While the importance of ranking highly in relevant search engine queries hasn’t changed in the past 10 years, the process of Search Engine Optimization (aka SEO) has changed dramatically.
One of the foremost authorities on SEO, Moz.com, has published a beginners guide to SEO. This 58 page guide is ideal for business owners who are looking to understand the basics of SEO.
I think that it is one of the most comprehensive guides for SEO beginners that I’ve read in a while, and I highly encourage anyone who utters the word “SEO” in a conversation to read it.
Knowing that we’re all busy, and in the spirit of respecting your time, I’ve created a “cliff notes” version of the Moz.com Search Engine Optimization for Beginners guide (with my notes and comments, having optimized search engines for several years now). This is by no means a substitute for the full guide, which should only take you an hour or so to read. This summary will hopefully make digesting the full guide easier.
Throughout the guide you’ll notice a common theme, which I’ll paraphrase as “don’t try to cheat the system”. Your goal should be to execute a comprehensive digital marketing campaign that makes it easy for search engines to crawl your site and refer visitors to pages on your site that relate to their immediate query. While there are things that you can do to expedite this process, by no means does it happen overnight.
Search engines “crawl” your website from page to page, following links. So make sure that the search engines can easily go from page to page by making the link structure simple. They cannot follow search fields, so make sure that you provide links (ideally text links) that they can follow.
Search engines cannot interpret video, flash, nor images (yet!), so make sure that your webpages have lots of text, and use natural language.
Google recomends the following: “Google recommends the following to get better rankings in their search engine: Make pages primarily for users, not for search engines. Don’t deceive your users or present different content to search engines than you display to users, a practice commonly referred to as “cloaking.” Make a site with a clear hierarchy and text links. Create a useful, information-rich site, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content. Make sure that your <title> elements and ALT attributes are descriptive and accurate. Use keywords to create descriptive, human-friendly URLs. Provide one version of a URL to reach a document, using 301 redirects or the rel=”canonical” attribute to address duplicate content.”
Moz.com likes to say “Build for users, not for search engines”. I couldn’t agree with this more. You need to build an online marketing strategy that is natural, and as a bi-product is search engine friendly. Trying to engineer to only support search engines will only lead to your website being de-listed for SEO Fraud.
A search engine’s only goal is to deliver the most relevant answer to the person searching.
You should focus your content on answering questions. Searches fall into three categories: “Do” (I want to do something), “Know” (I want to know something), or Go (“I want to go somewhere – either an event or a webpage).
Search engines still drives a LOT of traffic to websites, and a majority of that traffic goes to the top listings in a search engine query … so it is worthwhile to spend the time / resources to ensure that your website ranks high in search engines.
Things that get in the way of search engines include online forms, duplicate content, and other items previously mentioned. Use common terms, make sure that your language is region specific (the Brits are known for spelling words with an S intead of a Z), and make sure that the language aligns with your primary target audience.
Remember that SEO is always evolving, which is another reason that you want to follow “white hat” (aka honest) approaches. You can check how a search engine reads your website by using SEO-Browser.com or Moz.com. Or you can look at Google’s text cache of the page.
The text in the link (eg: <a href = “website.com”>seo advice</a>) is important for SEO.
Use specific, and relevant, keywords. But don’t over abuse them. Make sure that the language is natural.
Moz.com recommends for keyword(s) / key phrases:
- Use the keyword(s) in the title tag. Use them at least once. You can use them more than once, but remember to keep the language natural.
- Use the keyword(s) / key phrases once prominently near the top of the page. For example, as the bolded header at the top of the page. Remember that search engines cannot read images, so make sure that it is “pure text”.
- Several times (with different variations) throughout the rest of the webpage.
- As part of the alt tag of an image.
- Once in the URL of the webpage.
- And as part of the Meta Description for the page. Search engines will pull from the Meta Description when creating the “sneak peak” which shows beneath the listing for your site in the query. Not only should the Meta Description include the keyword, but it should be written as a compelling call to action that drives the reader to go to the website!
Choosing the right keyword / key phrase is an artform. You need to choose keywords which are not only relevant to the search, but also aren’t so general that you won’t rank highly in the search query. There is an old saying “The riches are in the niches”, and you should think about keyword the same way.
Moz.com’s Keyword Analysis tool can help you understand the competition for a specific keyword or key phrase, and consequently how difficult it will be to rank highly for them.
As mentioned earlier, search engines are trying to give searchers the best possible results for their query. Generally, search engines like websites that are:
- Easy to navigate and understand.
- Provide clear information relevant to the query.
- Designed for modern browsers, across numerous platforms (mobile, desktop, etc. ).
- Deliver high quality, credible, and unique content.
Who links to you, and how they link to you, is important.
- Trusted sites like Wikipedia (where there are a lot of communal editors who ensure the quality and accuracy of the content and links) carry a lot of value. Also .gov, .edu, etc. sites.
- Related sites (sites that discuss a similar topic) carry value as well.
- The Anchor Text is important.
- The freshness and frequency of linking is important. This is not a “set it and forget it” activity.
- And more recently social sharing is important.
The guide also discusses techniques you can use to build a strong, legitimate linking strategy.
This chapter discusses behind the scenes tools like Robots.txt and SiteMaps. These are things your webmaster should setup for your site to make it easier for search engines to crawl the site.
Chapter 9 discusses the “black hat” techniques that are likely to negatively impact your listing, like keyword stuffing, etc.
Chapter 10 covers the tools you should use to measure the success of your SEO activity. They include:
- The search engine share of referring visitors (how many visitors are finding your site via search engines)
- The terms and phrases that consumers use when finding your website.
- The ultimate conversion ratio of search engine traffic, by keyword or key phrase.
- And how many pages benefit from search engine referred traffic.
The chapter also covers which tools you can use to measure these benchmarks, and how to use the tools.