Elance Blog

How to Do Basic Website SEO

He’s back by popular demand...

As a follow-up to his article, 13 Ways to Make Your Blog Go Viral, we asked Chris Bennett, a Search Engine Optimization expert, to share a few basic tips for helping your website perform better in search rankings.



Let’s start with a commonly misunderstood concept: Search engines don’t rank websites; they rank web pages. Many people assume if they optimize their website for a number of keywords then all search traffic will go to their homepage. Actually the opposite is true; search engines look for relevant pages, not relevant websites. Search engines don’t just “think” in terms of your site as a whole; they mostly care about the page or pages relevant to the keyword searched for.

Let’s use Wikipedia to illustrate the point. Wikipedia is a great example, because if you perform a search for just about any keyword, a Wikipedia page is likely to show up in the top five results. If you search for “Napoleon,” for example, the Wikipedia result will take you to Wikipedia’s Napoleon page, not to the Wikipedia homepage.

That’s how search engines work: They look for relevant pages. To optimize your site, you’ll need to keep that fact in mind. Instead of thinking globally, mentally break your site up into different parts and pieces. If you want to rank high for a particular keyword, you probably will need a separate page focused on that term if it is not relevant to your homepage.

Basic Page Optimization
We’ll use Google to illustrate the following points; in general the other major search engines function in the same way.

Google looks for these things to identify the theme of a web page: 
 

  • Page Title: The page title is the text that appears in the blue bar at the top of your browser. Google uses the page title (also called the title tag) to identify pages and show users the relevance of the page. The page title also shows up as the link when a search result is returned. Keep title tags short and precise, between 8-9 words. Every page should have a different unique and relevant page title.
  • Metadata: While meta tags aren’t as important as they used to be, including your main keywords in your page metadata can help Google differentiate between different pages. Make sure your metadata is specific to each individual page and that it doesn't include any words that are not related to the text of that page.
  • URL: The URL is the web address of a web page. Including relevant keywords in the page URL can help your rankings, so work with your webmaster to create static URLs with keywords included. Strike a balance, though – don’t try to have 10 different keywords in a URL.
  • Text: The content of the page should be relevant to the topic mentioned in your title tag, metadata and URL. Make sure you mention your keywords as well as other words that relate to the basic theme of the page.


Please note: Lots of people focus on things like keyword density (the number of times the keyword is mentioned) and keyword patterns (where the keyword is found, like in the first paragraph, first sentence, last sentence, etc.). Google algorithms continue to become more intelligent, and in my opinion, your best bet is to instead write your content with the user in mind. Write for your visitors and you will almost always create content that Google “likes” too.

Think of it this way: Being number one in the search rankings is important, but if you’re number two and you’ve optimized your content for the user, you’ll probably get more repeat visitors and sales than if you create pages focusing exclusively on getting better search rankings.

If you currently operate a website, your webmaster can help you with each of the items above.

If you’re developing a new site, be sure your site is set up properly from the ground up. Make sure you can create title tags for each page, name each page with a separate URL, and include page specific metadata. The last thing you’ll want to do is to go back later and correct any basic site structure problems that you could have done right the first time.

Take Advantage of Internal Links
Internal links are links from pages on your site to other pages on your site. (In this case I’m referring to links within your text, not to navigation bar links.) You can improve your page rankings by linking directly to pages on your website by using one of your keywords as the link text. Google will follow those links and know your page is relevant for that topic. You’ve probably noticed Wikipedia uses internal links extensively; whenever a word is used that has a relevant article somewhere else on Wikipedia, that word gets an internal link.

Let’s go back to our Napoleon example. If a page on your site is devoted to Napoleon, and you also have a page devoted to the Duke of Wellington, link occurrences of “Duke of Wellington” on the Napoleon page to the Duke’s page – and when you mention Napoleon on the Duke’s page, link back to the Napoleon page. Your site will be more convenient for visitors and you will improve your search rankings too.

Get Relevant Inbound Links
Inbound links are links to your site from other sites. Relevant inbound links are links from sites that contain content related to your site. If you sell computer hardware, an inbound link from a software site is relevant; an inbound link from a pet supply store is not.

