SEO: How to Get Visitors to Your Website
What is SEO?
SEO stands for search engine optimization. Put simply, SEO means optimizing your web page so that it is listed in the first few pages of a search engine’s results. Since most visitors will reach your site through an Internet search, the higher your website appears in search engines results, the more traffic will be directed to your website.
How Search Engines Work
- They constantly crawl the Web indexing pages. (A web crawler, also knows as a bot, is a program or automated script that browses the Web in a methodical, automated manner.)
- They provide users with a ranked list of the most relevant Web pages.
With over a billion websites in the world and approximately 500 websites being created every minute, it’s very competitive to get your site listed on a search engine’s first page. However, there are many things you or your web developer can do to get your business to appear as close to the top of the list as possible.
Is Your Website Responsive?
The single most important consideration in search engine placement today is whether your website is responsive, or mobile-friendly. Responsive websites reconfigure automatically, depending on the device that is viewing the site. If your website is not responsive, it is unlikely to appear anywhere near the first several pages in search engines.
Companies with older, non-responsive sites are much better off spending their budget on revamping the site, rather than optimizing an outdated site for SEO. For more information on updating an older website, see the article in our last newsletter, Is It Time to Upgrade Your Website?
On-Page SEO vs. Off-Page SEO
On-page SEO refers to things you can do directly on your website to optimize your pages, such as using keywords and phrases strategically throughout your website. Off-page SEO refers to things that happen away from your website to help you increase traffic, such as social media marketing, link building, and purchasing services such as Google Ad Words.
Link building means trying to get as many other websites (or blogs, Facebook pages, etc.) to link to your website. For example, if another website or blog references an article on your site, it lets the search engines know that your page has relevant information. It’s important that links come from websites relevant to your business or industry. Random links from your brother-in-law’s Red Sox fan site will not help much with your search engine ranking.
Use Social Media Sharing Buttons
One of the most effective methods for building links to your site is to display social media buttons (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus) prominently on all pages of your website. By doing so, you are encouraging visitors to share content with other users, driving more relevant traffic to your site.
It’s a good idea to place social media buttons at the top and bottom of every page that has potentially “sharable” content. Some visitors will want to share a page as soon as they see the title; others will read the article before sharing. Most WordPress themes make it easy to place social media buttons in the header and footer of pages.
Keywords are the words and phrases that users type into a search engine. If you want users to find your website, it’s important that you select keywords and phrases carefully and then use them appropriately on your website.
Phrases, Not Words
The first thing to say about keywords is that “keyword” is a bit of a misnomer, since key phrases are much more important than keywords. Users are more likely to type short phrases than single words, and many businesses require a phrase to describe what they do. For example, my company does computer training for businesses. For SEO purposes, we want to focus on the phrase “computer training” as a key phrase to drive traffic to our website. Using “computer” alone would likely drive visitors to our website looking to buy computers. Using “training” alone might attract some appropriate visitors, but it would also attract those looking for personal fitness training, safety training, dog training, etc.
Make sure your keywords and phrases are relevant to your website’s content. Ask yourself this question: “If a visitor gets to my website using these keywords, will they find what they’re looking for?”
Before selecting your keywords, type them into Google or Bing and look at the results. This will give you an idea of how competitive the field is and how difficult it will be to get listed high in the rankings for the keywords you chose.
TIP: Check Google Trends to research what words users type into Google search. If you sell barbecue equipment, you might be interested to know that more people search for “BBQ” than “barbecue.”
How to Use Keywords
Keywords and phrases that describe the purpose of the given web page should appear in all of the following areas:
- Web page content
- Title tag
- Image ALT text
Let’s take a look at each area separately.
Web Page Content
By far, the most important place to use keywords and phrases is in the content of your web page. If you don’t use keywords and phrases enough, search engines will have a hard time figuring out what your page is about. However, don’t be tempted to overuse them in ways that are not relevant to the content, or you will be labeled a spammer and may be banned by some search engines.
In general, long articles tend to rank better with search engines than short articles.
Don’t let the content on your website get stale. Figure out a strategy to maintain fresh content on your website. Google and other search engines reward websites that change content frequently with higher rankings. If your website looks exactly the same today as it did six months ago, the search engines are likely to pass it over for sites with fresher, more relevant content.
File Names / URL
Use keywords and phrases in filenames, rather than abbreviations. If your company sells ladies’ Rolex watches, the filename should be ladies-rolex-watches.html, not lrw.html.
If you have a WordPress site, be sure that permalinks are set to use the title of the post or page in the filename. (A permalink is the address used by a search engine to locate a WordPress page on the Web.) When you create a new page or post, WordPress will automatically use the title as the filename with dashes between words.
TIP: To change this setting, go to Settings/Permalinks in your WordPress Dashboard and select Post Name under Common Settings.
If your website is divided into categories and subcategories, it’s important to reflect the hierarchy of files in the URL. (URL means Uniform Resource Locator, but that’s just a technical name for the web address.) The following logical hierarchy makes it easy for a search engine to determine that the page is a good search result for “excel classes on charting,” even before processing the content on the page:
Meta tags do not appear on the web page. They are in the HTML code that provides information about the page to search engines, but they are not seen by human visitors to the page. (Meta is short for metadata, which means data about data.) The Title and Description meta tags are helpful with SEO.
After the content of your page, the Title tag is the second most important place to use keywords and phrases. The Title tag appears as the clickable headline on a search engine result page and also appears on the tab of the browser. The title tag should be a brief, accurate description of the content of the page.
In your HTML code, the title tag looks something like this:
<title>The Life Cycle of a Butterfly</title>
If you have a WordPress site, WordPress will automatically use the title of the article or page as the Title tag.
Meta Description Tag
The Description tag briefly explains to search engines what your page is about. Most search engines will display the description under the title in the list of search results. However, Google sometimes uses the description tag and sometimes uses an excerpt of text on the page.
Google says they don’t use keywords in descriptions tags for search engine rankings, but a well-written description may prompt visitors to click through to your page, especially if it contains keywords they were looking for.
In your HTML code, a meta description tag looks like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”Hands-on instructor-led computer training in Microsoft Excel spreadsheets for data analysis, charting and automating office tasks.”>
TIP: Search engines generally truncate descriptions longer than 160 characters. Make sure your description is long enough to be descriptive, but within that limit.
If you have a WordPress website, you will not be editing HTML code directly. However, you can easily add a meta description to all your pages with a plug-in.
TIP: The Yoast SEO for WordPress plugin is an easy to use SEO plug-in that lets you easily add meta tags and many other SEO-related features. Free and premium versions are available.
Image ALT Text
An ALT tag is an abbreviation for “alternative text” used with images on your website. The ALT tag should describe the image. Screen readers read this text aloud and make your web page accessible to visitors who are blind or visually impaired.
TIP: Google considers ALT text important in order to determine the content of the image, but also to analyze the relevance of the accompanying text on the page. Make sure at least one image on each page contains your key word or phrase in an ALT tag.
TIP: Check out Google’s Image Publishing Guidelines for tips on creating effective ALT text.
Advice from Google
Google has published several guides with advice and tips for making your site as Google-friendly as possible. Since Google is the most popular search engine, heeding their advice is a good idea. Here are a few useful links:
Steps to a Google Friendly Site
Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide
Google Webmaster Guidelines