SEO Tip #1: Get Your Ducks In a Row
If you’re a business owner or communications pro, you’ve no doubt encountered dozens of SEO experts offering their magic bullets.
It’s not long before you realize there’s a whole bunch of snake oil out there for sale. The SEO rules and algorithms are constantly changing, but relevant content remains king. Bottom line: there is no magic wand and no “sexy” way to immediately change your search engine fate. It’s a few proven strategies, patience and perseverance. And if you can blog, you can do these steps—no snake oil required. In fact, everything below is FREE. Buyer beware!
A quick background. Most of us have gotten pretty good at web searches. We generally know how to search for what we want to find. And the reason it works well, and the reason we keep using Google is because they’re getter better and better at finding the relevant content we’re after. The bottom line is that now, more than ever, it’s actually important to have that relevant content on your site, or users will not find it.
In the old days, search engine optimization was simpler, but the results for the user were poor. Mass keyword dumping was the webmaster solution: stuffing as many relevant (and irrelevant) search terms in a meta tag in the site’s head to garner as much traffic to the site as possible. Fortunately for user experience, that practice now actually penalizes websites, as it’s prone to snag users far from the content they’re actually looking for.
What we’re after here is trying to snag users who are actually looking for what you’re offering. Job one is, without question, writing good, relevant content for your audience. We’ll offer tips on that in a future post. But, write what’s relevant, whether you’re a blogger, online store or professional expert.
Now it’s time to get your ducks in a row. These are the steps you need to complete to make sure Google, and other search engines are finding you. These are the nuts and bolts to begin improving your results.
1. Make sure your site’s code is valid. Use a service like W3C.org to see if your site has any code errors that might penalize your site. I will catch some flack, but you don’t have to be perfect, per se, but glaring errors will certainly hurt your search results, and overall site performance across web browsers.
2. Meta and Titles. While we just mentioned that keyword stuffing is a bad idea, listing relevant keywords is essential. Look over the content on your site, and make a list of 10-20 terms that are actually used on your site, and that would be great for users to search for. Add those to your meta keywords tag. Similarly, choose a descriptive title for your site that “owns” one or two of your top search terms. Then, in the description tag, write a concise, but descriptive explanation of your site that includes several good keywords in it. Your best bet to rising to the top of the results is if a searched term appears in your page’s actual content, the title, description and keywords. Again, we can’t stress enough: don’t overdo it. Pick just a small handful of terms that are most important and stick with those. They can always be changed in the future.
3. Add your site to Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. When you submit your site to both of these services, you’re taking the quickest route to notify Google that your site exists, and that your site is attempting to publish relevant, crawlable content. It allows Google to know it’s looking at a real site that will be maintained and active. Webmaster Tools offers a host of services, including crawl status, search queries and much more. Analytics is one of the best tools for looking at your site’s traffic data and information about the users accessing your site. Aside from helping with your page rank, both of these services offer phenomenal feedback and data on who is being reached by your site. And, they’re free!
4. Submit an XML sitemap to Google, via Google Webmaster Tools. An XML sitemap tells Google Webmaster how to find all the pages on your site, and ensures that pages are properly crawled by their spiders. This is an essential step toward making sure all of your site’s content is detected. XML sitemaps have to follow a very specific format, so it’s advised to use a service, even Google Code, to generate it. If you are using a blogging platform like WordPress, there are a number of plugins available that will do this for you and the same is true with most CMS platforms. Once you’ve created the XML sitemap, simply follow the instructions in Google Webmaster Tools to upload it.
5. Add your business to Google Maps, and yes, even Google Plus. Adding your business to Google Maps will automatically place your business near the top of the search results page if a user does a geographic search. (Tuxedo Rentals Lexington, for example.) Often, these are the first places users will click, so don’t miss that opportunity. The process of getting setup with Google Maps involves Google sending you a postcard to your business address for verification. And, just because it’s Google, adding a Google Plus page for your business will be another sure-fire way to get the listing to move to the top of the page.
Obviously, this is the tip of the iceberg. Our future posts will tackle writing for SEO, tagging and AdWords campaigns, but none of these strategies will work well without building the base—getting your site’s ducks in a row.