It used to be that some keyword stuffing, cloaking and other shady tactics could get you to the top of the search engines in no time. Today, a site that ranks well (or will, in time) is a site that people want to go to, return to, share with their networks, email their friends, etc.,
According to Matt Cutts of Google, “Great content has to be the foundation of any good site, because mediocre content tends not to attract exceptional links by itself. And if you’re trying to get exceptional links on really really crappy content, you’re going to be pushing uphill.” “You want to have a well-rounded site, and one of the best ways to do that is to have fantastic, interesting, useful content, great resources, great information, and then that naturally attracts the links. And then search engines want to reflect the fact that the web thinks that you are interesting or important or helpful.” So, with that in mind, let’s start with the most important factor in getting to the top of the search engines…
Offer Quality Content
Creating compelling, useful content is more important than anything else. Don’t believe me? Check out Google’s Official Guide to SEO. If you have something worth reading, your visitors will find it worth sharing. They may Email the article to others, Tweet about it, share it on Facebook, on their own site or other places. It is this honest word-of-mouth sharing that builds your online reputation – both with Google and with users.
Think about the words a user might use to search for your content. A long-time customer of a service or product like yours might know just wha to search for (home care for seniors), whereas someone new to this subject might look for “elder care” or “respite help”. Use variations of these keywords throughout your content.
Keep it well written and easy to read. Avoid sloppiness, misspellings and grammatical errors. Also, avoid embedding important text in images. Not only will search engines fail to read it, but users may want to copy and past the text for their own use and they will not be able to!
Keep it organized. Using Categories is a good way to do this.
Keep it fresh! Add new content as often as you can. Don’t merely copy existing content and republish.
Write for your users, not the search engines. If your website is designed to meet the needs of your users, you will go far! Avoid “keyword stuffing” or including many and unnecessary keywords in an attempt to rank higher. If it would be annoying or read awkwardly for the reader, don’t do it.
Some Technical Considerations
Titles should be brief and descriptive, accurately describing the page’s content; they should be unique to each page.
Descriptions should be a sentence or two, expanding on the contents of the page, but not repeating the page title. Use Google’s Content Analysis to check for descriptions that are too short, too long or duplicated too many times on your site.
Use Simple URLs with descriptive categories and filenames to keep your site organized and help the search engines navigate your site. If you were searching for an air filter for your car, which URL would you rather click on, “http://www.bobsthingsonline.com/ssde123/123125/sff3/00012923.html” or “http://bobsthingsonline.com/auto-parts/air-filters.html”? Long URLs are confusing and may intimidate someone who would otherwise like to link to your site. Also, if someone links to your site using the URL rather than custom anchor text, having relevant words in your URL will provide more information to uses and search engines finding that link. Some Content Management Systems, such as WordPress, make it easy to create user-friendly URLs. For more information, see Google Webmaster Central’s article on URL structure.
Using Intuitive Navigation helps visitors find what they want and helps search engines determine the importance you attach to certain content. Before you create your site, think about how you will organize it, keeping in mind convenience for the visitors. If you have many articles on a topic, consider creating a directory page with links to each.
Some users may remove part of a URL, hoping to find more related content. For example, if they see the URL: “http://southbend.myhomecareblog.com/2011/03/sharing-the-responsibility” they may want to see the archives for March 2011 and remove the article title, leaving “http://southbend.myhomecareblog.com/2011/03″. If they do, what will they find? Hopefully just what they are looking for!
Give users and search engines a sitemap, but don’t make them share! A site map for visitors is a simple page that shows the structure of your site, usually in a hierarchical listing. It is intended for use by people who are having problems locating a page on your site, or if they simply want to see everything you have published. An XML Sitemap makes it easier for Google to find all the pages on your site.. If your site is a blog with an RSS feed, you can simply use the feed URL as the sitemap address when submitting. More information on Google Sitemaps
Avoid “Mystery Meat” Navigation. Some site creators, in an attempt to be unique, use images and flash in navigation. While this can look nice (or not), some users do not have the patience for this and would prefer a simple way to get where they need to go! Navigation that uses text is more accessible.
Have a helpful “Page Not Found” page like this one. This allows visitors another way to find what they were looking for in the first place and conveys the idea that you value them.
Anchor text is simply the clicakble text that users see as a result of a link. Like this. That is, by the way, a prime example of what NOT to do with anchor text. The text in your anchor should tell users and Google something about the page to which you are linking. For example, “Click here for Starbuck’s Menu” or “Go to http://starbucksmenu.com/here.html to see Starbuck’s menu.” are nowhere near as helpful as “Starbuck’s Menu“.
Optimize images by providing a descriptive (but brief) filename and be sure to always add the “alt” attribute. If the image cannot be displayed for some reason, the contents of the alt tag will provide information about the image to the visitor. Also, Google Image Search will be better able to understand your images if you use “alt” tags and descriptive filenames.
Headings provide structure to users and they also give the search engines clues about what is on your page.
If you allow comments on your site, make sure your CMS is set to “nofollow” links in comments. If you have links to “spammy” sites on your website, that can affect your own reputation with the search engines. If you want to reference a website, but don’t want to pass your reputation on to it, use nofollow in the link. Here’s what the code would look like:
<a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.example.com/">Anchor Text</a>. Why would you want to do that? Well, what if you had a legitimate complaint against a site and you wanted to warn others of it? You want to tell them where the site is, but you don’t want the search engines to think you are endorsing it or passing your reputation on to it.
Promote your Website Responsibly
While your site (assuming you have quality content) will gain backlinks (that is, other sites linking to yours) over time, there are some things you can do to promote your site, especially if it is brand new. Some recommendations:
- Make announcements of new services and products on your blog. Others who follow your site or RSS feed will be notified.
- Make sure your URL is on business cards, letterhead, posters, print ads, newsletters, etc.
- For local businesses, make sure your Google Places listing is up to date and as complete as possible, be sure you address is clearly visible in plain text on your site (and that it matches your Google Places address exactly). Use Google maps to embed a map on your about page.
- Use Social Media and concentrate on interaction (or, “engagement”).
- Communicate with other related sites. Comment on their blog posts, “like” them on Facebook. Aim for a constructive, lively interaction, rather than just a quick way to get backlinks.
Keep Track of your Traffic
Use Google Webmaster Tools, Yahoo! Site Explorer and/or Bing Webmaster Tools to help you analyze your website and identify areas that could be improved for better search engine exposure. Use them to see any crawling errors, notify the SE of a sitemap file, analyze and generate robots.txt files, identify issues with description and meta tags and much more.
Use Google Analytics to see what kind of traffic your site is getting, what content is most popular, what keywords are driving visitors and where these visitors originate.