Beginner's Guide in Search Engine Optimization
Overview of SEO
The fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization are not very complicated, but it does take a lot of time, effort and persistence to get a website to appear on the first page of a Google search for certain keywords.
The most important thing to remember is that websites should be written with your users in mind and not for search engines. Google's success can be attributed to the fact that they managed to get user-friendly websites full of valuable and relevant information to rank first, so if you want your site to be on the first page, that is exactly what you should aim to provide.
People will link to your site if you provide useful information or some other valuable resource. There are ways of 'kick-starting' the process of back linking, which we will discuss later. But first of all, we have to concentrate on getting your site structured correctly. So, without further ado:
1. The SEO website structure fundamentals
Descriptive Page Titles
A page title is what appears at the top tab of the navigation browser when you open a page on the internet. This is also the title that will appear in Google's results. By using a unique and descriptive page title, more users will click on your link in the search results. It will also help Google to know exactly what the page is about.
Please note that the page title that we're refering to is the <title> tag in the html of your web page's code and not the name of your URL.
Avoid: Using long descriptions; descriptions that are not relevant to your page's content; stuffing the title full of keywords
Meta Tag Descriptions
The meta tag description is another tag in the html code of your web page. It describes what the web page is about. Your meta tag description will sometimes be used by Google to describe the web page in search results under the title of your page. It should be a unique description of the page and preferably 1 or 2 sentences long.
Avoid: Stuffing your meta tag description with keywords; using a description that is not related to your page content
The Importance of URL structure
Again, your URL's should be easy for users to understand and remember. Using descriptive but concise URL names will enhance your site's performance in Google search results because Google will know what the page is about.
It is very important that you don't have multiple URL's linking to the same content as this will dilute the content's Reputation. Try to avoid using dynamic URL's with session ID's etc.
If you are using a content management system like Joomla!, it is beneficial to use SEO friendly URL's.
Avoid: Stuffing your URL's with keywords; using long URL's; deep nesting of directories
2. Improve your website's Navigation
Simplify your site's Navigation
Search engines and users don't like looking for content. It should be as easy as possible for your users to move from your home page to the content that they're looking for. Plan out your website before you start writing content in a way that will make sense to your users.
A very efficient way of helping users get back on track when they get lost is the breadcrumb approach. This module is usually displayed somewhere at the top of the page and makes it a lot easier to go back to other pages and see where you are on the site.
404 Error Pages
Some users might play around with the URL's in the address bar. This could cause a 404 error page to appear, saying that the web page was not found. Google likes custom 404 error pages which guide users back to the website or that suggests popular links. Try to keep your custom 404 error page consistent with the rest of your site's design.
Create Sitemaps for Google and Users
HTML site maps for your users might also be a good addition to your site if the site is complicated to navigate. Although Google won't pay too much attention to an HTML sitemap, it will definitely be beneficial to your users.
An XML sitemap for your site is a must-have. The sitemap shows all search engines how the content of your website is laid out. Google will base most of it's indexing of your pages on this sitemap and it can be uploaded and checked for errors in Google's Webmaster Tools.
Avoid: Using flashy graphics or videos for links on your website. Search Engines can't understand videos or pictures.
3. Optimize your Content:
Content is King!
Creating unique, compelling and informative content is the most important aspect when creating a website. Users will link to your content. They will blog about it, share it on Facebook, mention it on Twitter and bookmark it on social bookmarking sites. This will in turn enhance your site's reputation and make Google notice your site. This is a long process. Be wary of so-called SEO specialists that promise results in 24 hours or guaranteed 1st place on search results.
Anticipate different user's processes of finding information that they're looking for. Different people use different keywords to search for information in Google. Google's keyword tool is a very handy utility to find related keywords that people are actually searching for. Integrate these keywords into your site carefully. Don't stuff your content with keywords - the words have to flow naturally.
Anchor text is very important to Google. When crawling the internet, Google checks whether the anchor text that describes the URL link matches the content of the landing page and this influences your site's Reputation directly. For those of you that don't know what anchor text is: It's the text that describes the hyperlink on a web page. So, instead of having a link like http://www.google.com, it will be a description like best search engine on the internet. By clicking on either of these links, the user will be directed to Google's homepage. But the first link won't carry much Reputation.
Tell Google about your Images and Videos
As mentioned previously, search engines can't see images or videos. The 'alt text' attribute in your web page's HTML code describes to Google what the image is about. By changing the names of your images and describing the images in the 'alt tag', search engines will know what the images are about and this will influence your page rank directly. Try to avoid excessive use of keywords in the descriptions, though.
Use Heading Tags
Heading tags in HTML code should also be used wisely. Heading tags are not the same as title tags. They provide a way for search engines to make sense of the structure of your content. They range from <h1> through to <h6>, <h1> being the most important and <h6> being the least important.
4. Increase your Website's Reputation
Google's realization that the number of links to a website from other related websites is a measure of the relevance and quality of the website being linked to revolutionized the internet and the way that people search for information.
Getting sites to link to your site is at first a daunting task. People don't just link to your site. Sometimes you have to pay for these links. Most SEO consultants use article websites to create backlinks to the websites they are promoting. This is probably the easiest way to control the quality of the links to your site. I'd strongly suggest using http://www.articlesbase.com as a starting point for link building.
Avoid buying backlinks from link farms. Some companies offer thousands of links for a few bucks, but the quality of the links are poor and even if you have ten thousand links from unrelated sites, Google will most probably penalize your site for it. Link farms can drag your site into a 'bad neighbourhood' so to speak. I'd suggest starting with Simply Links Web Directory and South African Free Directory, which are South African directories where you can list your site for free.
Using Social Media to promote your site
Social media has become a very important part of Search Engine Optimization. By creating a simple group on Facebook and letting all your friends know about it, visits to your site will surely increase. Twitter is also a good way of ensuring a constant flow of traffic. Uploading a few original videos onto YouTube does wonders for your site's Reputation. Social Bookmarking sites provide another way to get the word out about your website. Using social media to promote your site is something that you need to stay on top of. You need to constantly update information and news to keep your followers and fans interested.
Smoogle has dedicated an entire article to the importance of social media in SEO. Ignore it at your peril.
If your site promotes a service based or retail business in a certain location, it is advisable to add your website and location to Google places. As with most of Google's services, adding your website to Google places is free and easy. Users will see where your business is located on Google Maps and when they search for your company on Google. It's great exposure and, of course, it enhances your website's Reputation.
As you can see, the fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization are pretty straight forward, but it takes a lot of time and dedication to get your website to rank high in Google's search results. Most business owners don't have the time to do all of this and most web designers and web developers can't be bothered. This has created a whole new sector in IT called SEO. Most big companies already have departments specializing in Search Engine Optimization. Small to Medium Sized Businesses have been quite slow to implement SEO and it has created the delusion that the 'internet is not for them'. This couldn't be further from the truth. The important thing is just to differentiate yourself from the rest and follow the instructions above to start getting traffic from Google.
We would suggest using a reputable SEO consultant if you don't have the time to do this yourself. Just be wary of companies offering a quick fix.