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

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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 (Shannon K. Steffen International LLC)
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.

60 thoughts on “A Musician’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

  1. SEO is beneficial for those times when someone hears of you, maybe sees you live but doesn’t know where exactly to find you. 80% of online experiences begin on a search engine, and let’s face it, our new (even current) fans are not always going to remember where to find us online, especially when there are other url’s that are very similar to our own… mantap

  2. why musician’s need SEO.. they can promote website on Social Media Platform. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest.. if musician’s really want seo then they will start Only Guest Posting

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  8. Great SEO information for Musicians. While artists and songwriters do a great job telling a story through their songs, they often lack promoting their own website via SEO. Suppose they are concentrated on record labels and such, but have to remember their are billions of people associated with social sites that they need to focus on as well. Great article on music and SEO.

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  10. Sorry about this folks!  It seems as if our spam filter has been eating its Wheaties (maybe a few too many servings…)!  If your comment gets flagged, please be patient, I’m trying to stay on top and “un-flag” those posts that aren’t spam.  In the meantime, I’m looking to see what I can do about getting our spam filter to cool its heels.  

  11. One of many interesting things about WSI Digital Marketing is that they claim that a small company doesn’t have to really know much about the services it offers in order to be successful. Their members resell technical services from India. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, until you understand the rest of it.

    1.  I couldn’t agree more.  And having a good marketing company, freelance marketer, or someone who knows that ins and out is an important part of a successful campaign.

      1. That’s the thing.  SEO should be treated as part of a bigger marketing plan.  It’s hard work but everything worthwhile is!

    2. Funny how 4 postings in a thread from the same SEO company appear here ion the same day. This is SEO methodology at work! The real interest here from people in the music business is nil. The interest of SEO operatives is at the max. And the blogger has a finger on the scale of what information is provided via comments. Unlike more traditional forms of marketing where increased revenue to the client is a respected measure of success, SEO firms dispense with that service requirement entirely.

  12. Meta Keywords tag is not a good idea. Google doesn’t use them and Bing uses them as a spam signal. Best case scenario, you have wasted your time with the tag. Worst case scenario, you have wasted your time with the tag and it will hurt your rankings. There is no upside to using them. If you are interested in actually learning and staying up with trends, go to searchenginewatch.com. And, to David Rose, if SEO is dead, then so are entire divisions of Google and Bing and a 7 figure segment of my company is gone. Maybe you can hire all of the staff we now have to lay off since I no longer need that division of my company.

    1. Let me know next year if you still have a dedicated SEO division and if you still have 7 people in the department? If they change process’s for what they do that one thing, but I mean a dedicated SEO department!! k?

      BTW, I’m not hiring. But if they’re in the Chicago area… Google is opening up 1 of the largest offices outside there main campus!!

      Have a nice day!
      -DRose (search drosemusic) that’s the only way for results to work!!
      http://www.twitter.com/drosemusic (I need more followers).

      1. David, Gravityseeker is saying he has a division of his company making him millions of US dollars per annum simply ripping people off with an SEO divining rod. If so we are truly in the presence of his holiness. Otherwise, tis jive time.

      2. If SEO doesn’t work, why are you posting your link? My stuff is always on the first page or second page of a google search, given a few common sense keyword search phrases someone would most likely use to find the type of product I sell. My stuff would not be there unless I had put in the hours it took to get it there! If SEO doesn’t work, then how have I made sales to people in various parts of the country who originally didn’t know who I am, or what I do? They weren’t typing in my name or the name of my business when they found me. They were typing in the product/service they were looking for, and my stuff came up, they found it, and were interested. I don’t think SEO works. I know it works, but it IS a pain!

  13. Hey, @1e727a69b6191a9a9cfdb9f8209d0477:disqus  – Sorry about that!  Your first comment initially got caught in a spam filter for some reason.  It should be back up now.  

    1. thanks for reposting!  But, what if I told you, you can work from home for only 30 seconds a day AND whiten your teeth at the same time?!  😉

      1. Here are some tips in response to your previous comment about the NBA Player….

        Of course when someone searches for D Rose, the NBA player will “win” (pun intended) but as people cut through the ambiguity and search for “d rose music”  “david rose singer” “drose band” (a long with variations of them)  it would be worthwhile to optimize for those searches, especially as your career grows.  Right now there are different “david roses” and “d roses” showing up for those types of queries, and I bet you could out optimize them fairly easily.  Here’s what you could do (keep in mind this is from the 30,000 ft. view and only a general analysis.  much more analysis and work would need to be done.)  First, you should move your .com to an actual website.  Facebook profiles are rather flat in web architecture, have nofollow attributes throughout, and leaves google little to work with.  It makes it very difficult to determine who the real David Rose is on facebook.  Second, the rest of your social presence (reverbnation etc) is competing for the same spot which dilutes your Facebook Pages authority even further.  You can set up a self hosted WordPress site for very little cost these days and have that be your home, then link out to the other social sites.  Optimize the .com’s architecture, create clear content, title tags and let that dictate where the rest of your presence resides.  Then search engines say “hey, there is a david rose with a substantial web presence.  He plays music. and he resides at drosemusic.com.  by golly let’s send people there!”  This ultimately results in not only traffic acquisition but directing traffic to a desired destination.  The less clicking a potential fan has to do the more likely they will engage you with Likes, Follows Sales etc.  See?  free advice,  no money spent, no one get’s shot!

        oh, and posting a link in a comment section does not help.  there is a rel=”nofollow” attribute on the link….

