Search Engine Optimization, or SEO, is the process of making your website rank better on Search Engine Ranking Pages, SERP’s. Over the years search engine algorithm’s have become very complex. They are constantly evolving to “learn” how to weed out spam sites. Within this guide you will find a few tips on how to set your site apart from these and rank well for the keywords you want.
Keyword Density – It is a common misconception that having your desired keyword appear over and over again in your content is the way to rank well for that keyword. This is not true, while search engines crawl your site and determine what terms your site is relevant to having them packed into your content can make your content seem unnatural and spammy.
How many times have you come across a site that reads like this “Looking for used cars in Atlanta? This the best guide for used cars in Atlanta. Buy used cars, find used cars and sell used cars here!” Sounds kind of redundant doesn’t it? Imagine someone talking to you like that. Most search engines will identify this as spammy. It is advisable to include your desired keywords throughout your content but in a way that sounds natural and makes sure your content is useful.
HTML Tags – These are the areas you will want to make sure your keywords are in. Your title and h1 tags are good places to start (I’ll get to meta tags in the next section). For the site trying to sell used cars in the previous tip they might have gone with the same spammy tactic and made the title tag something like “Used Car, Used Cars, Buy Used Cars, Sell Used Cars.” Once again this appears spammy to engines and users alike. A better title looks something like “Used Cars in Atlanta | Buy and Sell Here.”
In the properly optimized title we still make sure the term “used cars” are the first words in the title but we don’t repeat it to make it more natural sounding. We also include the location to help rank for local searches. “Buy and Sell Here” is included to inform the user of what the site offers. Other keywords should be included in the h1, h2, h3 tags and so on in decreasing order of importance. For our car website the h1 header could be “Buy and Sell Used Cars in Atlanta Area” and underneath could be short description of the business. The h2 header could be the specific section for buying cars and so on.
Meta Keywords/Description – The meta keywords tag is another place where some people have misconceptions. Years ago search engines used to use them to see what was on a webpage. As people people became aware of this and began abusing it by placing irrelevant keywords there the engines now place little value on them (Google doesn’t even look at them). Some people suggest to keep it as it can’t hurt to have them even if the engines don’t look at them. I disagree however, your competitors can easily look at your source code and see what keywords you are trying to rank for and begin their own campaign to rank for those keywords. SEO is a forever advancing effort and you must always be trying to improve your site. Giving your competitor an inside look at what your trying accomplish could hurt you in the long run.
The meta description tag is the place where you write a short description (under 200 characters) for the page. This tag has no bearing on rankings it is however the small bit of text that appears under the pages title in the SERP. The keywords the user searched for will appear in bold in the description. While the description won’t help your ranking if the users keywords are in bold in your description this will make your page more visible (not to mention if the keyword is also in your title your page name will be in bold as well). Having a well written description could be the difference in being passed over as spam and a click.
Reciprocal/Paid/Low-Quality Links – Now we are getting to one of the most important aspects of SEO, link building. While there are many strategies for building links that all have their merits for certain industries there is no guaranteed, works for everyone every time strategy (if you find one let me know). There is however a few strategies that are guaranteed to not work.
Reciprocal links are when you put a link to someone else’s page on yours and vice versa. This used work but since search engines are constantly changing they have decided to disregard these links. The reason for this is how search engines treat links now. The engines see each link as a vote for a site. When someone visits a site and they like enough the link to it in their blog or on their own site the engines see this as people being able to use your site. The problem with reciprocal links is that people will now trade links with anyone in exchange for a link. That’s how you end up with “Links” pages with hundreds even thousands of links spanning hundreds of categories.
That being said a small amount (I wouldn’t use more than 10 myself but experiment and see what works for you) of reciprocal links can be helpful. Back to our used car site once again, I noted that it had used cars in Atlanta. Trading links with other used car dealers outside the Atlanta area will be seen as relevant by the engines. One car dealer recommending another car dealer in Florida is perfectly natural link exchange. Other examples for our car site could include repair shops, parts stores or car washes etc. As long as it a natural link exchange between two websites that are relevant to each other it shouldn’t raise a problem.
Paid links are treated the same as reciprocal links. Since they are paid for it not seen as a natural “vote” for that site. Buying links can actually hurt your site more than help it. When an engine sees that you have all the sudden gotten 500 links over night it assumes that they were paid for and will disregard them. If you keep buying links and getting caught Google might even exclude you from their index. Spammer count on the fact that no matter how advanced search algorithms are they won’t catch all of the links. So while you may pay for 500 links Google or one of the other engines may disregard 400 of them, meaning you paid for more links then your actually getting. I also have serious doubts that even if Google and the other engines still might count some of the links, the ones they do are probably of very low quality. It would have much more value to find 10 – 20 good natural links than 100 low quality links.
Low-Quality are links that have little to no SEO value. Placing your link on a page that has hundreds of links will pass little value if any to your site. Many link directories are completely ignored by search engines as they exhibit little to no editorial control.
Analytics – I know the title of this article is “SEO Guidelines” but analytics are a very important tool in SEO. By properly monitoring your analytics you can ensure the steps you are taking are helping. It is very important to monitor metrics such as conversion rate, unique visitors, bounce rate and page views/time on site. While your SEO changes may have made you rank better did they hurt your user experience, are people not staying for long or are they leaving right away? Have your page views gone up but your conversion rate stayed the same or worse gone down? These are a few examples of what could happen if you don’t keep your eye on analytics. There is no one metric that will be the say all end all for your site. You must consider them all before deciding to make changes to your site.
I hope this article helped you to understand the ever changing world that is SEO. This is only a small glimpse at what SEO is really all about. You will learn a lot as you go along, mostly through trial and error. You should never remain static and always be experimenting with new ideas to see what works best for you.