The best SEO tactics aren’t always the most obvious. In many cases SEO best practices are nearly invisible to humans but are seen clearly by the search engine “bots” that index a site. Having a grasp of the art and science of SEO will make the most impact, but getting down to the geek-speak is critical. The reason that there are thousands of companies across the world that do nothing but SEO is because the list of possibilities can fill entire bookshelves. We’ll do a crash course on SEO 101 to identify the three main areas that determine how search engines index pages, then drill deeper with tactics.
Search engines look at three main factors when they are pulling results from the search engine results pages:
When someone types a query into a search engine, the search engines go into their database of billions of indexed web pages and, through mathematical equations (or algorithmic results), produce SERPs that have the most “relevant” content. Helpful hint: Do a search for the key phrase of your choice in Google, Yahoo!, or Bing. Pay attention to the bolded phrases in the first blue line, the text under the blue text, and even the URL. This is a sneak peek into how the search engines match up their mathematical algorithmic results. Note the importance of key phrases in the content and URLs and you will learn that what you see in the SERPs is also dictated by the code.
A search engine indexes pages thanks to millions of “spiders” (also called robots or bots) that scour the web. Search engine robots are not human, they are technological creatures, so the websites that are well architected get more priority. The better organized a site structure is and the better the site is built can make a big difference in SEO.
Content is king with SEO. Search engines look at the key phrases in content headlines, website copy, blog posts, online press releases, web articles, Facebook pages, tweets, LinkedIn profiles, and more. Using key phrases that your current and prospective customers search on throughout the website will help give the search engine spiders more “food.” Help the search engines help you. If your company tagline is “Supermarket,” but in reality, your firm does small business consulting, make sure the phrase “small business consulting” is used in pages of your site. Frequency of content is also a critical player. The reason many blogs rank so well is because they are being populated frequently with content. Search engines want the freshest, most current content, so they note sites that get updated frequently (like blogs) and make sure their spiders are feeding there more frequently than an unchanging nondynamic site.
Link building helps show a search engine how popular a website is (it is easy for search engines to quantify the number of sites link to your site).
It is not just external links (links from other sites to yours) that boost SEO, but internal links (links from pages of your site to other relevant pages within your site) that help search engines index a site better. The secret here is not just having links but having links with strong key phrases in them. “Click Here” used throughout a site is not going to help people find your “Online Service.” Using key phrases in links will make your site a super player in the SEO game.
The Domain Name
Remember that you may register multiple domains for your products, trademarks, slogans, and more. For maximum SEO strategy, an organization may use several domains to boost search visibility. Each domain could go to a unique landing page that speaks to the desired key phrase and so will get a high SEO ranking. Buying a bunch of domains then pointing them all to the main website is not SEO. Frantic domain buying and redirecting is called being a domainiac. Search engines want to see unique URLs with unique content, so if key phrase-rich domains are purchased, they need to be used with a distinct purpose.
The Page URL
SEO architecture does begin with the URL, but the main domain is not the only location to strategically place keywords and phrases. Attracting search engines and getting your site into search engine results pages can be expedited by setting the suffix of URLs with search-rich phrases in subpage URLs, as well.
Not all organizations need a key phrase-rich URL. Instead they might want a clear company-branded URL. However, if the domain name is only being used for search engine optimization, having priority key phrases in the URL can work well.
The Page Title – Meta Title Tag
The introductory lines in blue viewed in most browsers on search engine results pages are title tags. They can dictate what SERPs show when a page is listed on the top title bar. When someone bookmarks a page, this is what the bookmark will say. There need to be unique meta titles for each page. Think of page titles as descriptions of each individual page. Many sites start each title with the company name, which is a waste of the 50- to 75-character space. Use key descriptions early on and make that effort count.
Descriptions and Keyword Meta Tags
Meta tags are invisible lines of code that tell search engines how to categorize the content on a given page. This is one of the most important steps for SEO, but many websites skip it entirely (or assume that it their webmaster’s job, which is not usually the case). Every page of a website needs to include key phrase-rich meta tags that describe the content on each page. It’s similar to how books are indexed in the library. No exceptions.
Meta Tag Management Best Practices
Managing meta tags for SEO is not especially hard, but to best organize the process of setting new or optimizing meta tags per page, it helps to create a spreadsheet to keep track of what needs to be done. This list makes it easier for a webmaster to manage the edits; allows you to make sure the webmaster did them correctly; or, if you are your own webmaster, helps ensure you keep tabs on your work. Here are the things to track in your spreadsheet:
- Current name of the page or existing URL
List each page so the webmaster knows to optimize the right page with the right meta tags. In the first column of your spreadsheet type the old URL.
- Proposed new URL name
In the next column note what you want to change the name of the URL to here. Use memorable words and structures.
- Meta title tag
Include the meta title tag in the next column. Each page should have a brief, unique, and descriptive title to let both users and the search engines know what the page is about. The character count is 50 to 75 characters, max. (Example: “Web Marketing Training = Increases in Business”)
- Meta description tags
In the next column of your spreadsheet, list the meta description tags. These tags are up to 150 characters in length and are a summary of each individual page and what important information should stand out. Use this to educate and prequalify clicks.
- Meta keyword or key phrase tags
In the last column, list the meta keywords or key phrases for that page. These tags are individual keywords or phrases that are used to describe the page. List no more than 10 keywords or phrases. (Example: online advertising training, search engine marketing, social media marketing, blog strategy, web marketing)
Images are a big factor in the SERPs. Naming images properly can allow you to take three bites out of the SEO apple. Using underscores or hyphens in naming helps create natural spaces to attract more searches, as most people do not search for words all mashed together (like “onlinemarketing”).
- File names
Save photos with file names that include key phrases that describe products/services. Instead of “image927.jpeg,” the photo file name could be “Online_Marketing.jpeg.”
- Alt tags
Alt tags are text descriptions of graphics. Alt tags are used by the blind (as well as search engine bots) to understand visual elements of a website. Think of this tag as an opportunity to communicate to search engines what the image is, and use strong key phrase descriptions.
Where layout allows it, put in keyword-rich captions that describe the photo.
In addition to the title tag, a headline refers to the headline that is on the top of each page. The headline is your fi rst line of copy. Headline text usually has Heading 1 or Heading 2 style tags, which search engines rank highly.
Introductory text headlines on web pages can also have key phrases in them to also help boost search visibility.
Important Musts to Boost SEO
– Register site domains for five years or more. Search engines can see how long a URL is registered and they see the ones that are registered longer as more serious, which can help boost ranking. This also prevents cybersquatters or the competition from snagging your domain.
– To stay on top of SEO and see what is being said about you and your company, add the name of the site, brand, organization, and owner/operator to Google Alerts (www.google.com/alerts). You will receive e-mail alerts about the pages, blogs, videos, and other items that Google indexes.
For an existing site, be sure to check for canonical URLs. Go the address bar of your browser and type in www.yourwebsite.com (insert your URL) and http://yourwebsite.com (minus the www). Does the URL appear the exact way typed with and without the ww or does it redirect to one or the other? Some websites have the same site but with two URLs, such as www.example .com and http://example.com. To avoid having a canonical URL (the same site landing on two different URLs) you need to declare one version of your home page the primary domain so the search engines know the main domain to index (and avoid tripping the search engines). If you don’t do this, you could have 15 versions of your home page, and search engines may get confused as to what the main domain is.