Any time spent searching for information on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) will bring back literally thousands of resources and sites dedicated to the subject. Why then are forums continuously overrun with requests for advice on this stuff? One reason could be because there is just so much information out there. You could easily spend hours researching and come away with only 2 or 3 major points. Not exactly efficient, especially for a subject that changes and evolves almost daily.
So here is my attempt at an easy to understand guide to basic SEO practices – which I realize may be completely obsolete by next Thursday.
Right off the bat you need to know there are 2 main categories for SEO: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO. Here’s what these mean in a nutshell:
On Page SEO: everything you do specifically on your website, i.e. site structure
Off Page SEO: everything you do outside of your immediate website, i.e. your relationship to other websites
ON PAGE – The Good
✔ Have a site map. If you don’t have a site map stop reading right now and go make one. Its one of the easiest ways to make sure the search engines find your site (and any new pages you add) easy to crawl.
✔ Keywords. Put the keywords you want to rank for in your URL and domain name if at all possible. Put them in your your title tag, and just for fun stick them in the meta tag as well. Now, Google says in no longer uses the Keyword meta tag, but others do so it can’t hurt to put them in there. Be careful though – every single keyword in the keyword meta tag MUST appear somewhere in your body text, otherwise google will mark it as irrelevant and penalize you.
✔ Links. Your internal links should have keywords, and lower level pages should be linked together appropriately. A general rule of thumb is that a user should be able to navigate to any page on your site within 3 or 4 clicks from the homepage. As for external links, make sure you only link to reputable sites (no links farms or ‘bad neighborhoods’) and check to make sure your links are all valid.
✔ Be old and new at the same time. Google likes old sites because of the perceived ‘trust’ they have, it also likes ‘fresh’ pages. The best site in Google’s opinion has been around for a long time and puts new content up on a regular basis. Good to know, even if you can only control the second part.
ON PAGE – The Bad
☠ Keywords. It’s a two way street, keywords are an essential part of good on page SEO but it can easily go wrong. Rules of thumb: Don’t have too many (keyword stuffing) and make sure every single one is 100% relevant to your site’s topic.
☠ Bad language/ethnic slurs/’stop’ words. Basically don’t use any word Google has associated with shady dealings in the past.
☠ All Flash with no HTML option. Most search engine spiders can’t read flash, give them an HTML option to read or they won’t index your page and your ranking may suffer.
OFF PAGE – The Good
✔ Links, Links, Links. Incoming links from quality sites are extremely important. You want stable (the older the better) links that contain your keywords in them pointing to you from a site that is a trusted source – you get bonus points if its from an “expert” site.
✔ Traffic. The more people on your site the better. If your site is new and you don’t have much traffic, you get a little boost if there is an increasing pattern, you also get a boost if people stay on your site for a long time (low bounce rate). If visitors bookmark your page…even better! I know this seems a bit out of your control – but by creating content on your site people actually want to read and find interesting you can encourage better traffic.
✔ Article Submission/Blogs. By creating articles and submitting them to other sites you not only create links pointing to your site, you create interest among visitors. The same is true for having a blog. You’ll be creating new content on a regular basis (which Google loves) plus you’ll be building a loyal base of readers who may help your site to be seen as a ‘trusted’ source and give you a consistent stream of traffic.
✔ Page Rank. It’s based on the number of quality links pointing back to you, but other factors are included as well. There are differing opinions among SEO professionals as to just how important Page Rank is. Many say that it isn’t important at all anymore, some still rely on it. Our take? Don’t obsess over your site’s Page Rank, but don’t completely discount it either.
OFF PAGE – The Bad
☠ Bad Links. Google is cracking down on link-buying by penalizing sites. Link exchanging is also an issue, while there is no penalty for exchanging links with other sites Google deems these type of links much less valuable than quality incoming (one way) links. You also want to look out for bad ‘link neighborhoods’ – sites linked together through spammy sites or link farms. If you link to these sites by accident chances are you’ll be OK, but if Google finds too many of these type of links on your pages you could be in trouble. Here is a tool to help check your links – Text Link Checker Tool.
☠ Being “spammy”. Link building activities can get a bad rep because there are so many ‘techniques’ that are just plain spammy. Mass-posting links into forums, posting links into comment sections of completely unrelated blogs, or mass-emailing hundreds of bloggers/webmasters asking for links are just plain annoying and not all that successful anyway.
Keep in mind these are just the basics, there’s a plethora of resources out there if you’d like in depth info on one specific aspect of SEO. Check out Vaughn’s Google’s Ranking Factors for more Google specific details, its a great resource if you’ve got the time to go through it.
If you have any SEO resources you use or just a great informational site let me know!