Dan Shure’s career in SEO began in 2007 when asked to help a few small businesses with their websites and presence online. Since that time, he’s worked with startups, ecommerce sites, bloggers, small businesses and everything in-between. Formally a full time musician, his career transitioned to SEO and Internet Marketing full time with the birth of his company, Evolving SEO, based in Worcester Massachusetts. Dan has also been an SEOmoz Associate since April of 2012, an active member of SEMNE and many of the Search Marketing events around New England. His passions and specialties with the field of SEO are — forensic SEO, WordPress SEO, ranking/indexation studies, Content/Social Media Strategy and technical strategy. Follow Dan on Google+ and Twitter.

Recently, I was reminded by a fellow SEO, that sometimes SEO is just SEO. It’s true – we can get caught up in shiny new tools or geekyness, yet forget the basics can take you a long way.

So that’s why for you all at UpCity, I wanted to tear into some good ‘ol fundamentals of SEO and walk through an actual example of how I would perform basic SEO for Smashburger.com.

Smashburger is a “fast casual” burger franchise with more than 100 locations across the United States. Kind of like what Chipotle is to Mexican, Smashburger is to burgers.

They’re an exciting company with a lot of buzz, which is an SEO’s dream – a smart SEO in this case will stick to some basics, and piggyback on some of the great things they’re already doing.

Let’s go!!

One: FIRST Define Your Audience

This is the hidden step in SEO that should come before keyword research. Who are your target customers? Who’s eyes are you trying to get in front of? It shocking how few companies define this! An ideal way to frame it is to complete this sentence:

“Our [Smashburger’s] ideal customers want to ___________.”

If you can complete this sentence, you’re already a step ahead to knowing your audience. I think for Smashburger it would be two things:

  • …Open and operate their own fast casual franchise.
  • Eat at a fast casual restaurant.

Simple, eh? Here’s the secret. We’re starting to get into the minds of the searcher. This is the empathetic part about SEO. Putting yourself in the shoes of the person searching for what you offer. So we’ve determined they have two buckets of customers:

  • People who want to own and operate a fast casual franchise.
  • People who are basically looking for good food, they can get quickly, that’s a step above McDonalds or Burger King.

Two: THEN Define Your Keywords

If I was working on Smashburger’s SEO, I would first spend some time up front defining their keywords. I think there is a LOT of room to gain here. They don’t seem to be nearly targeting half of the best possible head keywords. So let’s walk through a basic keyword research process.

1. Brainstorm

Using the audiences you’ve defined, start brainstorming what they might be searching for to find what your business offers. This can often be quite different than what you think. Start with a simple Google Spreadsheet:

Like any brainstorming, it’s totally fine to come up with words you might throw away. We’re just getting some ideas out there.

2. Use Google Suggest Resources To Expand Your List

Start searching Google for some words you’ve brainstormed, and you’ll quickly see many more ideas:

Related Search Suggestions Google Autosuggest

Remember, we’re still in the process of getting inside you’re target customer’s head! It’s all about showing up in the SERP when their minds are focused on what you offer.

3. Review Some SERPs For Relevance & Competition

I now suggest reviewing some search results to get an idea of how relevant they are and how competitive they might be. Let’s check out a few!

“Franchise For Sale”

  • Relevance is medium – Google seems to be returning more lists and aggregate sources for “franchises for sale” rather than individual businesses.
    • Instead of necessarily trying to rank, make sure you are listed in all the resources that do rank.
  • Competition is fairly high – notice the exact match domains, strong domain (entrepreneur.com), and many pay per click ads.

“Burger Franchises”

  • Relevance is high – you are already ranking #3, which is a great indication of relevance. This is one place you want to be!
    • There should be one dedicated page on the Smashburger site that effectively targets “burger franchise(s).”
    • Using PPC  here is smart. Aim to dominate this SERP (and similars) as much as possible.
  • Competition is medium – given that you rank at #3 , this is a good sign competition is lower.

“Burger Franchise” (singular – important!)

