Web Work 101: Search Engine Optimization Basics

1165440_seo_3For any web worker with a blog, web site or online portfolio, knowing how to optimize it for search engines is a must. After all, what’s the point of having an online presence if no one can find it? By using some simple Search Engine Optimizations (SEO) techniques on your web site, you can increase the chances that your target visitors will find it through Yahoo, Google and other search engines.

In this post, I’ll discuss some basic SEO techniques and how to apply them.

Understanding the Jargon

The first thing we need to define is SEO itself. We already know what  the acronym stands for, but what does it mean? According to the SEOmoz dictionary, SEO is “the process of increasing the number of visitors to a web site by achieving high rank in the search results of a search engine.” So when you perform SEO on a site, you are making sure that when someone types in relevant keywords into Google (or other search engines), the site will appear in the results. Ideally it should appear within the first page or results, or even as the first result. Here are some other common SEO terms, together with definitions:

  • Keyword: The word or phrase that users enter into search engines.
  • Crawlers, bots and spiders: These are the names given to the programs that search engines use to browse, analyze, and index your site.
  • Search volume: This is the number of people who search for a given keyword. Some tools measure this per day, per month, or per 100 days.
  • Competition: These are the other sites that aim to rank well in the same keyword as you do.
  • Search engine result pages (SERPS): The term itself is descriptive — these are the pages of results that appear when you type a keyword into a search engine.
  • Back link: A link to your site from another site.
  • On-page optimization. These are the SEO techniques you apply on your blog or site itself, and therefore have most control over. It doesn’t involve outside factors such as getting backlinks from other sites.

How Important is SEO?

Applying even the most basic on-page optimization can bring in better, more qualified traffic from search engines. Still, SEO is not the only way to draw new visitors to your site. Nothing beats creating quality content that people will want to share. SEO is just the polish that will make your site appear more accessible to search engine crawlers. Without solid content behind it, SEO by itself will not make a difference in the long run.

At the same time, there’s such a thing as overdoing it. Don’t apply short-sighted techniques, such as stuffing your site with unnecessary keywords, or getting hundreds of back links from irrelevant sites. Doing this will make your site seem like spam to visitors, ad could even be banned by the search engines from showing up in SERPS altogether (Google has some guidelines on techniques to avoid here).

Choosing Keywords

The first step is to come up with a “seed list.” Think about all the possible keywords (or phrases) your target audience will use when looking for a site like yours. If you’re providing a specific service, make sure to include keywords related to that service.

After that, check out the search metrics of the words in your seed list, to find out which to optimize your site’s copy for. You need to find out the search volume and level of competition for each keyword. You can do this with some free tools:

Here’s a good rule of thumb to remember: apart from relevance, good keywords have high search volume but low competition. The mistake many beginners make is that they aim for the most popularly-searched keywords (those with high search volume). While there’s nothing wrong with that, competition for those terms is so strong that it’s hard to rank well for them in the SERPS. By adding a few modifiers (additional words to make a more specific phrase) to popular keywords, you have a better chance of ranking well.

Getting to Work

Performing on-page optimization throughout your web site is easy, especially if you are familiar with HTML. Even if you aren’t, there are dozens of online tutorials out there which can help you find and tweak the code on your web site with little difficulty.

URLs. The first thing you should look at is your URLs. Does your domain name contain an important keyword? If it does, that’s a bonus. If not, then channel your efforts into crafting SEO-friendly URLs for the pages of your site or the posts of your blog. For example, a page about hiring logo designers is better if given the following url: http://www.example.com/hiring-logo-designers. Avoid using only dates, numbers, and irrelevant words as the URLs of your pages. Note that descriptive “search engine friendly” URLs may not affect ranking themselves, but people will be more likely to click through a page with a descriptive URL from a SERP.

Page title. This line of text (in the <title> tag) appears on the title bar of your browser when you’re looking at a web site. It should contain your primary target keywords, but don’t overdo it. This title will appear in SERPs, and you don’t want it to look like keyword-stuffed spam.

Headings.
The heading tags of your pages (<h1>, <h2>, etc.) serve a dual purpose. They show your readers the hierarchy of information on a page, and they are also useful for SEO. Use relevant keywords within these tags.

Content. Your content should contain a few of your choice keywords, but you should be careful that the added keywords aren’t detrimental to a visitor’s reading experience. Make sure the keywords are there when necessary, but don’t insert them in every other sentence just because you think the search engine bots will like it.

Additional Resources

If you want to learn more, here are some guides you can start with:

Have you ever tried optimizing your site? What were the results?

Image by svilen001 from sxc.hu

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