Getting Started with SEO: Some Basic Principles
SEO, or search engine optimization, is a topic I get asked about by nearly every client, and many people who cross my path and learn I’m a web designer and blogger. People are simply mystified by SEO, and truly believe that it gives websites a super magical power. I think this is due to the vast amount of information (much of it conflicting) available on the internet.
Woman at Computer by IICD via Flickr
I think that it is also due to the fact that individuals and businesses make big bucks optimizing blogs and websites. This is a recipe for disaster for a new blogger or small business opening an informational or e-commerce site, who now feels overwhelmed, and in need of professional help. While in some cases it may be beneficial to hire a professional to do your SEO for you that is not something that is generally in the budget of a small business or a blogger. In order to get you on your way to optimizing, I have put together some simple tips to get you started. These tips are based on questions I have been asked about optimization, and what I have found to be the best ways to start.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
The very simplified answer to this question is: “Search engine optimization is the process we go through to ensure that our websites or blogs are read by search engines and delivered to people who are using keywords or phrases while searching for information. “ SEO and how it is carried out by the search engines changes almost constantly, as people change the way in which they look for and interact with information. So when you are hearing about Google changing their algorithm, this is what we mean. They have changed the way they present information in searches. They base this on how people search for information, and how what they do with the information when it is presented to them.
Should I optimize for people doing searches, or the search engines?
The way I see it, and what I have always told clients, is optimize for people, not search engines. What I love about the new algorithms and trends in search – and social media too – is they are pushing us to optimize for people – interacting and building relationships – rather than optimizing for bots.
What are keywords?
Keywords, or key phrases, are the words we suppose people will be using when they search for our content or services. When we optimize our sites and blogs, we use keywords in a number of ways. We use them in the content we write and in the images we use. We use them in meta descriptions, and in our site title. All of these are explained below.
What is an SEO title?
An SEO title is a title that tells the search engines exactly what the site, page, or post is about. This is what is displayed in a search, and should contain a keyword that people might be searching for. SEO titles should contain up to 70 characters, which is as much as the bots will read. Your most important keyword or phrase should appear first, and your blog or business name should appear last. Keywords and phrases should use a separator of some sort, whether it is a dash (-) or pipes (|) is up to you. I prefer pipes. SEO titles appear in a couple of different ways. You will use an SEO title for your site, and then you will use an SEO title for your pages, posts, and category pages. The site title should describe the overall site, and the title for your posts or pages will describe that particular post or page.
What are meta descriptions?
In a search, meta descriptions appear below the title. They should contain between 150 and 160 characters, and should contain a call to action and a focus keyword from the content on your page or post. If you don’t use a description, the search engines will use part of your content. As with SEO titles, the meta description describes the site, page, post, or category.
Do I have to optimize all of my pages, posts, and categories?
YES! Any page you want crawled by the search engines, and want to show up in searches should be optimized. You want to give the search engines and people doing keyword searches a chance to find you and your valuable content.
How do I optimize my images?
First off, let me explain why optimizing your images is important. It’s very simple. Search engines can see words, but they cannot see images. They have no way to see an image and describe it. So it is important that we do that for them. We optimize images with the title, with the alternate text, or alt tag, and description, which should use your keywords. But please remember, a couple of keywords does the trick. There is no reason to “stuff,” or fill your spaces with keywords. In fact that will be a detriment to your SEO. Just write this like you would write any of your content. There are a couple of other reasons it is important to use the alt tag to optimize your images. When you use an alt tag, people with their display turned off (opting to not view images) will know what is supposed to be in that big empty space. Optimizing images is also a fairly quick and easy way to drive traffic to your site. I can tell you that a significant portion of my hits come from images.
What about links?
Yes, inbound (people linking to you) and outbound (you linking to others) are important, and they take time to build. The one thing I really want to stress about this is the links really need to be relevant to your content. Don’t create links just for the sake of links, as this will work against you. Internal links, or the links you create to point to other content on your site, are great, but not necessarily for SEO. These links are great to entice readers to click through your site. Personally, I don't include a lot of links. Maybe I'm shooting myself in the foot, but it disrupts my writing process, and I also find it distracting when I'm reading.
When it’s all said and done, what should always remember?
I think the most important thing to remember is putting SEO into action, understanding and monitoring stats (more to come on that later!), and increasing your ranking takes time. A lot of time. So be patient, learn, get help if you need it, and enjoy the ride!