It is true Google “gets” the whole plural/singular thing. However, looks at these SERPs! They’re pretty different. I think someone searching for “franchises” is looking for a list or is doing a broader search. Someone looking for a “franchise” may be looking for one specific place, as a sign they’re deeper in the funnel of their research.

  • Relevance is higher – look at the number one result! It’s another burger franchise! This is another ranking for Smashburger.
    • In your keyword usage, make sure to intentionally choose singular vs. plural.
  • Competition is medium – there are less PPC ads, and Google seems to be more willing to rank individual businesses here.

“fast casual restaurants new york”

It is very interesting that Google hasn’t picked up on “fast casual” as a search with local intent. While this phrase gets more search volume, it might not be the best choice to rank for (yet). However…

“casual fast food new york”

Google IS localizing “casual fast food” – so this would be the phrase you want to rank for now. The lesson here is always check the SERPs for a keyword in a new space to see how Google responds.

4. Refine List & Gather Metrics

You could search as deep as you want researching keyword angles. However, once you feel set for some main keywords, go back to your Google Spreadsheet, touch up your list, and let’s gather some metrics!

The metrics include:

  • Current ranking. (I use SEOBook’s free plugin for quick checking. Here’s a list of more options, and UpCity also offers a ranking tool).
  • Local search volume from AdWords.
  • Ranking page.

Relevance + volume + already high ranking = OPPORTUNITY … so let’s find some!

Here are a few great keyword examples from our initial list:

By filtering out keywords with no ranking at all, we can zone in on some “low hanging fruit.” It’s not that you won’t target the others either, but these specific keywords are often the quickest wins to begin with.

Let’s see what happen when we turn that ranking filter off:

OPPORTUNITY! Pun completely intended. There are a LOT of searches from people looking for “franchise “opportunities.” Let’s move on to part three and put these keywords into play.

Three: Target Chosen Keywords – “fast food franchise”

Let’s use “fast food franchise” as an example. The current ranking page is http://smashburger.com/franchising/. Let’s say we want to re-optimize that page for “fast food franchise.”

1. Update Title

Currently, the title is: “Burger Restaurant Franchise – Fast Food Franchises | Smashburger” – which is 64 characters and not quite focused.

I would suggest: “Burger & Fast Food Franchise Opportunities – Smashburger” – which is 56 characters and focuses more on the keywords.

2. Update The URL

Currently the URL is: /franchising – which isn’t too bad, but we could target just a little bit better with /franchise.

Four: Local SEO

1. Improve The Title Template For Location Pages

Alright, the on-site SEO is one place I’m seeing the biggest hole right now. For example, the Brooklyn location page is http://smashburger.com/location/brooklyn/.

This page should be visible for things like “burgers brooklyn” or “casual fast food brooklyn / new york.”

The current title is: “Brooklyn – Smashburger”

I would suggest a template such as: “Casual Fast Food Restaurant in Brooklyn, NY – Smashburger.”

This idea is better for the following reasons:

  • It contains your target local keywords without being spammy sounding.
  • It is under 60 characters.
  • It has the city AND state (very important!).

2. Improve Google Plus Local Listings

This is one example of the New Orleans Google Plus page:

  • You should link from the Google Plus Local page to that location’s page on Smashburger.com.
  • Add tons of local photos.

3. Use GetListed To Claim & Optimize Other Local Listings

GetListed.org (recently acquired by SEOmoz) is a fantastic free tool that you can use to really dig into your local listing.

You can see there’s a lot of opportunity when few listings have been claimed and/or filled out completely.

4. Respond To Reviews (Even Good Ones!)

We often think of reviews as something to only pay attention to when they’re bad. Yet, we want to reinforce and reward positive reviews too, right?

Replying to positive reviews can:

  • Show customers you’re listening.
  • Encourage more reviews.
  • Improve the optimization of your local listings!

Five: Off-Site SEO

1. Claim Unclaimed Links (Or Get Them To Begin With)

A Google blog search reveals a LOT of recent articles and posts about Smashburger (no surprise):

Not even getting past the first result, we find an article with no link on it. Brand mentions can have some value, but an actual hyperlink definitely packs the punch:

You need to bridge the communication gaps within the company and train anyone who is in contact with the media to request an “attribution link” or “credit.” This strategy comes across as less “spammy” to ask for the link in a non-SEO way.

