SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization..

Search Engine Optimization is the strategic process of constructing your website’s structure and content in a manner that search engines and humans can both understand.

A large portion of SEO is just common sense, once you know the basic rules, and some of it can be quite challenging.

Bing claims to use over 1000 metrics when determining page relevancy and rank

Google claims to use over 200 primary metrics. Each of those have 50 variations. That means Googles uses over 10,000 metrics to rank your website.

Most aspects of SEO seem to be locked in a black box whose secrets are only known to a select few – if known by anyone at all. And that is true about the precise metrics search engines use. They ARE secretive about the specifics.

As frustrating as that might be, it’s actually a good thing. If Google were completely transparent about the specific metrics they use to determine relevance, it’d be incredibly easy to game the system and take advantage. That’d be bad for everyone.

And in the late 90’s that’s exactly how search engines operated. Keyword stuffing and link-buying/spamming made searching near useless. More on that later.


As long as you’re being honest, it’s really not that scary

This does not mean it is impossible to know what is important to Google. A lot of it is pretty intuitive once you understand the ethos of search.

Yahoo, Bing, Google and all other search engines have one goal. To deliver relevant results to their users. The more relevant, the more helpful they are. And the more helpful a search engine is, the more users will continue to stay with that platform.

It’s in the search engines best interest to protect the specifics of their algorithms’ inner workings. Yet, it is also beneficial to share guiding prindciples that will benefit everyone. That’s just what Google has done.

Google has publicized what is important for SEO’s to focus on.

Google has released what the 3 most important metrics are that they use when determining page. There has always been speculation on what Google values most, but now it’s known for sure.


SEO has two sides you need to focus on

There is the technical side to SEO, and there is the content strategy side of SEO.

Technical SEO includes your website’s codebase. Search Engines favor sites optimized for their crawlers. Your website’s markup structure is important to search engines. It plays a significant roll when search engines rank your site. The technical SEO is strategized and implemented during the coding phase of your website. If done well, once it’s done, it’s done and will not need constant tweaking.

The other side of SEO is your content strategy. As the saying goes “Content is King!” And for so many reasons this is true. Developing and implementing a successful SEO content strategy is never over. It’s a continual process, much like merchandising for a retailer, the job is never done.

Technical SEO – Set it and forget it.

Unless you’ll be working with the code and markup of your website, you don’t have to worry about this after it’s done… as long as it’s done correctly. Ensure that your web designer or web developer is knowledgeable and capable of implementing search engine optimized code.

If your technical SEO is ignored or implemented incorrectly, it can hinder if not damage all your other seo and ppc efforts. This is an area where several businesses can get the short end of the stick.

A poor technical SEO strategy can actually work against your visibility!

Technical SEO isn’t a black box mystery. This area of SEO is publicized and encouraged by all search engines. It benefits everyone.

Search engines have a hard time knowing what your website is about with poor technical SEO. It’s like having a poorly designed website or one that is improperly coded. Your human visitors will have a difficult time finding relevant content. Search engines have the same problem when a website’s technical SEO isn’t executed well.


So what is technical SEO?

Technical SEO is paying attention to certain details within your website’s code. Like your HTML markup. CSS and Javascript also play an important role dependant upon their use.

Speed

First, optimize your website’s code for speed. Search engines place a high value on how fast your website loads.

A key areas to pay attention to would include

  • Optimizing and compressing images
  • Minifying scripts and styles.
  • Concatenating scripts to get the fewest http request as possible.
  • Utilizing a cdn to distribute site assets.
  • Enabling site cacheing

A professional website designer should use all the tools available to them. Here are a few tools you can use to double check your web designer.

Pagespeed, Yslow, Pingdom


HTML SEO Markup

<title>

The Title Tag is extremely important. It defines what each page of your website is about. Imagine each page of your website as a book. Would you find it helpful if every book were titled the same? Ensure there is a plan for your Title Tags to be implemented. Use unique and relevant content for every page of your website.

<description>

The Description Tag is the description used for each web page. This is the blurb of copy that appears on search result pages describing what the page is about. This is important to both search engines and human readers.

The title and description tag are both perfect locations for your keyword strategy. We’ll get to this in more detail later in this article.

<headings>

Website copy displays in all different sizes and locations. We structure content this way to imply importance and help with readability. Behind the scenes, content is displayed using HTML tags such as <h1> <h2> <p> and more…

Each web page should only contain one <h1> tag. The <h1> should be relevant to the web page’s subject. Be sure to use your keyword strategy here as well.

