Search engine optimization has a bad rep. Too many people think it’s hard… inscrutable… too much smoke and mirrors to ever understand.
Bupkis! Good SEO isn’t hard. It’s got a proven list of best practices. Most of them are easy to understand. And while there are some advanced concepts to SEO, and there are times to hire an agency, most of the SEO you need to do is simple.
The truth is, effective SEO is easier than many of the other things marketers struggle with – challenges like proving ROI, tracking customers across multiple channels, or even just creating great content.
And while the details of how SEO works are becoming more complex, they actually can be distilled down to one overarching simple rule: Please your website visitors first, and search engines second. The days of trying to con the search algorithms, and trying to make sites primarily for search engine bots are over. Way over.
More over than mullets.
To help you break through all the confusion – and to get good SEO results without the headaches, here are some SEO basics that anyone can do. They don’t require technical expertise or a college course in search engine algorithms. They will help your pages rank better, though I can’t promise an SEO miracle.
1) Pay close attention to your page titles.
If you’re used to seeing your pages via a web browser, you might not be giving title tags a second thought. When you’re looking at the full version of a web page, the title tag only appears way up at the top of the browser window, as the tab name. Most people don’t even notice it up there.
But in search engine results, title tags are very prominent:
Remember that your title, which shows on the tab and is your headline on the search engine results page, does not show up on the page itself. In many programs, the page’s headline automatically becomes your title, but you’ve got control over this and can make it different. Here are the three important steps:
- Make sure every page on your site has a unique title tag.
- Then make sure they accurately describe each page.
- Then try to make them sound enticing.
2) Meta page descriptions are ad copy. Write them with that in mind.
Meta description tags should be descriptive, but they need to entice your reader, too. Your pages are competing with ads in the search results. So fight fire with fire, and write those page descriptions more like they’re ad copy, and less like a robot’s notes.
3) Use ALT tags.
ALT tags let you add a text description to every image on your pages. They’re an often overlooked, but easy way to optimize your pages.
Most content management systems (WordPress, WIX, etc) make it very easy to add ALT tags. Sprinkle your keywords in as you write them, but as always – write ALT tags for human readers, not for search engines.
ALT tags are also important for social sharing. A few social platforms, like Pinterest, will use the ALT tag copy as the default description. So don’t just put gobbledygook into your pages’ ALT tags, unless that’s how you want your images’ descriptions to appear on social media.
4) Reduce bounce rate with interactive content.
A “bounce” happens when someone come to a page on your site and then leaves without clicking on anything. “Bounce rate” is the percentage of people who arrive on any page, then leave without doing anything. A bounce rate of less than 50% is great (and unusual). If your site’s bounce rate is higher than that, don’t worry: Most blogs get about an 80% bounce rate.
There are plenty of tactics to reduce bounce rate. One of them is mentioned below – make your pages look easier to read. But adding interactive content is also a proven way to keep bounce rates down.
Interactive content can be a simple poll. Or maybe a quiz. It could also be an embedded SlideShare or a video. Just one click on a good video can be enough to keep your visitors on a page for a while.
Notice how this is yet one more way to apply “please your site visitors for better SEO”? Sure, interactive content does reduce bounce rates, but in human terms, interactive content is just fun. People love quizzes and polls and clicking on SlideShares. Interactive tools are even better.
5) Link your webpages to each other.
There are three basic kinds of links:
- “Inbound links” (also called “backlinks”) are links on other sites that point to your site.
- “External links” are links on your site that point out to other sites.
- “Internal links” are links that go from one page on your site to another page on your site.
Most of the time, we hear about inbound links. When you’re doing things to encourage inbound links, you’re doing what’s called “link building”. (More on that in a moment.)
External links were shunned for a few years because some SEOs thought that external links somehow reduced a page’s authority. They don’t. It’s actually good to add a couple of external links to the content-heavy pages on your site. Just “link out” to respected sites, and always make your links relevant. Once again … serve your website visitors first.
But let’s not neglect internal links either. They are part of SEO best practices now. And while the navigation on your site does sort of qualify as internal links, what I’m really talking about adding links to other pages on your site from within content pages. Especially in blog posts, but also on your About Us page or anywhere that’s got some good meaty content on it.
6) Use keywords in filenames of documents and images.
This is so easy to do, and it does help with rankings a wee bit. Its real value is in helping your readers understand what’s in the file or the image. And if it’s good for the reader, it’s good for SEO, at least to some degree. Just don’t go crazy – only guys with mullets “keyword stuff” their filenames. Keyword stuffing is when you put in every keyword you can think of. It worked about a decade ago, but not anymore. Use one keyword (max, two) and leave it at that.
