For any business with an online presence, search engine optimization should be a key part of its strategy. There’s no point in having a beautifully designed site with compelling content and great products, if no one can find it.
Broadly speaking, SEO techniques can be divided into on-page and off-page optimization. As you’d expect, on-page optimization is all about what you can do on your own website to boost your search engine rankings. Off-page methods take place away from your site, and include developing high quality backlinks from relevant sites.
While content marketing is a huge trend in 2013, the importance of on-page optimization methods should not be underestimated. A successful SEO campaign will take both into account. In many ways, on-page techniques are about finding the right balance between optimization and high quality content.
Get the keywords right
Keywords are the starting point to any SEO campaign, and it’s crucial to choose the best ones for your subject matter, industry and intended audience. Tools such as Google Adwords can be a good source of information on what people are searching for and the relevant levels of competition.
However, when it comes to inserting them into your web pages, remember that less can be more. Google’s recent Penguin update to its search algorithm targeted the common practice of “keyword stuffing”. Matt Cutts, the company’s Head of WebSpam, has said that overloading pages with (often irrelevant) keywords violates their quality guidelines and can lead to lower rankings.
Place your keywords carefully
Despite popular belief, there’s no ideal percentage of keywords within copy. Repetition is fine within limits, but over-doing it is unlikely to be successful. It’s best to use a few carefully chosen keywords and insert them as naturally as possible into the text. And don’t forget that where you place them does matter. Try to get your main ones in titles, the first few sentences, and the beginning of paragraphs.
Think about titles
Headings and subheadings aren’t just a good way to organize your content for human readers – they can also help your SEO efforts. Google (and other search engines) pay particular attention to titles and subtitles when they analyze sites for keywords. This means making use of HTML heading tags, i.e. <H1>, <H2>, <H3> etc. Each page on your website should have at least one of these tags containing that page’s main keywords.
You can increase the effectiveness of this technique by including these page titles in a contents list of clickable links. As with other content, keep titles simple and readable, and don’t be tempted to use over-long ones for the sake of fitting in keywords.
Think about URLS at an early stage
One of the most important places you can fit your keywords is in the URL of each web page. These can be tricky to go back and change, so it’s best to get them right at the beginning. As an added bonus, both Google and Yahoo will display the parts of your URL that match the search term in their list of results. Even if your site is not top of the list, the URL is likely to catch a user’s eye and make your page seem more relevant.
Try to use simple, logical URLs that are a clear guide to the contents of the page. This applies whether it’s a main page, information about a product, or a blog entry. For example, a page with a name such as www.sportsupplies.com/index.php?54321 gives little information to a viewer. Help your users by giving them descriptive names such as www.sportsupplies.com/tennis-rackets.html
Make use of meta tags
Simply put, meta tags give search engines information about a web page. There’s still some debate about how useful and important they are. At one point, the keyword meta tag was a helpful guide for search engines, but using it now can do more harm than good. Google tends to ignore it, while Bing only pays attention to this field as a way of detecting spam. The safest option is to leave it blank.
On the other hand, the description tag is an important way to tell the search engines what your page is about. This is also the part that will be displayed in search engine results, so it’s worth taking the time to write a clear, enticing description. Ideally it should be shorter than 155 characters (including spaces). But if in doubt, search for your site to check that your full description is displayed in the results.
If you leave this field empty, then Google will fill it in using information on your page – often with mixed results!
It does take some time to research the best keywords, and create a well-organized and optimized site. But it’s well worth the effort to increase the visibility of your website, and make sure it’s attracting the customers you want.