Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search engine optimization, also known as SEO, is a way of getting your website to the top of the search engines so people can find your company easier and faster. Think about this for a moment… If your website is the first listing to display after entering a key word, you could be receiving hundreds- even thousands- of visitors for free! SEO can save you money on advertising, and should be a primary focus in your marketing arsenal.
Recognize the Top Search Engines
In order for your website to get to the top of the search engines, you’ll want to know top ranking search engines:
Conduct SEO Research
o Use Relevant SEO Keywords: To see what your visitors are actually searching for, use WordTracker or the Google AdWords tool, enter a keyword you think people are searching for in the search box, and click enter. Make a note of the keywords with more than ten searches per day; anything less isn’t a fishing hole, it’s a puddle.
o Analyze Competition: Visit a search engine and search for your key words in quotes. Determine:
– How many competitors are there (less than 5,000 in quotes is good)
– How many words are in bold (do your competitors use the keywords on their webpages)
– The quality of your competitors websites (“Bob’s Blog “or the New York Times?)
o Find an underserved Niche Market: If you have competitive keywords, try to create a niche market by focusing on regions and specialized terms.
How Search Engines Work
Before we get into SEO practices, you need to have a basic understanding of how search engines work.
1. Get crawled: Search engines send out programs known as Spiders to “crawl” or scan your webpages to determine if the information is valuable (original content and linked to by other websites). If it is valuable, the webpage will be added to the Search Engine Index – all the webpages that display in the search engines.
2. Get Indexed: If your pages were crawled and added to the Search Engine Index, the information will show up in the search results. Only webpages that are indexed will show up in the search results. Notice I said webpages, not websites. Most websites-especially large ones- will not have every page indexed. There are simply too many pages of information for the search engines to effectively store them all, so they have to be picky.
In a nutshell, your goals are the following:
o Invite spiders to crawl your website
o Convince them to index your webpages, and
o Show up on the first page of the search engine for your keyword
Sounds easy, huh? Well, the first two are… You can have that done within a matter of hours by submitting a sitemap (which we’ll get to in a second). Moving up in the search rankings, however, is a long-term -dare I say ongoing- battle. How do websites move to the top of the search results? They make it simple for search engines to read their site (known as “on-page optimization”) while increasing the quantity and quality of websites that link to them (known as “off-page optimization.”)
Let’s look at how you optimize your website both on and off the page.
In order to get your site listed higher in the search engines with out paying a dime, use effective web design:
On every webpage there is a place for you to add meta tags – a webpage element that displays information about the webpage such as webpage title, keywords, and description. This information is not seen on the webpage itself, but is in the source code; this helps the search engines understand the key points behind your webpage. You can view the meta tags for any webpage by right clicking on the webpage and selecting “View Source” or “View Page Source.” Towards the top of the source you’ll see several tags for title, keywords and description.
When creating your webpages be sure to add tags for the following:
o Title Tags: Indicate the title and subject of a webpage while blending keywords in the text.
o Description Tags: Indicate the description of a webpage. Your description may appear in the search engine’s results, so make sure it conveys your value as quickly as possible and blend keywords into the description.
o Keyword Tags: Indicate the main keywords for the webpage. They should be separated by a comma, NOT a space. For example, if you are optimizing for “fried chicken recipes,” “fried chicken gravy” and “fried chicken meals” you would enter them as follows: Fried chicken recipes, fried chicken gravy, fried chicken meals. Don’t add more than 5-10 keywords in the tag. I generally use between one and five, and prefer to get on with more important tasks.
Not only will you use keywords in your keyword tags, but also throughout your webpage.
o Headers and Subheaders (also known as your H1 and H2 tags): In web design, there are six headers labeled H1-H6. The higher the number, the less important it seems to the search engines. Think about it: a page with “Fried Chicken Recipes” as the main headline, and mentioned in several sub-heads is probably likely to be about… you guessed it, fried chicken recipes. The search engines think the same way. Ensure you use only H1 and H2 for your keywords.
o Image Descriptions: Make sure to enter image descriptions and keywords in the “alt” tag for all the images on your website.
o Use Keywords Text as Links: Instead saying “click here” use a keyword such “fried chicken recipes”. This is known as “anchor text” and is one of the most important parts of SEO. Wikipedia is one of the most optimized websites in the world, and is a great resource to emulate. Every page is full of rich, original content with dozens of keyword optimized anchor text linking to other pages, which in turn link to other pages, and so on.
o Name your Webpages with Keywords: Give your webpages descriptive names with keywords. For example, instead of naming a webpage “guidebook,” try “fried-chicken-recipes-guidebook.” Use dashes “-” to add space between the keywords.
