Do you see web optimization as something shrouded in mystery? Contrary to popular belief, SEO is not an ancient, unknowable magic that only a select few have understanding of (though there are those who would have you think that).
Instead, search engine optimization simply involves taking certain steps to make sure your website is as visible as possible in search results. Most of these steps are quite practical, and you don’t have to follow every SEO trick in the book for it to work. Once you understand SEO, the work is mostly in staying consistent.
How Does SEO Work?
SEO is essentially a way to get “organic” listings in SERPS (search engine results pages). When someone uses a search engine website such as Google, Yahoo, or Ask.com, the search engine returns results for that search term in order of relevance. Search engines determine relevance based on a number of factors. The point of SEO is to optimize your website to give as many cues as possible to search engines so that they consider your site relevant to its users.
SEO is different from paid search ads. Though ads do appear in search results, those spaces aren’t considered organic.
On-Page vs. Off-Page
In SEO circles you hear a lot about on-page and off-page SEO. When you modify your website for optimization reasons, this is on-page SEO. Any SEO you do outside of your website is off-page. You should use a combination of on-page and off-page techniques, since search engines use both to rank the relevance of your website.
On-Page SEO Factors
Good content: Good content is content that fulfills a demand and is also easily shareable. Whether the demand is for telling home gardeners the best time to plant tomatoes, making people laugh, or explaining how to speed up a WordPress site, the content must be helpful and relevant to its intended audience.
Shareable content can instantly be shared from the same web page with things like social share buttons and an “email this” option. This is because when people share your content across the web, search engines use the links back to your website, called back links, as indication of your website’s relevance.
Keyword density: This is simply a way to measure how often a certain word or phrase occurs in your text. These words and phrases are search terms that you want people and search engines to associate with your website. There is some argument as to how relevant keyword density is to today’s SEO. Some would argue that if you just write naturally on a topic without concentrating on keyword density, you should naturally come up with content that ranks. Others would argue the importance of purposefully including keywords in your text. There is no set figure on how often a keyword should occur in text. The main thing to remember is to avoid “stuffing” your text with too many keywords. Instead, use them in a way that makes the content read naturally.
URL: Your page URLs should not only include relevant keywords, but also the category hierarchy of the page. For example, a web page selling replacement Ford 4X4 headlights might look like:
This gives search engines a good indication of what the page is about.
Headings and captions: Search engines note when you include keywords in headings and picture captions. When web crawlers look at your HTML, headings are indicated with the tags H1, H2, and H3, with H1 being the main title of the page.
File names: Names of pictures, video, and other uploaded files let search engines know what that particular web page is about. “Alt tags” for pictures also count toward SEO. An alt tag indicates alternative text for pictures to be used when the picture isn’t available or for visually impaired users. In WordPress and other platforms you type alt tag text in the Alternate Text box.
Off-Page SEO Factors
Back links: back links are links on other websites that lead back to your website. When someone links to your website, it indicates to search engines that people like your content.
Social signals: This includes Facebook shares, tweets, and social bookmarks like StumbleUpon and Reddit. Like back links, seach engines see social signals as signs that people like your website.
Social media: Being involved in social media can really boost web traffic and SEO overall. Know where your readers and customers congregate, and interact with them there. Social media helps to create a conversation around your content and website.
Directories and review sites: Including your business in online directories like Google Plus for Business helps you to show up in more places across the web. Review sites like Yelp and Angie’s List help to spread the word about your business, thus driving more traffic.
How to Know if It’s Working
So now you’ve adopted some SEO techniques, and are implementing them to boost your search rankings. How do you know if your efforts are paying off? This is where the wonderful world of analytics comes in. With analytics, you can monitor your website’s stats such as amount of traffic, which pages people are viewing, and your bounce rate. You can also keep track of the competition. Google Analytics is a popular tool for this, and usually the first one that webmasters encounter. After mastering Google Analytics, you can go more in-depth with a number of analytics tools that perform a variety of functions.
Staying on Top of It All
SEO is an ever-changing field, so it’s good to stay on top of recent developments so that you can apply them yourself. Official blogs are a great source of SEO news and information. The blog of Google’s head of webspam Matthew Cutts is updated regularly with SEO news and info from Google. Industry websites like Search Engine Land and Social Media Today are also great sources.
Once you demystify SEO, the execution isn’t all that difficult. No one of these techniques is a magic bullet. They all work together to optimize a website. The main thing to keep in mind is this: How can I make my content and overall website more appealing, helpful, and relevant? Make this the driving force of your efforts, and you’re sure to see positive results.