Search Engine Optimization is the practice of getting your custom website on the front page of Google or Bing (or whichever service you use) for a given search term. SEO is an essential part of having your own website, and although this relatively new industry has a lot of strange twists and turns, today we're going to help you understand why it's vital, and where to start.
How It Works
According to Google, this behemoth Internet consists of roughly 60 trillion web pages, and is growing by the minute. The job of a search engine is to crawl from page to page using what are called spiders: these are simply the parts of the program that gather relevant information from the text and meta data of each page.
All of the gathered information is stored in an enormous database, where it is categorized. Then, whenever an Internet user makes a search, the search engine combs the vast database and, using a complex algorithm, presents the Internet user with the most relevant and useful information, based on the crawling and categorization of the spiders.
Now, this can all get a little confusing, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. We could go on and on about the ins and outs of search engine technology, but today, we're just trying to provide you with the basic information you'll need to get started. There are a number of fantastic books written on the topic, and Google has actually provided a lot of information recently on how they do what they do. If you're interested, a little research will go a long way.
Having said that, here's the main take-away as we proceed: it's all about keywords and links.
The Power of Keywords
It all begins with keywords. Essentially, you should think of your keywords as industry-relevant search terms. Place yourself in the shoes of potential visitors to your site. What will they type into the search engine in order for your page to come up?
Although you should initially conjure as many as you can think of, research will reveal a select few that are worth focusing on (you certainly don't want to spread yourself too thin among too many words). This first step is the most important in the process, as it will influence all subsequent action. From here on out, you must have a keyword-oriented mindset.
As you begin your campaign, after you've done your research and selected your keywords, you're going to want to commit to them for a while. At least until you've had time to plant your roots in some different places over the web. True, your SEO campaign will inevitably shift over the course of months, and you may discover new and better keywords. You can always go back and make modifications later.
However, being that your SEO campaign is going to grow from this foundation of keywords, it's best to choose wisely, and then commit. If the text has already been crafted for your site, we will not ask you to rewrite it, we will simply build your basic SEO structure around the already-existing content. However, for more intense efforts, it may be necessary to rework the copy to contain more strategically placed keywords.
The Bare Essentials
When you get yourself a website, there is a list of basic things you'll need. For example, you need a landing page: this will usually be your Home page, where you'll also need text or images that gives the visitor an overview of your business. You'll also need a Contact page where those who are interested in your products and services can shoot you an email and get a hold of you. This is all pretty straight-forward. But, an often overlooked, yet equally necessary part of this list of essentials is meta data.
When people discuss meta data, they may be referring to a number of things. Meta data exists in the source code of a website, which can be viewed by pressing ctrl+U on any page. In terms of SEO, the big three are: keywords, titles, and descriptions.
Your keywords meta data tag will contain your comprehensive list of keywords, created from your speculation and research. There should be a handful of primary keywords within this list that you've chosen to focus on. These primary keywords will play heavily into your title tags and description tags. All three of these meta data tags (keywords, titles, and descriptions) must be manually inserted into the source code of every page of your custom website. The spiders will give weight to these as they categorize and index.
While the keywords meta data tag is primarily for the spiders, the title and description tags manifest on the front end of your site, and serve a secondary purpose for potential visitors as well. Whenever you make a search on Google, you'll see a long list of sites.
For any one of them, the words in the actual link being presented are taken from the title tag. This is also what you'll see at the very top of the browser (Home | Custom Web Design | Hilton Head). Beneath the link, there is a brief paragraph explaining the site: this text is taken from the description tag.
So, although your titles and descriptions should be jam-packed with keywords, it is also wise to make them articulate and cohesive for the visitors who may see them on the pages of Google.
These three meta data tags are considered the bare essentials for any custom website. Once they have been crafted and manually inserted into each page, you must submit your site to Google (and any other search engines you deem appropriate), so that their spiders know your pages are there, waiting to be indexed. Of course, submitting your site is no guarantee that it will be indexed, but as far as basic SEO efforts are concerned, it's a great start.
Everything discussed up to this point is what you will receive when you build a custom website with HDM. Next, we're going to talk about some more basic actions you can take to give your site a little extra push.
The Power of Links
As you continue to explore SEO, you will find that links are your best friends. Link building is often compared to a candidate collecting votes. The more links you have going back to the pages of your site, whether internal or external, the more search engines will tend to notice. According to Google:
Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B … Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.”
You'll want to begin with internal links. As you develop your custom website, keep an eye out for absolutely any opportunity you can find to drop a link going to back to another one of your pages. Direct your visitors to your contact page, your services page, your portfolio, and use keyword-rich links to do it.
For example, let's say you design jewelry. Your link could say, For more information on custom jewelry, contact me. Or, See my portfolio of custom jewelry designs. Keywords within links carry quite a good deal of weight.
Eventually, you'll want to start to try to get other people to link to your site. Link Building, in this sense, is an entirely separate discipline of SEO, and goes beyond the scope of the basics that we're covering today. But if it's something you're considering, just remember that the quality of the page linking back to you matters. There's such a thing as link farms, and they could get you in trouble with Google.
You'll also eventually want to implement social media into your SEO efforts. Recently, Facebook and Twitter have become variables in the SEO game, and the search engines are responding. And then, of course, there's always Pay-Per-Click, a marketing effort in which you receive prime real estate on the front page, and then pay a small fee whenever someone clicks your link. These are the Sponsored Ads you'll see at the top of the search results, and sometimes at the side of the page.
There's much to say to that end, but for today, it simply bears repeating that links are good for your ranking, especially when they contain keywords.
Next, let's look some of the other places on your website where you can drop keywords.
Nooks & Crannies
For an ideally optimized site, you will have done your keyword research prior to naming your pages and writing your text. In many cases (many, but not all) the names of your pages could contain industry-relevant, keyword-rich search terms. The search engines give a lot of weight to keywords found in headers and navigation buttons.
You should also be naming your images. Any words that appear on the actual image cannot be picked up by spiders. However, as you, or your web designer, places images throughout your site, each one can be given an ALT tag. This will show visitors the name of the image if they hover over it, and it will allow spiders to find more of those sweet, sweet keywords. And then to top it off, you can put a unique caption beneath the picture.
In addition, your custom website ought to have a couple sitemaps, especially if the names of your pages contain keywords. There's actually two kinds of sitemaps. The first is a page on your website, like any of the others, that gives a comprehensive overview of your site's layout. Not only is this helpful for visitors navigating through your pages, it's an extra opportunity for your site to be associated with these search terms.
The second kind of sitemap is an xml file, which is inserted into the backend of your site. This is one of the first things that will be crawled by the search engine spiders. Almost all of the custom websites we create at HDM will contain this as well.
An Important Note on Spamming
Good SEO at the basic level is all about doing a lot of little things. As we've seen, this mostly boils down to placing keywords into all of the crevices your custom website possesses. However, you must not underestimate the search engines. They know the difference between legitimate content and keyword-stuffing.
For example, if you copy and paste the same list of keywords over and over again, putting them where they may not be relevant, the spiders will know you're trying to pull a fast one. SEO takes time and care. Every time you see an opportunity for keywords, it will always benefit you in the end to write something unique.
The Power of New Content
As a final word on search engine optimization, we'd like to stress the importance of new content.
As a part of your custom website, we'll get the SEO machine up and running for you. If you'd like to pursue it further, we can help. By consistently pushing out new content, you are able to stay relevant; you'll have even more keyword-rich pages to be indexed, and link building will ultimately be a lot easier.
To talk more about SEO, setting up a blog, or anything else you can think of, call or Contact Us today.