Friday, September 28, 2018

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Basics

I wrote following SEO Basics article as a contribution piece for the Cleveland Digital Publishing User Group (CDPUG) blog. Many, many thanks to freelance Art Director Jinni Fontana, who helped edit and clarify this article, thus making it more digestible!

“Why doesn’t anyone visit my beautiful website?” SEO HELP

The reason you may have so few visitors is that your website does not show up on internet searches. Google and other search engines look for very specific information on a website before ranking it with regard to the words or phrases (search terms) people typically use when looking up information on the internet. While the algorithms used for sorting and ranking search terms change often, there are some basics that do not change. Therefore, the use of these basic approaches is the foundation of any well-optimized, high-ranking website.

The first thing to understand about SEO (search engine optimization) is that it requires a two-tiered approach. There is onsite SEO, and offsite SEO. Onsite SEO is anything you do to the website itself to optimize it for searches. Once most of the work for onsite SEO is done, it is just a matter of fine-tuning it as an ongoing effort to enhance your website’s ranking over time. Offsite techniques involve obtaining inbound links from other sources, such as social media posts and reviews that link back to your site.

Onsite SEO

Before you begin with the onsite SEO, it is a good idea to do keyword research and consider the specific market you wish to attract. Thinking backward helps here. Under what search terms do you want to be found? What search terms might your typical audience use to look for a business similar to yours? List the words and phrases that apply to your business and your desired market.

• Meta Tags • This is the single most important subject to address. Meta tags are contained in the background code of a website. A user viewing the site doesn’t see them, but these tags hold important information for search engines. The two most important meta tags are Title and Description because search engines pull this information for its search return. If a search engine doesn’t find these tags on your website, it will look for and extract other copy from the page, often times with less than desirable results.

The two most important meta tags are Title and Description because search engines pull that information for its search return.

• Use quality keywords and phrases that describe your business • Search engines will index 50-60 characters for a Title tag, and roughly 100-150 characters (spaces included) for the Description tag. You will want to use up as much of that count as possible. For instance, your current Title tag on your homepage might be “Designer John Smith.” Changing it to something like “John Smith Graphic Design – Prepress Digital Artwork for Print” will be more effective.

• Customize the Title and Description tags for every page • Each page of your site is potentially a landing page onto your site. Thus, you can maximize your SEO by looking at each individual page and who you can attract with targeted keywords for that page. Never use duplicate Title or Description tags in an effort to save time as search engines reduce page rank for duplicate page tags.

• Make use of Meta tag plugins • To access Meta tags on a WordPress site, you can use one of the many SEO plugins that are available. Other platforms also have an SEO feature that lets you edit these key Meta tags. Those who custom code websites can easily access the tags in the source code.

• Use Alt tags • Alt tags tell search engines about your images. When you add pictures to a website, particularly on a WordPress site, the act of inserting the images will result in weird filenames such as “1234555.jpg.” This means nothing to a search engine, so you want to create an Alt tag particular to each image, using the same keyword advice mentioned above. Not only does this help with the SEO of your site, but your images will also begin to show up in more internet image searches. Ideally, your image filenames will also contain keywords, though as mentioned above, this can be difficult with some website platforms.

• Don’t bother with Keywords meta tags • Don’t waste your time on Keywords meta tags — none of the major search engines use them anymore because of past spammer abuse. Besides, Google’s own blog states that the keywords meta tags are not used.

• Write sensible keyword-rich copy • Use keywords and phrases for all of the content on your website but beware that the overuse of keywords and phrases can be recognized as spam. If it sounds spammy when you read it, then it will appear spammy to search engines.

• Include more content • In the SEO world, it is often said that “content is king,” meaning that search engines love quality content. More is better here. Continue to add information and articles to your site over time if you can. The more content you have, and the more keyword-rich it is, the better your potential ranking will be. Search engines give preference to sites that go beyond merely advertising a product or service. That means if you can provide free and useful content (design tips, framing info, etc.) it will help your site rank higher. Also, add a Favorite Links page for sources such as suppliers, inspirational sites, or whatever, as these links will contribute to a more connected web.

Off-Site SEO and Other Important Tips

Search engines learn from user behavior. They want to know when a site is popular and when others think it is important. Being the topic of others’ conversations is one way you move up the list of search term ranking and build credibility for your site over time. So, you want to start an ongoing campaign to get inbound links to your site. Ask friends and other businesses to add links to your site from their site. If any of your friends or associates can post in topic-related forums with a link to your site, that is very helpful. Social media posts help too. Search engines monitor chatter everywhere — this is one area where we toss privacy to the wind and hope that we are being watched! Online reviews are also an excellent way to get search engines to see your site favorably. Ask clients and friends to post reviews at Yelp, Google, Facebook, or other popular review sites.

• Create a blog and frequently link back to content on your site • You can blog about anything, not just topics related to your website. And you can use this platform to help not only your own ranking, but other websites as well.

• Create email campaigns with links to your site and products • MailChimp is a free and user-friendly way to manage email campaigns.

• Upload a sitemap to your site • Sitemaps help search engines better understand the navigation of your pages. You can create a sitemap for free using any of the online sitemap generators such as

• Make sure you have a mobile friendly design • Search engines are now penalizing sites that are not optimized for smartphones and tablets. Mobile friendly themes are available for WordPress and other website design platforms. Custom-coded websites will need to create special CSS (cascading style sheets).

• Obtain an SSL certificate and secure your site with .https • Even if you don’t collect payment or personal data, security is an important criterion for search ranking. Google’s latest release of the Chrome browser labels .http sites as “not secure”. Even if you are not worried about search ranking, the not secure tag could scare off your potential customers. Most hosting companies will help you with the SSL certification process.

• Use Google Analytics to track your website performance • This service is free and allows you to track many aspects of the data generated from your site traffic. Enjoy, although reviewing statistics can become a time vacuum!

• Join an SEO group on LinkedIn, Facebook, or through other organizations • As new tips and tricks are introduced, you will be the first to know about them while immediately incorporating the latest techniques into your website.

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