SEO: For Dummies
From blogging to social media to commercial company websites, nearly everyone online is fighting for attention in some capacity. Some earn our time by creating great content, whereas others leave something to be desired. But in the age of the internet, one thing is for certain. A large and loyal audience is one of the most powerful assets you could ever imagine.
It should be stated that nothing worth having comes easy, and this is especially true with drawing consistent attention to a website. The means to produce and create online or elsewhere has become so readily available to the average person that markets have become oversaturated in many cases. However, if you take the time to understand how the system as a whole functions and exploit advantages where you can, it’s only a matter of time before reaching the level of success you’re looking for.
There are some very important avenues to growing an online audience. For blogs in particular guest posting can be particularly effective along with social media and advertising (if you’re willing to pay for it). But the glaring weakness with each of these approaches is their temporary nature. The longest a guest post or tweet will stay relevant is maybe a matter of days, perhaps weeks if you’re lucky. This is where search engines and Google in particular change the game. When you start to understand its true power it makes total sense why they’ve taken over the world.
With millions of sites to choose from and many in niche categories how do you get people to choose yours? If you work on a post for days and it turns out to be a masterpiece how do you keep it relevant for years instead of hours? Well, that’s exactly where Google comes in. Millions of people across the world use it every day to find information and get answers to questions. Google picks the best results according to its algorithm and puts them at the top of the list for anyone to view. This means organic traffic perhaps years after a great post even though it took only a few hours to write. Having even basic competency in search engine optimization completely changes the game.
So……what can I do? As would be my advice for many other things, find the best value where it’s most readily available. Then, you should squeeze every ounce out of it until there’s nothing left. That should make a little more sense in a minute. Also, do not expect miracles to happen overnight. SEO takes months and even years to establish. That being said, here are some easy-to-understand tips anyone could implement:
Longer posts (1500+ words)
Although it remains true that there are too many blogs in every category imaginable, (including personal finance), one of the easiest ways to differentiate yourself is to create posts in excess of 1500 words. While that may seem too long for some readers, it helps to establish the site as an authority on a particular topic and provides a generous amount of information and content for people who were looking for it. Not to mention Google seems to heavily favor longer articles. In fact, the average first result on a Google search has roughly 1800 words. (To give you an idea of how long that is this post is about 1875). Short posts are easy to write, that’s why there’s plenty of them. Put in a little extra effort and you’ll likely be rewarded.
Use Google AdWords
Although Google itself is a search engine, it is an advertising company at heart. It takes less than 5 minutes to set up an advertising account with them, which is part of the reason they have been so successful. You can use this account to do research on search terms (without having to actually pay for any advertising, unless you want to) and find out what appears most (and least) frequently in your domain. It is not advisable to attempt to battle for a spot on the top hit, but go a few down and start there. Imagine a search term like “social media” and how established and well known your site would have to be to come up on the first page. Start smaller with something more targeted like “social media marketing strategy”, try and land on the front page there, and then slowly work your way up to the top.
Google Webmaster & Analytics
If you’re not already familiar with the rest of Google’s goodies, they are quite helpful when evaluating your site and determining where to go next. WordPress’ Jetpack plugin is reliable and simple for basic site statistics but Google’s tools take this to the next level. Using Jetpack, whenever there was a hit to my site from google, the search term would appear as “Unknown”. After doing some digging, this is because of coded encryption that Google uses to “protect the privacy of the user”. But, this also forces you to use Google webmaster and Google analytics to find out what search terms are driving hits to your site, which is exactly what they want (but are still helpful nonetheless).
Backlinks, Backlinks, Backlinks
One of the ways that Google determines the quality of a particular site or webpage is by counting the number of links directed to it. This indicates that other people view it as valuable enough to share themselves, and when trying to pick between two pages on the same topic, the one with more backlinks is going to appear more favored and credible leading to a higher page ranking. This is where guest posting and social media have some real power. Their viral nature leads to links spreading across multiple platforms and allows other sites to pick them up.
A website with no traffic is unlikely to make it very far, or rank on Google at all. The number of visitors to your site is another indication of legitimacy. A post of lower quality content can still have a decent SEO ranking if everyone is trying to visit it for some particular reason. Search engines want people to be able to find what they are looking for. If they can tell a site or post is particularly popular it’s in their best interest to make it easy to find.
Social media & Sharing
Even though this was touched on a bit already, it’s important enough to emphasize again. The temporary nature of social media is a major weakness however it is still a crucial component of SEO for the two reasons directly above. Social media drives traffic and creates backlinks like crazy. It also helps to overcome the issue of being found amongst millions of websites. When people who are interested in the content spread the site by sharing it, it is being exposed on a much more public and established platform that encourages fresh content and discovery. Having social media accounts for your site can be particularly helpful in order for people to follow along, share, and get notified when new stuff gets posted.
What do you do when you try to visit a site that won’t load in less than 2 or 3 seconds? You probably close out and either try again (and again, until you give up) or simply move on to something else, right? Well, search engines want their top results to give the consumer what they’re looking for and do so in a user-friendly fashion. Long load times don’t exactly fit that criterion. Your home page doesn’t have to be completely bare, but put larger files (like long videos or large pictures) elsewhere if you can. Your site host can also have an effect on this. While the generic setup is often good enough for most websites, if you run into an issue with slow loading times (due to high amounts of traffic or whatever), it can often be alleviated by upgrading your hosting platform.
When Google crawls a website (scanning for particular information) one of the easiest indicators of relevancy to the search term is if the title or main phrases on a website (or post, tweet, etc.) match with what has been searched. This should make sense on a very basic and fundamental level. If you search for “Best New York fishing spots” you wouldn’t expect the top result to be a Beyoncé fan page. A post titled 10 Best Places To Fish In NY would be much more likely. That’s why using tools like AdWords is so important. You need to know what type of language, or words, or key phrases to put in a particular post if you want it to rank well.
Bounce rate is a term to lookout for when checking your site’s analytics. Essentially all bounce rate means is the percent of people who visit one particular link leading to your site and then close out or leave without viewing another page on your site. In the case of search engines, if someone finds what they need from your post and leaves that’s not necessarily an issue. But, a particularly high bounce rate (80 % +) can signal that something may be wrong. Visitors to your site get an impression of it almost immediately and certainly have a reaction (whether it’s positive, negative, or neutral) before they have even read anything. You not only want it to be aesthetically pleasing but there should not be an overload of ads, spam links, or anything else that could potentially scare someone off. The cleaner and more welcoming the site looks the better it is for everyone.
Just like the keywords embedded in a website, the URL’s can be extremely important in driving traffic and determining overall relevancy. And like the site layout you want it to be clean and attract attention in a good way. The name of the site itself should meaningful and related to your topic. And while you can choose from .org, .edu, .biz, etc. it is almost always worth having the .com domain. It is by far the most common and expected option. Although it’s unlikely that search engines would favor a .com over a .org for that reason alone, the .com is always going to be the safest bet. Extensions need to be addressed as well. Generally URL extensions are automatically created but offer the ability to be edited. Whenever possible, they should be short and have 2-3 keywords. Anything else like the date is extraneous information that confuses things more than it helps. Look at the current URL of this page if you need an example.
One of the commonalities that this entire list of tips share is that quality is king. Posts should be easy to read, have a clear message, be informative, and give the end user a positive experience overall. As mentioned previously, the benefits are mutual in these types of transactions. In fact, you could argue that quality is the most important factor of all because it’s what drives people to create backlinks, share posts, and go to your site in the first place. Focus on making good content and the rest of the pieces should fall into place.