Search Engine Optimization for Newbies

Now that you’ve got an awesome website, you’ll want people to be able to quickly find and visit your site. One way to do that is to give them the URL (like so they can type it in and go there.

​But that only works when people type in the URL or web address directly. Everyone else will find your site on their favorite Search Engine (e.g. Google, Bing, or Yahoo).  So how can you make sure that your site appears as high as possible in the search engine rankings?

Start with the basics. Add a Meta-Description, Website Title and Keywords on every page.  Meta Keywords are a specific type of meta tag that appear in the HTML code of a Web page and help tell search engines what your website is all about.  The Meta-Description is what will appears in the search engines.  And the Title is the most important.

While you’re doing this, realize that putting in keywords and adding an informative website description are not any kind of magic bullet.  Just because you add a keyword to your site does not mean search engines are going to find you through that keyword. If things were that simple then it’d take all the fun out of it. 

Add Google Analytics to your website. Google is definitely the most important search engine (other search engines don’t even come close in terms of market share) and a webmaster account can give you more insight into how they’re ranking you. It will give you a lot of data about what terms people are using to find your website, how much traffic you’re getting, and where your visitors are coming from.

Make the page names relevant to the search terms and phrases you want to target. The names that you give to your pages show up in both your site’s navigation and in the address of that page. Why is this important? Because if a word is in your address it is seen as more relevant to website by the major search engines. More relevant means more likely to show up in the search results.  Same thing applies for the titles of blog posts.

Use keyword phrases and keywords in links. If you link from one page of your site to another, use descriptive text for the link. For example:

Read our Top Portland Bike Tours article to check out some of the top-rated cycling tours in the city. 

Is better than this:

Read about Portland Bike Tours by clicking here.

Use “Titles” in your website text (when appropriate). Search Engines see headiness (which are tagged in a specific way) as generally more important than the regular text on your site. You can add Titles to your site with the College Web Pro Client Editing System’s Title element.

But do not write all of your text in a Title. That will make things worse for your site. You can’t trick the search engines like this, so don’t try.

Is your site relevant to people in a certain physical area? You can create a Google Map (use the map element) that shows site visitors your location and refer to the physical location of your business throughout your website where appropriate. Writing “Visit our Portland showroom” is better than writing “Come see our new showroom.”

Use alt-text for your photos. This doesn’t work in galleries or slideshows, but you can add alt-text to a regular photo by clicking on it and using the Advanced Option in the toolbar. This should be used to add a short description of the image. 

Get other websites to link back to your site. The more sites that link to your own site the more Google thinks your site is important. This is called Page Authority.  Think of other people linking back to your site as word-of-mouth that tells not just other people to check-out your site, but tells the search engines to do the same. 

There is nothing more important to your ranking than other sites linking to you, but there is no get-rich-quick method to get links back to your site. Build interesting content and let people know it exists. Just as building a business takes work and time and effort, building traffic to a website takes work and time and effort.

Link to your own site from any other sites you may have (like a Twitter or Facebook profile). If you have an email newsletter, archive it via your email provider’s site so that your own newsletter acts as another site linking to you. If you have a small business, list your business on Yelp and Google Local.  

Maintain a Blog. A blog lets you continually add content to your site. The search engines like to see new content on your site.  As a general rule, the more frequently you update your website the more traffic it will get.  Especially if you’re updating your website with original, useful content.

Make reasonable goals. If you’re an architect, you are not going to show up at the top of the search results for the word “architect”. If you’re a handyman, you aren’t going to show up at the top of the search results for handyman or home repair.

But if you’re an architect in Portland, you might be able to get to the top of the list for Portland Residential Architect. If you’re a handyman in Fresno, you can work to get a good search ranking for drain cleaning in Fresno. Focus on that. Focus on getting your site to show up in a search for your own name. Focus on so-called “long tail keywords” that are more specific and less competitive to rank for.  Try to get the attention of bloggers who may write about or review your business. Encourage visitors to write reviews of your business at places like FacebookGoogle Plus, and Yelp.

This post is only meant to serve as a starting point. If you’d like to explore further here are a few of my favorite articles about search engine optimization: