WARNING: This is going to be a looooooooong post. But then it’s been a bugbear of mine for a long time so I might as well throw it all down (what I’ve been learning on this subject, that is…)
Something that’s been on my list of things I know I REALLY REALLY need to do is LEARN MORE ABOUT SEO (i.e. Search Engine Optimisation).
The subject has scared me for quite a long time.
Because there seems to be so much to it, and so many different material and opinions out there, and a lot of people making a lot of money from being SEO experts.
To date I have just had this in the back of my mind as a nagging problem to be addressed whilst getting on with actually providing good quality content for our site and a million other things.
That is – until now. I have for a while been jumping in and out of various pieces of free information on SEO, blog posts, articles, books etc. Today I plunged a bit deeper and I now at least have a grasp of the basics.
What I’ve learned about our site
First of all, I’ve learned that our little site has been naiively plodding along, completely oblivious to what it means to be SEO ‘optimised’. No optimised titles, no tags, very few internal links…
What I’ve learned about SEO
For now just some basics, but enough to stop me being scared about it. I’ve learned what anchor text is, what people mean when they talk about ‘link juice‘, the difference between on-site and off-site SEO, how search engines view your site and what’s important in the modern world of SEO.
How Search Engines Work
Search engines attempt to give you the best results possible in relation to an expression you enter (your search query). If the search engine does a good job, you’re more likely to use that search engine again. Every search engine has their own algorithm and Google seems to be doing the best of all of them so probably has the most powerful search methods (no surprises there). Regardless of the method used, this process is called indexing. Search engines scan and try and ‘index’ the entire internet so they can present an appropriately filtered version back to you when you search for information. To do this, each search engine has what are referred to as bots, or crawlers, that constantly scan the web, indexing websites for content and following links. If your website has not been indexed, it is impossible for your website to appear in the search results.
What the search engines look for
Search engines look at two main areas when determining what your website is about and how to prioritize it:
- Content: what is your website actually about
- Links: who is actually linking to your site (which gives your site credibility)
When the search engine responds to a search query, it looks for the most relevant and authoritative content. In order to provide appropriate ranking for the millions of sites out there, within each of the two parameters above, there is an awful lot more to be determined (e.g. not all sites linking to your site ‘score’ the same, a link from a high ranking site gives your site more authority than a link from a low ranking site).
How to Rank
Ranking is done according to keywords, which relate to the query people enter when using a search engine. Various tools exist to track how a website ranks for a specific keyword or keyword phrase over time. Therefore designing good SEO for your site comes down to understanding how people are finding your site in the first place and with what keyword searches you want to be found – i.e. how you rank for each keyword.
Keywords are less important than content these days
In the past, search engines have relied solely on indexing web page content according to keywords and meta keyword tags. This approach led to what’s known as black-hat SEO tactics, where website engineers intentionally fill their webpages with keywords so they would rank at the top of the search engines, even if their webpages were completely irrelevant to the search result. According to most blogs & texts I’ve read, the focus is now much more on content rather than on keywords with most search engines claiming they do not even use meta keywords when indexing content.
Long-Tail vs Short-Tail Keywords
This is one of the biggest things I just learned about SEO which I never really thought about. Trying to rank for highly competitive keyword terms is likely to be difficult and frustrating. What I hadn’t thought about is that even if you do manage to get results with some oof the more common (and usually more generic) search terms then the ‘quality’ of the traffic will be low in terms of the readers interest in what you specifically have to offer. There are many more unique searches than there are generic ones. The trick is optimising your site for these more specific terms. This is called the theory of the long-tail.
We’ve established that it’s key to choose the right keywords for optimisation (another aspect, well, probably the main one, of SEO which I found scary before and wouldn’t know where or how to start). Using specific types of product or particular qualities of a product or service or a specific location is a good way to turn a generic keyword term into a ‘long-tail’ keyword. In our particular case, before this research I would have thought that ‘Health Articles’, ‘Life Coaching’ and ‘Money Saving Tips’ were examples of keywords for our site. I’m not naiive enough not to realise that we stand little chance of ranking for these (short-tail) keywords. Instead, I will have a look at our particular articles and what we are specifically addressing and optimise ‘long-tail’ keywords for these articles, e.g. instead of Health Articles, maybe I should use ‘Wonder-food Health Articles’ – maybe that is still not specific enough – I’m still learning so I’m going to look into this more but now I at lest get the concept, and it makes a lot of sense.
More about Inbound Links
I’m not sure I was really clear or said enough about links above and how they give your site authority, so just to be clear, each inbound link holds different weight. For instance, a link from a highly authoritative website will give a website a bigger boost than a link from a small blog site. This boost is sometimes referred to as link juice.
On Page SEO vs Off-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to your website – i.e. everything you can control on each of your webpages and across your site to help the search engines to find, index, and understand your content. Off-page SEO covers all aspects of SEO that happen off your website to get quality inbound links (i.e. relating to content and links above).
Website Content (On-Page SEO)
Apart from the obvious need to have content which is valuable and engaging, the structure of your webpages will actually make a difference to your success in terms of SEO (another big lesson for me). The headline title in the webpage is important and should ideally contain the keyword or phrase that the page covers. Other body formatting such as use of headers and bold text to highlight keywords will help stress the importance of what you are optimising for and such highlighting will give these words and expressions more ‘weight’ with the search engine bot when it crawls your site.
