No matter how beautiful your site, if search engines don’t list you in their results, you are invisible. You must use strategies to rank your site on search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo. While search engines differ somewhat in the way they look for information, there are rules that will work for all. These rules fall under two main categories: Optimizing your site, and getting links to your site.
Optimizing Your Site for Search
Before you create content, design the site graphics, create keywords, etc. you must know your audience. I cannot emphasize this enough. If you do not know whom you are targeting with your product, service, or information, then you will probably waste your efforts. And optimizing for search takes plenty of effort! Talk to prospective clients. Learn how they look for information. Do they even like to shop online? Do they use their phones more than their desktops to look for information? What are their demographics–age, gender, location?
Next, remember that “content is king.” No matter how excellent your design, or what keywords you have chosen, or really much of anything else on this list, your site will remain virtually invisible without high quality text content. Your site should be informative, containing text that is useful to your intended audience, and that is updated regularly! If you have good content, and if that content is consistent with the keywords you have chosen for your site, then you will rank well for relevance; that is, how relevant is your content to the search terms (keywords) that someone is using.
What are keywords?
Let’s clarify what is meant by keywords, since they are so important. Basically, keywords are a small set of words that summarize the contents of a document, whether it is a web site, blog or article. Keywords are what your target audience types into a search box to (hopefully) find your site.
Here is an example. Suppose you are in the business of selling apples from your orchard in upstate New York. You want to attract more business, maybe even sell online. Are you going to optimize your site for searches on “apples”? If you do, then your site may appear, but it will probably be on page 10 or so in the search results. Research shows that 92% of search users click on links on page 1 of search results. That means that only 8% go beyond the first page to find what they are looking for! (Chitika)
The Long Tail
The trick to improving your standing in search results is to use 3-5 word keyword phrases that, through your research, you have learned your target audience uses to find products or services like yours. Such phrases are known as “long tail” keywords. Not too generic, which will bury you in search results, and not too specific, which reduces the likelihood that they will be used in a search.
So, for your apple business, you learned years ago that people love Honeycrisp apples, and you planted a few acres of those, along with several other varieties. Your long tail phrase might be “Honeycrisp apples”. Or better, since you want to attract customers who might be close enough to drive to your orchard, “New York Honeycrisp Apples”. (Try this phrase in Google!)
Use any of the tools available for keyword research. (one example) Once you have determined what words and phrases best describe your site’s content, you can proceed to use them effectively in your text content, site description, page titles, text headings, and in the filenames and tags for your images. And yes, you can use different keywords on different pages. But keep these under control, because you are going to be using these keywords in your campaign to generate links to your site.
Creating Links to Your Site
Search engines rank sites not only by relevance, but also by authority. Authority comes from links to your site from other sites. And the other sites themselves need to have authority. Just one example–suppose you have a Facebook fan page that is linked to your site, and that page has many followers, who themselves are sharing the contents of that page. This is one way to create authority.
Here are some more ideas:
- Submit guest posts to blogs, and use your keywords as a link to your site or a page on your site. Seek out blogs that are relevant to the content of your site.
- Find high-quality forums where there is a discussion of topics relevant to what your site offers, and post valuable information, with a link to your site. Look for forums with plenty of traffic. and, if possible, do a posting that is a bit controversial, or at least worthy of responses, so that your link will repeat.
- Use social media like Facebook and Twitter. (Note: A 2012 study by Branded3 asserts that there is a correlation between Twitter shares of your url and your Google page rankings!)
- Submit articles to StumbleUpon (More information here)
- Find quality websites and blogs with good following and ask to be featured.
- Consider creating a short, viral video to post to youtube, if you’re really ambitious.
There are many more ways to create links to your site, and Google is always there to help! Yes, it’s hard work. It’s really all about sales!
How about those emails I get telling me they can increase traffic to my site?
The competition for search traffic is as fierce as it gets. There are no shortcuts, and anyone who promises you increased website traffic had better be ready to give you specifics and prices. Beware of so-called “Black Hat” SEO providers. They use link farms, low-quality blogs and, in worst cases, site hacks to gain temporary SEO advantage. You always get what you pay for in this arena.
For many years I have photographed my favorite subject, the American West. I sell my work through galleries, art shows, and online in response to website queries. I don’t need to tell you that I am competing with a lot of photographers who also photograph in the west. Knowing that my audience uses desktop computers, tablets and smartphones, I determined that having a responsive website is a must! I also was pretty sure that if I targeted searches for “landscape photography”, or “fine art photography”, i would be lost in search results. (Ansel Adams has a lot more authority than I do!) One long tail keyword for which I chose to optimize is “western landscape photography”. My research showed that, while that keyword string does get a fair amount of use in search, there is little competition. I use that keyword string on the site, in social media, in blogs, and in back links from galleries and other websites. Consequently “western landscape photography” lands me on page 1 of Google, Bing, and Yahoo searches.