[This post is part of the ongoing Better Websites Series.]
The term Search Engine Optimization is not a new. However, most of us don’t understand how it works, or how to do it.
The truth is that it isn’t something you need to hire a fancy firm to figure out. It is something that you can do yourself, with a little determination and some elbow grease.
There are two primary strategies for SEO greatness. Before we dive in, though, you need to understand the science, and the history, of how search engines work.
The History of Search
For the most part search engines works like we think they do. We type in a few words and they match us with pages that use those words. The closer the keyword match, the better the result.
Back in the day, search engines like Yahoo and AltaVista worked entirely on this model, but, there were a lot of problems. Soon, Internet users started gaming the system by stuffing their websites full of top keywords. Search engines became eroded by spam and became less and less useful. There had to be a better way.
Introducing Page Rank
In the late 90s, a newcomer to the search space named Google introduced us to something completely new called PageRank. This rating was a simple number ranging from 0 to 10 that determined the quality of a website.
For example, a brand new website would have a PageRank of 0, where a well established site might have a ranking of 7.
Search results would be listed in relation to the keywords used, and the PageRank score.
So, how do they calculate this ranking?
Well, Google is obviously very tight lipped about their specific formula, but we do know that it is highly based on the quality of a sites content, and the number of links sending traffic to that site.
And these are officially, the two most important aspects of search engine optimization.
The first step is…
Creating Quality Content
Many times, we treat our website like a simple brochure. You put the basics of your business on the site, but nothing more.
But, it isn’t enough. Here are a few of the keys to creating great content:
Important Keywords – One of the basic tactics for good SEO content is to use important keywords that are related to your industry and business. What terms do your customers use? How can you naturally incorporate them into the copy of your website?
Write Naturally – When it comes to your product, no one is more sophisticated than you. You understand the intricacies and talk about your products in a very detailed way. Website copy should be written in a natural voice, one that speaks the language of the customers. When you write in this way, you are more likely to chose key terms that your customers will search for.
Regular Updates – Google and other search engines like Yahoo and Bing, love to see regular new content being added to your site. These engines all have ‘bots’ that are constantly combing the web to find and index changes. This is one of the reasons that websites with blogs perform so well.
Two Audiences – We have been burned by the idea that short copy is better, because most people don’t want to read a lot online. This is becoming less and less true all the time. More copy is better. The more you feed Google, the more it understands about you.
Think Inbound – The term Inbound refers specifically to the traffic that is coming into your site from search engines and social networks. You will need to think creatively to develop this type of content. What type of information or help are people looking for? How-to content and advice guides have huge potential here.
Remember PageRank? Now that you understand how it works, you should realize that keyword writing and quality content aren’t enough. As an SEO green thumb, you need to learn about the power of building links to your website.
And that, is the second step to mastering SEO…
Become a Link Builder
In the 90s, Google learned that there was tremendous value in the links that users created on their websites. Essentially, each link to a site became a vote of confidence for it’s content. Popular sites have more links pointing to them. Therefore, they are assigned a higher PageRank.
Rather than just listing search results by keyword match, Google starting prioritizing pages based on the number of links pointing to the site. Their plan obviously worked, and Google quickly became the most reliable search engine in the world.
The lesson should be learned. In order to improve your own search results, you need to improve the number of links directed to your site. There are a few simple ways to get this done.
Link-Worthy Content – Sure, we talked about what it means to create quality content, but what about link-worthy content? This is the type of content that people link to on a regular basis. A good example of this is Wikipedia. Users link to Wikipedia all the time to provide background information and more details about certain words. What type of content can you create that will encourage people to link back to your site?
Submit Your Blog to Directories – There are hundreds of sites out there that attempt to organize the blogosphere by keywords and topics. Be sure to submit your site to as many of them as you can. You may not see immediate, or any, direct results, but leaving a trail of links back to your site is important for your PageRank score.
Comment, Comment, Comment – Every time you comment on a blog post or a user forum, you leave behind a link to your website. This is literally one of the easiest ways to create link-back traffic to your website. The more you comment, and the more diversity you have when choosing sites, the better.
Be Social – Social media is one of the most effective strategies for distributing links to your blog or website. The quality and share-ability of your content will play a major factor here, but the time spent can be totally worth while.
Partnerships – Key partnerships can play a big role in creating link traffic. This could be a “if I link to you, you link to me” sort of thing, but it doesn’t have to be. Reach out to other organizations, and ask them to link to your site. If you can provide good reason for doing so, the trade can only be beneficial for you both.
Getting it Done
Search engine optimization definitely sounds fancy, but the basics just aren’t that hard. The exact science of how PageRank is developed and calculated has a never-ending learning curve, but the two pillars will always be the same. Great content, and great links will always be the major factors in SEO. Your understanding of them is essential to success.
Get started today! You might be surprised with what you can accomplish on your own.
If you want to dig even deeper into the science of PageRank and SEO content, here is a Professional Guide to Link Building from SEOmoz.org. This is a lot of reading, to be sure, but well worth it in the long run.