05/09/2013

Search Engine Optimization as Plain as We Can Make It

By James

Search Engine Optimization (more often SEO), is not just a cool acronym, it’s the way you help people connect to the content they are looking for on your site.  Sure it’s technical and can seem like a complicated task with “meta descriptions” “long-tail search terms” etc… but there are some simple things you can do to set yourself up for SEO success. Step 1 is to make sure your site is designed to give you lots of opportunities for SEO wins. All the keyword researching in the world will do you no good if you can’t employ it in an effective way on your site.  But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, what is SEO really about anyway, and do you need it?

The Basics

Google* makes money by providing fast, relevant, and intuitive search results. The better their service is, the more people will use it and the more advertising impressions they can sell to their advertisers.  It’s in Google’s best interest for people to connect to whatever it is they are looking for on the first try, and they are pretty darn good at it.  Google has become a synonym for “find what you need fast” how many times this week have you heard someone say “Google it?” Exactly.

Anatomy of a SERP

The better fit your content is for a specific search term, the closer to the top of the search results it will be displayed. If you’ve spent any time learning about SEO then you know all about the coveted “first page” of search results. Those are the results most likely to get clicked through to. How many times in the last week have you scrolled to the 10th page of search results to find what you’re looking for? Or did you not see what you wanted on the first page of results and refined your search term instead? That’s what I thought.

Editor’s Note: Bing also plays a factor in up to 8% of searches globally. Not a small portion, sure, but we’ll be focusing on Google for now. 

How do I get content that ranks though?

You’ve got to know which terms your going to focus on, and then you’ve got to have a way to get them placed properly on your page. The closer words appear at the front of your content, in headlines, subheadlines, image captions etc… the more they will count towards your pages overall “score” for that word or term*.

*when doing keyword research don’t just look for single words, ’cause that’s not how people search. People are more likely to type in phrases that are more specific to what they are looking for. This comes down to ‘buyer intent’. So instead of trying to place the term “dog grooming” on your pet salon page try “best dog grooming salon in Providence” instead. You’re more likely to attract the people who are specifically looking for a great salon near them to bring their pup to for a trim.

Your site should present you with lots of opportunities to place key rich content where it’s most likely to be crawled by search engine bots, the programs crawling your site regularly looking for fresh content.  A good web design will include elements that are not just good looking, but also give you the ability to update copy and content, in an easy to use backend that makes it fast and easy to do regularly.

 

Keep it fresh

Which brings me to my next point: update often! There’s plenty of other sites out there (read, your competitors) that will be creating content too. It’s essentially an arms race for the most complete, up-to-date, and informative content! So once you have a shiny new site, with an easy to use backend, be sure to create a schedule for content updates. The easiest way to do that is a blog. But also be sure you are updating homepage content as well with refreshed blurbs about your products, services, and news.

Flash is dead

And although it should go without saying at this point; flash is a no-no, since Google can’t crawl that. Google sees it as a big blank box on your page and it does nothing for your search rankings. Not to mention it is also un-viewable on Apple’s iPad and iPhone (bummer). So if you’ve still got a slick splash page as an intro to your site consider swapping that out for some updated functionality that will retain SEO winning qualities.

Behind the scenes

On-page SEO can get you a long way toward winning the SEO battle, but if you want to win the war of search result placement you’ve got to be thinking beyond the visible content on your page. A well-designed website will also have great SEO built into the code of the site. It will place meta tags, page titles, and other SEO signifiers consistently and logically.

For this, you’re better off to find an expert who is familiar with the backend of websites and knows not only where to place terms and phrases but can also give you more specific guidance on which you’re likely to “win”. This comes down to making the decisions on what pieces of content to prioritize to rank for keywords of opportunity.

For (a rather extreme) example, you wouldn’t want to go up against dictionary.com for “online dictionary” or PerezHilton.com for “celebrity gossip.”  You’d probably be better off finding terms that are less competitive and more applicable to your most likely customers and niche market. Besides, there’s limited business value to winning keywords that have little to do with your products, services, or brand!

If you build it…

Once you’ve gotten a beautiful and smart website design that is optimized for SEO, created a fair amount of content, and are updating and adding to it regularly, you’ve done half (that’s right) half the battle. Now it’s time to get people to link to it. Link building is the process of connecting with other online content creators and aggregators to spread the word about your page and get backlinks to it. The more backlinks you have, and from more reputable sites, the higher “score” you’ll get from Google. It wants to know that you are legit, and the best way to do that is a vote of confidence, in the form of a link, from another legitimate site.

DO NOT PAY for back links, do not swap links with sites that you don’t know anything about. You’ll hurt your brand and probably not do much for your search results.

DO share your content across your social media channels including linkedin, youtube, and industry specific networking sites. Connect with like-minded businesses and other content players in your industry by liking, commenting on, or re-posting their content on your social feeds and encouraging them to do the same. Better yet, reach out to bloggers who have healthy readership numbers and are writing about topics relevant to your customers, as them if they’d be interested in working together on a series or writing a guest post for your blog.  Finally, reach out to local and industry news sources (depending on your business) and let them know about your content and that you’d be interested in working together.

The more traffic the site linking to you has, the more their link is going to do for you.

To wrap things up

Get a beautiful and functional website design, create great on-page content, build in powerful backend SEO, and be proactive about promoting it to the right people.  You’ll be well on your way to SEO success.