  14. My comment was removed?  Maybe an edited version would be better……
    SEO is far from dead.   There is a young and fast growing industry based on helping brands rank well within natural search results.  So much so that I transitioned my work within IT completely into SEO and Social Media strategy (so I’m not talking out my a** either).  There was simply better and more exciting work to be had.  I.T. is only one small part of the bigger picture within SEO strategies.  SEO it not so much about technology as much as it is a method that dictates many things within an organization building itself online.  Copywriters, Public Relations, Web Developers, IT, Marketing and so on.  Any artist wanting to build there own brand online and direct (not necessarily drive, all the time) traffic needs to put efforts into establishing their web properties within natural search.

    1. Looks like your original comment got mired in the spam filter for some reason. It’s been posted. Cheers.

    1. Just the same as the old methods, only since the advent of WWW, a lot cheaper … often free … it’s your sweat equity and sparkling personality. As a marketing tool, SEO never lived for most types of businesses. Still, if you want something to be found on the Internet, you need to describe whatever it is with a few words. Pictures and sounds alone will do little for you.

  15. SEO is still *highly* relevant, just because Google changed their search algorithm does not mean keywords have less weight…

  16. Is this a joke? SEO is dead! SEO, in my opinion, never even took off!! Why are you guys writing about SEO? If any band invests in it they should be shot!!

    BTW, I’m an IT professional by day. I’m not talking out of my ass!

    Thank you goodnight!
    -DRose http://www.drosemusic.com

    1. Actually, if anyone needs some optimizing within natural search it’s you! 😉  According to “the Google,”  David Rose and/or D Rose is a Guitarist on Facebook, or a late famous songwriter, or an NBA player, or a hip hop artist.  Everything but drosemusic.com.  SEO is beneficial for those times when someone hears of you, maybe sees you live but doesn’t know where exactly to find you.  80% of online experiences begin on a search engine, and let’s face it, our new (even current) fans are not always going to remember where to find us online, especially when there are other url’s that are very similar to our own.  

      1. I, as a singer/songwriter, have a small market… SEO is to broaden that market. Especially with my name… how is someone supposed to find me? I can do all the SEO updates in the world, but due to some unknown basketball player (sarcasm), if you search DROSE or D Rose… guess who will come up first? ding ding… NOT ME!! So let’s say my artist name was Johnny Test and I wrote kids lullabies… Do you honestly think people, unless they know to search for that exact criteria are going to find me? Why waste time and money of making my criteria show up first if people don’t even know to find me? What a flippin’ waste!! 
        Take that money and spend it on Google Ads, FB Ads, or buy false Twitter followers… At least you have something to show!
        Now search “drosemusic” and I’m the first 5 links…
        Just sayin… 
        Not to mention you should read up on Google. They’re changing their whole search criteria… SEO will be a thing of the past by next year…
        Looking for that LinkedIn article I read a couple weeks ago!!

        1. Dave, See my response to Terry.

          No, SEO will not be a thing of the past.  They are refining search to be more relevant to user preference and localization. Just an FYI, Google is one of my clients so I think that I may be able to speak to the direction of their initiatives with a little more authority than you. If I can give you a piece of advice, read from qualified sources, not just any ass-hat that has a blog. 

    1. Somewhat true.

      Links to your page still determine your pagerank and Keywords in your articles are still useful.

      However, Meta Tags for keywords are useless now.

      It’s still a useful article. You can’t blame them for information being out of date as fast as things change.

      Keith and Bryce, keep writing useful posts like this and ignore the haters!

      Anyone who thinks SEO is dead hasn’t done enough research on the subject. It changes fast, and no one knows the exact algorithms, but it’s extremely useful in getting website hits. Certainly H1 headers for titles, adding keywords to the first 200 words, and tagging photos alt tags are all useful in getting to the top of Google. If you combine that with links and adword targeted keywords you are on your way to getting to the front page. Btw, almost 60% of people only click links on the front page so it’s important to be there. Having the users stay and enjoy the music, well that’s a whole different subject!

      Btw, Google embraces and loves white hat SEO.

      I’m actually writing a document right now to help bands get started on social media and the web. I’ll send a link over when it’s done if you are interested.

      Hey, go ahead and listen to David, who appears to be trolling and posting links to his own music (linkbacks for SEO)…. that leaves more internet views for the rest of us using these SEO tips and tools 😉 The 300,000 youtube hits in the last 6 months on my Youtube page prove otherwise.

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