Search engine optimization – without getting too technical!
So you want your website to get lots of attention from online searchers? To appear on the first page of Google? Did you know that search engine optimization (SEO) can return $23 for every dollar spent on it? You’ll find the essentials on it here…
Search engines are getting smarter – so provide real value for people
In the past, web designers used various tricks to pull-in search traffic – like invisible text and repeated pages. They won’t work anymore – in fact you’re likely to be penalised for any attempt to deceive search engines.
They’re getting smarter all the time because their popularity depends on giving searchers the most relevant and useful content possible. We’re talking about the main ‘organic’ listings you see after you type-in your search words.
They also have paid listings (ads) to the right and above the organic listings on Google. Just like radio and TV, Google attract people by offering valuable content and slip in ads around it to make money.
It’s all about keywords
You need to tap into the language of your target audience. What phrases are searchers using when looking for your kind of product or service?
An easy way to find out is to use the Google keyword research tool which generates a whole list of terms that searchers currently use. You just enter some ‘seed phrases’ – your initial guesses – and out pops all sorts of terms including some you wouldn’t have thought of!
The list below came out of the seed words “dog food”…
The next thing is to go through the list and select the most relevant terms to attract the prospects you’re actually looking for. For example, if you were a top-end organic petfood supplier, you could use the terms ‘organic dog food’, ‘premium dog food’, ‘healthy dog food’, and ‘natural dog food’.
You’d avoid terms like ‘cheap dog food’ which would attract the wrong sort of people to your business and waste your time and theirs. The phrases most frequently searched for, but not well served by your competition, are the most profitable.
Once you’ve sorted your key phrases, you have a foundation to work with…
The two main areas of search engine optimization
Search engine optimization has many facets, but it mainly comes down to:
- off-site optimization – getting links from other websites
- on-site optimization – embedding the right keywords in the right places on your website.
Off-site optimization – getting quality links from other places
Links from other websites will boost your site’s status in search engines and draw traffic. The ideal way is for people to see valuable content on your site and link to it without having to ask them.
Another way is to approach owners of websites in related businesses or business clusters e.g. if you are a photographer, ask for a link from a wedding services site. You can also pay for business directory listings or place search engine ads e.g. Google Adwords (“Sponsored Links”).
Thirdly, you can create links yourself by leaving comments with your ‘signature link’ on social media sites, forums, and blogs.
These links are most effective when they:
- come from websites with high search engine rankings,
- are relevant to your website content, and
- have link text with relevant keywords included.
Here’s an example:
The yellow highlight shows link text that points to another page optimized for “content writing”.
One-way links to your site are more effective than reciprocal links (doing a swap with others). Links are less effective from pages having lots of other links on them – so beware of people with ‘link farms’ who want to swap links with you.
Links from emails are also effective – such as newsletters or e-zines.
The rest of the article deals with on-site optimization…
A focused niche for each page
Search engine optimization works on individual pages, not your whole site. To get good rankings, each page needs to be focused on just a few phrases – rather than a wide scattering of words.
You can rank higher with longer specific phrases than shorter general ones e.g. “second hand tennis technique books” versus “tennis books” where your page might be lost amongst thousands of others.
The right words in the right places
An optimized page needs to have search words and phrases sprinkled through it liberally in key places:
- Page ‘Title’ meta tag – the first thing people see of your website in search engines like Google, and visible at the very top of web browsers when they’re in your site
- ‘Description’ meta tag – a concise description of your page content appearing in search engines straight after the page title
- Headings – the main and sub-headings in the body text
- Body text – the main text viewers see on a web page (the first paragraphs are especially important)
- Domain name – eg xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.co.nz
- Page file names – that viewers see in their browser address windows after the domain eg xxxxxxxxxxxxxx.co.nz/xxxxxxxxxxx.html
- Image ‘alt’ tags – these are the words inserted in the HTML page code summarising what each image is about (only seen if images are slow or fail to download).
The example below shows page optimization for key words “web writing:
Don’t overdo it
You want a strong keyword density – ie saturation of keywords in the page. But it mustn’t be overdone or it will be difficult and boring for viewers to read. It may even penalise you with search engines because it’s not ‘natural’ language.
Here’s an example:
Are you looking for a holiday in Sweden? Bonaventure Tours offers the best holiday in Sweden available. Our prices are affordable so you can have a quality holiday in Sweden without breaking the bank. Feel free to select the best option below according to your needs for your holiday in Sweden.
This is monotonous to read, right? But what’s worse is many websites have poor English as well (grammar and spelling etc). Not good for sales!
Disguised by variety
Web page content that’s attractive, reads well, and draws prospects to buy requires good sales writing (called “copywriting”). Content that ranks pages well in search engines is another thing. Combining these is quite a skill that few have. Some search engine optimization experts just dump search terms adnauseum through the text, irritating readers.
Clever SEO writing can create variations of a search phrase to avoid monotonous repetition, eg “sailing trips in south pacific”:
We can also combine individual key phrases into bigger combined ones. So, “second hand books” could be combined with “book sales” to make “second hand book sales”.
The more content the better – but not waffle
The more keyword-rich content on your site, the bigger the target it’ll become for search engines – optimizing the ranking. Search engines record the click history of visitors to your site, to see if they find useful information and stay there, or give up and leave!
Content needs to be concise. People generally browse websites quite impatiently, unlike printed material where they’re happy to relax and read more at leisure. It needs to be to-the-point to hold viewers’ attention.
You can have lots of pages covering a range of sub-topics on a search theme. e.g. a Wanaka backpackers may have a page themed on ‘things to do in Wanaka’ showing entertainment venues and ski fields, and another page on ‘places to see in Wanaka’ showing walking trail maps and driving times.
Watch content duplication
Ensure you don’t copy too much of the same content onto different web pages, or search engines may penalise all but the original page. Make sure you have at least 20% unique material (at most 80% common). There are online calculators to compare pages and tell you these figures.
Make it easy for people to see where they’re going
Search engines, like viewers, can get lost searching on a website and give up. It’s good to keep the menu simple and consistent throughout the site. It helps to include a Site Map which shows the pages and structure of your site.
Submission to search engines
Optimization requires first notifying search engines of a web page’s existence, such as on the Google URL submit page. Search engines tend to read off each other, so the more of them you submit your site to, the better. However, the major search engines are the only ones really worth the effort – Bibg, Yahoo, etc.
There are other factors that can improve your optimization – which your web designer should be aware of: putting scripts and CSS styles in separate files, multiple domains forwarded with permanent redirects versus temporary, avoiding websites built totally with Flash.
Getting it to work for you
That’s search engine optimization in a nutshell. There are more advanced technical aspects to it, but they aren’t as important as what’s covered above.
If you apply these principles well, you’ll get good rankings, depending on the level of competition in your field. Actually, it’s not that easy to do yourself! You’ll probably need help to get the best results.
There are plenty of SEO specialists around – some who know what they’re doing and some who don’t. To get the best sales results from your website – your ultimate goal – make sure you have a good SEO writer on the job. Ask them for writing samples, search results, and sales outcomes achieved for clients…