Google follows inbound links and uses them as a popularity contest of sorts; the more inbound links you have from relevant sites, the higher your page rankings. When you have links from “authority” sites – sites Google ranks highly – your pages will rank even higher. Again, getting inbound links is not just a way to optimize your site for SEO purposes; each inbound link also creates a natural way for a visitor to find you by following that link.

Your goal is to get as many relevant inbound links as possible. Find sites that provide related products or related services that don’t specifically compete with you. Ask for an inbound link to the relevant page. (You may also decide to link back to their site, but only do this with relevant content that makes sense for your readers. Don't trade links with the sole purpose of better rankings.)

Then find industry hubs for your niches. Search for “cooking articles” or cooking directories and some of the results will be directories that exist to help people find cooking related articles. Also try using words like “organization” or “non-profit” with your keywords when you search. In some cases you may have to pay a small fee for an inbound link, but if the site in question is a relevant and trusted source, the cost of that link could make sense.

You can also find bloggers related to your niches; send them a great article or resource and they may create a new post and link back to you. Here’s a simple approach: Go to Technorati, type in a keyword, find blogs related to your keywords, send them an article, and see if you can get a link back to your page. Some visitors will find you simply by clicking on that link, and at the same time Google will rank your page higher.

Note: Some services automate the process of link exchanges. Exchanging links with non-relevant sites may provide a short-term boost but will catch up to you in the long run, and Google can eventually penalize you because almost all of your inbound links are irrelevant. For example, pet-related sites shouldn’t link to cooking-related sites, plus you won’t get many visitors from those irrelevant sites.

Pay particular attention to getting links from directories. Trusted directories include sites like Yahoo Directory, botw.org and Business.com. If you have quality content you can often collect links from major directories.

Check Out Your Competitors
Search for your keywords and check out the pages that rank highly. How many times is the keyword used in the text? How is the title tag written? Which keywords are in the URL?

You can also see how many inbound links your competitors have. On Yahoo, enter the text “link:www.(nameofsite).com” and you’ll see all inbound links to that page. Those same sites may also be willing to link to you. If multiple pages ranked in the top 10 have links from similar sites, go after getting those links first – those sites are probably trusted sources.

Get Your New Site Noticed
Google will eventually find your new website, but you can speed up the process. The best way is to get inbound links from trusted sites; when Google crawls those sites it will follow that link to your site – and you’ll get noticed.

You can also submit your site directly to Google for crawling. Using the basic Site Submit can take months; a better approach is to submit your site at Google’s Webmaster Central. You’ll have to add a small piece of code to your site’s HTML code so Google can verify you are the owner of your site, so your programmer may need to help you. (The process only takes a few minutes, though.) Your pages will then be crawled and hopefully indexed in days instead of weeks or months.

Yahoo also has a site submit process. Search “submit site” on Yahoo and you can get details on free site submissions as well as paid submissions and submissions to the Yahoo Directory.

Above All, Consider Your Visitors
Google looks at a variety of factors for ranking your pages. Content is important, but don’t add new content just to get Google to visit.

Why? Your site needs to provide good resources for your visitors. Build your site for your audience and you’ll naturally do the things search engines want and you’ll rank better. For example, many of the hugely popular blog sites don’t focus on SEO; they concentrate on their audience and on getting exposure. As a result, they have a lot of links and the search engines rank them highly. Search engines want people to find what they are looking for; build your site with your audience in mind and over time the search engines will reward your efforts.

Getting Crawled
To find out how often your site is crawled, enter “site:www.(nameofyoursite.com)” on Google and you’ll see all your pages Google has indexed. The “cached” link next to each pages indicates the last time that page was cached. (On average it takes about two weeks for Google to check out non-dormant sites and re-rank pages. Some sites are indexed every few days; some major sites get updated multiple times per day.) Check this every day and you’ll quickly determine how frequently your site is crawled.

At the same time you’ll get a sense of how well your entire site is performing. If you have 400 pages and only five are indexed, you likely need more inbound links and optimization on the non-indexed pages.

Then make intelligent changes to improve your page rankings. Change your title tags. Change the content so your keywords are featured. Add internal links where appropriate. Get more – always get more – relevant inbound links.

Rinse and Repeat
Search engine optimization is an ongoing process. To drive traffic to your pages, make improving your site an important part of your weekly routine. Get your basic site structure right, keep collecting relevant inbound links, and provide good resources for your users... and the search engines will love you.

