A Musician’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

by Keith Hatschek and Bryce McLaughlin on August 1, 2012 · 55 comments

in Business Forum,Fast Forward,Promotion

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving a website’s search engine ranking, usually without the use of paid advertising. For any serious band or business, SEO is a critical element in building and maintaining an effective and engaging online presence. It’s a part of doing business online and, as a musician, it’s a strategy that can enhance the promotion of your music to old and new fans alike.

Of course, if search engine optimization and ranking for search engines were easy, you wouldn’t be reading this article. In fact, SEO is a less than glamorous, but necessary, task that requires patience and persistence. You can improve the ranking of your website, but it’s a gradual process that takes time. Luckily, there are tricks and techniques that can help you along the way. We’ll cover the use of meta title tags, meta description tags, keywords, and complementary links to get you started in understanding how to delve into the world of SEO for your website.

Before we get started, however, it’s important to talk about your online content. Content is king, and no amount of SEO can overcome poor or nonexistent content. Make sure you’ve invested in creating quality, keyword-rich content that engages your prospective audience. This is not only a prerequisite for search engine optimization, but is a basic requirement for your own career longevity. For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you currently have a simple, but effective online presence that shows off your musical side to good effect.

Search engines, such as Google and Bing, are designed to organize the near infinite amount of information on the web using algorithms that change over time to reflect changes in search patterns and innovations on the web. These search engines analyze (or “crawl”) specific parts of a website to determine its importance and, subsequently, a particular site’s ranking in search engine results. This includes page titles and headings, meta titles, meta descriptions, keywords, links from other websites, interactions from social media sites, and the most important element, your site’s keyword-rich content.

Meta Tags
If the code behind web pages is something new to you, be sure to take a moment now and review the short articles found in the story links at the end of this article. Every page on your website should make use of the meta title, meta description, and meta keywords tags in its header section. These tags provide most of the information that search engines display in search results. To improve your ranking in search results, you’ll need to invest the time to create unique and relevant tags that accurately describe the content for each page on your web site using keywords. (Remember, you don’t have to do it all in one day!) Below you’ll find an example of a header section from an online information resource called the Musician’s Business Dictionary.

As you can see, this website’s description is short and to the point, and the keywords list is not overly long. That is because relevance trumps quantity when it comes to carefully selecting your keywords. NOTE: As of this post, Google no longer puts much emphasis on the actual “keywords” meta tag, though it may be relevant for other search engines.

Selecting the Right Keywords
Deciding which keywords to use can be a challenge but it’s absolutely essential to improving your ranking. Use relevant keywords in both the meta title tag and the meta description tag, as well as throughout your website’s content. Keywords are a critical part of determining who sees a website in search results and how that website is ranked within those results. To help you determine the best keywords for your site, there are some tools at your fingertips.

Google Analytics (GA) is one of the most effective tools that will help you improve your keyword selections – and it’s free. (Learn how to set up your own Google Analytics account in the article linked at the end of the post.)

Among a wealth of other information, Google Analytics will show you which keywords are currently driving traffic to your website (to see this information, login to your GA account and visit the Organic tab under Traffic Sources > Sources > Search). You should also review the number of visits and the number of pages per visit each keyword generates. Additionally, Google Analytics shows the average length of each visit and the percentage of new visits for keywords. Use this information to emphasize keywords that score high in each of these areas.

These were the top keywords driving traffic to the Musician’s Business Dictionary during a recent week.

Another useful tool for determining which keywords to use is the Keyword Tool inside Google AdWords. Unlike Google Analytics, Google AdWords is a paid advertising service that provides a complete online advertising system for businesses to quickly design and launch a marketing campaign with a set budget. However, you don’t need to spend a cent or even create an account to use Google AdWords to your benefit because the Keyword Tool is free.

As part of the analytical tools found in Google AdWords, the Keyword Tool will identify the potential best keywords for your site based on search information collected from all past Google searches and will generate not only a list of suggested keywords but also the number of monthly global and local searches that use each keyword. Simply visit Keyword Tool and provide either a word or phase describing your website, your website’s URL, or the category of your website. The resulting suggested keywords may surprise you and provide additional ideas and inspiration.

A list of suggested keywords for the Musician’s Business Dictionary generated by Google AdWords.

Link Building
Exchanging links, or “link building”, is another important part of improving the ranking of a website in search results. This is because search engines judge websites based on “votes” in the form of back links from other websites. The more websites that back link to a website, the more important that website appears to be. Of course, it’s not purely about numbers since search engines not only count the number but also evaluate the quality of back links pointing to a website.

One way to increase the number of quality back links to your website is to identify and reach out to other websites that appear in the top search results when you search for related keywords. Mutually exchanging links with other websites is a great way to not only boost your website’s search ranking but also reach the audiences of similar sites. Be careful to exchange links with credible and similar sites, however, because failing to do so will hurt your search ranking. Also don’t spam other websites with requests for link building. It simply doesn’t pay to develop that kind of reputation in the online world.

