A Rough Guide To Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Over the years, I’ve amassed quite a bit of knowledge on SEO and promoting websites so I figured I should probably share some of that. This is a rough guide to SEO, but covers everything you need to do to perform SEO on your website. I don’t recommend skiming over any of this article, because every aspect of it should be in the forefront of any website owners mind.

What is SEO?

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is all about getting your website seen in search engines and attracting visitors through search engines.

Whenever people think about getting more visitors to their website, they always jump to SEO, but SEO isn’t always the best way to achieve this…

Before Performing SEO On A Website

There are a few things to do before performing SEO on a website. These are:

  1. Set up performance tracking
  2. Do a keyword analysis
  3. Do a competitor analysis
  4. Decide on the best marketing strategy

Before performing SEO on a website, the first thing to do is to set up some form of search engine performance tracking on your website and install some sort of hit counter. How are you going to know if your marketing efforts are attracting more visitors if you aren’t monitoring your baseline?

My prefered tools are Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics. Some people take the view that it’s worthwhile targeting SEO at lesser used search engines like Bing in order to scoop up traffic from a less competitive market, but I take the view that Google is top, will always be top. Because of this, other search engines will eventually try to mimic it’s algorithms anyway as almost all website’s have SEO based around google and therefore will return poor results if they deviate too far from that.

Once you have your baseline established, showing the performance in the search engine(s) you are aiming to perform SEO for and a hit counter to show increased traffic from other sources, you are ready to start testing the water. You’re going to want to do a keyword analysis to see what people are searching for.

Performing a keyword analysis tells you how many searches for particular keywords occur each month. This is useful because you might think that people are searching for Server 2012 and so you do your SEO around this, but actually people are searching for Windows 2012. Good keyword analysis lets you see what markets are worth tapping into.

Once you have your list of appropriate keywords, you should do a market analysis. Search for those keywords you’d like to target and see which websites come up. Next search for those websites in Alexa and Google to see how big the website is. If the website using the keywords you want to target has millions of search results from other websites or a very good ranking in Alexa, chances are you’re not going to be able to get a good ranking for those keywords in Google.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should give up, it just means that you should change your strategy. You could consider investigating internet marketing, Google Adwords or FaceBook advertising (internet advertising). If you’re still keen on the advantage of SEO, because obviously it’s cheapest to be the first in a search engine ranking rather than pay for advertising, then you could consider targeting keywords that are less used or long chain keywords.

It’s a bit of a myth that using SEO is a free way to stay at the top of Google’s rankings. Large companies spend thousands of dollars ensuring that they remain at the top of search engine rankings.

Long chain keywords are sentences that people type into search engines, rather than just one or two words. They are easier to get to the top of SEPRs (Search Engine Page Rankings) because webpages can be writen to specifically target these and get a content quality advantage over bigger sites targeting just a few keywords.

Performing SEO on a website

Now that you’ve:

  • Set up your performance tracking
  • Done your keyword analysis to make sure your targeting the right keywords
  • Done your competitor analysis to make sure SEO is viable with your chosen keywords and that SEO is the best choice to put your efforts into in order to market your website

You’re finally ready to start doing SEO on your website. I’m going to try to keep this section as more of a list so the information is easy to pull out, but I will give more information where required. Again, this is a rough guide to search engine optimization, so it doesn’t assume you are going too deep into SEO. If you want to go deeper, you’re probably going to want to have several test websites to test changes to and work out exact percentage desity of keywords per page and test black hat techniques. For now, I would just suggest staying away from black hat techniques because they usually have a negative effect on your SEO. As a good guide, think “If I were Google, would I want to stop people doing what I’m thinking about doing?” If the answer is yes, don’t do it.

These are the general area’s that you want to get right to do SEO on your website:

  • Website structure
  • Page layout
  • Content
  • Backlinks

I list these, not in order of importance, but logical order of completion. If I were to specify the most important, it would be content > backlinks > page layout > website structure, that being said, content, page layout and website structure are the bones of SEO, so why do I order them like this?

Do answer this question, we need to think like Google. We have a bunch of websites that all have articles about Windows 2012, so when a users searches for Windows 2012, which websites do we list first? Clearly the websites that have the most relevant content need to be displayed first, but if 5% of websites have content equally relevant to Windows 2012, how do we pick a top 3 out of those?

The top 3 websites listed in Google get 80% of the traffic, about 60% of the traffic goes to the websiet ranked first in SEPRs

The answer to this is that we need to decide which of the 5% of equally relevant websites has the most reputation / authority. This is done by a number of factors including (but certainly not limited to):

  • Website age
  • Accuracy of the html
  • Number of links from other websites (backlinks)
  • Load speed of the website
  • The least spelling mistakes

The most significant of the above is arguably the number of backlinks the website has. Google deems a website to be more authoritative by how many websites link to it.

Website Structure For SEO

I’ve jumped ahead a bit, so I’ll revisit backlinks once we’ve looked at getting the bones of SEO right. First we’ll look at the website’s structure.

