SEO Primer: What You Need to Know

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SEO is a slippery and sometimes sleazy subject. A lot of companies offer the bullshit promise to “get you on the first page of Google.” Here’s the reality: the only people who know exactly how to get you onto the first page of Google search results are the people at Google. They may not share this information, but there are some general principles that will help you put your best foot forward for SEO.

Here’s a top-line, beginner’s guide to SEO for a website.

Why SEO is Important

There are a few ways to get people to your site. You can put ads online, you can promote it on social media, or use some other form of paid promotion like a magazine ad. All need your active participation in promoting. But search engines provide you visitors without any active promotion. You passively sit there and let the people who are looking for your content come to you. It’s free promotion.

We all know internet users are generally lazy. People want results quickly. When users search for something, they generally click on the first few links that appear. Search results on page two or later get less than 1% of the total traffic.

Your goal should be to have your site and content on that first page.

Pick the Right Keyword

The first step in getting found is to understand what people are looking for.

A simple, broad keyword is much harder to rank for, and usually offers little value for a user. A more specific keyword is better at targeting your content at your audience.

For example, searching for “museums” on Google will get you a broad list of sites. Searching for “kid friendly museums in Miami” will result in a more targeted list of sites. This string of keywords is a long tail keyword. You should select some long tail keywords that best describe your site and content. If you were a user trying to find your content, what would you search for?

Keywords can be specific to a page within your site, or can be for the entire site. It’s common for individual pages to have their own long tail keyword based on the page content. The more specific the keyword, the more targeted your audience.

A neat trick to find long tail keywords is to use autocomplete on Google. Simply start typing in the root of your long tail keyword and see what Google suggests.

google_autocomplete

How do you know what spelling or keyword variation to use? You want to make sure there are actually people searching for your keyword. That’s where Google Trends comes in.

With Google Trends, you can compare many search terms against each other. For example, we can use Google Trends to see long tail keywords to use when writing a page on tennis exercises.

google_trends

From there, do an actual search on your long tail keyword. I recommend doing your Google search in an incognito browser window. Otherwise your results get personalized based on your search history. Look at what sites show up. If the results are all big, established sites, you will have a hard time breaking into the first page. More established sites have something called domain authorityGoogle gives significant weight to sites with high domain authority in the search results.

If the results consist of smaller sites, forum links, or question sites, you could have a good chance of ranking high. You want to hone in on long tail keywords that aren’t already dominated by the big boy sites for a better chance of being featured.

Once You Have Your Keywords

There are two main areas that you need to address if you want a chance at a good page position in the search results. The first area is content. Optimize your content so that people who are looking for it can find it. The second is your HTML site structure. Optimize your site so that search engines understand the content.

Crafting Your Content

You could spend hundreds of hours figuring out how to craft and tweak your content for SEO. Or just understand these important principles:

There are two great WordPress plugins to help you craft and analyze your content: All-In-One-SEO and Yoast SEO.

Crafting Your Site Structure

Having quality, targeted content on your site is not enough. The search engines also need to be able to read it and understand what’s on your page. This is where a company like Sanborn comes in. We will structure your site in way that makes it most accessible to search engines.

Another long and deep subject, but the important principles are:

Other Factors

Earlier I mentioned that you’re competing against the “big boys” like About.com, etc., in the search results. If you want to become one of those big boys, you have to prove yourself to Google (and establish domain authority). The way you do this is by having other established sites link to yours. It’s legitimacy by association. For example, let’s say the New York Times website wrote an article about tennis and linked to your website. Google would interpret that as an endorsement and up your search ranking accordingly. Remember, Google just wants to get the best quality content to the user. These links, called backlinks in the SEO world, are your mark of quality.

Google has another clever way to measure site quality: Let’s say a user get search results, clicks on your site, and quickly hits the back button. Google interprets that as a signal that the quality of your page didn’t correlate with the search term. If the user stays on your site for a longer time, you get happy Google juju.


 

If you want to optimize your site for SEO, we offer consulting, design, and development services to our clients. For a more DIY approach, we recommend reading SEO resources such Moz and Yoast.