Another way to increase the number and quality of back links to your website it by posting updates with links to new content from your website on news platforms like Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon. This will not only increase your number of back links but also get your website in front of new audiences and help to increase your band and brand awareness.

Social Media
With the meteoric rise of social media, search engines are beginning to adjust search algorithms to incorporate information from popular social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. It’s becoming increasingly common for the number of likes, shares, keywords, and comments on the content of external websites within social media to impact search rankings. This means that as a musician, it’s even more important to maintain an active presence on social media sites.

If you haven’t already done so, be sure to setup a Facebook page, a Google+ page, and a Twitter account for yourself or your band. While this is not an article about how to use and interact on social media, it’s important to be genuine and relevant in your posts. To get an idea of how established artists are using social media, check out the social media presence of Imogen Heap, Blink 182, Amanda Palmer, and Neko Case to see what works. Try to share new and engaging content on a regular basis, based on how much time you can devote to this aspect of your career. Interact with fans by answering their questions or asking for their input on creative projects. The more relationships you cultivate through social media, the more likely your content will be liked and shared, thus improving your website’s search ranking with time.

While it’s important to build and maintain a presence across all of the major social networking sites, it’s now especially important to do so on Google+. This is because Google recently announced that it has begun including interactions on Google+ and the +1 button as key signals in its search algorithm. Simply put, connecting with fans and other artists on Google+ in a genuine fashion will have a positive impact on your search ranking.

In a similar method as evaluating the quality of back links, Google considers the quality of connections. Simply adding hundreds of Google+ users to your circles will do nothing to improve your ranking (in fact, it will hurt it). A Google+ profile with interaction among genuine connections will rank significantly higher than a Google+ profile with hundreds of unrelated or fake account connections. Again, the key to success here is investing the time required to build relationships with fans, similar artists and related websites.

Additional Resources
There are many more advanced search engine optimization techniques. For the brave of heart, using a robots.txt file to restrict crawling (the term search engines use for the process of indexing a site) can improve your website’s search ranking by removing your website’s less relevant or redundant pages from the search results. You can either write this file by hand or use Google Webmaster Tools to generate a properly formatted file. Additionally, you can utilize Google Webmaster Tools to identify issues Google encountered while crawling your website.

A more automated SEO tool worth considering is BrandYourself. You can submit links to your website, Facebook page, Google+ profile, a review of your latest album, etc. BrandYourself then analyzes the content of the links and provides suggestions for improving the search rankings. BrandYourself even sends alerts when your search rankings change and allows you to see who is using Google to find your content. However, to insure the best overall results, BrandYourself and similar automated search engine optimization sites are best used in tandem with the traditional, manual techniques outlined earlier. There is no single “silver bullet” that can instantly improve search rankings. Learning how to benefit from SEO takes time, patience, and persistence.

Search engine optimization can be intimidating but it’s essential to promoting your music online. If fans can’t find you, your voice can’t be heard. If all this makes you want to run screaming from the room, don’t panic! Instead, identify one of your fans who is a web wizard and enlist them to help you chart a plan to use SEO to build your audience and online visibility.

Use keyword-rich tags within website pages to accurately and creatively describe content; use Google Analytics and Google AdWords to find the right keywords for your website; use link building to exchange links with other artists and engage fans with social media to increase your website’s number of back links and social activity; and, of course, continue creating great content! Once you learn the basic tools covered in this article, it’s likely that by using each of these steps for as little fifteen minutes each day throughout the week, you’ll begin to significantly improve your band or arstist website’s search ranking and drive more traffic to discover your music.

Keith Hatschek is a contributing writer for Echoes and the author of two books on the music industry. The Golden Moment: Recording Secrets of the Pros and How to Get a Job in the Music Industry. He directs the Music Management Program at University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA.

Bryce McLaughlin began developing digital solutions for musicians in 2010 when he the started the non-profitKey Man Group. He is currently pursuing an MBA from the University of the Pacific.

Story Links

How Websites Work (MediaCollege.com)
A basic overview that explains which technology and software is required to create an individual web page.

Search Engine Marketing and Optimization Glossary of Terms (Excira Media)
SEO work relies on a specialized set of jargon and acronyms that can be confusing to a newbie.

Getting Started Using Google Analytics by Meghan Peters (Mashable.com)
A great intro to how to set up and use GA to understand what’s working and what’s not to drive traffic to your website.

Developing Your Voice on Facebook
A CD Baby guide to getting comfortable using the world’s number one social media platform to promote your music.

Social Shares Trump Keywords in Google Search Rankings (Business2Community.com)
An excellent article that shares useful data on the rising tide of social media activity in your SEO implementation. The author makes the case that social media activity is surpassing keywords as the leading indicator for search results.

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