October 14, 2008
We’ve all had the experience of looking for specific information on the Internet, typing what seems like a pretty clear phrase into the search bar, and getting a mix of useful and not-so-useful websites on the results page. Wading through irrelevant sites is annoying, especially when they seem so promising from the description. Generally, more useful sites are near the top of the list. So put the shoe on the other foot: do you want to be a source of irritation in your potential customer’s search efforts, or the knight in shining armor at the top of the page? What you need, my friend, is a strong SEO campaign.
SEO is about making your site as “findable” as possible in the vast sea of websites on the World Wide Web, which means configuring them so search engines like Google, Yahoo, Alta Vista, Ask, Lycos and others can find your information easily and index it in their directories. Sites near the top of a search engine results page (SERP) are said to have high page rank, and they tend to be more relevant. Numerous studies – from eye-tracking to click-through rates – have shown that websites in the top few positions of SERP’s get the greatest traffic. Those lower down the list get lonely, and many users don’t even bother with page 2 or beyond.
Making a website search engine friendly requires a specialized and ever-changing set of expertise. A good SEO campaign takes a lot of attention, time and maintenance. Many businesses hire companies that specialize in SEO to design and monitor their campaigns, often with multi-year service plans. It’s not a bad option for companies heavily invested in their websites. The key concept in web marketing is “target audience”. An optimized site allows search engines to pair your site with web users who are looking for what you have to offer.
Search Engines work by deploying little bits of code or programs, called “robots” or “spiders”, that “crawl” the Internet scanning and archiving information from as many websites as possible. Sometimes called “organic” SEO, the basic idea is to put various elements in place to allow Search Engines to find your information on their own.
One of the top SEO tactics is clear, well-written text. Search Engines exist to help users find relevant sites. Their first priority is to scan text. The more informative, organized and useful your content is, the more legitimate it will be to both users and Search Engines. You don’t have to write a book, but you need enough content to get your message across and incorporate keywords, another important text-based SEO tactic. Keywords are short phrases that pinpoint what your site offers. Search engines use them to pair your site with the search terms people type into their browser. Keywords should appear at least once in the body of your web text.
Links are a crucial yet often abused SEO technique. Search engines view links to or from other websites, and to some extent between pages of the same site, as a “popularity vote”. But a link to your Uncle Bob’s fishing trip pictures will work against you unless the site you’re optimizing has something to do with Uncle Bob, fishing, or the lake in question. Descriptive anchor text (the underscored or highlighted “hot” words you click on to get to a definition, article, or other website) is preferable to nonspecific phrases (like “click here”) or long web addresses.
In short, links must be relevant. A link to your site is better than a link from your site, and the more popular or higher ranking the source of the link, the better. Link building is like any other relationship: it takes time and has its own etiquette. A good web design or SEO company should know how to make links work for, not against, your page rank.
Coding issues can also affect SEO. All websites should have a title, description, and a few keywords in the back-end coding. These are known as metatags. Search engines vary in how much they use metatags, but it’s a good idea to have them in place.
Functionality (how well your website does what its supposed to) plays a significant role in SEO. As a rule of thumb, anything annoying to a user will also annoy the search engines. Large image files that take a long time to load, sites that don’t work across multiple browsers, broken links, poorly formatted text, videos or audio files that don’t work, websites that are not properly maintained or updated, and a host of other functionality issues can have a negative impact on page rank.
One of the most direct ways to get your site indexed is to submit it manually to the individual search engines. This is particularly useful for new, re-designed or updated sites. You can review the submission policies and other information available on the websites of the major search engines. They’ll tell you what they consider good and bad form.
If SEO is important to you, and it should be, make sure your web designer understands how it works. Blogs, online publishing and pay-per-click campaigns can also be effective, provided you know what you’re doing. Unfortunately, not all web designers do. Good SEO is the best way to ensure ROI, so make sure you ask the right questions when selecting a web designer.
Diana Roberts is Senior Copywriter for Boss Creative, a San Antonio web design firm that specializes in SEO. To learn more about integrating SEO, view the Boss Creative portfolio and see what they’ve done for clients around the nation at http://www.thisisboss.com/work