What is Search Engine Optimization?
When a hungry would-be customer types “Mexican restaurants” into their Google search bar, they have a wealth of delicious options at their fingertips within a matter of seconds. Google and other search engines like Bing and Yahoo seem to effortlessly sift through millions upon millions of webpages in seconds, somehow locating the best and most relevant needles in a massive haystack of irrelevant webpages. The truth is that the methods search engines use to rank webpages are rather astounding. In order for your webpages to stand out amongst the competition, you’ll need to understand these methods and build content accordingly. This is known as Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.
How to Get Started with Search Engine Optimization
The job of a search engine is to find web pages that are most relevant to whatever the user has typed into the search bar. The first step in SEO is to ask, “what are my potential customers typing into their search bars?” For a grocery store it could be a phrase like “fresh organic produce” or “family size Doritos.” These “keyword phrases” will serve as the framework for your SEO efforts. You should make a list of 10 or so keyword phrases that you want to target website-wide. Choose these phrases based on:
- Relevance: Phrases should be relevant to the content on your website. You can optimize a webpage for more than one keyword phrase, so don’t be too narrow-minded when selecting these.
- Search traffic: You may choose to battle the competition for the most popular search phrases, or focus on a few less popular phrases where competition is scarce. Google’s Keyword Planner and Bing’s Keyword Research tool can tell you how popular a particular search phrase is. These tools offer a wealth of data beyond search phrase popularity, so they’re worth checking out.
- Competition: Use a search engine to look up your keyword phrases to find what webpages are included in the results. You’ll find where your competitors stand and where opportunities for growth lie.
- Current ranking: A search engine will display the top 10 results on the first SERP (Search Engine Results Page), 11-20 on the next, and so on. Internet users almost never advance beyond the first SERP, so if your webpage isn’t in the top 10, it may as well not exist at all. Such is the harsh reality of life in the search engine world. Focus your efforts on your web pages ranked just outside the top 10, if possible. Land your webpage in the top 10 and you’ll see a dramatic increase in search traffic.
How to Optimize the Content on Your Website
After you’ve determined which keyword phrases you want to focus on, it’s time to include them in your web design. (It’s important to remember that search engines rank individual webpages, not entire websites, so effective SEO requires a thorough examination of each and every webpage.) Here are a few free, simple strategies that you can implement on your own using your website builder:
URLs: The URL is the web address displayed in the bar at the top of the screen. Words in the URL are very important for ranking webpages. A key to effective SEO is to place the targeted key word phrase for a webpage in that webpage’s URL. For example, if you wanted to optimize the Men’s T-Shirts page on your website for the keyword phrase “men’s t-shirts,” the URL for that page should be “www.company.com/mens-t-shirts.”
Title tags: The title tag is your webpage’s headline as shown on the SERP. When determining what to include in a title tag, make sure to include your targeted keyword phrase. Generally, the keyword phrase should come first, followed by the brand name; e.g. “Womens Gold Chains | GoldChains.com.” In this example, the title tag is optimized for the search term “womens gold chains.” You can even put multiple keyword phrases into a title tag if they are relevant to the webpage. Remember, title tags must fit within the limited space available, so keep them under 70 characters.
Main content: Search engines scan entire webpages and count how many times a keyword phrase appears. This means that you should include your keyword phrases verbatim whether it be on your home page, in a blog post, or any other form of content. A good rule of thumb is to make the keyword phrase 3%-5% of the total word count on a page, and that pages should have at least 100 words of text. Make sure to only include the keyword phrase where it makes logical sense. Do not overdo it. “Keyword stuffing” is the practice of inserting the keyword phrase a ridiculous amount of times in an attempt to trick the search engine into giving the page a higher ranking. Search engines are smart enough to notice this and will exclude any perpetrators from being shown on the SERP, so it’s not useful.
Links: Including links on your webpages is a sure-fire way to improve their rankings. Search engines assess the number of these links between pages. A webpage that has a link to content in a different area of the website is more useful than one that doesn’t. Find ways to include links to other areas of your website on every webpage. This helps your visitors easily access more content on your website. As an example, this very post includes a link to another relevant blog post titled “Effective Websites” just a few paragraphs below.
Anchor text: This is the technical term for the link text that users can click on to be directed to another page. Use the target keyword phrase of the page you’re linking to as the text for the link; e.g. the anchor text for a link to a page about building birdhouses should say “how to build birdhouses.” You could also title this page “How to Build Birdhouses” to help it become more relevant.
The Importance of Website Quality
Optimizing for keywords is not the only thing to focus on, to be successful your webpages must be quality as well. While search engines are incapable of directly measuring quality of content, they are capable of assessing a variety of factors that provide a rather accurate measurement of quality. These include:
- Number of clicks
- Low bounce rate: A “bounce” is when someone clicks the back button within a few seconds of being directed to a webpage. This indicates to the search engine that the user didn’t find the info they needed on the page.
- Short load times
- Good grammar and spelling
- Limited ad space
- Original content
- Updated content
For more information, this article gives a few excellent ideas for building effective websites.
You don’t have to hire a specialist or be an SEO wizard in order to get noticed on the web. Implement these SEO basics and you can be sure to see an increased amount of search traffic to your website. Click here to set up a free consultation.