makes it really easy to scan your competitors and swipe their keywords.
(Note: Running our free website audit tool on your competitors’ websites can also get you a list of keywords they rank in!)
Over the years, SEMrush has also become a full-featured SEO tool. As far as paid SEO tools go, it’s one of the best around.
Funnels & Content
When it’s time to work on your website or add blog posts, you want to create content and pages for optimal conversion rates.
Again, this means focusing on your audience and targeting intent-based keywords.
In this chapter, we’ll explore that in more detail.
Add pages to your website as you build funnels for different audiences
The best SEO traffic you can get is not on your homepage, but to landing pages and sub-page on your website that address specific queries.
The best example in our space is industry verticalization. If you choose to target Healthcare, Financial, and Manufacturing, then you need to add pages to your website for each of those verticals. Each page should each have audience-specific offers, and they should be SEO’d for queries that the audience might make.
It’s not a bad idea to go another level deep with your audience-specific pages. Within a broad subject like Healthcare, you might have a subpage for HIPAA compliance, another for cybersecurity monitoring, and one more for digital transformation.
Again, each page should be targeted to that vertical and their respective queries.
When it comes to search marketing, you want to look at each page individually and ensure that each one appears to be a self-contained expert on a specific query. Quality counts!
Earned Media & Link Building
If you want the most potent SEO, you will need to pursue high-quality backlinks.
This is a pretty straightforward concept: Contribute quality content to the internet and high-authority sites will reward you by linking back to your site.
In this chapter, we’ll talk about how you should — and should NOT — go about doing this.
Earned media and link building
If there’s anything that comes close to an “SEO silver bullet”, it’s getting recognition from popular websites in your industry.
One of your long-term SEO marketing goals should be to get your content hosted on high-authority websites that suit your niches. Whether it’s an article, a white paper, or a video, having a link back to your website is seen as a shining endorsement — both to humans and to Google.
Do not pay a service to create backlinks to your website in bulk, under any circumstances. No matter how good they make this idea sound, these sellers are far more likely to get your website blacklisted than to make it rank higher.
Instead, spend that time (or money) finding reputable, high-ranking websites that will legitimately host your content. Become an avid guest. Offer to be interviewed. Make friends in complementary companies and let them know you’d be more than happy to share your expertise.
More Tools & Tips
Looking to take your Search Marketing efforts to the next level? In it to really win it?
SEO is competitive — especially in the MSP space as the industry continues to evolve and grow.
In this chapter, I’m going to reveal a few advanced SEO tips and tricks that will certainly help you stay on top.
Check keyword difficulty in Google
One part of your SEO strategy should be targeting keywords that you can rank in without spending tons of money or tearing your hair out. This means checking the difficulty of any keyword you want to target.
A quick way to do this outside of our various SEO tools is through as simple Google search for the keyword. If the first page is loaded with super high authority sites like Wikipedia or Microsoft, you should probably skip it.
Like this search for “cloud technology”:
Look for keywords that have smaller blogs and competitor websites in their first-page results, like this search for “managed cloud services”:
The low-hanging fruit is worth grabbing
Unless your MSP website is -very- established and already ranking well, you should start off targeting long-tail keywords only.
This isn’t a bad thing. Remember that long-tail searches are loaded with user intent and allow you to target your message more effectively! More importantly at this stage in your SEO, you won’t be banging your head against the wall trying to rank against entrenched competitors for ultra-difficult keywords.
Traffic begets traffic, so when you pull in those long-tail searches, you’re doing a lot more good in the long run than spending months and dollars scrapping for authority and page rank.
Monitor keyword trends
Like anything else, searches change over time.
It’s a good idea to target keywords that are trending upward, or at least holding steady. A great way to check is to use Google Trends.
This free tool can reveal a lot! For example, I noticed a lot more MSPs putting out content involving “Internet of Things” sometime last year. Makes sense with all the new products on the market, right?
But searches for this term have been on a decline for years:
Things aren’t always as they seem in SEO. Use this tool to check your assumptions!
Has this guide helped?
I hope you enjoyed my MSP SEO guide, new and improved for 2020.
Now that you’re finished, I’d love to hear from you.
Which chapter was most helpful?
Are you struggling with something we didn’t cover in the guide?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll talk!