You should aim to have a hierarchical structure to your website that is based around your keywords. There should be simple navigation throughout this structure. A blog should be used on the site to capture long chain keywords and snippets from the latest x articles should be used on the homepage so Google can recognise the site as being constantly changing. This will cause it to be regularly indexed, is good for SEO because the content is deemed to be up to date and therefore relevant and authoritative.

I like to get clever with my website structures and have multiple hierarchical structures via the use of Tags or Categories. This way you can have a logical structure with navigation along the top of the website (supported by a sitemap and robots.txt file!) and use tags and categories to point to the same articles, but grouping them by different keywords. This method seems to work exceptionally well. URL’s with keywords relevant to the page also help the site structure.

Finally, keep in mind that the deeper a webpage is burried in the site structure, the less value will be placed on it in terms of SEO. Also, subdomains are treated as loosly associated, but seperate websites. So SEO should be done on all subdomains seperately, this can increase the amount of work required and therefore reduce the effect of your efforts 😉

SEO For Page Layout

Page layout is important, if text is too small or images take up the majority of the page, google will devalue it and the keywords within. Text nearer the top half of the visible area of a page when it loads (without scrolling down) has significantly more value. Having good, consistent navigation is key.

Making the page easy to get the information from is a good way to ensure the SEO will be appropriate. Ask yourself: Can the user get the information containing the keywords easily – is it right in their face?

SEO For Content

This is a big factor, so I’m just going to list some do’s and dont’s for ease of reading.

DO

  • Use header tags with keywords in them
  • Use smaller header tags as you delve deeper into subjects on pages
  • Use alt tags on pictures
  • Plan pages to focus on specific keywords. I like to have 2-3 pages aiming on specific keywords each, then link them with a tag or category
  • Point your domain name to the www version of your domain or vise versa. This will ensure that any links you get for one will be attributed to the other and contribute towards the same site
  • Encourage backlinks by creating your own affiliate scheme, offering a free download, asking your suppliers or customers to link to you, create some website themes that people can freely use whose designs are relevant to your targeted keywords and have built in links to your website (This is greyhat and may not be relevant at the time of reading)
  • Use unique META tags on each page, that are relevant to the content
  • Make META tags with titles and descriptions that attract people to click on your website in the SEPRs. Don’t forget that you can write highly optimised META tags that get you to the top of Google searches, but if the META tag isn’t written in a way that makes people want to visit your website, you won’t get any clicks. This might be indicated by a high number of impressions and low number of clicks in Google Webmaster Tools
  • Use synonyms for your keywords (Google tends to know about these)
  • Make your SEO look natural, or organic

DON’T

  • Spam keywords, you’re going to want about 4% of the words on the screen to be keywords you’re targeting
  • Use blackhat techniques that you haven’t personally tested
  • Use an SEO company you don’t trust 100%
  • Have a website built using technologies that Google can’t read, like Flash
  • Use iFrames
  • Copy other peoples content, Google knows you’re doing it and sees you as a less important site as theirs. You can get a penalty
  • Have malware on your website, you will get a major penalty
  • Use link exchanges. Google is smart enough to work this out
  • Make constant minor changes to pages, make big changes or don’t change them at all. Otherwise you’ll look like you’re keyword tweaking
  • Have duplicate content on your website
  • Do anything that Google might think is dodgy or suspicious

Generating Backlinks

Once you’ve got the other stuff sorted, you can generate backlinks. Backlink generation should have the majority of backlinks going to the homepage with the next most aiming at pages targeting keywords you want to focus on and the rest to random webpages deep in your structure. Backlinks should be from webpages that have relevant keywords to the page you are linking. Backlink anchor text (the word people click on for the link) should be keywords that are relevant to the page they’re linking to – try to avoid “Click Here” links. Backlinks should be a mix of dofollow and nofollow links, but understand that dofollow links have many many times the SEO value than other links. You can use software link “Fast Blog Finder” to find websites that offer backlinks. There are also some crafted Google searches that you can use to find sites that you can link from.

It’s vitally important that backlinks are generated in a way that looks natural. Don’t go crazy one day and generate backlinks. Try to get a mix of backlinks from different types of sites so it looks natural. Get backlinks from a mix of WordPress comments, Joomla comments, commentluv comments, forums, websites. Don’t get more than 10 backlinks from websites hosted on the same server.

Other SEO Tips

I’ll add to this section as I think of other SEO tips and tricks. Once you’ve done everything listed above and you’re happily, organically growing your backlinks and writing new blogs regularly, you might consider the following:

  • Use Google Places to get listed at the top of SEPRs for specific keywords in an area – be aware that this may reduce your SEO in other geographical areas!
  • Develop, test and research blackhat and greyhat idea’s against a test website that you monitor before applying these to your site

Please feel free to add your own SEO tips and suggestions in the comments section below 🙂

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