You don’t have to be an SEO expert to optimize your site for search engines.
Of course more knowledge is better, and it can be worthwhile to hire an SEO professional. On the other hand, you can optimize your site yourself with basic SEO knowledge and see results. If you choose to hire a search engine optimization company, you can make more informed decisions if you understand basic SEO.
Choose a website hosting provider that offers tools, tips and how-to articles that can help you to get started faster and be more successful at SEO.
Overview of SEO
Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the use of various techniques to make web pages rank high in relevant search engine results. The goal of SEO is to bring more people to your website when they search online for content that you have at your site.
SEO is only part of making your website successful. Increased traffic will benefit you only if the visitors are your target audience and they find what they’re looking for. Good SEO brings your targeted audience to your site. Good website content and design help keep them there.
The first part of SEO is creating quality content with relevant keywords in the right places. The second part is getting inbound links. Both are ongoing projects. Your competitors are working on their sites, and search engine algorithms (how search engines score web pages) change.
Content and SEO
Search engine bots look for is content that’s good, fresh, unique, and focused.
Of course bots can’t tell if your pages are well-written, but they can tell if you’ve overused (stuffed) keywords on them, and they will penalize your site.
Fresh content gives bots reasons to come back and crawl your site more often. Add new content when you can, and update existing content. Give each page its own topic, and it will do better in search results for that topic.
If you use content that’s already online elsewhere, search engines may choose to display only one of the pages in the search results, and chances are that it won’t be yours. Create unique content that’s tailored for your site. Site visitors as well as bots will appreciate it.
Be sure that bots can read your content. They can’t read Flash or graphics, and poorly formatted HTML can hinder bots from crawling your site.
Keywords and SEO
Keywords are words and phrases that people use to search online. They go from short and general (short tail), such as, “health,” to long and specific (long tail), for example, “best home remedy for a sore throat.” More specific keywords are more likely to bring a targeted audience to your site.
Research and identify the keywords that people will be using to find information at your site. Then, use those keywords in the right places on your web pages. Avoid keyword stuffing, which is overusing keywords or using them out of context. Make the text sound natural.
HTML and SEO
HTML is a markup language to define how web pages and their content display. For example, if you look at the source code of this page, you’ll see <h2> and </h2> around each heading. They’re level 2 heading start and end symbols. Look at the <head> section of the page (at the top), and you’ll see the <title> tag.
The <title> tag and <h1> heading are the most important places to place keywords for each page. The <title> tag appears at the top of browsers and in search results. It can be up to 64 characters long (or longer, but some search engines may truncate it). If you’re offering a local service, be sure to include the name of your city and other keywords for your location. Each page should have a different title. The <h1> heading appears at the start of the page content.
The highest heading level is <h1>. The higher the heading level, and the more weight it’s given. Keywords are still given weight in <h2> and lower-level headings. Each page should have only one <h1> heading, but it can have numerous <h2>, <h3> etc. headings. Headings help site visitors as well as search engines.
Use your chosen keywords in the title, the headings, and within the rest of the content, particularly near the top of the page. Keywords in bulleted items are thought to carry more weight as well.
Link anchor text is a good place for keywords, as is alt text (the alternate text for images). Keywords in URLs are also valuable for SEO.
Meta tags and SEO
Meta tags also appear in the <head> section of the source code. The relevant tags for SEO are the description tag and (possibly) the keyword tag.
The meta description tag should contain a description of the web page and be unique to that page. With some search engines, it appears in search results, so it can influence whether people click on the link to your page.
Search engines used to rely on the meta keyword tag until too many webmasters stuffed it with keywords that weren’t on their web pages. Most search engines disregard it, but some still use it, so it can be useful to include the keywords you use in the meta keyword tag for that page.
Links and SEO
Links from other sites count as votes for your site. Some webmasters will link to your site on their own. You can also contact webmasters of related sites and ask for one-way or reciprocal links. The best inbound or backlinks are from sites with these traits:
- They have a high PageRank (for Google, this is relevant) and/or rank well in search engine results themselves.
- They have related content (content with similar or related keywords).
- They don’t have a lot of links per page.
- The links are one-way and not reciprocal.
In addition, if the anchor text (the text that appears in the link) has keywords that you use at your site, the link is even more valuable.
The hats of SEO: white, black, and gray
White hat SEO techniques are those allowed by search engines. White hat SEO is good. Black is using techniques that try to trick search engines, such as doorway pages. It can get your site banned from search engine results. Gray hat SEO is the gray area of SEO and can sometimes also get your site banned.
Google’s Webmaster Guidelines lists some SEO techniques that are and aren’t acceptable to Google. Most of these guidelines could apply to all search engines.