There are hundreds of articles about ways to improve your search engine page rank or how to optimize your site for SEO, Search Engine Optimization. Both of these topics talk about how to get your site on the first page – and near the top – of “organic” (not paid) search engine results when someone is looking for your product or service. Where a site is located in a search is called the “page rank”. Another acronym is SERP, Search Engine Ranking Page
Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines consider many factors and don’t share their “secret sauce” of exactly what they consider and exactly how important each ingredient is. And every so often they change the recipe to improve the results. So what is one to do to improve page rank? Simple (in theory): while building the site and adding content, keep the main goal of any search engine in mind:
to find and display relevant content (web sites) based on what the user types in the search box
Search engines do include a few other factors outside your control, such as the user’s location. If the user is in New York and is searching for pizza, it is highly unlikely that a pizza place in Texas will make the front page of the results.
What are keywords?
What are keywords? Simple – the word or phrase that someone types into the search box on Google, Bing or other search engine.
Keyword research is finding out what words or phrases people are using to search for your products or services. There are a number of ways of doing keyword research; here are a few simple (and free) ones.
How to find keywords?
- You know your business, what are the important phrases that describe it? Write them down – a spreadsheet works well. If you find a lot of keyword/phrases, group them into categories. If you are a home remodeling and repair business, group keywords under remodeling and repair.
- Ask family and friends how they would search for your business.
- Search with those phrases, then look at the bottom of the search results page for the “related searches” – more keywords and key phrases! Including “long-tail” keywords – phrases of 3 or more words – may be easier to rank higher in the search results than just a one or two-word phrase. And often people doing more specific searches are closer to buying, rather than browsing.
- The above ways are free; there are paid keyword search tools as well. If you want to learn more, the SEO company Moz has a good article on keyword research
Tips for improving your site’s search results
With all of the above in mind, here are a few guidelines on how to improve where your site ends up in search engine result pages:
- domain name is important – if your domain name describes your business, that is very helpful.
- the meta “description” – a brief description of your business is often used as the snippet in search results. While this doesn’t directly affect where your site displays in the Search Engine Page Rank (aka SERP – another buzzword), a good description can help the user decide if your site is one they want to visit. Keep this under 160 characters (yes, characters, not words).
- Page titles – be sure they are relevant to the page content (should be obvious!); use descriptive keywords in the page title when possible.
If you have subheadings (such as “what are keywords?” on this page), be sure they are formatted as h2 (heading level 2), h3 and so on. That helps search engines and blind visitors who use screen readers.
- Have photos? be sure the “alt” tags describe the image. Instead of “allt=P000223.jpg”, change it to “alt=my cat and dog sleeping together”. Search engines are blind, they can’t see the picture, only its “alt” (alternate) description. This also helps screen readers, which blind visitors use to listen to the site.
- Content – do some keyword research (see above), write articles about those topics. For an HVAC business, keywords or phrases could include “how to change the a/c filter” – write an article about that! Important: be sure the keywords or phrases fit naturally. If Google thinks you are “keyword stuffing” instead of writing naturally, your site will be penalized.
- Create and assign categories to your posts. Categories are general topics of information. A site about cameras might use the various brands, Canon, Nikon, Olympus and/or types – SLR, point and shoot, camcorders as categories.
- Create internal links between pages in your site. That helps search engines identify what you consider to be the important information.
- Always use descriptive text as the link. Never use “click here” as the link text Search engines use the “anchor link text” – the words the reader clicks – to help determine the topic of the linked page. Example: instead of “click here for training classes”, the link text should be something such as “list of training classes“. And as a bonus, some screen readers, including the industry-standard JAWS (Job Access With Speech), can read links on a page so the user can more quickly navigate to the desired content. Why is designing for screen readers important? Besides helping vision-impaired people, search engines are blind.
- Invite other legitimate sites to link to your site (and consider linking to them). “Inbound” links from other sites can be useful if they are from reputable sites. Avoid “link farm/link scheme” sites that only exist to provide inbound links; Google and other search engines can penalize your site if you use them. Google webmaster information about link schemes
One other thing to understand: it takes time to have your site ranked. Be patient – and add those blog posts regularly so the search engine “bots” keep checking and re-ranking your site. Active sites – those with fresh content – typically rank higher than sites that haven’t been updated in a long time.
Additional Resources – these are a few of many SEO resource sites
- Google webmaster tools
- Bing Webmaster tools
- Social Media Examiner
- Moz – Beginners’ Guide to How Search Engines Operate