In a nutshell, the goal of SEO is to get your website to rank well with the major search engines (i.e. Google, MSN & Yahoo!). You accomplish this by targeting a set of high-traffic keywords and making strategic changes to the content and HTML of your website.
As we write this, Google holds 71% of the market share for search, so while the general idea is to focus on the most effective and popular search engines for your niche, it’s a no-brainer. We’re talking about Google (and a little Yahoo action on the side). According to their website, “Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” But if you think about it, Google depends on us to provide that information and must adapt its behavior to the way we produce information. Kinda Sci-Fi, no?
For years, websites have been made up of a few simple factors – hyperlinks, title and meta tags, headings, text, images, and sitemaps. These have been and still are the most important factors in natural search, but now, there are about 50 other factors that determine how well a site will rank with the search engines. And while there is much speculation, no one really knows how Google weighs these factors. So the smart move is to cover your bases. Sure, the task may seem large and daunting – not to mention, it can take at least a month to determine if you did everything right – but we’ve taken the initiative to pool our collective knowledge and give you the quick and dirty guide to SEO optimization.
We shy away from ordered lists normally, but SEO is all about the rankings. So, THE most important tip on our list is Keyword Research. Do your homework, kids. You need to know what keywords you’re actually ranking for (not what you think you’re ranking for). Besides, you don’t want to have a fully optimized site with hundreds of inbound links and no direction for optimization.
For this example, let’s use a few terms closely related to the digital marketing industry, like “internet marketing” and “search engine optimization”, and plug them into Google’s SKTOOL. This will give us literally hundreds of suggestions. I can also search for top competitors and grab the keywords they’re using in their META tags and Titles. Sneaky, yes, but totally effective. I then feed those keywords into Google’s Keyword Tool to get an average monthly search volume, as well as additional keyword suggestions. You want to start with a decent sized list, but note that Google only allows 300 keywords at a time. Next, I trim the fat – low volume terms that aren’t going to yield any real traffic. I use a proprietary method to determine how difficult each term will be to rank for, based on the amount of competition for that term in the Google database. You can do this by filtering out the least relevant terms and then searching each of the remaining terms in Google to find where your site ranks as well as your competitors. If your competitors are on the top, you can bet your site will be on the top with a little hard work to follow.
Now that we’ve got your list down to the most effective and high-traffic keywords, let’s begin the process of assigning those keywords to the different areas of your site, a.k.a. Keyword Mapping. The idea here is to match keywords to the appropriate page. So if “internet marketing” is one of my key terms, I want that term to be on a page that’s most relevant to internet marketing. It’s a good rule of thumb to target no more than 1-2 keywords or phrases per page. Why? Too many keywords dilutes the effect. I usually make a spreadsheet that maps out how I dispersed keywords across a site – per page in the titles, meta tags, on page text, headings, image names, and alt tags.
Now, we finally get around to touching the site. Google follows a set of standards set forth by the W3 Consortium, so you will want to start by validating your site to determine if there are any crawling issues.
This step has actually gotten easier over the years. Even though your site is fully crawlable, we recommend creating an XML sitemap and submiting it to Google Webmaster Tools. Yahoo! and MSN have their own webmaster accounts, so its not a bad idea to submit the same sitemap to them as well.
Directory submissions are a must for any SEO campaign. Search engines start crawling at major directories like DMOZ and Yahoo! Directory. These directories have high PageRanks, so getting a link back is a good method to begin competing for keywords in your list. And if you can get a link back with keyword-centric anchor text – i.e. the word or phrase people use to link to your link to your site – even better. We recommend only submitting once per directory as subsequent submissions could be marked as spam.
After keyword research, link development is the most important method for improving your search ranking. Google looks at inbound links to determine your site’s value, ergo its PageRank. Needless to say, you want a high PageRank, and the more inbound links your site has from other relevant and popular sites, the better it will naturally rank in the search engines. There are many methods for building links. You can:
- Contact webmasters of related sites and request a link partnership. This is the most ethical, but admittedly, drawn-out method of building links.
- Create link bait. Link bait is a tool or game – anything really – that lures people to your site and gives them a reason to link to it, like the White Dwarf Game, or our own invention; Lizzer.
Content Development & Participation
After the site is optimized, linked, and indexed, you can begin developing content. Any new content will have the engines coming back for more on a daily basis – one reason content-churning blogs are popular with SEO fans. But really, there are few rules when it comes to content creation. After all, content is subjective. We do know that Google’s spiders utilize the inverted pyrmaid (an old Journalism staple) for content organization, which makes your header text and the first paragraph of your copy fertile keyword ground. Also, consider crafting content that will yield links back from other popular sites.
You can write and submit an industry-specific article to an article directory. Or, participate in blogs, forums, and social networks. Forums usually allow users to link back to their sites in the footer. These links compound over time and provide good feedback to your site. Commenting on other blogs with useful information is another good way to provide links back to your own site, as well as drive some traffic your way.
Realign Goals & Keywords
After a few months of optimizing your site and link development, you’ll have enough rough data to assess your progress. There are several web analytics tools at your disposal -Omniture, Stat Counter, Google Analytics, to name a few. They will give you plenty of information about what is working – what keywords to focus on, popular content pages, etc – and what is not. Remember, keep an eye on your conversions. Any keywords you’re currently dominating will only be easier to hold onto the next go ’round.