Getting Started with SEO
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of making a conscious effort improve the ranking of your website for specific key terms.
The efforts we make for SEO fall into two basic categories: in-page SEO and off-page SEO. The first, on-page, involves the coding of a site. The second, off-page, involves getting other websites to link to yourself
It all begins with really understanding the nature of your website and the audience it intends to attract. Your goal should be to get your intended audience to find you through Google (and other search engines) using the search phrases they are most likely to use. We will focus on Google search results today because it is by far the most-used search engine in the United States.
Focus on Keywords
Your initial task when doing SEO is to decide which keywords or key phrases you want to focus your efforts on. You want to pick relevant, high-traffic keywords that will have less competition in the Googlesphere. There are a number of techniques to accomplish this, but I will cover one approach today. Keyword research is what we will focus on this week.
Importance of Keyword Research
Selecting the right keywords is critical to generating two things for your website:
A High Google PageRank
This is a number from 0 to 10 that describes what Google considers your relative importance to be in the world wide web. While in and of itself it might not increase your search engine traffic, it will probably affect your position in the SERPs.
Good Search Engine Results Page Placement
SERP is the listing of results returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query. The closest to the number one position for a given keyword or key phrase you get, the better the click-through rate, meaning more traffic from Google. SEO professionals often talk about being one the first page, within the first three results, or even being the first result.
In determining the right keywords of key phrases to stress in your SEO, it pays to do a good deal of research ahead of time. Selecting the best keywords can make a big difference in your search page ranking and consequently in your site traffic. Choosing a keyword is more art than science, and takes some gut decisions, but here are some basic steps to follow:
- Define the content of your site in general terms.
- Identify key phrases related to your topic (about 10-30 phrases).
- Research the competition.
Define Your Content
What is your site about? A local flower vendor? Accounting services? Political news? Identify a general topic.
Identify Keywords Related to Your Topic
Now that you have described your general content in the most general terms, you can use a free tool to suggest relevant keywords and phrases.
- Go to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. Use an existing Gmail account or create a new one (cell phone and email verification required).
- Click on “Search for new keyword and ad group ideas“.
- Enter the short description you’ve identified (or the URL of the website you are analyzing).
- Your results will show you related keywords and phrases, along with their recent activity on Google. You’ll get a competition ranking and the average monthly searches over the past 12 months for each phrase.
- Click the Download button and select All Search Results. Select CSV for Excel as the Format and click Download.
- Open the file in Excel and save it somewhere.
- Select 10 to 30 keyword phrases to research further (avoid single words as they will usually be too competitive.)
- hide or delete all the columns except for: Keyword, Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only), and Competition.
- eliminate any phrase with over 50,000 searches per month—these may be difficult to compete for
- eliminate any phrase with fewer than 3,000 searches per month—these aren’t generating enough interest
- eliminate any phrases that really aren’t relevant to your site focus
Hint: Sort the rows by the Avg. Monthly Searches (exact match only) column (Data > Sort). Click and drag down the row numbers for rows to eliminate. Right-click on the left bar within the selection and click on Delete.
Research the Competition
Time to size up your competition in order to determine your best bets for key phrases. If you can optimize your site better than your competition, you can attract more votes/clicks on Google.
- Visit Google and enter the first key phrase you are considering.
- Write down (or record in the spreadsheet) the first 3-5 natural search results (ignore the paid listings.)
- Begin a site-by-site analysis. Do the following for each of the 3-5 competing websites in order to determine if you can outrank them.
- Website URL
- Google PageRank (this can be discovered by using the Google toolbar in your browser (IE only) or by going to PR Checker)
- Keywords in title tag, meta description, and H1 tag
- Number of sites linking in (search Google using the term “link:” followed by the URL)
- Complete this process for at least one key phrase to get a feel for the process of collecting the data. For the remaining competitors key phrases, can can use SEO Quake to automate of much the process.
- Determine which of your key phrases have a high percentage of competitors that you can beat. For example, they are not:
- using the key phrase in their title
- using the key phrase in a meta description
- using the key phrase in any H1 tags
- using web-standards code
- Narrow your choices to 3 key phrases to focus on for SEO.
Now that you’ve completed your analysis and seen what the competition is doing, do you have some idea what you can do on your site pages to enhance your ranking for your chosen key phrases?
On-page optimization is what you do on your website to influence Search Engine Result Pages (SERPs) on Google. Doing proper keyword research is the first step to a successful SEO campaign, which is why we did that first.
A good, free tool to see whether your site ranks within the first 20 pages in Google for your key phrases is wheredoirank.net (keywordtool.ulancer.com will do the first 10 pages for either Google or Bing.) Check it when you first define your key phrases, and then check again every couple of weeks to see how successful your SEO efforts are.
- Having proper meta tags in the <head> of each page is essential. Always include your keyword phrase(s) in your meta tags.
- The proper meta tags include your title tag, description tag, keywords tag, and robots tag (if appropriate; WordPress has a separate robots.txt file.)
- The keywords meta tag is not used by the major search engines such as Google and Yahoo, but it is still relevant to lots of smaller ones.
<title>Kids Busy Book – Attractions for Kids in Sacramento, California</title>
<meta name=”description” content=”Kids Busy Book features attractions for kids, places to visit in California, what to do in Sacramento, and fun family places. “/>
<meta name=”keywords” content=”attractions for kids, places to go with kids, events for kids, playgrounds, classes, birthday parties”/>
- Choose your domain name carefully. Avoid hard-to-remember characters or spellings. Include your top keyword phrase if possible. In most cases, you’ll want to use a .com domain, which is easier to recall.
- Your domain name doesn’t have to have your keyword included but it helps when other sites link to your site using only your URL, because inbound link text is a factor affecting SERPs.
- Use your keywords in your file and folder naming.
- How you format your page is important for optimization purposes.
- Verify that your code is W3C compliant.
- If possible, put your main content first in your markup before sidebars.
- Include your keyword phrase(s) in your <h1>, <h2>, and <h3> header tags. This signifies the importance of your content to Google.
<h1>Zoo Events for Kids and Families</h1>>
- Label each graphic with an alt attribute, and include your keyword phrase where appropriate.
- Place your keyword(s) in the first twenty-five words on your web page and the last twenty-five words on your web page.
<p>©2012 Kids Busy Book | Site Design and Content by Dawn Pedersen | Attractions for Kids in Sacramento, California</p>
- Eliminate Flash if it’s the main presentation of your website. Google does not view this favorably.
- Focus on a fast loading website. Page load speed is a significant factor in Google rankings. Ensure that your home page loads more quickly than those of competing sites.
- Be sure to include a sitemap that’s easily accessible by Google.
- An XML sitemap of up to 500 pages of a live site can be generated at xml-sitemaps.com.
- For bigger sites, a standalone version of the software can be purchased.
- Put the XML file in your root folder. Then you can submit the URL for the sitemap to Google Webmaster Tools and increase your chances of most pages on your site being crawled.
- Use descriptive keywords in anchor text that match the keywords the source page is trying to target.
- Never underestimate the power of well-organized internal linking. A good internal linking structure can improve your SERPs.
- Make sure all of your links are intact. Run a software like the free LinkChecker (PC) or Integrity (Mac) each month to make sure that external links have not moved or disappeared.
- Google Webmaster Tools can also tell you about 404 errors on your site, where Google has sent people on your site but the pages no longer exist. See if you can find a way to reroute those users.
Content Creation and SEO
- A high content-to-code ratio is desirable. Do what you can to provide lots of text-based content on your site.
- Blogs are a fantastic way to keep adding content relevant using your key phrases. Content is king. Google and other search engines want to send their users to sites that demonstrate that they have fresh, relevant, and significant content.
But what does Google want? They want relevant, real content on the internet that people want to read and tell other people about. If Google doesn’t bring you the most relevant content when you search they aren’t doing their job.
- WordPress has plugins available that make it easier to add SEO code to your pages. The one I use is All In One SEO.
SEO only goes so far before it’s “gaming the system.” A site’s true worth is in what it can offer users, not search engines. Social media virality may end up being a bigger player in web traffic than search engines.
By all means, do what you can to make it easy for people and search engines understand what your website is about. Market your content in several environments, including social media. But focus primarily on good content, and people will come.
From the article linked above:
The bottom line is that all external SEO efforts are counterfeit other than one:
Writing, designing, recording, or videoing real and relevant content that benefits those who search.
If you generate content and place it all over the web promoting and linking to your specific content, it is obviously fake. (And that is basically a big part of the history of the SEO industry, both black and white.)
Invest in real, valuable, relevant content that your audience wants. Grow your internal thought leaders to where they can add value to your audience and positioning in the market. Follow internal SEO practices to make sure it is found and sees the light of day. Take the time to make it so compelling that people talk about it and share it.