At its best, search engine optimization bridges the gap between how users search online and how website content is presented. As SEO expert Danny Sullivan says,
SEO is not about tricking search engines, nor spamming links, nor ruining web design. It’s about building good content, understanding the ways people might seek it — including the words they might use — and ensuring the content is search engine friendly along with being human friendly.
Good SEO is part following the rules and part behavioral analysis. There are specific ways to format your site and its content so search engines can easily read and index it for keywords that are relevant. This is something SEO experts with thousands of sites under their belts have tested and seen results with. Google also publishes guidelines for good SEO. So SEO best practices are not just someone’s idea of what it might take to rank well. But the best SEO doesn’t stop there. A long-term SEO strategy starts with understanding the behavior of users searching online in your topic areas. This deep understanding of users’ interests, and how they search over time to satisfy that interest, generates strategies for how to present website content about your business to capture the widest range of interested users.
It’s an undeniably complex subject, which is why it’s a good idea to bring in some outside expertise when planning your website, or when your organic traffic isn’t meeting your expectations. But to get you started, here’s a list of some common basic SEO mistakes we see pretty regularly:
- Important text can’t be read by search engines. Search engine spiders are just programs that look at your website–and they can only read text and follow links. Reading the text tells the search engine what your website is about, and if it can’t read key pieces of your site, they don’t really know what your page is about. You can view your site like the Google spider sees it by searching Google for your url and clicking on the “cached” link next to the listing, and then click on “Text-Only version”.Here’s a very limited list of things a search engine spider can’t read. If you have these elements in your website, you should make changes immediately.
- Text presented as images. Those page headings done as images so the words can be in that special font? Convert them to text.
- Text or navigation embedded in Flash. Google says they can read content in Flash, and they can, but in general we find Flash content ranks poorly if at all.
- You don’t have any/many links to your site. The number and quality of links from other sites into your site significantly affects your potential to rank well in search engines. How do you get other sites to link to you? Some ideas: Include your web URL in free profiles on local directories. Build interesting content on your site that people want to link to–blogs are great for this. Create press releases. Get stories about your business published in local news media. Sponsor and speak at events. Include your URL in membership listings of professional organizations.
- You aren’t paying attention to how people search. You’ve probably gone to some lengths thinking about how you want to talk about your business, products and services, but how well does this match how your prospects think? Let’s say you sell running shoes. What process do prospective customers go through when considering a purchase?
To match up with prospective customers at various points towards their purchase, your website should include content about shoe models (i47-b), shoe types (road vs. trail), and guides on making shoe purchasing decisions. Including content across a range of subjects helps you rank for more keyword phrases, which helps you get more traffic.
It’s also important to talk about your products and services in ways that consumers do. There’s little value in saying you offer “office paper” when most users are searching for “printer paper”. Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool can help you get some insight into keywords and related terms people are actually using. It’s a little tricky to use: this article describes the basics.
Dying to know more? There are excellent guides on search engine optimization on the web, perfect for self-study:
Or contact Two Octobers. We’ll review your site and put together a recommendation that combines short-term tactics with longer-term strategies for organic search engine ranking success.