Getting Started with Search Engine Optimization

Last Edited February 8, 2017 by Garenne Bigby in Search Engine Optimization

getting started with search engine optimization

It is official. Your site is live and ready to go. You are ready for countless users to flock to your site just to see what you will say, but this is not Black Friday. They are not sitting there glued to their computers waiting for your site to be ready. You need to draw users in, so how do you go about doing that? The answer lies in SEO, and to be successful online, it is important you understand SEO and know how to use it to make your site succeed.

What is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a concept of techniques, ideas and strategies all directed toward the end go of getting more visitors to your web site. The more visitors you get, the higher your site will appear in the list of search results through search engines such as Google, Bing or Yahoo. Where you fall in this list of sites is otherwise known as a ranking, and the higher you are in this list, the better you are “ranked.”

Why is SEO so important?

You want your site to be successful. Once you put something out there on the Internet, it will not do you a lot of good for it to just be there with no visitors. You want to draw as many people as possible to your site so that they can consume the content or product you are offering. SEO helps you get to that point. SEO tips help you make small changes to your site that will only help you be ranked higher. These changes may seem like nothing to you, but they actually do have a huge effect on your success. Countless guides exist out there, telling you what is the best strategy to take, and it is always important to do your research to see what will work best for you.

1. Unique Page Title

The first thing a user often sees is your page title. The same goes for a SEO crawler. The first step to SEO success is to make your page title unique and also accurate as to the content included on the page. The page titles are what you see when pulling up search results. It is essentially what a user clicks on when attempting to access your page directly from a Google search. It needs to draw the user in, make them want to read more, and, when they get on your site, make them want to stay and learn more about your company or site. Accurate titles also alert search engines on the topic covered on any give page. A title tag should be indicated with the <title> in front of the actual phrase. This way the search engine can identify quickly what is covered on your page.

Some tips for creating a title tag include making sure the title actually describes what the user should expect to see on their page. Also, try to not use default language or titles like “new page” to describe the page. Make sure the title tags for each page on your site are unique. Also, while you should be descriptive with your title tags, make sure they are brief. Only so much space is visible when search results are listed, and you want the user to be able to quickly assess what they should expect when clicking on your page.

2. Use Meta Tags

Metal tags are another important element when it comes to SEO. Do not be intimidated by the term meta tag. It sounds highly technical, but a meta tag is simply a summary of what the page is about. Unlike a title tag, a meta tag can be a bit more descriptive and lengthier. You can describe your page in a sentence or two or a short paragraph. Make sure that the meta tag actually describes what the user should expect on the page. In terms of the HTML element of everything, a meta tag is indicated with <head> in front of the phrase/description.

3. Tailor Your Meta Tag

Search engines consider meta tags to be sales pitches for your site. They are short descriptions telling search engines what content is on the page. Make sure each page has its own unique and descriptive meta tag. The reasoning for this is, while Google does read through the text of the content on the page, if the search engine does not find text that it deems to be a good selection to use in the short description of the site listed below the title tag in search results, it may also use your meta tag description for this purpose.

4. Buy a Custom Domain

Think about it. When you come across a site with the domain name “blogspot.com” or “wordpress.com,” you think the site is run by an amateur or may not be authoritative. It might seem unfair, but companies that have their own specialized, custom domain do come across as more of an expert and authoritative. It shows that the company has invested enough money to ensure that they are represented in a professional fashion. Sites such as Godaddy.com exist out there to make it possible for small companies to purchase a domain for a reasonable fee without having to pay for the services of a web developer. However, a lot can be said in investing in hiring a web developer. If you want to come across as quality, you need to often see the services of those who know what they are doing. Users will be able to recognize that when they see it, as well as search engines.

5. Properly Structure Your URL

Do not just keep the default URL you are assigned when creating a page. You want a URL for each page that is easy to remember for a user to type in when trying to access again. If your site is on dog grooming techniques make sure your URL is http://yourdomain.com/dog_breeding and not http://yourdomain.com/89301_990_dogbreed. Search engines also easily identify sites through their URLs, and if yours is more simplified, you can be rest assured that a search engine will be able to find it quickly and easier. Make sure every single page on your site has a consistent and brief URL, one that is descriptive of what is on your page.

