In this chapter, we'll be taking a closer look at what Search Engine Optimization is all about, what it entails and how is it done.
This chapter will not make you an SEO expert. It will however lead you down the path to the door of SEO knowledge. It will give you a good idea about what the SEO process involves, some of the key areas of focus, and explain some of the main concepts.
What's the Big Deal about Search?
The Internet is a very competitive environment, with literally billions of pages in existence. So how does anyone find the page they're after? Web users find what they need primarily via search with the daily search volume numbers in the hundred millions.
So, if you want your website to generate a significant amount of traffic, it needs to be listed on the major Search Engines and listed high enough enough to be seen.
Statistics show that users are not likely to view listings beyond the first 30 results, with the top 6 (above the fold) listings enjoying the lion's share of clicks.
Beyond just traffic, a high ranking website is valuable for brand perception; Web users often percep Search Engine results as an indicator of authority.
What Search Engines do:
OCrawl the web (via spiders)
OIndex web documents / pages
OProcess user inputed queries
OServe results based on an ordered list of indexed pages (rank)
What SEO does:
OIdentifies key phrases to target, based on search popularity or frequency of those terms.
OCreates accessible content to target those key phrases
OBuilds links to lead Search Engine spiders to the content
Of course, that's a simplification. But simple is a good start.
Key questions that SEO needs to answer:
OIs the content relevant?
OCan the Search Engines' spiders find the content?
OIs the content accessible for the spiders once they've found it?
OAre our pages ranking?
OAre we driving traffic with these rankings?
Creating Relevant Content
We're starting with content because really, content is the most important part of your website. Any value that it adds needs to be added through good, relevant content.
We do this by identifying the key phrases to target:
Keyword research tools allow you to get an indication of the popularity of various search terms. Additionally, you also need to check the level of competition for those terms. Armed with this information, you can now put together a comprehensive keyword strategy for your SEO campaign.
Various aspects of keyword research:
1) Search volume – This is an indication of the popularity of a search term.
Some useful Keyword tools include:
OSEObook Keyword Tool
There are lots out there. Give a couple of them a try and decide which ones you like.
A high-ranking on a popular term can deliver a lot of traffic but popular terms are also likely to be more competitive.
2) Competitiveness – For very competitive terms, where there are many websites vying for a rank, a strategic decision needs to be made regarding whether or not to target that term.
More competitive terms are usually set as part of a longer term SEO strategy, with the less competitive terms being favored in the short to medium term. An SEO strategist needs to make these decisions based on the ratio of searches to competitors and decide on its ability considering that particular term's propensity to convert.
3) Propensity to convert – Conversion remains the ultimate goal of any website. We want our users to take a certain course of action. When selecting key phrases to target, it is important to consider the likelihood of those terms leading to a conversion. To what extent does the search term give us an insight into the mind of the searcher? At what stage of the buying cycle are they currently?
By creating a bias towards phrases with a high conversion rate, we maximize the ratio of visitors to customers. With your keyword strategy in place, you now know what kind of content your site needs.
Some important points about content:
OUse your content to create an obvious site theme.
OFor more competitive search terms, you'll need to create a hierarchical structure of supporting content, again reinforcing the theme.
OThe better the quality of your content, the more leverage it will afford you for later on in the process.
ORemember, conversion is your website's ultimate goal.
On Page Indicators of Relevance
OMeta Keywords – Meta keywords were, a long time ago, pretty much the BIG thing in SEO. These days the Meta Data are far more general in their importance. Primarily they act as an indicator of a webpage's theme. Keep them relevant to the content on your page.
OMeta Description – Many Search Engines use the meta description paragraph as the descriptive snippet below your page link on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Bearing that in mind, these few lines of copy are possibly among the most important of your page. The more compelling, the more likely you are to get a good click through rate (CTR). Ultimately, this has positive repercussions for your rankings and traffic stats.
Title Tags are the primary indicator of what you web page is about. They are also important since they are displayed above your page description on the Search Engine Results Pages.
Header tags are used to create a hierarchical page structure and act as an indicator of page theme. You should be using these to structure your page and use keywords to indicate relevance to your chosen target phrase for that page.
Keyword density is a measure of how many times your key phrase occurs on your page in relation to the total number of words. The key here is to keep it reasonable. Keyword density is an indicator of relevance of your content to the targeted phrase. There's no magic percentage figure, but if you read the copy and if sounds overdone, then you need to reduce your keyword density.