o Increase Keyword Density: The more frequently your keywords are used on your webpage, the better. Try to keep your keyword density under 3%, as any more than this can be seen as abuse. As Google states repeatedly, create websites for users, not search engines.
o Design Your Keywords: Not only do you want a lot of keywords in your text, you want to style them bold, italics, and underline. Do this throughout the text.
o Keyword Placement: Put the majority of your keywords at the top and bottom of your webpages, as this is where search engines place the most emphasis.
o Stem Your Keywords: Instead of repeating the same keywords over and over, use a variation of those keywords. For example, for the keyword “search” you would also want to incorporate searches, searching, searched, etc.
o Every Page Links to the Homepage: Create a navigation bar on all webpages so the user can get to the homepage. If you have a large website with multiple webpages, consider using a HMTL template to make this process easier. Remember to use applicable keyword anchor text for each link.
o Internal Links: You can improve your website’s SEO rankings by linking webpages within your website. Remember, it’s important to use the applicable keyword as your anchor text.
o Concise Navigation: When designing your website, never bury webpages more than two folders deep. A user should not have to click more than two times to find what they need or get back to the homepage.
In order for Google to “crawl” or scan your website, you need to create a site map and upload it to Google.
o To create a sitemap, the XML Sitemap Generator.
o To upload your sitemap to Google Webmaster Central.
Google Webmaster Central is the best free resource to help you understand how and why your website is showing up in search results. Using this tool, you can determine how many other websites are linking to yours, what keywords your website shows up for, and any problems Google is having crawling and indexing your site.
The webmaster tool is not updated as often as people would like, which means you may not see results right away. This doesn’t mean that websites are linking to you; it just isn’t showing up in their reports just yet. Be patient!
Another common concern is when a website suddenly has far less pages indexed than before. If your pages contain original content and are listed in your sitemap, they won’t be de-indexed. So why do the number of pages fluctuate? People tend to think of Google as one computer in one location, when it’s actually thousands of servers in locations around the world. Information takes awhile to update across the system, so you may be getting reports from a server in California on Monday, then a completely different report from Virginia on Tuesday. Remember, patience is a virtue.
SEO: Off Page
Now that we’ve covered what you can do on your own website to improve your SEO, it’s time find other websites that will link to you. Linking has really become the name of the game in SEO these days and rightfully so. In the past, search engines would look more at a webpage’s content alone, where now they take into account how many other people find that webpage (or website) useful. The more websites that link to yours, the more valuable you to appear to be to users and the more likely you’ll rank high for your keywords.
Of course, a thousand links from small websites aren’t nearly as valuable as one link from a highly trusted authority site. This is true in the offline world as well: an economics professor from Harvard who has been interviewed on CNN will be held in higher esteem than a junior college professor who’s conducted a thousand interviews with college radio stations.
When a search engine examines your site, they take into account the quantity and quality of other websites that are linking to your website. Think of each link as a vote for your website; the more votes from trusted sites, the better.
Baby got Backlinks
So how does one find these high authority sites and convince them to link to your website? There are several methods at your disposal:
o Google Alerts will automatically update you on related sites to your niche, as well as any breaking news.
o Trusted Publications can provide you with a list of highly respected sites in your field. For example, if you run a travel site, search for “25 Best Travel Sites.” Contact as many of these as you can and request a link. Of course, you should give them a damn good reason why they should. I’ll look at each website and see if they accept proposals for writing projects. If they do, and provide links to the author’s website, I’ll contact them with a proposal. This method is a win-win-win: the authority site receives a quality article, our website receives a valuable backlink, and we receive traffic from people who have read the article and are interested to learn more.
o Directory Submissions: List your website with as many high Page Rank directories as possible. Google has mentioned this is no longer as important as it once was, so don’t knock yourself out submitting to hundreds. Pick 50-100 and crank it out one afternoon. Two stand out among the rest and deserve special mention: Dmoz (which is free, but damn hard to get into) and Yahoo Directory ($295, pretty easy to get into after that).
o Article Directories: Write an article your market would be interested in, and submit it to the article directories with a backlink to your site at the end of the article. When other websites republish your article your backlink will appear on their site as well (like this one).
o Bait People: Create pages that are of such incredibly high value people can’t help but link to them. This is known as “link-bait” and is a very popular method of promotion among bloggers. Choose a topic most people struggle with and write about it to death. Provide a comprehensive guide to a hot topic (e.g. Firefox extensions, fried chicken cooking methods, airport taxes, whatever), and authority sites will eventually see it and link to you.
SEO is a huge topic, but by following these simple tips you should be able to see some results. Remember, SEO takes time, but it’s well worth it.