The title of this page is in the hero panel. It’s the subject for this page. It is using the h1 tag. It tells you and search engines both what this page is about.

All the large titles through the rest of this page are displayed with <h2> heading tags. These “titles” define what each section of copy is about. This helps humans and search engines understand this page’s content even more.


CSS – How your layout can affect your SEO

CSS defines the layout of your HTML markup page structure. This allows you to focus the important content on each page of your website. You can change content location. You can hide content from being visible. You can even bring in new content that isn’t there when the webpage first loads.

Google wants your most relevant content for each page near the top, or as close as you can get it. The higher up that content is on the page, the more important it must be.

Web browsers interpret html using a “box model.” This means groups of html are contained within a block. By default, the first “block” of content in your html is rendered in the top left corner of the screen. The next block is placed to the right if there is room or underneath. The browser renders all your markup this way. That’s why the content that is at the top of your page is at beginning of your markup. The content on the bottom of the page is at the end of your markup.

CSS and Javascript are used to position these “blocks” of content in layouts that differ from the browser default. This means, web designers have the ability and flexibilty to set a higher priority on the more relevant content. What appears at the top of the page does not have to be what is first in your markup.

Remember, search engines see your content and code, not necessarily how your site “looks.”

Your website probably has a navigation bar or a sidebar. Odds are the content in those areas are the same on every webpage. Chances are, those areas are also coded near the top of the webpage document. If so, you’re pushing your relevant content further down the page.

A professional web developer should change your markup. Your relevant content needs to be closer to the top.

The appearance can be identical, but the priority of your markup is considerably different.


JS/CSS – How your navigation and layout can affect your SEO

Javascript can have an even bigger impact on the quality of your website’s technical SEO. Search engines are getting better at indexing and evaluating websites that use lots of javascript. There is are trade-offs that must be accounted for.

Some websites use page navigation that relies on AJAX. AJAX can change content on a web page without requiring a full page reload. If your website does this, be aware that it can have drastic effects on search engines ability to fully index your site. Ensure that if you are relying on advanced technologies like AJAX, that your site’s SEO is not taking a back seat.


Social Cards

If social will be any part of your strategy then you need to ensure that your pages are using the open graph protocol and twitter card meta tags.

These are the tags and meta data that your social sites will use when your webpages are shared. These tags define many attributes about each webpage such as page title, excerpt, main images and more. It removes the guesswork for all these social platforms. Instead of relying on them to figure out what is important on teach webpage, you can tell them.

Your Content Strategy

Developing your content strategy for SEO can be an immense undertaking.

There’s a LOT to know. And, it’s not something you just do once. It’s a consistent effort. But, if you get your content strategy right, it’ll make your execution and upkeep tremendously more efficient and effective.


Relevance and Engaging (contextual)

Create quality content. Are you targeting your content to your site visitors specific needs? Or are you simply drafting “brochure” style content that is broad and impersonal?

Are you doing what everyone else is doing and pumping out content that can be found anywhere else? Like your competitors’ website?

  1. How is this useful or helpful to your visitors?
  2. How is this enhancing your relevance? If all you’re doing is devaluing the same content as your competitors, who are you helping?

Offer real value and substance to your site visitors. Speak to them as if you were there in person. How would you sell a half sold person?

Google has released guidelines on “concepts” you should focus on when developing your content.


Keyword Strategy

In tandem with creating quality content is your use of keywords. Keyword strategy deserves its own article. Suffice it to say, a good keyword strategy involves

Keyword Discovery

How are users finding you or providers like you? What search terms are being used? What you offer and how you describe your service may be different than how the market actually searches for that service. An example would be if you had an article about “low air fare” vs how users actually search “cheap flights”.

Market research

What keywords are users searching for? What gets more traffic, “san francisco hotel” or “luxury inn san francisco california”? Which version delivers more relevant results? Etc…

Competitor Analysis

What keywords is your competition ranking for? Are you even aware of who you are actually competing against online?

Implementation Strategy

Taking all the information from the research, how do you best use your keywords on your website and content. Just use common sense. Be conscious of your language. Use your keywords naturally, but avoid overuse. Also, avoid the overuse of pronouns or abstractions. Avoid not using the keywords as often as you should. For example, for this site, it’s a conscious effort for me to use the term “website” instead of the less searched word “site” which I use more naturally myself.

