People often ask, what is search engine optimization (SEO)? It is an understandable question considering Google and others constantly update their algorithms.
When you open up Google, you are looking for something – and chances are you will probably ask a question. In general, search engines work to serve up the websites that best answer those questions.
When you look for something on the internet by putting search keywords into Google or Yahoo or Bing, how far do you look on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP) to find a site that you want? At most, only the first few pages, if that. What if it’s someone else doing the search and looking for your business?
Are you on the first few pages for keywords that describe your business?
Being the most trusted, most visited or best source for information is how you win at SEO.
Making your website visible ahead of the millions of others on the internet is what Search Engine Optimization, or SEO is all about. A website that sits near the top of the SERP is the one that prospects are most likely to click. If your website is not near the top of the results page, then for all practical purposes, your website does not exist.
How SEO works
Search engines look at your site’s content and other people’s websites that link to your content to decide how important your site is compared to someone else’s. In a process called “crawling”, a program goes through every reachable page on your website and puts the major content into a giant database called an index. If a page requires a login for someone to read it, then that page is not reachable and is not indexed. If you do not do anything else, then the search engine looks at what words are used the most in the content and decides for you that those words are the most important to your business. Sometimes the choices that the search engine makes for you are not the best ones.
To help your page ranking, you can do some things yourself to help the search engines make the best keyword choices for you. A good place to start is an assessment of how your site looks to a search engine. From there, you can make changes to make your site to be more SEO friendly.
For example, Moz.com has some free tools to see how the search engines crawl your site at https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/.
A free tool from http://openlinkprofiler.org/ can analyze who has linked to your site’s content. To see what keywords are popular and how your site uses them can be started with freekeywords.wordtracker.com.
Google itself will help you at http://www.googlekeywordtool.com/.
Bing’s equivalent is at http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster/.
Most free tools require registration. Tools that can begin to help analyze and improve your SEO performance on a paid basis include SEO Power Suite (about $299), though individual components from the suite can be bought for less.
Improving content of page
The content of a page is what makes it worthy of a search result position. It is what the user came to see and is thus extremely important to the search engines. As such, it is important to create good content. From an SEO perspective, all good content has two attributes. Good content must:
1) Supply a demand.
2) Be linkable.
Just like the world’s markets, information is affected by supply and demand. The best content is that which does the best job of supplying the largest demand. For example a Wikipedia article that explains to the world the definition of Web 2.0. It can be a video, an image, a sound, or text, but it must supply a demand in order to be considered good content.
From an SEO perspective, there is no difference between the best and worst content on the Internet if it is not linkable. If people can’t link to it, search engines will be very unlikely to rank it. As a result the content won’t drive traffic to the given website. A few examples of this include: AJAX-powered image slide shows, content only accessible after logging in and content that can’t be reproduced or shared. Content that does not supply a demand or is not linkable is bad in the eyes of the search engines.
Utilizing title tags
Title tags are the second most important on-page factor for SEO, after content. Title tags, technically called title elements, define the title of a document. Title tags are often used on search engine results pages (SERP) to display preview snippets for a given page. They are important both for SEO and social sharing.
The title element of a web page is meant to be an accurate and concise description of a page’s content. This element is critical to both user experience and search engine optimization. It creates value in three specific areas: relevancy, browsing, and in the search engine results pages.
Optimal Format for title tags: Primary Keyword – Secondary Keyword | Brand Name
Optimal Length for Search Engines: Google typically displays the first 50-60 characters of a title tag, or as many characters as will fit into a 512-pixel display. If you keep your titles under 55 characters, you can expect at least 95 percent of your titles to display properly. Keep in mind that search engines may choose to display a different title than what you provide in your HTML. Titles in search results may be rewritten to match your brand, the user query, or other considerations. There are tools available which can show how your title tag would read.
Structuring the Uniform Resource Locator (URL)
Along with smart internal linking, SEOs should make sure that the category hierarchy of the given website is reflected in URLs.
The following is a good example of URL structure:
This URL clearly shows the hierarchy of the information on the page. This information is used to determine the relevancy of a given web page by the search engines. Due to the hierarchy, the engines can deduce that the page likely pertains to a specific topic. This makes it an ideal candidate for search results related to that topic. All of this information can be speculated on without even needing to process the content on the page.
The following is a bad example of URL structure
Unlike the first example, this URL does not reflect the information hierarchy of the website. Search engines can see that the given page relates to the domain but cannot determine what the page is about. The reference to “?p=578544” does not directly infer anything that a web surfer is likely to search for. This means that the information provided by the URL is of very little value to search engines.
URL structure is important because it helps the search engines to understand relative importance and adds a helpful relevancy metric to the given page. It is also helpful from an anchor text perspective because people are more likely to link with the relevant word or phrase if the keywords are included in the URL.
Making Your Site Better
Once you assess how your current site is, then you can begin to make changes to improve your ranking. Here are some tips to help your website.
- Write your content using keywords that accurately describe your business. Don’t just use technical jargon, but also mix in generic terms. Remember that you are writing for people to read your content, not just for a search engine to index it.
- Encourage people to share and like your content on social media sites such as Facebook. Those links to your site are among the most influential factors today.
- Do not plagiarize from other sites. If you cut and paste content from someone else’s site, the original site gets the credit for the better rank, not yours. This is a prevalent problem in eCommerce sites where the manufacturer’s descriptions for products are blindly copied. Write original product descriptions.
- Keep your content fresh. The search engines will visit your site more often when it sees that there is new content to index.
- If you do not have time to do the SEO work yourself, then there are many legitimate SEO firms available to help you. If you do not get the placement you want from your own writing, then it might be time to get help.
For long-term SEO success, you have to keep visitors coming back to your site. That means continuing to publish content that people are looking for and want to read. It’s a continual process of seeing what visitors respond to and refining what your website offers.
By understanding how search engines work, even after the next search engine update, your website will always perform at its best.
Submitted by Nick Pascarella, partner at TruBambu (www.trubambu.com), a business technology consultancy company, and Art Hendela, President of Hendela System Consultants, Inc.