SEO tips: How to Optimize your site

For some reason, lately, people are asking me more and more about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I figured instead of writing directly to each of them, I’d put a post together to share what I know with everyone. This way, you might be able to start doing some of these tips, yourself.

Recently, I had written an email to one of my business associates (Eliana at Sidewalkcafedesign.com), who asked me what I could share with her about SEO. I am using that info to start this conversation.

Since I wrote this for someone with a bit of SEO knowledge, if something doesn’t make sense, let me know.

Also, if, by chance, you are an expert in SEO and you are reading this, please feel free to provide ‘constructive comments’ – if I did get something incorrect. That way, we can all learn from the experience.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize these two things:

1. The Search Engines don’t share how they factor their ranking systems.

The content in the below post contains many of the best practice examples I have learned, about how you can possibly help your site. They are things I do for my clients, based on things I have heard (from reputable SEO firms), but I don’t guarantee to get you to #1 using content from this one single post. That takes a lot of time and effort. These are just ideas to help you along the way.

2. Check the date of this post.

Since the search engines are always changing, if you are finding this post a year or two from now then I’d like to say “Hello to the future” and remind you that the search engines change their algorithms constantly. However, since most of these are best practices, they should not hurt you, even in the future. Though it is wise to look for newer posts, to stay current.

Alrighty, then, here we go:

  • It is critical to get the appropriate keywords for your site, so let’s address that for a moment. It doesn’t matter what you as the site owner think people are searching for. What matters is what people really are searching for, not the terms used in your industry or internally in your office, but what the person looking for your product or service is typing in as their search term. Know how people are searching, then put those words in the title, description, and keywords (as mentioned in a bullet below) and, especially, in the content on your site. Because, let’s face it, it doesn’t make sense to have them appear in the code, if you are not using them in your copy
  • Write the content (a.k.a. copy or text, as well as any image captions) of each page, in a natural voice. Don’t try to force the use of keywords. But, after you write the original content, go back and see if there are appropriate places where you might be able to change the sentence to appropriately include that keyword. You need to remember, it must be easy and natural for the site visitor (the person) to read that sentence. Search engines are getting very sophisticated and are now learning to read the sites like a human, so even more reason (not that you needed any) to write for the human visitor’s experience
  • When Search Engine spiders (a.k.a. crawlers and robots) come to your site, they start at the top of the home page (viewing the site’s code, which also shows the content), so make sure you include good keywords high up on the page
  • There are behind the scenes things (in the site’s code) called Meta Title, Meta Description and Meta Keywords – that the search engines will read. Make sure you or your web person takes advantage of these sections and include the appropriate keywords.
    • Meta Title: This is what appears at the top of your browser window and as the title for a Google Search Result. Each page’s title tag should contain the keywords that are used in the copy on that page.
    • Meta Description: The description should be no more than 160 characters and should tell folks what they should expect to find on that page. This content is often what Google uses as its description for your search results
    • Meta Keywords: Current wisdom is that the Meta Keywords section of the code aren’t being factored into the search ranking formula, because people used to ‘stuff’ them with inappropriate words (high-ranking words that weren’t relevant to their site, in an attempt to rank higher). However, it is still good practice to include your appropriate keywords in the Meta Keyword field, because you never know when that factoring might change.
  • Make sure each and every individual page (or blog post) has a relevant Meta Title, Description and use of Keywords – don’t just use generic Meta data on all pages.
  • H1 tags (headlines) should contain strong keywords. Too often I see people write the word Welcome as the first and only thing for the headline on the home page – big mistake and waste of a good keyword opportunity!
  • Write for the human experience. Yes, this is kind of a repeat of what I wrote a few bullet points above, but it is that important that I kept it in here twice. Search Engines are trying to emulate the visitor’s experience, so make sure you write for the visitor, not just the search engines. (After all, if you’re ranked #1, but then when folks get to your site, they can’t connect with the content or easily navigate through your site, then you are loosing them.) The human visitor is who will be buying your services or products, not the search engine robots, so the humans’ experiences are always top priority.
  • Image (and other media) File Names and Alt tags should use keywords. Often I see image files called something like 10008438.jpg. Since the search engines see those image files, why not, when appropriate use a keyword. After all, that might help you, too, if you need to find that image file, later, you know what it is called. And, alt tags don’t only help the search engines, but also someone who is visually impaired and using an audio reader to ‘hear’ the content of your site
  • Use clean urls (no “?” and stuff like that in the url address) – here is an example:
    • Bad Url (this is for example purposes and not a real link): http://www.uniquethink.com/?site_id=619&page_id=25384&id_sub=25384
    • Clean URL: http://uniquethink.com/services/wordpress-sites-by-uniquethink/
      • Isn’t the second one clearer to understand – plus, from what I have been told, most search engines don’t read anything after the ?, anyway.
  • It seems the search engines think it is less important to link to other people (though it is very nice and I link to people I like all the time). I have heard it is more important for them to see other sites linking back to you. Links from other ‘authority sites’ (For example: Relevant, well-known sites, in your industry), that send folks back to your site, weigh heavy to the algorithms – so, it is just as important to get people linking back to the site. Besides, if you can get folks linking back to you, their audience is also learning about you – so it is a win/win situation. How to get those sites to link back to you is a post of another color (a.k.a. a future post)
  • It also helps to have links from one page to another – on your site – A site map and Internal links directing from one page to another seem to help index more pages of your site
  • The other big factor that search engines take into account is FRESH, RELEVANT, ORIGINAL CONTENT that is CONTINUOUSLY ADDED

