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Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Basics

Jeremy Tunnell April 17, 2012


Search Engine Optimization [SEO]: it sounds both mysterious and unseemly, and from time to time, we run across an SEO practitioner hawking his secret sauce. Promises of top ranking overnight sound too good to be true.

It isn’t surprising that many small businesses and organizations place SEO low on the priority list, but this is a mistake. The truth is, SEO is simply the process of making your content easy to find. It isn’t mysterious. It isn’t shady. And it has real benefits for your organization.

Some of the benefits of SEO traffic:

  • It is not only targeted, but represents interested users looking for your content right now.
  • It is essentially free, requiring no ongoing expenditures, unlike online advertising.
  • It almost never goes down, but steadily increases as you receive more incoming links and post more content.

When we talk about Search Engine Optimization, what we’re really talking about is the Pagerank scoring system from Google. Pagerank [PR] is what Google uses to decide whether your site appears in search results for a given query, and in what order. The ranking is on a 1 to 10 logarithmic scale, which means that each increase in page rank is ten times more difficult than the previous one.

The Pagerank score itself is constructed by hundreds, or even thousands, of different criteria and is generally broken down into three categories: page and site structure, keyword optimization [copywriting and content], and online reputation [link building].

SITE AND PAGE STRUCTURE

Site and page structure is important, but it really boils down to a checklist of items that need to be completed. For example, the title and heading tags must be present and placed in the correct section of the page, the page should be organized to load quickly and completely, and all of the links on the page should be organized so that a user can get from one part of the site to another.

The main points to focus on are the following:

  • Page URL – Very important. Should be human readable and contain at least one target keyword.
  • Page title – Also very important. Should be fewer than 60 characters, contain one or more keywords. Search engines use this in result pages [SERPs], so it also needs to be written from a marketing angle.
  • Meta-description – No longer used as a ranking factor, but is important in SERPs to encourage users to click on results. It is only used by search engines if the search term appears in the description.
  • Meta-keyword – No longer used as a ranking factor and can effectively be ignored.
  • Keyword density in copy – The ratio of keywords to body text should be around 3% for each keyword.

KEYWORD OPTIMIZATION

Keyword optimization is the way you establish what kind of searches will drive traffic to your site. Google is an incredibly sophisticated search engine, but unfortunately it doesn’t even come close to the matching ability of a human.

Google knows that “dogs” is the plural form of “dog” and that “photos” and “pictures” are the same thing. However, it still mostly focuses on the actual words that were searched for, and not what one meant to search for.

The biggest mistake made in search engine optimization is choosing keywords that accurately describe the content, but are not used often in searches. Avoid using abbreviations, obscure industry terms, and other terms that your target audience is unlikely to know or search for.

The second biggest mistake in search engine optimization is choosing keywords that are either much too broad or much too narrow. Keywords like “online shopping,” “politics,” and “research” receive millions of searches every day, but because there are many sites going after this traffic, it is very difficult to capture. On the other hand, attempting to rank for terms that are very specific but only get minimal traffic is a waste of time. When in doubt, it is better to err on the side of being too specific, but be wary of wasting time chasing such a small amount of traffic.

TITLE CONTENT DELIBERATELY

Google uses the first 60 characters (including spaces) of each post’s title to help determine what content the page includes. For this reason, it is important to mimic search behaviors when composing content titles. Think about the search terms you want folks to use to find your company and use those as often as possible in post titles and page titles. However, keep in mind that the title will be the first thing the user sees on the search engine result page, so make sure the title remains readable and compelling.

USE TAGS LIBERALLY

Before publishing content, complete posts with additional post tags. Most Content Management Systems have the ability to input additional tags that do not appear on the post itself. Tags are an opportunity to use words and phrases that may not fit into the body of the text but are very useful to help people find information. For example, a blog post about car waxing strategies may not use the phrase “car wax tips,” but this is likely to be a frequently searched term and is an opportunity to get extra traffic.

ONLINE REPUTATION

Online reputation is the most challenging category of search engine optimization, and it consists of convincing other websites to provide links to your website. As part of the pagerank algorithm, pagerank score is passed from one website to another through links.

The higher a website’s pagerank score, the more pagerank it has available to pass to other websites. Each outgoing link from a website is considered a vote of confidence for the target website, and it raises the target site’s page rank score proportionally.

REQUEST LIKE-MINDED SITES SHARE YOUR CONTENT

The goal of managing your online reputation is to get as many incoming links as possible from other reputable websites. Focus on high traffic sites with a page rank score greater than 5/10 that cover similar subject matter. It will be easier for similar sites to pique their users’ interest and send more traffic your way.

USE SOCIAL NETWORKS

The large search engines are now integrating social network statistics into their ranking algorithms. While you should already be promoting your content on social networks simply to widen the potential audience, every “share,” Facebook “like,” and Google “+1” moves your content up in search engine result pages.

It may sometimes feel like tweeting every day or tweeting multiple times a day is excessive. The truth is communicating with your audience regularly leads your audience to feel valued and like an important part of the conversation. For Twitter, that expectation dictates posting – at minimum – once per day. Facebook requires less frequent posting, but should not be neglected, either.

Aside from frequency of activity, the most important thing to maintaining Twitter and Facebook accounts is consistency. Using the same hashtags over and over (where applicable) is important. The same goes for maintaining tone.

ENGAGING WITH AUDIENCES

Talking with people directly may seem like a daunting task for social media, but one-on-one interactions are what make loyal followers out of casual observers. We suggest you tweet directly at people, respond to their statements, and even thank them for retweeting or following in the first place. The same can also be said for Facebook. Responding directly to people’s statements – whether pro or con – can go a long way.

Every new blog post, page, or news item should be shared on Twitter and Facebook. Emailing news out may be one way to attract traffic from followers, but providing them with the links on these platforms encourages them to add their own thoughts and share the content.

Some people say that SEO is like chess: It takes five minutes to learn but a lifetime to master. It’s easy to get started by incorporating a few of the tips in this article into your content writing process. However, the real benefits can only be fully realized when the three categories of SEO are integrated deeply into your website. Contact NJI Media: let us help you get the most out of your SEO strategy.

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