About
Chris Bennett is the President and Founder of 97th Floor, a leading edge SEO Firm specializing in Search Engine Optimization, Reputation Management, Social Media Marketing and Blog Optimization. Chris has been involved with the Internet “since the days of Alta Vista's reign, the good ol’ days when you could change your meta tags, submit your site through Inktomi, and see your rankings improve by dinner.”

Comments

This is a great starting point for anyone new to SEO or looking for a refresher. Nicely done. Stumbled on this - just happened to be looking for something to give to my PPC friend so he can expand his resume a little to say he knows SEO as well :P

Sphunn here http://sphinn.com/story/36494

This is a very informative post...it really pays to have your site optimized so that search engines can crawl on them and locate them..thanks mate for posting this one!

Hi Chris, good work mate.
It's nice to get back to the basics and see someone writing about optimizing for users and not just for bots.
Good on you,.
Cheers
Lucio

Great advice Chris, especially useful as a checklist for people setting up a new site who want to get it right from the start rather than having to fiddle about fixing things at a later date. Incidentally, it looks like Elance could use some help SEO-ifying their URL structure ;-)

Very well done, Chris. This is not only comprehensive, but a great primer to illustrate what the industry means by white hat SEO. You might even consider spinning this off into a separate post the likes of "how a black hat SEO can straighten up and fly right." :)

Excellent content for a beginner to SEO. It is a never ending circle is SEO, but it can increase your sales and traffic.

Great article. I have been looking for some info on just basic ways to get me started with SEO and all I could find was people trying to sell me stuff. This is really informative...thanks!

Great Article!

Well written and concise points. I especially like the fact that you are touting relevant content; there are too many in the SEO world who are bull-headed about the fact that one can fool the search engines. My experience is that you can never fool the search engines, and relevant content is the only thing that can keep you on top every time.

It also serves as an excellent guideline for those buyers who have been swayed by the (unfortunately rather effective) marketing pitches of this camp of SEO professionals and are asking you to pull rabbits out of hats - it is an excellent article to point to when you want to say "don't just take my word".

Bookmarked!

Sincere Regards,

Angela

Great article! Thanks for all the tips. I would add that there isn't any quick fix to online marketing. It just like the traditional marketing, a long term honest effort will finally pay off.

The directories listed above are all pay to play.

I'm so glad I clicked this link in the elance email I got today. Definitely worth the time to read. Thank you for sharing your expertise.

Wow - great article! Clients ask us all this time about this, and I love how simple Chris breaks it down. Make perfect sense: Google wants to be the best at finding pages relevant to the user.. so build your pages relevant to your business and products, keep them organized properly, and Google will find you.

Very useful article on many levels!
I'm a freelance writer here on Elance and the majority of what I write is for web content. Whilst I'm good at incorporating keywords, occasionally clients ask for unreasonable keyword density; so much so that the content really becomes unreadable! So it's nice to hear from an expert that density isn't necessarily the be all and end all.

Maybe this should be required reading for all Elance web content buyers who are looking for SEO'd content!

Thanks,

Claire
CLB Writing Services

This caught me, I am going for your previous article now on blogs. I consider some of your advice, but I know there is something still missing here, the positive side of engineering is not negative engineering which says don't do that, positive engineering should say this is the strategy to rank 1 with good content and this nobody does or it is clever and right and is how the engines will look to your site because it is optimized to that trade-off level.

Encouragements,

Nice job, Chris. It's great to see quality content given its due. And I appreciate that your other tips are stated clearly and simply. Thanks!

Thanks for sharing the great info about SEO. You have really made the most complexed issue, easy to understand. Specially the information about Google Crawler's spotting a new website and how one can make efforts to fasten the process. Also the information about Basic Page Optimization is a great help in understanding the basic criteria of Google indexing.
(sai-data-tech) - Prashant K Shukla

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the write up. I am a "learning" designer/coder and have bookmarked this entry for future reference. Written clearly, to the point and I picked up quite a few points that I never knew before. Thanks again.

Jon

Another thing to note regarding beginning SEO - fresh content.

More and more, fresh content will get your site ranked higher as the search engines will see your site as "Alive" instead of "Dead".

So update your content as often as you can, even if it's small. Get your web developer to add a blog link on your site and you'll benefit greatly.

This is exactly what I've been looking for. Thank you for using such accessible language.