SEO, which stands for search engine optimization, is simply about optimizing your website so search engines and users can find you easier and quicker on the internet.
Over 80% of internet users use search engines to find what they are looking for. This makes it a great opportunity for businesses to reach their target audience and to use the internet to find clients.However, since the internet continually gets more crowded, getting to the top of the search results takes some work. That's where SEO can help. SEO helps improve your rankings in the search engines so your site can appear on the first page of results for relevant searches. SEO can bring exposure to your business and drive visitors to your site so you can generate more leads and increase sales.
Statistics show that 95% of the people do not go beyond two pages of search results. Each results page has 10 spots. That means to get to the top, you have to get ahead of those that are already there. To get ahead, you need to use the most effective SEO techniques and strategies for your business to increase your rankings with the search engines.SEO is considered one of the more technical areas of web marketing. There is a lot of confusing jargon used in relation to SEO, but the overall premise of website search optimization is that there are proven techniques you can use to get higher rankings once you understand how search engines work and what you need to do get results.
How Search Engines Work
Your goal is for your site to appear on the first page of the search results when someone searches on Google, Yahoo, Bing or another search engine for your type of business. The objective of the search engines to provide the most relevant results for each search. So to get your site ranked highly, you need to understand how search engines work, and how you can give them what they need to find your site and list it high in the results.
Search engines use automated pieces of code called robots (or bots or spiders) to continuously crawl through and index billions of web pages of information, and sophisticated computer algorithms to determine how to rank each page. Different search engines work in slightly different ways and may use different criteria in their algorithms, but they all perform three basic tasks:
1) They crawl the internet using robots to find new sites and get updated information from existing sites, and save information about each page in a database.
2) They use a database to store and index data about each page using the keywords from the content, title, headers and other factors that are used to increase the relevancy of search results. By indexing the data and evaluating relevancy, search engines provide more accurate and efficient search results to their users and can therefore also increase their own usage and popularity.
3) They rank and list results - In addition to storing and indexing data, the search engines also rank a particular site so they know where on the results to list the site when a search is performed. The list that is displayed back on the results is called the Search Engine Results Page or SERP. There are many factors that search engines use to rank a site. These factors change periodically so the search engines can deliver the most relevant results to search users. Pages are evaluated using both onsite factors (e.g. the “search engine friendliness” of the code, use of keywords and meta tags, and quality and relevance of the content) and offsite factors (quantity and quality of the incoming links from other websites).
On-Site SEO (also known as onsite optimization)
Webiste search optimization is used to ensure your website and each page of your site is designed and developed using the standards and guidelines that contribute to quality and search engine friendliness. These standards continue to evolve and are a factor that Google and other search engines use to rank your site.
Onsite optimization includes items such as:
- researching the best keywords and using them in the text of each of your main web pages
- updating the title, description and keywords (known as meta tags) to match the text
- making sure the headings on the page are also optimized and where relevant using keywords in the headings
- optimizing your images with a description and where relevant using keywords
- optimizing your image names with relevant keywords
- having a site map that shows the navigation and pages on your site
- other technical information to make the site easy for search engine bots to crawl and index
Offsite SEO (also known as link building)
For external website search optimization, search engines rank sites primarily on how many authoritative sites link to you, how relevant those sites are to your business, and how reputable and highly ranked they are. There are many ways to increase your site’s popularity through link building with popular directories and social media activities. Below are 12 of the most common strategies used:
- Submit your site to search engines and local search directories
- Get listed in the popular general web directories and your industry-specific directories
- Request link exchanges with sites that complement your business
- Create content on community sites or "user generated content sites" like HubPages and Squidoo
- Post on social bookmarking sites
- Submit press releases to press release sites
- Submit articles to article directories
- Create your own blog and post information regularly
- Create a video and submit it to video sites
- Create presentations and share through presentation sharing sites like Slideshare
- Build presence in social networking sites
- Participate in blogs and forums in your industry
- It takes time and resources to do each of these. So part of your overall SEO plan is to select a number of these different SEO strategies and then focus on producing quality content and doing them consistently.
Keywords - The Foundational Driver Behind SEO
The starting point for website search optimization is research to identify the keywords most relevant to your business and what you are trying to promote with your site. The first step in SEO is to generate a short list of keywords using your knowledge of your market and your customers. Next, run this list of keywords through one or more keyword research tools (such as the free Google keyword research tool) to evaluate the search volume (popularity) and level of competition for each search phrase.
The goal is to select the most searched keywords with the least competition. The more competitive the keywords are, the more difficult it will be to rank highly in the search results. Your ranking with the search engines is specific to the keywords you select. You cannot rank high on all keywords in your business, so you select some targeted keywords (no more than two to three per page) that you want to compete on and these become your campaign keywords that you use in all your optimization efforts.
Researching and selecting the right keywords can be a tedious process, but it is the essential first step to getting started with SEO. Once you select the keywords to use, they become the keywords to execute your online campaigns and are one of the factors to use to measure the progress and effectiveness of your campaigns.
Realistic Expecations for SEO
SEO is not a magic rocket that will zoom your site to the top of the search engines. It is a form of advertising and a marketing strategy, that when done properly, methodically and consistently will get your business the desired results. Persistence and patience will be rewarded in website search optimization.
If you have a new website, it will take a more time to rank highly in search results. New sites tend to rank lower because they have a lower “trust” factor by the search engines. Websites that are more than two years old typically take three to four months of optimization efforts to achieve a reasonable ranking on Bing and Yahoo, and four to five months on Google.
Unless your site is extremely poorly coded, or your business name is very common, your site should naturally rank highly when searchers use your actual business name. SEO is about ranking highly for “generic” terms searchers may use (e.g., “hardware store in St. Louis”). Some of those keyword phrases are very competitive. You will learn how competitive different keywords are once you start doing your keyword research. If you must use highly competitive keywords, it will require more aggressive strategies and more activity to move you up the ranks.
Local search engines and directories are a great way to start your offsite search optimization efforts because they already have high authority with the search engines. Listing your business in those directories will help you greatly in getting started. Similarly there are many popular social bookmarking sites that you can use to maximize your results.
Using Paid SEO to Get Faster Results
If you are impatient about getting listed on the first page, you can use pay-per-click (PPC) advertising as a way to get quicker results. This is also referred to as search engine marketing (SEM). Paid search results are typically the top two to three results plus the listings in the right column of a search results page, and usually identified as sponsored links.
Getting Started with SEO
To get started with website search optimization, do your keyword research and select the keywords that you will use for your campaign, then do the onsite optimization before starting with your offsite optimization (or link building). Local search engines and directories are a great way to start your link building efforts because they are already highly optimized by the search engines. Just by submitting your site in the top search engines and directories, you will already start to see your business exposed on the web. Similarly there are many popular general directory sites and social bookmarking sites that you can use to maximize your results.
Some SEO work is easy to do on your own, some of it is more technical, and some activities are quite tedious. However, keep in mind is that SEO is not a one-time effort. It is an ongoing effort. It is a form of marketing. Therefore, as in any marketing effort, you have to put the time and money into it on an ongoing basis in order for it to pay off. You may want to consider learning more about SEO to determine how to best use it for your business. There are many materials you can use to build your knowledge in this area, or you can hire a coach, or outsource a six-month SEO campaign and learn from your SEO service provider. Whatever approach you choose, it is important to understand what SEO includes, work with people you trust, stay current on how to keep your business competitive on the web and stay in control of your own destiny!