You have the perfect product presentation on your site, and your content is sure to motivate your audience to buy. Now, your only problem is to get people to your site.
With billions of websites in the internet competing for visitor’s attention, it is not easy to get found. The best way to be visible is to be in front of people when they use the most important sites to get information – the search engines. Google is the most popular search engine by far, with approximately 70% share of users. Far second is Bing and Yahoo combined with 27%.
Search engines have to decide which websites to rank on the first page of their results pages. They look at a number of factors to determine the most relevant, most authoritative and the highest quality web site or page for the search. Presenting your website in the best possible way to the search engines so that it will be visible in their results pages (without paying the search engines) is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.
When building your website, it is best to have it optimized for the search engines at the outset. However, search engine optimization can still be performed after your site is built by making changes.
But before you decide how to optimize your page, you have to decide on what search terms or search phrases (also known as keywords) to rank. You have to know where your target is before deciding which direction to shoot.
Keyword research is the foundation of SEO. You have to know what keywords people use to search for your product or services. There are many tools on the web that gives you this information. The most popular tool is the Google Keyword Tool.
Remember that the terms you or your industry use may not be what ordinary customers use to search for your products. For example, although you are a doctor who practices “physical medicine”, ordinary people do not search for that term to search for your services. They search for such words as “pain treatment” or “chronic pain” instead. Also, the most popular keywords are not necessarily the ones that lead to sales. Needless to say, keyword research takes skill in order to unearth important keyword targets that will work for your business.
After keyword research and determining your targeted keywords, you then work on the three groups of elements that search engines look at to evaluate your website: the elements that you put on your pages (or on-page), those that are beyond your page (off-page) and other attributes. These are some of the more important elements pre group:
On-Page SEO elements
These are what site owners can directly control so this is fairly easy to do.
- Page Title Tag – This is what you see on the left hand corner of the browser, and the primary signal that Google uses to find out what your page is about (and where to rank it). Use your target keywords in creating your page title. Each page of your site should have unique page titles as each should be focusing on unique topics.
- Content – The content of your page should be consistent with what your Title Tag says your page is about. Strive to have a minimum of 300 words of search engine readable text in your content. Also strive to focus on a single subject per page, so as not to confuse the search engines as to what your page is about.
- Description Meta Tag – This is what you see in the Search Engine results pages as description of your site. Try to have an enticing description about your site so users will click on your link when they find it on the results page.
- Internal Links – The pages on your sites should be interlinking to each other. When you are linking to a page within your site, you are telling the search engines that the linked page is important. Also, use descriptive text links containing keywords when you link to other pages on your site. Use “Acme product benefits” or “Acme model 311 reviews” instead of “click here” or “read here”, etc.
Off-Page SEO elements
These are elements that you may have very little control, or takes more effort to control, and are thus actually more important factors for search engines.
- External links – Links from other websites to your pages are seen by search engines as votes on the quality of your pages as well as the authority of your site. The more links your site get, the more votes it has. Links coming from other authoritative and trusted sites are more valued by search engines than those coming from run-of-the-mill blogs, for example. Relevant links are more valued than links from sites that are not relevant to yours. Links coming from editorial content are more valued than links from footers, side columns or those coming from pages with lots of links in it. Again, the text of the link going to your site is important. For example, if other sites link to your web page with the text link “New Jersey insurance”, the search engines see this as a strong signal that your page is an important page about New Jersey insurance.
- Social media – Links and citations from social media like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. are considered by search engines as signals of the popularity your site.
These are minor attributes that come naturally when building your site:
- Domain name – Ideally, your keyword target should appear in the domain name, although you may prefer your domain name to have brand value instead.
- Site age and history – The older your site, the more trustworthy it is. Your site should not have a history of being banned for spamming or trying to game the search engines (especially important if you are buying an old site).
- Click through rate in the results page – When search engines display your result, they may be looking if your listing is being clicked. The search engines may look at this as signal that your page is relevant to that particular search.
- Bounce rate – The search engines may also be looking if people exits your site immediately after they click on your link in their results pages. If you have a high bounce rate, then your site may not be relevant to the search or of poor quality.
This, in a nutshell, is the basics on how to perform Search Engine Optimization. There are a number of strategies that skilled SEO employ to give your site as much visibility as possible, such as targeting long tail keywords, testing what strategies work, acquiring links from authoritative sites, and more. It is a science, as well as an art.
SEO skills are even more important if you are in a competitive industry, or your competition is SEO-savvy.
If you need to focus on managing your business, you can always hire an SEO firm or SEO professionals to perform your site’s optimization.
You have a local business site? Click here for how to be visible in search engine local places results (the results with the red pin on them).
SEOMoz Beginner’s Guide to SEO