World Domination Made Easy
Like most web site owners, you’ve probably gotten dozens of e-mails, faxes, postcards and perhaps even a phone call or two from so-called “experts” promising you that they can get your site that coveted #1 spot on Google, or any of the other search sites. The cold, hard truth is that no one, let me repeat it NO ONE can do that. Anyone making that promise should be avoided.
Now that I have dashed your dreams of Google domination on the rocks, I do have some good news. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not all rocket science; there are many things you can do yourself to help raise your ranking and placement on all of the search engines. I’ll share a few of them to help get you started down the road to search engine domination.
Optimize your site for your audience, not for the search engines.
Okay, this is more of a philosophy than an action item, but I truly believe this. Despite the rumors to the contrary, the engineers at the various search companies are not deviously trying to create tools to make it harder for site owners to be found, or to create robots that are more “roboty.” Believe it or not, they want to make it easier for people to find the sites that are the most relevant to the search words they entered. To do this, those engineers try to make the robots behave more like humans.
Think about when you open your daily newspaper – you probably scan the headlines (larger ones first), glance at a photo or two, read the captions, maybe read the first few lines of a couple stories…and then you decide what you want to read first, what is most relevant to you at that moment in time.
The search engine engineers are *trying* to have the robots behave the same way. By analyzing all of the content and how it’s structured, the search engines hope to determine what is the most relevant for each person’s search.
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes. Does your site use an easy-to-follow layout, does it have compelling copy, use appropriate images and supporting links? Are your pages easy to navigate? Are headlines clear and concise? Are there links to related information on your site, or even to another site?
Find the best keywords.
This is often thought to be an easy aspect of site optimization, when usually it is one of the more difficult. What you think someone will search for and what they actually search for can be two very different things. Put a great deal of time and effort into researching your keywords for your web site. In “Five Steps to Effective Keyword Research“, SeachEngineGuide.com says that site owners may use too narrow of a lens when evaluating their site, resulting in keywords that read like industry jargon. For example, if you want to use “gourmet kitchen” as a keyword, use that and not “grmet kit”, which I would assume to be a grommet repair kit. While these words make perfect sense to you (the site owner) they make little or no sense to your potential customer.
Insert keywords into page titles, headlines and content.
Titles are displayed to searchers as the link to your pages. Having a title that describes what a person should expect to find when they get there will not only help bring more people to your site, it will bring more of the right people. Additionally, because this helps readers – the search engines love it and use this in the evaluation process to determine which sites are the most relevant for the search words used. While the formulas of accepted use vary wildly, be sure to use your keywords and page title within the body of your content. I recommend using the exact same text within your title as a headline tag at the top of the page. Do not ever have words in your title that are not used somewhere on that page – most search engines look upon this as spam and will likely drop you.
Use page titles as links to internal pages.
This is one of the easiest things to do and is also one of the most frequently ignored. How many times have you seen “click here” or “view this”? Not very inviting is it? Just like on the search engine listings, using your page title (which had better include your keywords) tells your readers what they can expect to find if they do click on a link. As an added benefit, because it helps the readers…you guessed it; the search engines love this too.
Describe your images with the alt tag.
If your site uses images for navigation elements, this is critical. For now at least, robots can’t easily read your images to understand where they go. Just like in other page links, if possible, use the page title of the destination page as the alt text so that your readers will see the little hover text and the search engines will get another dose of your keywords. If you haven’t yet, you should view your web site in a text-only web browser. This is how the search engines see your site. Delorie.com has a Lynx Viewer available for use on their site. Lynx was a web browser used back in the olden days, before the web was pretty, when it consisted of just text. If your site looks and works well in Lynx, the robots will be much happier. On the subject of images, it’s also a good idea to name them descriptively too. For example if you have a great little logo image that says “Call Vicki! Official San Mateo Real Estate Blog”, then name your image “Call_Vicki_Official_San_Mateo_Real_Estate_Blog.gif” and not just “logo.gif.”
Make your pages “link-worthy.”
All of the major search engines place considerable importance on the number (and quality) of inbound links to your web site. But how do you get those links? Just like the movie said “If you build it, they will come.” If your site has quality content, people will want to share it by adding links. You can, of course, request other site owners to link to you, but use this tactic with caution. Only request links from sites with relevant, related material. Be vigilant – never, ever, let your site be placed on a large list of sites. These lists are frequently abused and as such are being dropped from most search engines.
That’s it? Really?
No, that’s not it. This is but the tip of the iceberg. Even on the day you reach the #1 spot, you will still need to keep working. SEO is a lot like when you used to play “king of the hill” as a kid, as soon as you manage to claw your way to the top, there are ten others ready to come and try to knock you down. But hey, nobody ever said world domination would be easy.