“Oh, just Google ‘yada-yada-yada’! It’s like the first one.”
While “yada-yada-yada” is likely not the subject of our searches, this phrase is one that has become commonplace. Why is that? Well, you might say we’ve been conditioned to expect Google to return the results we’re looking for almost instantaneously. These results are categorized and ranked by Google, and businesses that are focused on improving the rank (and ultimately visibility) of their site use a technique known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to ensure their prominence over competitors. Hopefully you may already know a bit about SEO, but if not, have no fear because you just started reading: SEO for Dummies!
What is Search Engine Optimization?
This term describes the process of optimizing your website’s content in order to gain more visibility on search engines than other sites with similar content. Let’s say you own a coffee shop in Nashville, TN. There are definitely more coffee shops than just yours in the whole city, many of which will also have an associated website. When someone searches for coffee shops, obviously you want yours to appear on top! The more prominent your web presence, the more traffic the website should receive —ultimately leading to more transactions for your business! While there are options you could pursue for paid placement (Google AdWords), SEO offers an avenue for organic expansion that will benefit your business in the long run.
How to Start
The first question you need to answer is: “How would a client search for my business?”
Continuing with the coffee shop example, keywords typed into a search engine would probably include the word coffee, perhaps Nashville, specifically which suburb of the city, etc. But unfortunately these may not be specific enough. As we talked about earlier, there are a number of coffee shops in the city of Nashville all competing for these same keywords and phrases. SEO is all about gaining prominence over your competitors, and on the Internet, anyone who shares your keywords is a competitor. So let’s get a little more specific. This particular coffee shop is called Hipster Coffee, famous for providing an atmosphere reflecting the styling’s of the hipster community, and also happens to serve light breakfast options and artisan toast. You've never heard of it, but the owners have decided it's about time you did. With these details in mind, we can focus on associating what keywords are specific to Hipster Coffee.
Let the Optimizing Begin!
A search engine will process your entire site, (textual, non-textual, and the hidden elements) filter all of the data through an algorithm, and associate keywords that it thinks match the subject material. While you actually have no tangible control over what keywords are associated with your webpage, SEO allows you to guide the association process. If you are optimizing the website for Hipster Coffee, you will want to include information relating to your desired keywords in places like the URL, the body paragraphs, headers, and meta tags.
One of the easiest places to start and make the biggest impact is with the URL. For Hipster Coffee, this might look something like this:
By including our keywords in the URL, we are letting the search engine know that this is subject material for this particular page. While this does involve renaming HTML files that build our website, its a great move right off the bat that makes a huge improvement!
After renaming files, the next thing to address is the organization of each page. When looking at a website, a search engine will categorize headers by importance (h1 being most important, h6 being least important) and view your website in a sort of outline format. Armed with this information, you should attempt to arrange your website in such a way that it would make sense if it were converted into an outline. Let your h1 tags be main ideas conveyed by your page, likely including the keywords that you would like to be associated with your page. So for our Hipster Coffee website we want to have a menu that contains information about our flavorful coffee roasts, expansive breakfast selection, and the hand-crafted artisan toast, therefore, an h1 header should exist for each of these main ideas to begin our outline.
<h2>The Darker Than Night Roast</h2>
<h3>What’s In There?</h3>
<h3>Where In the World? (all about the beans)</h3>
<h2>The Spiced Up Morning Blend</h2>
<h2>The Egg Crack Combo</h2>
<h2>Steak N’ Eggs Combo</h2>
For the User
Restructuring the site serves two purposes: helping the search engine associate our site with keywords and enticing users to stay on our page for a longer period of time. If a search engine sees our site as a popular destination, we will begin to gain priority over other similar sites.
A site should always be designed with a client in mind. In the case of your h1 tags, what kind of information are your clients looking for when they come to your site? How can you best lay out that information for them to find it easily? While some information may seem important to you, is it really what your client is looking for? Notice that in our “outline” we started general and progressively provided more specific information. This provides an easy way for a user to understand and interact with your site.
In short... Yes... As your business progresses and your services change and develop, don’t be afraid to change your keywords and restructure your site. If you want to change your keywords for any reason, you may want to consider how competitive a specific keyword is. A great tool to do this would be the Google Adwords Keyword Planner.
There is no point in time when SEO is ever “finished”. You can always do more to help your site gain more Internet traffic, and not all of the steps for optimizing your site are included in this blog. For instance, Google recently made a number of changes to its algorithm regarding the way mobile sites are categorized. If you intend to design a mobile version of your site, these would be some great rules to look into.
Keep yourself up to date with the major changes that search engines make to their algorithms and make sure that adjustments are reflected in your website. No matter what, don’t get too hung up on designing for the search engine. Your website is a tool for your clients to connect with you. Make sure you never lose sight of that goal.
Feature image by Nogran S.R.O. https://www.flickr.com/photos/128629824@N06/