This post is meant to be helpful for those new to SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and looking to learn more about fundamental best practices that will help your Website generate more qualified traffic from search engines. (By the way, if you’re interested in improving your site’s SEO, local optimization, or social media optimization, consider using our SEO website grader or subscribing to our daily SEO, local and social media marketing newsletter.)
If you own a business, and you have a website, you need to know how to optimize your website so that it will rank well in search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc) and be findable by your propects. SEO basics can be categorized in three main areas:
- Making your website crawlable by the search engines.
- Making your website understandable by the search engines.
- Making your website findable in the search engines results by searchers.
The better you get at making your website crawlable, understandable, and findable, the more likely your site is to rank for the keywords that matter to your business.
1. Crawlable—The spiders are coming.
And that’s okay. “Spiders,” “Crawlers,” or “Bots” are just programs the search engines use to index the content found on the World Wide Web. Your job is to make sure the spiders can do their job with as little friction, and as much direction, as possible.
A little direction can be given with your robots.txt file which lets the spiders know which of your web pages should be indexed and which web pages should be ignored. If you have a robots.txt file, make sure it’s doing what you want it to do.
Spiders speak HTML. Images, Flash files, Java applets, and other non-text content are all basically invisible to the spiders. Here are some basic pointers for helping the search engines understand the non-text parts of your site:
- Images: use the “alt text attribute” & “title” in HTML
- Video and audio: include a written transcript of any video or audio files.
Use http://www.seo-browser.com/ so you can see what the spiders see.
Build roads for the spiders with a crawlable link structure. If your pages are hidden (with no links pointing at them) and they are hard for you to find, just imagine how impossible it will be for a spider. Make sure you have direct and crawlable links pointing to the pages you want showing up in the search engine results.
2. Understandable—A human-friendly page is a search-engine-friendly page.
Humans read your pages and search engines crawl them, but there’s no reason you can’t make everyone happy with a good page structure and formatting.
Your <head> tag is for the bots, with things like your <title> and <description> tags. Make sure these tags are unique for each page of your website. This way the search engines can distinguish between the different content on your site.
The <body> is what your site visitors can see and should be structured in an easy-to-read and pleasing manner. Your most important tag is your <h1> or your main headline. Use a good keyword rich headline to get your point across to the engines and your readers. The <h1> tag on this page starts with “SEO basics” because that’s the keyword I want the search engines to associate with this page in the rankings. Make sure to only use one <h1> tag per page (you don’t want to confuse the search engines). Other body elements include <h2> and <h3> tags (for sub headings), bullet points, bold type, etc. Using these elements correctly lets the search engines know what your page is all about and what’s most important.
3. Findable—The hard part is getting found.
Your website is basically in a popularity contest, and you are probably way behind. The search engines rely on back-links (a link from another website to yours) as an indication of authority and popularity. They use this information when ranking web pages, so the more credible back-links a web page has the more likely it is to rank well on the search engine results page (SERP). In turn, making it findable by your soon-to-be customers.
The best links are one-way links from related, authority sites (think CNN, USA Today, MSN, etc.). Don’t get too excited about trading links with other websites as these types of links don’t hold as much value as a one-way link. And links from businesses completely unrelated to yours might be a signal that you are participating in nefarious or spammy link-building activities.
Try to get some good keyword-rich anchor text in your back-links as well. If you want some practice, link to this article using the text “SEO basics.” 😉