Link Building

This too deserves it’s own article. A few paragraphs down in this article I list a few big “no-no’s” when it comes to building your link profile.

Google considers your site’s link profile as one of the top 2 ranking factors when determining your website’s relevance and page rank.

The sites that link to you are so important. The quantity is an important ranking factor for sure, but the quality of those links matter even more. You could have a hundred different sites that you own link to your business site. That will add some value to your link profile. But, a link or two from a .gov or .edu site will be much more valuable in terms of page rank and relevancy. Google values links from reputable and “important” sources.

Other websites that link to your website, to Google, are like people vouching for you. If you were a political candidate and the governor of your state endorses you, that goes a long way. Same can be said if your state’s .gov site links to your site. It says a lot more than your next door neighbors blog. Or in our analogy political sign in the front yard.

Don’t be cheap, and don’t be in a rush!

A successful SEO content strategy can’t be done haphazardly. You can’t rush it. You can’t cheat the system. And you can’t be cheap. Good SEO takes time and effort.

Keyword stuffing

Search engines rely on keywords when determining relevancy. It’s the life-blood of what a search engine does. It takes search queries and finds the most relevant results.

Before Google arrived, this involved stuffing keywords inside the keyword meta tag. This is completely ignored today and is a useless tag and strategy.

Another old strategy was stuffing the keywords into the page and hiding them. If the site had a white background, developers would add gobs of keywords (related or not) at the bottom of the page in super small white text. This still happens, but if you get caught doing it, you could be blacklisted. At the very least, you’ll be so heavily penalized you might as well be blacklisted.

The recommended way to use keywords today is to place relevant search related phrases within your page titles, descriptions, headings and body copy. Beware though, this can easily be abused and wind up hurting your site if overdone.

  1. Chose a limited number of related keywords and phrases to target per page. You don’t want your own web pages competing with themselves for relevance.
  2. Try to use the targeted keywords in your page url, page title, page description, heading tags and body copy when appropriate.
  3. Use the keywords and phrases in a natural way that helps your human readers. If your copy is reading like a madlib, you’re doing it wrong.

Link buying

Your link profile consists of other websites that have links directing users to your website. The more diverse the links, odds are the better your profile.

This has been abused in the past and most recently and notoriously by JC Penny

There are several shortcuts that are dangerous to your page ranking that you need to be aware such as paying a cheap SEO company to build your link profile.

Avoid this at all cost.

Google and Bing have gotten way too smart for this to be effective. It’s quite easy for the search engines to spot this technique today. Two common ways to abuse your link profile would be the following.

Link Explosion

If all the sudden your site explodes with thousands of links directing users to your site that weren’t there a week ago, Google may see those links as disingenuous. Odds are, you’ve paid a link farming agency to balloon your link profile.

There is a caveat here. If your website all the sudden went viral, you could see hundreds and thousands of links develop quickly.

However, this can easily be separated by the originating source. If you have a high profile link from a news organization or government agency, that adds a lot of validity to your sudden rise.

One caveat to that caveat, if it is a viral explosion, you’ll see your rank skyrocket, but could see that you settle back down after a few weeks. Google can recognize trends as being time sensitive and there by only being relevant for a short period.

Remember long term success with SEO is never over and it’s never quick. What’s relevant today, may no longer be relevant a few months from now. You must stay vigilant if you want to maintain and grow your page rank.

1000 of the same

Search Engines not only look at the url of links or the originating site’s url, but the copy of the link is also evaluated. If you have a thousand links from a variety of different sites pointing to your website, but all the links have the same “Bob’s Famous Burgers” text without any variation, you’ll see a devaluation of those links. Google and other search engines see such link profiles as not being organic and trustworthy.

Just Do It Right

At the end of the day, there are no quick tricks. Even if you were to find a loophole in the search engines algorithms that would rocket you to the top by some trick, you can bet, you’ll pay the price shortly when the hole gets plugged.

The search engines intent is to provide relevant results that their users are going to care about. That’s what you should focus on when working with your SEO. What is relevant and helpful to my visitors?

Focus on your visitors. Focus on the documented guiding principles for generating content. Focus on how to effectively execute your message. Focus on those things and you’ll reap the benefits for a long time.

Just don’t quit. Your SEO efforts are kind of like your upkeep for your brick and mortar store. No matter how clean your bathrooms are today, you need to clean them again and again. If you don’t, just like your website, it’ll start to stink. People, and search engines, will consider you checked out and less concerned with providing a relevant experience.