A Beginners Guide to SEO A Beginners Guide to SEO As a start-up or business owner your level of market reach and penetration is closely associated to how high your site (and content) ranks on search engines; just ask BestProducts.com, the company currently receives over 600,000 visitors every month as a result of their top tier organic ranking on Google for associated keywords. For you, as a start-up or small business owner, it is even more imperative that your site ranks first for related keywords if that dream of moving from start-up to industry leader is ever going to become a reality. But how do you do it? What are the secrets? Welcome to SEO 101. What is SEO? Let’s begin with watching an explanation by googles very own Matt Cutts – How Search Works: Now that you have a slight idea of how search works, let’s continue in a bit more detail: Ever searched for a particular product say an iPhone and noticed that some results despite lacking significant content appeared ahead of others with more engaging and informative content, if yes, then you have had a first-hand experience of the capability of SEO. Simply put SEO or search engine optimization is the process of optimizing web content for optimum placement in search engine listings. The actual process of going about this is a closely guarded secret, however, through what is most times a process of trial and error industry veterans have been able to come up with a globally acceptable schema of how it works. Your Content If you truly intend to consistently (emphasis on consistently) outrank your competition in organic search engine listings, then you must feature premium and high-quality content. Because after all optimizing a site whose repertoire of content is sub par is a sorry case of dressing a frog in a gentleman’s attire; still doesn’t make it a gentleman. In summing up results, search engines like Google aim to present first, sites that contain exactly what the user is looking for, and to do this they take into account; Your keywords Keywords in the eyes of search engines can be aptly described as surface markers indicating the presence of content relevant to a user’s search term on your web page. Think of it as large signposts that tell search engines that you have the exact content of which the end user is doing a search. It is therefore important that you pay keen attention to embedding relevant keywords as you develop content for your website. Relevant keywords in this context are keywords with the highest amount of searches as related to your niche. Say, for instance; you operate an e-commerce site that sells iPhones. The search term customers looking to buy iPhones probably use would be something in the line of ‘cheapest iPhones’ rolling‘iPhones free shipping’ “latest iPhones’ ‘iPhone review’ ‘iPhone price’ as opposed to ‘iPhones’ ‘Apple’ etc. To get a thorough knowledge of what keyword is most searched in your niche a Keyword research comes in handy. How fresh is your content? Trends change, information changes; what might be relevant today could be rendered obsolete tomorrow. Search engines realize this and are always on the prowl for newer and fresher content that connect more to the rapidly changing needs of today. And while constantly refreshing your site is pretty much a Herculean task, one trick industry veteran’s use is to update already existing content routinely. Duplicate contents To improve the search experience, search engines avoid presenting results with similar or the same content to users. In the case where your site hosts content found elsewhere on the web, the chances are that it would be ignored by search engines thus hurting your SEO. Try as much as possible to host only original content on your website, and if you must duplicate make sure to use a 301 redirect or the rel=canonical URL tags. Site Optimization Now to the more technical aspects of SEO. Search Engines make use of bots and web crawlers to analyze sites. To facilitate proper assessment which in turns means proper indexing and better SEO; your site has to be well optimized. A rudimentary knowledge of HTML obtainable at educational sites like TreeHouse and CodeAcademy comes in handy at this point. What you need to do Create Title tags for all your Web pages Remember that single line of text that appears on your browser tabs when you visit those are title tags. Title tags are a brief synopsis of what is contained in your web page; it tells search engines (and web users) what to expect if they click your pages. As a rule of thumb use unique and concise phrases as your title tags, avoid using the popular ‘untitled’ and spammy titles that bear no relation to the content on your web page. The title tag of your web page is usually placed inside the <head> tag of the HTML document or hI tag for blog sites, sounds confusing? See why we recommended learning the rudiments of basic HTML in the first place. Utilize the Description Meta tag The description meta tag essentially summarizes what is contained on your web page, again for both search engines and users. Similar to the title tag this is usually located in the <head> tag of your HTML file. Description meta tags are even more important in converting views to click as search engines routinely highlight segments of user search terms that match phrases contained in your description tag; thus affirming the relevance of your content to the needs of the web user. Site organization and architecture Sterling content, well optimized but pitched on a site with poor architecture is likened to placing diamonds in a maze. While you don’t want to people to get to your diamonds, you most certainly want people to access content on your website; hence the importance of taking necessary steps to