An introduction to SEO
Learn how to speak to humans and robots at the same time.
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization..
Search Engine Optimization is the strategic process of constructing your website’s structure and content in a manner that search engines and humans can both understand.
A large portion of SEO is just common sense, once you know the basic rules, and some of it can be quite challenging.
Bing claims to use over 1000 metrics when determining page relevancy and rank.
Google claims to use over 200 primary metrics. Each of those have 50 variations. That means Googles uses over 10,000 metrics to rank your website.
Most aspects of SEO seem to be locked in a black box whose secrets are only known to a select few – if known by anyone at all. And that is true about the precise metrics search engines use. They ARE secretive about the specifics.
As frustrating as that might be, it’s actually a good thing. If Google were completely transparent about the specific metrics they use to determine relevance, it’d be incredibly easy to game the system and take advantage. That’d be bad for everyone.
And in the late 90’s that’s exactly how search engines operated. Keyword stuffing and link-buying/spamming made searching near useless. More on that later.
It is impossible to know what is important to Google. A lot of it is pretty intuitive once you understand the ethos of search.
Yahoo, Bing, Google and all other search engines have one goal. To deliver relevant results to their users. The more relevant, the more helpful they are. And the more helpful a search engine is, the more users will continue to stay with that platform.
It’s in the search engines best interest to protect the specifics of their algorithms’ inner workings. Yet, it is also beneficial to share guiding prindciples that will benefit everyone. That’s just what Google has done.
Google has publicized what is important for SEO’s to focus on.
Google has released what the 3 most important metrics are that they use when determining page. There has always been speculation on what Google values most, but now it’s known for sure.
SEO has two sides you need to focus on
There is the technical side to SEO, and there is the content strategy side of SEO.
Technical SEO includes your website’s codebase.
Search Engines favor sites optimized for their crawlers. Your website’s markup structure is important to search engines.
It plays a significant roll when search engines rank your site. The technical SEO is strategized and implemented during the coding phase of your website. If done well, once it’s done, it’s done and will not need constant tweaking.
The other side of SEO is your content strategy.
As the saying goes “Content is King!” And for so many reasons this is true.
Developing and implementing a successful SEO content strategy is never over. It’s a continual process, much like merchandising for a retailer, the job is never done.
Set it and forget it
Unless you’ll be working with the code and markup of your website, you don’t have to worry about this after it’s done… as long as it’s done correctly.
Ensure that your web designer or web developer is knowledgeable and capable of implementing search engine optimized code.
If your technical SEO is ignored or implemented incorrectly, it can hinder if not damage all your other seo and ppc efforts. This is an area where several businesses can get the short end of the stick.
A poor technical SEO strategy can actually work against your visibility!
Technical SEO isn’t a black box mystery. This area of SEO is publicized and encouraged by all search engines. It benefits everyone.
Search engines have a hard time knowing what your website is about with poor technical SEO. It’s like having a poorly designed website or one that is improperly coded.
Your human visitors will have a difficult time finding relevant content. Search engines have the same problem when a website’s technical SEO isn’t executed well.
So what is technical SEO?
First, optimize your website’s code for speed. Search engines place a high value on how fast your website loads.
A key areas to pay attention to would include:
- Optimizing and compressing images
- Minifying scripts and styles.
- Concatenating scripts to get the fewest HTTP request as possible.
- Utilizing a CDN to distribute site assets.
- Enabling site cacheing.
HTML SEO Markup
The Title Tag is extremely important. It defines what each page of your website is about. Imagine each page of your website as a book. Would you find it helpful if every book were titled the same? Ensure there is a plan for your Title Tags to be implemented. Use unique and relevant content for every page of your website.
The Description Tag is the description used for each web page. This is the blurb of copy that appears on search result pages describing what the page is about. This is important to both search engines and human readers.
The title and description tag are both perfect locations for your keyword strategy. We’ll get to this in more detail later in this article.
The Title Tag is extremely important. It defines what each page of your website is about. Imagine each page of your website as a book. Would you find it helpful if every book were titled the same? Ensure there is a plan for your Website copy displays in all different sizes and locations. We structure content this way to imply importance and help with readability. Behind the scenes, content is displayed using HTML tags such as <h1> <h2> <p> and more…
Each web page should only contain one <h1> tag. The <h1> should be relevant to the web page’s subject. Be sure to use your keyword strategy here as well.
The title of this page is in the hero panel. It’s the subject for this page. It is using the h1 tag. It tells you and search engines both what this page is about.
