Search Engine Optimization Primer
Our Search Engine Optimization Primer will introduce many of the helpful articles available on this site so that you can get off on the right foot.
No matter how many times we say that a search engine optimization expert is worth every penny you’ll pay, some people just need to try things for themselves first. So, in an effort to help you avoid at least some of the more common mistakes, here’s a search primer that will introduce many of the helpful articles available on this site so that you can get off on the right foot
Chapter 1 – The First Hurdle: Making Your Site Search Spider Friendly
There are many aspects of your web pages you can change in order to make them more friendly to the search spiders.
Selecting the right keyword phrases – the ones your target market is most likely to use when searching for the products you sell – is an artform unto itself. You can learn more about keyword research here.
For the purposes of this article, let’s just say that the keywords you select and put in your meta tags, your on-page content, and in your incoming links will play a big role in how the engines index and rank your site… so choose wisely! Read on to find out more.
If you want the search spiders to come crawling to your door, put your top keyword phrases in your title tag, description tag, and (optionally) in your keyword tag. These days, few search spiders bother reading the keyword tag so its importance has diminished, but the title tag is highly revered by a search engine and should contain your top one or two keyword terms.
The description tag is shown in the search results returned by some engines, so it needs to be written like a mini-advertisement for human readers as well as optimized for web crawler action. You can learn more about Meta Tags here.
The content of a website has become so important to a search engine that very often the first job an SEO tackles, right after selecting keywords, is ensuring the text of each page is search optimized… in other words, the copy has been skillfully peppered with the selected keyword terms.
Every search engine counts keywords in content, giving them a convenient tool (one among many) to help them match a webpage with a search query. You can learn more about content optimization here.
Behind the Scenes
Factors hidden in your site’s HTML code can block search spiders, so any search optimization professional worth his/her salt will check your code to make sure it’s accessible. They will look for impediments such as flash-based programs, dynamic databases, frames or text embedded in graphics, all of which can render a site less web crawler friendly.
Responsible SEOs will also remove any spammy tricks they find in your code and discourage you from using dubious tactics such as invisible text loaded with keywords. These short-term fixes can have long term negative consequences if a search engine catches up with you.
These days, many SEOs also encourage the use of site maps to help the search engine spiders navigate from your home page to your inside pages – especially important if your menus don’t use text links.
This includes things like link popularity and click-throughs. Search engine spiders analyze how pages link to each other and gage the importance of a linking page as a factor in determining your rankings.
And lately the engines have become increasingly adept at filtering out linking strategies they deem suspicious or artificial. Your best bet is one-way, unpaid links from high-ranking sites related to yours… in other words, relevant and important sites.
In fact, each major search engine has become so obsessed with “importance” they even monitor click-throughs, dropping the ranking of pages that don’t get a lot of visitors and promoting pages that do… just one more way in which your site is rewarded or punished depending on its search engine traffic.
Click here to find out more about what search spiders are and how they crawl your website.
Search Engine Optimization Primer
Chapter 2: Craft Your Keywords Carefully
You could just guess at the keyword phrases your prospects are typing in a search engine to find your kind of business. Then you could spend a lot of time optimizing your site and planning expensive pay-per-click campaigns around those phrases. Only to find out – by the crushing absence of visitors and sales – that you’ve guessed wrong.
Or you could spend a few days doing some methodical keyword research and use some keyword tools before going to all that trouble and expense.
Phase I: Building the Raw List
First, brainstorm a list of phrases that seem logical. This is where deep knowledge of your customers is so useful. Then, use one or more of the keyword suggestion tools above to reveal related search terms you may not have thought of.
Phase II: Checking the Competition
Now that you have a shortlist of search terms, it’s time to see what the competition is up to. Go to Google or whatever search engine you prefer and run a search on each of your keyword phrases to see which sites come up in the search results. Then spend some time visiting the top sites to find out what other keywords they are using that might be prime candidates for your site. Make a list and run them through Wordtracker to get their KEI scores – this will tell you if you should be using those search terms or variations on them.
Phase III: Finessing the List
Now it’s time to narrow down your list to the final cut. A word to the wise: competing for the most popular search terms (one- or two-word terms like “toys” or “sports cars”) isn’t impossible but it’s usually expensive and time consuming. For modest budgets, it’s better to select terms that have less competition and a decent volume of searches. Also: pick terms that are relevant to the pages you’ll be using them on and that will attract the kind of targeted traffic you want.
Phase IV: Putting the Words to Work
First, apply your newly chosen keyword terms to your existing web pages. Then, if you have powerful search terms left over, consider creating new pages to highlight them. For example, if you sell K to 12 educational materials and discover that the phrase “learning problems” is highly searched on, consider creating an informational page on this subject.
Finally, don’t forget to put your keyword phrases in title tags, description tags, alt tags, text links, headings, and subheadings. Plus add them to any incoming links in articles, newsletters, press releases or blog entries you post to the web. Search engine crawlers take note of all these repetitions and conclude that your site must be a true source of information for that term.
Search terms or search phrases that contain deliberate misspellings are a common and legitimate tactic. But it has to be handled carefully or your site risks being seen as sloppy and unprofessional. If you decide to do it, minimize the risk by only using one spelling/misspelling of a word on any given page.
Some entrepreneurs use highly competitive terms that DON’T represent their product or service, but that represent their competition. (For example, a company that sells natural body building supplements but employs search terms like “steroids” to fool people into visiting their site.) Nobody likes being tricked and that game can easily backfire on you.
By using relevant search terms that accurately reflect your page content, you are saying to your visitors, “You’re in the right place, you can get your questions answered here.”
Click here to read more about Keyword Selection and to view a list of the main Keyword Tools that are on the market.
Chapter 3: Content is King
Many search engine optimization (SEO) experts say that content optimization should be the second task in your optimization process, right after selecting the keywords.
So for the purposes of this article, let’s assume that you have already selected a set of keyword phrases for each page you intend to optimize. You’ve chosen search terms that accurately describe what you sell or do and that reflect the way searchers will look for your kind of product/services.
Now you need to apply those keywords to either new content or existing content so there are enough repetitions to improve your rankings but not so many that it causes the text to become awkward and “spammy”. It’s a fine line sometimes.
Some SEO copywriters use software to help them calculate the ratio of keywords to surrounding text, others simply rely on their experience and intuition to guide them to a proper content balance.
Attaining Content Balance
To be effectively optimized, a page should have at least 200 to 300 words. Longer copy is fine but going much shorter makes it harder to establish keyword prevalence.
For a 300-word page, you’ll want to select three or four search terms. Any more than that and you will dilute the potency of each term.
And be sure to select different search terms for each page of copy, carefully matching those terms to the theme of the page. In other words, if your site sells home décor items and one whole page is dedicated to glass figurines, be sure to use specific keywords like “glass figurines” and “glass ornaments” for that product page. Broad, general terms such as “home décor items” or “gifts for the home” are better suited to your home page.
Keywords in Headings and Text
It’s always wise to put keyword phrases in your main heading and in as many subheadings as makes sense within the context. Then follow each heading with keyword-enhanced body copy.
When adding keywords to your content, always remember the reader. Overstuffed, spam my copy not only reads poorly but can be confusing and irritating to your visitors.
Remember, the point of any page of sales content is always to prompt a particular action, whether it’s to click a buy button, navigate to another page, or pick up the phone. The only action that overstuffed copy seems to inspire is a retreat to a better-written site.