Get Your Site on the First Page of Google--SEO 101
What is search engine optimization?
Do you know about keywords, alt tags, meta descriptions, page titles, rich content, heading tags, anchor links? Understanding these and how they work is essential to getting your site found by search engines and viewed by your audience. Here is an overview to get you started on this complicated subject!
Or, just skip down to the checklist.
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? What are their demographics–age, gender, location? What do you offer them, and how do you know they are interested?
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 content. Your site should be informative, containing text and media 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 groups of words that summarize the contents of a web page, blog entry, product description or an image. 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 50 or so in the search results. Research shows that only .78% of searchers go beyond the first page to find what they are looking for! (Backlinko, 99firms, faithfuladvisor)
The Long Tail
The trick to improving your standing in search results is to use 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!)
Do your research. Begin typing your keywords into Google. As you type, Google will attempt to complete the keyword string, based on the more popular search terms, giving you a rough clue. Moz offers 20 free keyword searches per month. Try your best keyword ideas there!
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, page titles, meta descriptions, text headings, and in the filenames and alt tags for your images. (Don’t overdo this; google will penalize you for “keyword stuffing” if you use the same keywords over and over). Now, let’s look at each of these.
Page Title and Meta Description
These are what Google uses to display your page in its search results. You can tell Google what you want these to be by programming them into each page. If you don’t, Google will grab the heading and first 320 characters of the text on the page for the “snippet”, or meta description.
Heading Tags, File Names, Alt Tags, Anchor Text
Think of heading tags as main topics and subtopics, just like the outlines you used to make for term papers. Google loves to have content organized..it helps them to make sense out of your pages and index them usefully. This page you are reading has four heading levels!
Google is not yet able to look at images and know what they are about. So, for the images we use file names that describe the images, and relate to the content of the page on which they appear. We also use alt tags…invisible tags that show up when the image doesn’t load, or to help with audible screen reading applications. Alt tags also describe image content. You can put a nice, succinct phrase, using your keywords, in the alt tags.
Anchor text linking is fundamental to the World Wide Web. The Web is built on the idea of using hypertext links within a document to reference related documents, and to have those links be relevant to the content to which they refer. Using anchor text is preferable to generic linking (see sidebar example). Link relevancy helps search engines to figure out how to rank pages in their search results.
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 to make the back link to your site or a page on your site. (See Below) 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. With nearly 2 billion users, Facebook has the power to influence your credibility if a lot of people are sharing a link to your site. 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, time frames and prices. The best first question to ask anyone who approaches you is “what search terms will you target, and why?” Most likely you will not receive a meaningful response.
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, then long-term penalty from search engines. You always get what you pay for in this arena.
Your SEO Checklist
- Write a short paragraph describing your audience and what you have to offer that they need.
- Build and test a list of keywords that summarize the content you are presenting, and that are likely to be used in search.
- Use your keywords in the page title, meta description, main heading, page copy, image alt tags, image file names.
- Organize your site logically. Don’t be confusing. Keep sub-menus to two levels. Work with an overall plan, and avoid tacking on random, loosely-related bits of content.
- Test your site with typical users.
- Write copy that is unique, rich, and targeted to the needs of your audience.
- Use synonyms and related phrases in your copy.
- Provide ways for visitors to interact with your content–for example, calls to action, short, meaningful slide shows (avoid “click bait”), questionnaires.
- Include, when possible, relevant tables, charts, graphics, ordered lists, videos and links.
- Link within your site.
- Update relevant content a few times a year.
- Use relevant anchor text in links. Don’t just use [click here].
- Make sure your site is mobile and tablet friendly (Responsive)
- Use a good web hosting service that doesn’t stuff their shared hosting servers with so many sites they look like a third-world bus.
- Use headings (H1, H2, H3, etc.) properly.
- Share the best of your content on social media, and link back to its source on your site. Remember to use proper anchor links.
- Strive to obtain quality backlinks from reputable sites.
- Use https to assure site security and authenticity for your visitors.
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Anchor Text–How to Use Your Keywords for Your Back Link
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