develop a well-organized web site. Users are naturally inclined to visit and spend more time on well-structured internet sites; it’s the reason sites like Tumblr, Ebay, and Fiveer feature a streamlined and easy to navigate UI, as opposed to a clustered one. Search engines are well aware of this and as you would expect their inclination is to point users to websites where they feel comfortable and at home. Things to note. Your site should be easily navigable for both Users and Google’s web crawlers. Make certain to design your website in a structured manner Create a reference site map (i.e. a page with sequential listings of your web content that details the structure of your site) to aid web crawlers to assess your site properly. You can use a plugin or XML site map generator to do this. Optimization for Mobile The majority of people access the web via their mobile phones, search engines taking this into consideration and show a preference for mobile optimized content or better still content entirely meant for mobile when displaying search results to phone users. There are several plugins available to help optimize standard web content for mobile. How fast is your web loading time? Very few people bear the fortitude to endure pages that load slowly. I for one don’t, and I’m sure search engines like Google share the same sentiment. Google and other search engines routinely conduct tests to make sure results topping the organic listings are web pages with fast loading times. Apart from using a premium hosting service, one other way to stay clear of longer loading times is to avoid heavy websites themes and ad services. How secure is your website? More recently search engines have begun to consider site security in their webometrics for SEO. Implementing an SSL or HTTPS security protocol is all the protection you’d ever need, and while it takes some effort to get it done, it is worth the effort especially for E commerce sites. Site Trustworthiness Trust within the context of SEO refers to how established and well known your website is in the confines of your niche. Sites like Google, for instance, are trustworthy in the eyes of search engines, because no one talks about online searches without mentioning Google, so is CNET with regards to phones and so on. The stronger the trustworthiness of your site the more search engines trust your content and invariably the higher your rankings in search results. They are different ways to go about building site trust, paramount among which are; Generating trustworthy backlinks What better way to make search engines trust you than by affiliating with already established websites. Getting backlinks from a highly rated domain is a subtle way of telling search engines that such a domain vetoes your web content. And as you would expect they (the search engines) consider content vetoed by high authority domains to be likewise high-quality. There are various ways to get quality backlinks, just make sure to keep it natural, and non-spammy as search engines seriously kick against spam and unnatural links Things to note With regards to backlinks it’s a clear case of quality over quantity; for example, one .edu backlink is worth more than 150 backlinks from sites like Medium. This is because search engines using a number of strategies like the rel= ‘dofollow’ and ‘nofollow’ URL tags, knows how to sift quality backlinks from the chaff. Anchor texts bearing your site’s link should be as contextual and natural as is possible. Improving your bounce rate People spending more time on your website is a clear indication that they are getting what they need. Search Engines like that, and take it into consideration when building search results. Your bounce rate is in plain language an outlook of how many visitors exit your site after viewing just one page; the lower this figure, the better. Weak content, hard to navigate pages, slow loading times are the usual culprits for high bounce rates. Creating an Identity Search Engines cannot trust you if they don’t know you and your business. Invest the time and resources in creating a brand image; this entails setting up personal profiles on Google+, LinkedIn, twitter, facebook, Tumblr, Quora, Youtube, etc. Don’t forget to include an about me page hosted on your website. Social Interaction Aside from exposing your content to a bigger audience, sharing your content on social media is a great way to improve your SEO since search engines utilize data from social media sites like facebook and twitter to develop their search results. Things to note; Like with backlinks, search engines take into account the authority of the sharer. High authority accounts are appropriately tagged as influencers; getting influencers to share your content can be challenging no doubt, but relatively straightforward ways to achieve this include interviewing and quoting them or sending a free sample of your product. The level of social interaction measured by the number of tweets/retweets/likes for twitter and shares/likes for sites like facebook also matters. Conclusion In the end contrary to what some people think, SEO is not rocket science. Careful implementation of the aforementioned points plus constant researching (since the dynamics of SEO routinely change) goes a long way to help you rank better (if not first) in search engine results. Also, remember that while countless sermons on super-fast ‘Black hat’ techniques to SEO litter the web, aside putting your sites at the risk of being blacklisted they are usually short term measures to outrank your competitors since the vulnerability which they exploited would most certainly get patched in the future. If you’re looking to build a reputable SEO presence be prepared to go the long haul.