Bolding / Strong and Italics / Emphasis
Bolding and italics serve a primary purpose as a means to indicate bits of text that should be emphasized. In web copy, which is usually quickly skimmed by users, bolding and or italics make copy easier to read and understand. Additionally, they act as an indicator of relevance for specific terms. So using these techniques helps both users and Search Engines, which should always be your aim.
Alt Tags for Images
Search Engine spiders can not read images. So to help them along, we use alt tags to describe the images. With images that are relevant to the key phrase, we help improve relevancy of our page when alt tags are used properly.
Bullet points make it easy to convey your point quickly and concisely. This makes it convenient for your reader, looking to scan and get the just of your content. If it's good for your users, it probably good for your rankings and that's the case in this instance. Use bullet points for the layout of your content to make clear what the theme of your page is.
OK, so now the site has some great, original, relevant content. The theme of your pages is clear. I guess it's just a case of sit back and wait for the traffic, right?
I'm afraid not.
The next most important step is to make sure that your great content gets found because even the best content is of no value if it can not be found.
Important Accessibility Issues
First things first. Before worrying about anything else, make sure the housekeeping has been done. Clean up broken links, invalid HTML and other code and minimize webpage file sizes.
With the basics taken care of, you can start worrying about the rest:
Spiders do not like messy URLs – Your URL needs to be descriptive yet as brief and "clean" as possible. Dirty URLs are those that use too many dynamic parameters. These can be troublesome for Search Engine spiders, making it less likely that they will properly crawl your site.
Frames are evil. Do not use them without you really, really need to. And trust me, you do not need to. Frames cause major issues for Search Engines, and as a general design technique, they're bad news. The use of tables or CSS is far better.
Flash websites are another no-no. Yes, they can look good, and are often visually impressive. Unfortunately though, their content is largely invisible to Search engine spiders. Clever designers incorporate flash elements into their content-based web pages, creating a site that offers both the visual strength of flash and the content bias of HTML based pages.
Feeding the Spiders – Links
Now that we've created a website that is full of relevant content and is search engine friendly, allowing the spiders to crawl and index, we need to make sure the spiders come crawling. Spiders crawl pages that they find via a link from another page they were crawling. So if you want something crawled, make sure it's being linked to.
That's where links come in. Links play a huge role in SEO;
OInbound links (IBL) are possibly the most significant single factor influencing rankings.
OOutbound on page links help establish relevancy to your page theme.
OInterlinking of your pages, both via content and via your navigation, helps establish the relationships between your pages, bolstering the themes you are trying to establish.
Search Engines want to provide users with results that are both relevant and important. While to some relative relevance can be gauged by on page factors, as mentioned above, it's what other "people" say about your site that is a real indicator of what it's about. Inbound links are these "votes from other people".
Search Engines consider an inbound link as a vote for your site. Lots of votes from sites, which are in turn considered authoritative within your niche, create an indication of importance and relevance.
Links on a page provide some indication of the theme of that page. Lots of links out to irrelevant sites may be detrimental to your ranking. Links to relevant authority sites can be useful to your visitors and help establish the page's relevancy on the topic. Interlinking
Carefully considered interlinking of pages is important for creating defined themes within your site. For important and competitive key phrases, it's useful to create content pages which link to and support the pages you want to rank well.
An on-site sitemap is a web document, which lists all the pages you'd like the Search Engine spiders to find. This is a good method of getting a reasonably deep crawl on your site.
An XML sitemap is a document submitted to a Search Engine, informing them of your content. It's a bit like a note to the spider saying,
"Dear Spidey, I've put out some yummy new content for you to enjoy. This is where you'll find it"
The process of generating inbound links is a highly specialized and implied practice, which we can not explore here in too much detail. There are many different means of building links. Links are not all created equal and as a general rule, the most valuable links are not easy to obtain – if they were, they're not as valuable as they are.
The most valuable links are those which come from authority sites, relevant to your targeted key phrases. Links can be gained by request, content exchange and a number of other initiated means.
Perhaps the best strategy for link building is to create content of exceptional value – valuable content becomes a link magnet, appealing links by virtue of its usefulness to others. In a later chapter, we'll look specifically at link creation through valuable, viral content.