The Ultimate Guide to SEO and Search Marketing for MSPs
There are piles of information available about SEO online, as well as a never-ending stream of experts who claim to know the best way to approach it.
There are so many SEO “tips, tricks, and hacks” that you could spend a lifetime trying to sort through them and pick out the best ones.
Here’s the rub: The vast majority of SEO “expertise” is garbage. Both professional SEOs and armchair experts are constantly proliferating bad advice, obsolete techniques, and magic solutions that simply don’t work.
The reason why they would do this is obvious: SEO is a business, and everyone wants to look like they have inside information or some secret tactic to attract new clients.
SEO is just a small part of a much larger marketing strategy. I’m not trying to invalidate SEO (our team has been trained in SEO by industry leaders, and we each hold certifications in Search Marketing) but it’s not everything. Gone are the days when a top ranking in search engines could earn someone forgiveness for making mistakes with the rest of their marketing.
The truth is that effective SEO isn’t a matter of esoteric knowledge or alchemy. There’s no secret society of Google overlords that hold the key to untold riches. Like most things in marketing, search engine optimization is a matter of processes, strategy, and long-term execution.
In this guide, we’re going to tell you everything you need to know to approach SEO rationally and scientifically — the way digital marketers do.
We’ve broken this information down into a seven simple concepts and action items — 7 SEO best-practices for the IT Channel — that you can start using right now to dominate your market.
1. Don’t try to game the system.
First things first: put all thoughts of black- or gray-hat techniques out of your mind. Long-term search engine success is not about finding loopholes or exploits.
Google has proven time and again that they’re always going to win the SEO war. Every old trick — from buying backlinks to cross-linking blog networks — has been depreciated or even penalized. If there’s a way to game the system, Google finds it and quickly eliminates it.
The only way to come out on top in the long term is to give the search engines what they want. Every search engine — be it Google, Bing, YouTube, or Yelp — wants to deliver relevant, popular results to searchers.
Above all else, search engines want to deliver a positive user experience by satisfying queries. A huge part of solid SEO strategy is developing your online properties to do just that.
“Google only loves you when everyone else loves you first.”
– Wendy Piersall
2. Perform a domain-Level Checkup (site: command, robots.txt, sitemap, Google Search Console, loading speed)
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.
We begin by running 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.
3. Perform an on-page SEO check (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.
4. 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.
“Today it’s not about ‘get the traffic’ — it’s about ‘get the targeted and relevant traffic.'”
– Adam Audette, Chief Knowledge Officer, RKG
5. 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!
6. Add original content regularly
Your blog is a valuable tool for SEO marketing, but only if you use it correctly. Avoid wasting your time or money on syndicated content — it won’t help with SEO and every piece of syndicated content I’ve ever read was terrible, so it offers nothing to your human readers.
Create your own content based around your lead generation strategy. If you’ve built email campaigns targeting the Finance sector, then write blog posts that will appeal to that audience and include conversion opportunities (such as downloads) on them. Remember, the goal is to take any traffic you get and feed it into a long-term email marketing sequence.
Again, there’s no need for keyword stuffing. What you should focus on is making sure that each post targets a single, specific keyword string. You can only fit “New Jersey IT provider” into your body copy so many times before Google starts to get confused about the relevance of individual pieces of content.
New page or new post, new query to satisfy!
7. 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.
Don’t waste your time getting backlinks on spammy “directory sites” or other places where you can pay for a supposedly high-value backlink. Google has been on to that scheme for a long time. 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.
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.
And that's it!
Everything you need to know to tackle your SEO like a professional. No gimmicks, no bullcrap.
Are you ready to get started now? Here’s what we recommend:
Whenever we take on a new client, we do three things right away:
- We make sure all of the technical stuff is correct (points 2 and 3 on the above list)
- We identify keywords based on our initial strategic overview (which is a first-quarter plan that allows us to start executing initiatives like Rapid ROI)
- We tweak on-page content around those keywords and we start adding original blog posts on a weekly basis.
Believe it or not, in most cases, this alone is enough for the MSP’s website to shoot up in Google rankings within a few weeks. (We can usually get them from wherever they were buried to the first page in 1-3 months on competitive regional search terms.)
Why is it so easy? Because SEO is actually straightforward. While everyone else is messing around with “hacks” and magic spells, you can leave them in your dust by giving Google what it wants: unique, valuable content served up on a structurally-sound website.