6. Choose the Right Keywords

Keywords are huge when it comes to SEO. If you expect your site to appear in search results related to the topic on your page, you need to ensure that it appears due to the right keywords being entered into the search engine. However, determining what those keywords are will help you be recognized when a user enters in a keyword search. If you are not sure what those keywords should be, do a little research yourself. See what words other sites use consistently and see what keywords work for them. Write down a list of terms you think apply to your site and enter them into a search engine. See where your site comes up in terms of the search list to see just how successful your keyword selection is.

7. Utilize Keywords for Title and Meta Tags

If you want that added boost to help in SEO, make sure you selectively insert keywords in your title and meta tags. Search engines do use these aspects of sites to assist in rankings, and if you are using the right keywords, that will only benefit you more. However, be selective in what keywords you use and how many you use. Do not simply just put in every single keyword that applies into your descriptions. Search engines will see through it and determine you are unfairly trying to weigh down search results to heighten your rankings. A fine line exists between doing enough to help yourself and doing too much to come across as ingenuine or unethical.

8. Make Your Site Simple and Easy To Navigate

Once a user gets to your site, he or she needs to be able to navigate it. If the user get confused over where to go to find information they need, it is quite possible he or she will give up and find what they need somewhere else. The first way to make your site easy to navigate is through the menu bar on your home page. Try not to include too many pages on this navigation bar so it is easy to read and make sure what you do include are helpful for the user.

Consider your home page to be the root for your site. The pages are the branches. Pages branch out from what the main headings are on your homepage and then branch out from there. The importance thing is to make it easy for the user to see the structure and bigger picture of the site.

9. Think Breadcrumbs

Hansel and Gretel used them to find their way back through the forest. Breadcrumbs can give users that added convenience to help them navigate their way through your site. Essentially a breadcrumb is a row of internal links that allow your user to navigate back to the previous page or to your root page. You normally see these at the top of bottom of the page. You can click on the hyperlink highlighted before the current page you are on, and you will be directed back to that page. This is useful not only to users, but also to search engines as well.

10. Include a Sitemap

A sitemap is a file where you can give a list of all of the web pages in your site. These are accessible to users as well as search engine crawlers. A sitemap can be a document used as a web design planning tool, but it can also be a Web page that gives a detailed list of the pages on your site. These lists are normally organized in some type of hierarchical order. You can use the DYNO Mapper sitemap generator to create both types of sitemaps. Signup up for our 14-day free trial. 

11. Create Two Sitemaps

To make the process simpler, it is recommended you create two different sitemaps, one for the user and one for the search engine. For purposes of users, you want a sitemap that helps them find pages on your site. Users will go to the sitemap when they are not sure where something is located or if they just want to get a good feel for your site. Therefore, you want it to be easy to read and understand.

However, when it comes to search engines, you can go a little more technical in terms of design and content on the sitemap. An XML sitemap is an XML file that gives all URLs for a site. Web developers can insert additional information for each URL, such as how often it is updated, the last time it was updated and how it relates to the other URLs on the site. This file assists search engines in crawling the site more effectively in determining SEO and ranking.

12. Craft a Helpful 404 Page

Every now and then users will come to a page that no longer exists on your site. It could be because of a broken link or simply entering in the wrong URL address. Many sites will have a standard 404 page showing that the page no longer exists but provide no further information that can direct the user to where they need to go. Your 404 page should be helpful to your user. It should give them direction on how to get back to a working page. This direction leaves the user feeling more satisfied and more likely to use your page in the future. Your 404 page can have a link back to your home page but also can have links to some of your more popular pages. If you are not sure how to craft a helpful 404 page, Google provides a 404 widget you can directly embed in your 404 page.