As for WordPress, specifically:

  • Search engines love blogs, because the main concept of a blog is to continuously be providing fresh, relevant, original content
  • WordPress doesn’t merely wait for the search engines to come to the site (like a traditional site does), but it also pro-actively sends each post (not pages, but posts) to the search engines – that is why I use the blog as a marketing tool (re-purpose newsletter content, use it for case studies/success stories, articles…) So, each time you write something, as a post, it gets submitted to Google (and others) upon publishing, thru RSS
  • WordPress is set up well to help with a lot of the above mentioned items – like clean urls, putting in alt tags, H1… and there are great (free) plugins – like the All-in-one-SEO tool that make it really easy to add appropriate customized titles and descriptions to any page/post

OK, that is a lot of info. So, why not start with the obvious, keywords. Take note about what I mentioned about them. Don’t use what you think are important keywords, but instead find out how your prospects might be searching for you. Then start using those terms naturally within the content of your site. Then come back to this post and find another tip from above and start implementing that one. You can also contact me. I give a 1-hr free consultation to potential clients and we can use that hour to review these tips or talk specifically about your site.

Again, if you have any tips or suggestions of your own – feel free to share that, or any constructive comments, below.

Focusing on the possibilities…

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Bethany is the founder of UniqueThink, an online marketing and web design/development firm in Boulder, CO. She specializes in WordPress websites and blogs, Email Marketing and overall marketing strategies.

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4 comments on “SEO tips: How to Optimize your site

  1. In your first bullet point you say it’s important to use the appropriate keywords. How can an average person (not an seo specialist) figure out what the appropriate keywords are?

    What will an SEO specialist provide that a web designer might not provide?

  2. Hi Eliana:

    I took your suggestion and wrote a post on finding appropriate keywords: http://uniquethink.com/keyword-research/

    Let me know if it answers your questions!

    As for what will an SE specialist provide that a web designer might now, well…that is a big question that deserves its own post. Thanks for providing great comments. I will try to write that one up, soon!

  3. Also, to the other comment from project server solutions, I will write a post about that, but if you are using WordPress, there is a handy dandy plugin called All In One SEO that I highly recommend. It makes adding title tags, descriptions and keywords much easier. Check out my post about that and other great plugins for WordPress: http://uniquethink.com/wordpress-plugins/

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