Proper search engine optimization involves altering elements of your site in order to be found. However, it should never rely on trickery or manipulation of customers, partner sites or search engines.
Seeking SEO Help on Craigslist
A friend recently posted an ad on Craigslist for SEO help and the replies were a little scary. The responses varied from pushy to worthless to unethical to wonderful.
Unfortunately many of the replies offered Black Hat practices (unethical and worthless spam techniques likely to annoy others, and worse, Google) or she got responses that revealed that the people offering to help hadn't done even minimal research on the subject themselves.*
Simple Guide to SEO and SEM
In the end she found someone great. But we wanted to write this post to give business site owners a baseline of knowledge about SEO and SEM to help them through the process whether doing it themselves or hiring out.
Quick Definition of SEO and SEM
Search Engine Optimization is related to the website itself. It is how the content of the site tells visitors and search engines what the site is about and the information likely to be found there. SEM is Search Engine Marketing which is the practice of using search engines to drive traffic to your site.
SEO is the on-site component of the larger topic of SEM. SEM is now sometimes referred to as "inbound marketing". To us, it's all part of marketing - getting found and contacted by prospects with the goal of making a sale.
SEO and SEM Basics - Terms and Advice
It's our belief that SEO/SEM are much less complicated and technical than they sound. Below are some terms you are likely to encounter and their simple explanations and best practices.
- Keywords - Words and terms that describe your business, product and service. These words are also used by prospects when searching for your business or product or service. For example, Right Hand Planning is all about Boston small business marketing services. Look around this site and notice how often we use those and related terms.
- Title Tags - Simply the words that appear in the top of the browser window on each page. It makes sense to title each page with keywords related to the page's content to tell visitors and search engine spiders what the page is about.
- URL Selection - The terms in the actual web address link, for example: www.competitor.com/buylargebluewidgets. Use keywords in the actual link to tell search engines what's on that page
- Meta Tags and Description - These are just summaries of the page or site that appear on the search results page as a brief description under the site name. Technically speaking meta tags are indeed placed in the "code" (well, html) but they are just plain-English descriptive sentences, nothing more.
- On Site Keywords - Do the headlines and body copy talk about the topic of the site? This site's titles and paragraphs talks about things related to Boston small business marketing tools and techniques. I want readers and search engines to think that's what this site is about. Because it is.
- Anchor Link Text - Search engines take cues about the content of your site from the words used in the site's hyperlinks. Notice the descriptive difference between small business marketing services and click here for our products.
- Alt Tags - Alt tags are words that describe a picture in case the photo doesn't load. If the subject of a page is healthy fruit and the picture is of an orange, a good alt tag would be "a healthy orange". Most sites have a box to enter this information in the photo upload tool. If not, there is an html tag that can be inserted.
- Filenames - Take advantage of photos and video filenames by using descriptive keyword terms in the actual name of the file. As in the healthy fruit example above, name the file "healthyorange.jpg" instead of "DSC0047.jpg".
- On-site Blog - The advantage of having a blog on your website is that it lets you practice these SEO techniques on an ongoing basis. Also, now that the web is 15 years old search engines like Google use the presence of fresh content to determine yoru site's relevancy from one with old information or one abandoned altogether.
Backlinks - Backlinks are links on other sites that link back to your site. How many backlinks you have and the sites they come from, as well as the keywords in the link text, are all part of the picture that tell search engines how your site fits into the online universe.
Important Note: A solid backlink effort takes time to create initially and should also be an ongoing process.
Obtain Local, Free and Descriptive Backlinks First
List a new site, or newly marketed site, on all the free and local listing sites first. This definitely includes Google, Yahoo and Bing, but also sites like Boston.com, yp.com, citysearsch, etc.
It's easier to compete on the internet locally than it is nationally or internationally because you have fewer competitor's locally. Of course this depends on your business model, some companies are local only and should emphasize local sites online while national and international retailers can benefit from local but will also want wider exposure.
Declare Your Presence Clearly in Expected Places
Find Relevant Sites, Then Find More Like Them
Find good sites and use Use Alexa's Related Links tool to find more similar sites. Type a competitor's url in quotation marks in Google to find all the backlinks they have and seek backlinks from the same or similar sites.
Additional Off-site Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Tools and Ideas
- Articles on third-party sites (PR, video sites, article sites)
- Local links and listings
- Review sites
- Wiki and directories
- Off-site blog (if blog not integrated onto your own site)
- Social Media
- Blog comments
Useful SEO and SEM Online Tools
Google Keyword Suggestion Tool (www.adwords.com - must create free adwords account)
Additional information on how and where to establish backlinks is another large section of Search Engine Marketing that can be researched or we'll cover in a future post.
Take a Tour of SEO Techniques in Practice
Pick any site, especially a competitor's site that comes up at the top of the search engine results page (SERP), and notice how they've implemented the techniques described above. Alone, these details are not enough to sway search engines much but cumulatively they will have a significant impact.
* One respondent wanted five-hundred dollars to add meta tags to her site. Perhaps we should have sent that person a link to Google's Webmastercental Blog to read Google's declaration that for ranking purposes they'd stopped emphasizing meta tags some time ago.