SEO? SERP? Where Do I Start?

You want to increase traffic to your website by increasing  it’s position on search engines like Google.com and Yahoo.com but have no clue where to start.  SEO or Search Engine Optimization and is just a technical way of saying “I want my website to be ranked higher on the search results of Google and other search engines. This post will give you a good idea of where to start. If you have the resources, a SEO professional is a wise investment. A #1 ranking website on Google could get  twice the traffic as the  #2  website so it does pay to be on top.  Now before I say too much I want to say that I am not an expert, guru or the like.  I am a web designer who reads things here and there and I’d say I’m somewhere between novice and expert on SEO. I am sharing no “tricks” or brand new secret techniques. All the things I am sharing have been true for a while and will probably be true for a long while.

As I see it there are 2 major parts to SEO: on site; what you do to your website directly and off site; what you do away from your website to increase popularity.  The major parts for each are website optimization and link backs respectively.

Site Optimization (The elements that make up your website)

The way your website is coded and laid out will help search engines understand what is most important.  Search engines more or less view websites the way a human sees a page. For instance content at the top is weighted higher than content at the bottom of the web-page and content in bold is weighted higher than plain text. A rule of thumb could be: if a human would think it important than so would a search engine.

  1. Title BarTitle Tags (HTML code): #1 IMPORTANT!!! The title tag is code that doesn’t visually show in a pages content, but does appear in the bar at the top of the browser window (example right).  Many times this will also be used as the title of the pages content headline or vice versa but they are not the same thing and are added in separate sections of the HTML code.   The title is the link used on the search engine results page (SERP).  Most business will want to highlight the service/product and location.  Consider what people will search for.  If I am looking for a local web designer in for the Toronto area, I will likely type “Toronto Web Designer”  the closer you title matches the words of a search the better.SEO-001
  2. Description Meta Tag (HTML code that is not visible on your website): The description meta tag is the text that is commonly the short description under the link on a search results page. Search engines do look at this content to rank your page but have been given less weight over time. However it does provide you a chance to entice potential visitors so it should be considered carefully.
  3. Keywords Meta Tags (HTML code that is not visible on your website): Keywords like Descriptions are being weighted less and in some cases not considered at all according to a few SEO forums I have read.  Keywords are a common separated list of keywords or phrases defining you websites content.
  4. Page Content (what a visitor sees on your website): By far the actually content and layout of  the content is becoming more and more important to leading search engines. So if a word is important make it bold.  Put your page headline in a <h1> tag (heading 1) and title your paragraphs with <h2> tags (heading 2) h3, h4 and so on.  Re-write content to increase the use of keywords (instead of our services are …, say our XYZ services are…) But don’t duplicate content having 2 pages with the same content.  Don’t make lists of keywords.  Do add links in your content to other relevant content on your website. Don’t sacrifice human readability for SEO and there by repelling potential clients.  What good is getting traffic if they don’t convert.
  5. XML Site Map (XML is a specific code): an XML site map helps search engines find all the content on your site and is the sign of a professional website and is pretty much a standard now.
  6. URLs: If possible keep URLs simple and content related.  If you have a database driven website have them re-write to clean, readable names.
    Ever see a page URL like this?
    http://www.site.com/page=request?12x=get=blahb00x00lahblah
    and then see one that looks like this?
    http://www.site.com/blog/seo-hints.php
    What looks better?  What is easier to recall and guess which is SEO friendly.

Link Backs (Links to your website)

When other websites link to your website it shows they value the content, increase reputation and in turn search engines like google then increase your search ranking.

POSSIBLE LINK SOURCES:

  1. Organizations/Clubs/Groups: Many organizations will link to members.
  2. Blog comments: When you comment on a blog sometimes you can leave your Website URL as a link. Don’t be spammy! Actually read the post and make a well thought out comment.
  3. Directories: There are many free directories to add your business/website to.  Stay away from link farms (just pages of links) If it seems unused or unprofessional don’t use it. Some paid directories are worth while but ask for numbers.
  4. Review Sites: Yelp.com and Angieslist.com are great ways to show off your customer testimonials. Get past clients to post reviews and build a trusted online rep. Write articles: Write valuable content that other will link to. Write a blog or on someone else’s.
  5. Press Releases: Have a new product? send emails to blogs or industry magazines. Most now have online and print editions.
  6. Social Media: Twitter, Facebook Pages, Myspace, ect.  Get some word of mouth, interact.  Most sites have groups for industries.  Network and press the virtual flesh.
  7. Video: Make a video and put it on youtube.com or other similar sites.  Watching video is much easier than reading off a screen. Plus you’ll get links.

FYI: Some links are better than others. A link from your sisters facebook is less valuable that a link from the National Association of XYZ for example. Links from website that have high ranking, relevant and popularity are best.  Also the text of the link counts.  “City Service Provider”  is better than “Your Company Name Service Provider” get your name outside the link if possible. Also if you are considering buying links, make sure there is variation in the text or NOT near words that make it clear they are paid for. Ever see links inside blog content? I’ve read that some search engines penalize for paid links if discovered.

Well I think that is enough food for thought.  I will probably revisit this topic more in the future and get more in depth on certain aspects.  BE SURE to spend time on a regular basis working on SEO. Remember SEO is an ongoing battle not “set it and forget it”.  There are no magic bullets or shortcuts that work for long or don’t bite back in the end.

More Reading:

Bad SEO Techniques That Will Hurt Your Google Rankings
(searchenginejournal.com)

Wikipedia: Search_Engine_Optimization

SEO Best Practices: 20 Questions By P.J. Fusco, ClickZ, Jan 17, 2007
(Written 3 years ago and still applicable! Same tried and true principles as above)

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