Search engine optimization (SEO) is a technique used to help search engine algorithms better understand where to rank your site. Users type a search phrase into search engines, and its goal is to determine what sites answer the user’s query. If you want to focus on search engine rank, you need to know SEO. SEO isn’t difficult, but it’s a learning experience for new site owners. Here are some SEO 101 tips for small business owners with small websites.
1. Choose Your Keywords Wisely
Users search using keywords. Just put yourself in the user’s shoes. When you search for something, you use specific keywords to bring up a list of websites. Google even gives you popular keywords on its advertising network, Adwords. This tool gives you an idea of what users are searching, the competition among advertisers, and the search volume. There are several other tools on the market that help you with keyword research.
You can use tools or come up with phrases on your own. Consider what a user would search for to find your content, and then make sure you have the phrases covered in your content.
One note about incorporating keywords: don’t “keyword stuff.” Keyword stuffing is the term given to content that uses the same phrase over and over just to rank higher in search engines. This actually works against you and can cause penalties. When you write your content, you can incorporate keywords but it’s just as important to write naturally.
2. Optimize the Title and Meta Tags
With your keywords in hand, you can now build some content. You should be able to come up with a few ideas especially titles and topics. Once you’ve created your content, the next important step is optimizing your title and meta tags.
The title tag is what contains the text of your title. There are several theories about where the title’s keywords should be placed such as in the beginning of the title versus at the end. However, it’s important just to have a title that contains your search phrase.
The next important code is the meta description tag. This description text is what shows in search engines as a small snippet that explains what the page is about. This description should be optimized to get users to click the link. You can include keywords as well.
The final meta tag is the keywords tag. This tag isn’t quite as important because it’s not used by any of the major search engines. However, it can be useful for smaller search engines.
Just like your content, don’t keyword stuff the title or the meta tags. Use a sentence or two for the meta description, and keep the title tag to a small title so that it fits in the search engine’s text space for the link.
3. Create a Sitemap
A sitemap is a document (usually XML format) that helps search engines find your content. It’s usually for larger sites, but smaller sites can use a sitemap too. It’s useful when you first deploy a site to have a sitemap, so when search engines find your site you’re sure to have most of your pages indexed. Search engines don’t normally index every page, but you know that search was able to find all pages since they are in your sitemap.
You don’t even need to manually create a sitemap. There are plenty of sitemap creators that will crawl your site and make one for you.
After you create the file, upload it to the root of your site directory. Both Bing and Google let you then submit your sitemap to their systems. This triggers the crawling procedure and gets your site indexed in search engines faster.
4. URL Structure
When you create a site, you might see your URLs formatted with query strings that point to specific pages. For instance, your first article might have the URL mysite.com/?p=1. This tells the backend code to point to the first content page of your site.
While this type of URL works fine, it’s not friendly for users. It’s better if you have friendly URLs. Many software programs have a setting where you can configure it and the system does it for you automatically. Usually, the system takes the title and uses it in place of the query string. For instance, the /?p=1 part of the URL turns into /my-title-for-this-article, so now you have mysite.com/ my-title-for-this-article. This is technically not the true URL, but the system handles pointing the virtual URL to the real one.
This type of configuration is not only good for users, but it’s also good for search engines because a small part of the algorithms go into URL structure and names.
5. Interlinking Your Pages
Search engines and users find other pages by crawling your site, finding links and then going to these pages. You get this type of activity by interlinking your pages. You can link one blog post to others on your site, or you can link to product within your site.
Don’t forget your navigation also contains links. You want your navigation to link to important pages on your site. These pages can then link to others. With interlinking, search engines and users can find deeper pages within your domain. It helps engage users as well and helps them find exactly what they are looking for.
6. Site Structure
Finally, the basic goal for SEO is to improve site structure and quality. Don’t just build a site for search engines. Instead, focus on your users. A good site structure helps users find what they are looking for through folder organization, good navigation and interlinking.
It could take some practice before you get it right, and don’t forget to encourage user feedback. Always analyze your traffic and review popular pages versus ones that get little or no traffic. Analyze your bounce rate to identify why you lose users, and always work on the site’s content and quality.