13. Quality Content

One of the best ways to make sure your site is successful when it comes to SEO is to provide quality content. After all, content is the driving force behind why you have a site to begin with. You can insert all the keywords and utilize all of the techniques listed above and not be successful if your content does not impress a user once he or she comes to your page. How do you keep them engaged? The answer to this is fairly simple. Give them something that satisfies their needs. Give them something they want, and that is helpful information, answers to a specific question or useful content. Google and other search engines will also recognize when your site has good content and this will boost your site rankings as well.

14. Make It Understandable

Your content has to be understandable. No one is going to read what you write if it a) does not make sense; b) is difficult to read or c) is uninteresting.
One way to keep the content understandable is to be careful not to inundate it with keywords. A fine balance should exist between inserting keywords to help your search rankings and also using too many of them to the point where the piece no longer makes logical sense.

Further, most journalistic experts state that they write their content at an 8th grade level so that the average reader can understand the content. Unless you are writing content for a specific audience, such as on a professional blog, an educational resource for scholars, etc., you need to write your content so that it reads easily to the average person.
Lastly, make it interesting. Use a tone of voice that appeals to your reader and talk about topics that are actually of public interest.

15. Keep Your Content Updated

Your content should constantly be changing on your site. Otherwise, all you have is just a static site. You want users coming back for more, as well as new users coming to your site. Users are savvy. They know if they read something that was already put out there on another site so do not copy and paste or duplicate what is already out there. Also, make sure you are updating to keep up with the times and changes in your industry or genre. Search engines are also able to recognize duplicate content and content that has not changed in some time. Both of these issues will do nothing for your site and will only penalize you when it comes to site rankings. Keep it current. Keep it fresh.

16. Anchors Away!

Anchor text is another helpful technique when it comes to SEO. Anchor text is the clickable text that you see within the content on a page. Clicking on the anchor text will take the user to another location, either externally or internally. The type of site to which the user will be directed is usually described in the actual anchor text itself. You will recognize anchor text in any given web site as it is normally in blue and underlined. Search engines recognize anchor texts within sites and use them to help rank sites when it comes to usefulness and relevancy.

17. Include Images

Images add a lot to your site. They break up the text. They make the page more interesting to look at, and they also assist in SEO. If you include images to your page, be sure to use the “alt” attribute.” What this does is, if in the event your image cannot be seen, text will be displayed providing information about the image. Optimize your image’s filename and alt text, as well, which will help search engines to better know what your image is with respect to your site.

18. Utilize “nofollow”

When you put content out into cyberspace, you face one inevitable result: spammers. Essentially all spammers do is try to leave comments or information that provide absolutely no benefit to the site or attempt to take attention from the site to a completely unrelated site. You see it all the time. After reading a story and going through the comments, you will inevitably come across a comment that says “I cannot believe I can work from home for only $25 per year!” These types of comments are considered spam. You can combat against comment spam through the use of “nofollow.” Add “nofollow” to comment columns or message boards. By properly setting the value of the “rel” attribute of a link to “nofollow” alerts Google that certain “spam” links on your site should not be followed or should not be used to affect your page’s reputation. It provides insurance that no matter what types of comments spammers try to leave on your page, that will not hurt your site in terms of SEO.

19. Take Advantage of Social Media

Social media is for more than just personal use. Businesses have been taking advantage of the benefits of social media for quite some time, and many have had tremendous success. The reason for this success is that many millennials, who are today’s consumers and readers, only get their information from sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Instagram. Create a Facebook page for your site or business and be sure to regularly post your content on there. It is yet another avenue for you to reach and gain new followers and users and increases the traffic to your site which will then increase your ranking in terms of SEO. However, should you decide to take this approach to getting content published and out to users, be sure you regularly add new content. Users will not continue to come to your social media page if it is never updated. Consider that task to be just as important as updating the content on your site.