The reason this helps is because you’re giving the search engine bots more information about what your content is about. Every little bit helps.
Here are examples of good and bad filenames:
Good filename: CRMStudyEbook.pdf
Bad, keyword-stuffed filename: CRMManagement_BuyCRM_CRMServices_Ebook.pdf
Do avoid using underscores to separate words; use hyphens instead. Search engines see hyphens as spacers and underscores as letters. This example from Search Engine Land illustrates the principle:
- Good: http://www.domain.com/sub-folder/file-name.htm (reads as sub folder/file name)
- Bad: http://www.domain.com/sub_folder/file_name.htm (reads as sub_folder/file_name)
7) Think outside the keyword tool.
Keyword research is an important part of getting SEO right. But it’s another old-school SEO tactic that needs an upgrade. Search engines are sophisticated enough now that simply inserting the same exact keyword all over your pages isn’t going to work. You’ll look like you’re trying to manipulate the search results. And, of course, you are.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do keyword research. Use the Google Keyword Planner to identify your core keywords. Sprinkle those keywords in where they make sense. But also vary them: Plural versus singular, difference verb tenses, different word order, synonyms – all the ways a regular human might vary that keyword in speech or writing.
So instead of contorting your sentences to fit in “Florida Seaside Resort” a dozen times, use terms a real person might use when they’re talking about that. Terms like “beach views”, “Miami hotel”, “best Florida resort”, “seaside vacation”.
Among SEOs, this type of keyword flexibility is known as “latent semantic indexing”. It’s how search engines associate different terms. And more and more, search engines are using keywords more like concepts or topics. We should use them more like that, too.
This is directly tied to that golden rule I mentioned: Please human visitors first, and search engines second. Pages written primarily for search engines often read like they were written by machines.
Another way to think outside the keyword tool is to read forums, blog post comments and book and product reviews. Notice how the commenters and reviewers refer to the problems they’re having or what they want. If you see certain phrases being repeated, consider adding some of them to your pages. This is an old copywriting trick that works especially well on landing pages.
8) Format your content so it’s easy to read.
Remember how we’re supposed to be writing for humans now? Well, humans operate with some very interesting algorithms. The most powerful one, in terms of what’s going on when they look at a web page, is the “that looks hard to read” script. This little program operates way in the back of your website visitor’s brain, but if you trigger it, it can cause many people to bail before your page has even loaded.
To make your pages look easier to read, employ the same tricks direct mail copywriters have been using for decades:
- Write short paragraphs.
- Punctuate those short paragraphs with a one-sentence paragraph every so often.
- Use subheaders.
- Use bullet points. See a string of commas in a sentence? That’s often an opportunity for a bullet list.
- Add images every 350 words or so.
- Add quotes and call-outs.
9) Don’t forget social media.
Making your content easy to share is the first step. The second is to post, tweet and share your content with your existing audience.
How does this help with SEO? Well,
- It gets your content more attention, which increases its chances of attracting links from other sites.
- Several search ranking signal reports name social signals as a ranking signal. In other words, there’s evidence the search engine algorithms are monitoring and including social signals in how they decide which pages get ranked.
- Tweets are now indexed.
10) Build links very carefully.
Smart SEOs are very cautious about building links now. Google has clearly said they frown on most link building tactics. So run – and run fast – from any SEO who wants to submit your site to 500 directory listings, or wants to “spin” one of your articles and then submit to it a bunch of article directories. Again, only the guys wearing mullets are still doing stuff like that.
But there are safe ways to build links:
- Create a piece of amazing content (any format counts – infographic, ebook, video or otherwise) that others will want to link to.
- Do some unique research and publish it as a report.
- Guest post: Publish unique, insightful articles on high authority sites.
- Get the type of traditional business listings that are expectable, onsites such as Yelp, your local Chamber of Commerce, and trade organizations.
Even with high-quality links like that, I’ve got a few more rules:
- When in doubt, don’t do it.
- Use your company name as the anchor text.
Not sure anchor text is? It’s the words in the hyperlink.
SEO doesn’t have to be hard. Once you understand the basics of how it works, you’ll never risk getting snowed by an inexperienced SEO again. But even more importantly, you’ll be able to do your own SEO, at least for the day-to-day basics. Then just bring in the pros every once in a while for optimization or troubleshooting.
What about you? Do you have any simple SEO tricks that have seemed to help? Want to share one? Tell us about it in the comments.