All the large titles through the rest of this page are displayed with <h2> heading tags. These “titles” define what each section of copy is about. This helps humans and search engines understand this page’s content even more.Title Tags to be implemented. Use unique and relevant content for every page of your website.
CSS – How your layout can affect your SEO
CSS defines the layout of your HTML markup page structure. This allows you to focus the important content on each page of your website.
You can hide content from being visible. You can even bring in new content that isn’t there when the webpage first loads.
Google wants your most relevant content for each page near the top, or as close as you can get it. The higher up that content is on the page, the more important it must be.
Web browsers interpret html using a “box model.” This means groups of html are contained within a block. By default, the first “block” of content in your html is rendered in the top left corner of the screen. The next block is placed to the right if there is room or underneath.
The browser renders all your markup this way. That’s why the content that is at the top of your page is at beginning of your markup. The content on the bottom of the page is at the end of your markup.
This means, web designers have the ability and flexibilty to set a higher priority on the more relevant content. What appears at the top of the page does not have to be what is first in your markup.
Remember, search engines see your content and code, not necessarily how your site “looks.”
Your website probably has a navigation bar or a sidebar. Odds are the content in those areas are the same on every webpage. Chances are, those areas are also coded near the top of the webpage document. If so, you’re pushing your relevant content further down the page.
A professional web developer should change your markup. Your relevant content needs to be closer to the top.
The appearance can be identical, but the priority of your markup is considerably different.
JS/CSS – How your navigation and layout can affect your SEO
Some websites use page navigation that relies on AJAX. AJAX can change content on a web page without requiring a full page reload. If your website does this, be aware that it can have drastic effects on search engines ability to fully index your site.
Ensure that if you are relying on advanced technologies like AJAX, that your site’s SEO is not taking a back seat.
If social will be any part of your strategy then you need to ensure that your pages are using the open graph protocol and twitter card meta tags.
These are the tags and meta data that your social sites will use when your webpages are shared.
These tags define many attributes about each webpage such as page title, excerpt, main images and more. It removes the guesswork for all these social platforms.
Instead of relying on them to figure out what is important on teach webpage, you can tell them.
Your Content Strategy
Developing your content strategy for SEO can be an immense undertaking.
There’s a LOT to know. And, it’s not something you just do once. It’s a consistent effort. But, if you get your content strategy right, it’ll make your execution and upkeep tremendously more efficient and effective.
Relevance and Engaging (contextual)
Create quality content. Are you targeting your content to your site visitors specific needs? Or are you simply drafting “brochure” style content that is broad and impersonal?
Are you doing what everyone else is doing and pumping out content that can be found anywhere else? Like your competitors’ website?
- How is this useful or helpful to your visitors?
- How is this enhancing your relevance? If all you’re doing is devaluing the same content as your competitors, who are you helping?
Offer real value and substance to your site visitors. Speak to them as if you were there in person. How would you sell a half sold person?
Google has released guidelines on “concepts” you should focus on when developing your content.
In tandem with creating quality content is your use of keywords. Keyword strategy deserves its own article.
Suffice it to say, a good keyword strategy involves:
How are users finding you or providers like you? What search terms are being used? What you offer and how you describe your service may be different than how the market actually searches for that service. An example would be if you had an article about “low air fare” vs how users actually search “cheap flights”.
What keywords are users searching for? What gets more traffic, “san francisco hotel” or “luxury inn san francisco california”? Which version delivers more relevant results? Etc…
What keywords is your competition ranking for? Are you even aware of who you are actually competing against online?
Taking all the information from the research, how do you best use your keywords on your website and content.
Just use common sense.
Be conscious of your language. Use your keywords naturally, but avoid overuse.
Also, avoid the overuse of pronouns or abstractions. Avoid not using the keywords as often as you should. For example, for this site, it’s a conscious effort for me to use the term “website” instead of the less searched word “site” which I use more naturally myself.
Do it right
At the end of the day, there are no quick tricks. Even if you were to find a loophole in the search engines algorithms that would rocket you to the top by some trick, you can bet, you’ll pay the price shortly when the hole gets plugged.
The search engines intent is to provide relevant results that their users are going to care about. That’s what you should focus on when working with your SEO. What is relevant and helpful to my visitors?Focus on your visitors.
Focus on the documented guiding principles for generating content. Focus on how to effectively execute your message. Focus on those things and you’ll reap the benefits for a long time.
Just don’t quit.
Your SEO efforts are kind of like your upkeep for your brick and mortar store. No matter how clean your bathrooms are today, you need to clean them again and again. If you don’t, just like your website, it’ll start to stink.
People, and search engines, will consider you checked out and less concerned with providing a relevant experience.