20. Use Heading Tags to Emphasize Important Text

Another tactic to assist in SEO is to use headings throughout your content and your page. The use of heading tags can assist in catching the user’s eye and alerting users as to when one topic ends and another starts. However, use them selectively. Too many tags on a page can take your intended goal and take it too far making it confusing to the user to determine when topics start and end. Six different types of heading tags exist, and it is important that you see which ones look best for your site and work best for what you need. The larger font that is normally associated with heading tags draws a user’s attention to that specific area on the page, alerting them that there is important and helpful information listed below. Use these sparingly because while you may think all of the content on your page is important to the user, that person may not think the same and may get overwhelmed if inundated with too many headings when viewing your page. If you feel you have too many headings, try breaking down into subheadings. If there are subtopics below the heading, make the text large but smaller than the main heading tag. This will make it easier for users to then navigate through your content on your page.

21. Monitor Use of Crawlers

SEO depends heavily on the use of crawlers. These allow scanning throughout the pages for keywords and proper use of SEO. However, you may have pages on your site that you do not want crawlers to scan. Some of this information may be secure or irrelevant. You can use robots.txt agents to keep a handle on what information is crawled. The point of robots.txt files is to tell search engines that this information or content is not accessible for scanning. The file, which must be named robots.txt, needs to be placed in your site’s root directory. If you are unsure of how to go about creating a robots.tx file, Google Webmaster Tools has a generator that can help you create the file. You can also utilize adding “NOINDEX” to your robots meta tag to prevent your content from being scanned for SEO purposes.

22. Make Your Site Mobile Ready

With the advent of Smartphones, users are more often accessing sites via a mobile device instead of desktop computer. For this reason, it is more important than ever that if you want your site to succeed, it needs to be mobile ready. However, certain steps need to be taken in terms of SEO because of this different type of site. Make sure your mobile site is indexed correctly. You can do this via Google Glossary. The reason for this is mobile search results are different than your normal desktop results. You need to make sure that your site is accurately recognized by the search engine so that users can find it.

Making sure your site can be easily viewed via a mobile device is one thing. Many sites were not designed to be search engine friendly. How do you test to see if your site appears in a search result on a mobile device? The easiest way is to try a search on your mobile device. If it appears, you have no problem. If you do not find your site within the search results, then you need to remedy the problem.

23. Making Your Site Mobile Search Friendly

If your site is not showing up on a Google search, it is possible a Googlebot may not be able to find your site. If your site is fairly new, it could be Googlebot has not had a chance to crawl your site and may not be aware of that. If your site is new, create a Mobile Sitemap and submit the file to Google so that it can be made aware of your site’s existence. Also, make sure Google can recognize your site’s mobile URL. Sometimes Googlebot may have difficulty accessing your website because your mobile site refuses to allow access to the site. Make sure you allow any user-agent including the term “Googlebot-Mobile” can access your site. Once you have made this correction, check back later to make sure your URL is viewable on a mobile device.

24. Redirect Mobile Users to Your Site

When trying to make your site mobile-friendly, you essentially have two different sites. The two different sites should have the same content, but you want to make sure that the user who is accessing your page via a mobile device is looking at the right version. The same goes for users trying to access the site via a desktop. You do not want the two to be mixed up, or you may end up losing a user. Google does have the capability to recognize the relationship between the two different types and is able to display the correct one, depending on the device. It is important, however, that your user is redirected to the correct version when entering your web address into whatever device they are using. This not only results in a much better experience for the user but also a better SEO ranking as well.

You can do it!

Do not let all of these tips overwhelm you. That is not the purpose of presenting a list of how to get started with SEO. You want success for your site, however, and without utilizing the above tips, you may end up fighting a losing battle. If you want to be a winner, you have to learn how to play the game. Whether you take one or a few of these tips or go for all of them, you will find yourself much more successful than if you did not. If you do not feel fully capable on your own, seek the assistance of a professional. Find a web developer in your area and see what help they can provide you. Also research the various services and help guides that are online, as they are often a free and easy resources for those who are less than tech savvy. Regardless of how you go about doing it, you will find yourself mastering SEO eventually and giving your site that extra boost of success that you both want and need.

Garenne Bigby
Author: Garenne BigbyWebsite: http://garennebigby.com
Founder @dynomapper
Garenne Bigby is freelance Chicago developer and founder of DYNO Mapper with over 10 years experience in both agency and freelance roles in design, development, user experience, SEO, and information architecture.

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