2. Set Up An Alert

Set up a Google Alert to monitor these opportunities on an ongoing basis. This is an option right at the bottom of the search results:

3. Reward & Promote Bloggers

In the food and dining industry, you have a natural, built in army of people ready and willing to talk about you, link to you, and share you. This group would of course be food bloggers.

You can use the same Google Alert from above to monitor who’s blogging about you, like this person shown below:

When a blogger mentions your business, there’s lots of things you can do in return:

  • Share their post across your social channels, and make sure to mention them.
  • Comment on the post.
  • Surprise them with a special thank you gift.

What these actions can do in return is:

  • They will share with all their friends and followers. If you choose bloggers with a sizable following, the post could get a lot of attention.
  • Maybe they will leave you a positive review.
  • You show them you care and are listening.
  • You will have a brand evangelist for life.

Six: Claim Your Brand

This is one step many people miss. Businesses are so busy chasing commercial keywords, they forget to optimize for their brand!

1. Run Ubersuggest On Your Brand Name

It’s astonishing sometimes to find what others are searching just around your brand. Start with an Ubersuggest for your brand name:

The search resulted in 361 suggestions just from researching “Smashburger!” Let’s dig into one.

2. Look For Branded Keyword Opportunity

The goals are to:

  • Find brand keywords you rank for, but don’t have the best content.
  • Or find brand keywords you don’t rank for at all.

A great example is “Smashburger fries.”

  • This keyword gets 36 searches a month (any number is pretty good for extended brand keywords)
  • There is no great result, despite ranking with your domain everywhere.

It’s Smashburger’s decision to determine what people are looking for around “fries.” The business can create that content, and it will show up when people want it to.

3. Create The Content

This is a HUGE opportunity to connect with your audience. They are actively looking for something only you offer.

What better way to delight and deliver something above and beyond than a video showing how Smashburger fries are made, why they are special, etc. Please compile this video; I’ll check back with you in a few weeks to see how it’s going 😉

Seven: On-Site SEO

1. Fix Mobile Site Issues – Go Responsive Design!

There’s a few issues here.

First, the mobile website is being indexed. This is creating massive duplicate content because every page is indexed twice.

Second, the mobile site speed is sloooowwww. This test is now a negative ranking factor in mobile search.

Third, the mobile site can load in a desktop browser and does not redirect the user to the full site.

You can solve all of these with responsive design. This also makes sense because you’ll have lots of people looking for places to eat on their mobile phones, so an awesome mobile experience is important.

2. Get Personal With Headshots

I think the executive team page could be spiced up with headshots:

People  connect with and relate to people. Show some faces!

Part Eight: A New Trend Is Opportunity To Be A Leader

Check out Google Trends for “fast casual.”

This search appears to still be gaining in popularity. (I’d actually never heard of the term until doing this post). What that means is opportunity. If you can be part of something growing and new, you’re presented with a chance to lead an industry. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Use Tools To Gauge Geographic Interests & Specific Keywords

While we’re in Google Trends, we can use that to refine where people are searching for “fast casual” (you’ll want to more aggressively try to get into those markets, right?) and what specific phrases they are using.

In addition, you can use breakout keywords to refine your copywriting, keyword targeting, and messaging directed at consumers. Target these keywords not just for SEO but also for advertising messages.

2. Follow The Conversation … and Join In!

With any new trend, people are going to become interested and talk about it. Check out Quora:

Linkbuilding aside, you can really stand out as an industry leader and authority when providing helpful, thoughtful, and unbiased answers in knowledge centers like Quora. Don’t be promotional, just helpful!

Check out Fresh Web Explorer‘s web mentions of “fast casual.”

When you start digging through mentions, they can lead to any number of ideas:

3. Leverage Versus & Comparison Content

As a leader of an industry, it’s highly valuable to show how your business is different and new from those of more established industries.

One Last Thing…

When are you coming to Worcester? 🙂

This post made me super hungry! Now I want a Smashburger to eat at!