Every page has a ‘Title‘ tag. This is the text snippet that appears in the upper left corner or on the tabs of your web browser. The title tag is also the blue link that the search engines show when they list your webpage on their results page. The title tag does not necessariuly have to be the same as the title shown on your web page.
Then there are two ‘Meta‘ tags – meta description and meta keywords.
The meta description is a brief summary which should be used to describe what the specific webpage is about. Meta descriptions are usually the first place a search engine will look to find text to put under your blue link when they list your website. Without this the text will usually be taken from the body text of the page. The meta description is usually limited to 150 characters.
Meta keywords describes a collection of keywords which can be entered to be associated with that web page. As stated earlier, in the past search engines used this field to determine what keywords to rank your webpage for, however now, most search engines claim they don’t use these so much, if at all.
Headline tags are tags used to format the text on your page differently which highlights the text in a style of your choosing but also gives more priority to these keywords when they are scanned by the search engine bots. This is why the use of headline tags within your page is so important. Not only does this make the page easier to digest from a reader’s perspective but you will also give the search engines definitive clues as to what is important on the page.
Pictures can also help search engines using their file name and alt-tags. The alt-tags are a set of fields much like the tags described above which allow keywords and a brief description to be associated with each picture.
Words rather than generic numbers will apparently help the search engines in their quest to best understand your website.
Internal linking is when you link between pages within your own website. It is important to use ‘anchor text’ when linking this way. Anchor text is when rather than using the URL of the page, you associate the URL with a keyword or phrase. That keyword or phrase is the anchor text. When anchor text is used, it implies that the page you are linking to is about the keyword or phrase you use as your anchor. This is yet another way you can help out the search engines.
I’m not going to say too much about off-page SEO, because I’ve actually tackled or will tackle it in various other posts. Each Off-Page SEO topic is vast in itself and my main bugbear when it came to SEO was how to optimise my site for SEO purposes (i.e. on-page SEO). I have learned plenty about off-page SEO too under this heading so I will touch on each point here if only to refer to where I am at the moment and how I have or will describe it elsewhere (so you, my dear reader, will still get the full picture ;-)).
Off-page SEO means building relationships, networking, commenting, sharing and caring. This process of building relationships is called link building. Who is linking to you, how they are linking to you, and how your content is shared in
social networks and across the web are all factors that can have a significant impact on your ability to rank on the search engines results page.
Who is Linking to You?
There are plenty of free tools out there to show who is linking to you. I don’t know them all yet but they include GetClicky, Google Analytics, Alexa and more. Many of these also tell you an awful lot more including your rank, which keywords are currently finidng your site etc. I will most likely be saying more about this in a separate post as I find out more myself. When I do, I will link to that post or posts here.
Types of links
Again, I have a lot more to learn here (I told you the subject was vast, didn’t I?) – so far I know there is a difference between reciprocal links and one-way links and there is something more I need to learn about no-follow and do-follow. Each of these things affects how the ‘link juice’ is handled and how much you get. That’s all I know for now but again, when I know more I will post it or a link here. Or if you are feeling fruity, why not go ahead and google these terms yourself now? I’m sure there’s not much to this particular item but at the moment I don’t know what I don’t know. If you find something out of interest you could always add a comment below 😉
Using Social Media to Spread Content
Oooooh this is a biggie. Tackled elsewhere and there are so many different posts I would suggest you go back to this one (my original plan for all the things I would tackle on my site growing journey, shared with the world and MDBP) to see them all.
Using Email to Spread Content
Another MASSIVE topic for me this one. We have been very very very slow to actually add anything to our site in terms of an email list. We have had the site for nearly a year now and have only just created a very basic facility to mail our readers updates using feedburner. I know there’s an expression floating around ‘It’s in the list’ (i.e. the money, I think) but it’s just never been a priority. Plus I never wanted to bug people. Of course the whole concept of ‘opting-in‘ and being able to unsubscribe should answer that but until recently I’ve been kind of against emailing people. I think I missed the obvious. Anyways, I’m not against email lists anymore – I just want us to do them right.
there are a number of ways to research and find long-tail keywords that are right for your website (apparently, I still haven’t tried yet!)
Web analytics tools like those mentioned above (GetClicky, Google Analytics, Alexa) will allow you to see what
organic search keywords are already driving traffic to your website. These keywords will provide a starter for 10 and provide you with a list of keywords and performance which you can benchmark your future SEO efforts against. In addition to this there are several ‘Keyword Research Tools‘ such as the Google Adwords Keyword Tool which will give a list of related keywords, metrics and all manner of useful information for your keyword research (which seems to be primarily about judging the competition). In addition to all of these tools, these days Google uses something called Google Instant to predictively suggest related search phrases every time you enter a search. This itself is also a good way of exploring potential keywords for your site as it shows what people have been searching for (from the horses – i.e. Google’s mouth!).
I haven’t really mentioned tracking here, nor am I going to too much, aside to say it’s obviously key to monitor, track and revise on a regular basis which is something I intend to learn more about and do (and then post about here also). Checking periodically on your rank (to ensure it is moving in the right direction), your visitors, time people stay on your site, keyword searches, inbound links etc. is going to help in continually improving these metrics.
What gets measured gets improved!
I did warn you it was going to be a long post, but hopefully you have found this information useful. Now it’s time for me to put some of this new found knowledge into practice (hopefully this post is already a half-decent example of some of the points).