What is SEO?
If you’ve looked into promoting your website or blog, you’ve probably come across the acronym SEO which stands for Search Engine Optimization. A search engine (ie, Google, Yahoo!, Bing, etc.) is a program that crawls and indexes the web. Then, when it receives a particular search query, it searches its index it to bring back relevant web pages. So, if you type “dog training” into Google, it will search the pages it has crawled and indexed and then it will display its results to you in the order that it deems most relevant.
This relevancy is based on a number of factors. The purpose of SEO is to optimize a website to help it appear more relevant and perform better, or rank higher, in a search engine’s results. The better a website performs in search engines, the more likely it is to receive visitors or “traffic.” More traffic means more business! This is why SEO is important. But before you can optimize your website, you need to know what to optimize your website for.
Keywords & Keyword Research
Keyword is the term used to describe a particular search query, or word/word-phrase someone enters into a search engine to conduct a search. For example, all of the following can be considered keywords: “laptop computers,” “bicycles,” or “San Francisco flower shop.”
Keyword research is important because you want to know how people are looking for particular information. You would be surprised to find that keywords that seem almost identical can have very different search volumes. One example is “Hawaii vacation packages” which gets 1,127 searches a day versus “Hawaiian vacation packages” which gets 235 searches a day [source, Wordtracker 9/1/2011]. So, if you want more traffic the keyword phrase you would want to concentrate on is “Hawaii vacation packages.”
When choosing your keywords, it’s best if they are not too broad or too specific in scope. The broader in scope a keyword is, the more competition it likely has. For instance, the keyword “cars” has tons of competition, but “San Francisco used cars” has less and would probably bring more relevant traffic to your site - people who actually live in San Francisco and who are looking to buy a used car there. Likewise, targeting a keyword that is overly specific will probably garner little traffic due to low search volume.
Two free resources for keyword research:
What do you do with keywords once you’ve found them?
After you’ve done your research and decided which keywords you want to target, it’s time to put those keywords to use on your site.
Site Page URLs
A URL is a page’s address on the web, like http://www.vflyerblog.com/managing-seo-in-vsites. For SEO purposes, it’s a good idea to add a keyword to the URL of a page. This leads to better crawling of your pages by search engines because it provides more information about a web page’s content than a url like www.vflyerblog.com/article13. Also, your URL shows up on a search engine’s results page, so a relevant looking URL will likely get more clicks from searchers.
Best practice dictates that you have your keyword as close to the main domain as possible, so it’s better to have vflyer.com/used-cars is better than vflyer.com/this-is-a-great-article-about-used-cars. Also, avoid keyword stuffing and overly long URLs, like vflyer.com/excellent-used-cars-great-used-cars-awesome-used-cars.
You can easily edit the URLs of your vSite pages by opening the Edit Page Settings Screen and clicking URL settings.
META TAGS: Title, Keywords, Description
In your page’s Search Settings you have access to a variety of meta-tags, which are special HTML tags that are read by search engines but do not show up in the actual page itself. These meta-tags are auto-populated by vSites, but you can easily modify them by un-checking the “Automatically populate my page meta information” box.
The purpose of the Title Tag is to indicate to search engines and users what a particular page is about. A page’s title tag will appear as the linked text when your web-page shows in a search engine’s results page, and any text in the title tag that matches the current search query will be bold. Additionally, the title tag will be displayed on the browser tab when you’re on that page. For these reasons it is essential to put the keyword you’re targeting in the title tags- but again, avoid keyword stuffing.
Search engines will typically only display the first 60-70 characters of your Title, so keep that in mind when creating your Title. It’s also best practice to lead with your keyword so that it’s the first thing read by a search engine. You may also want to incorporate your company name for branding. Here’s an example, “San Francisco Hair Salon - FireFly Salon.”
The keywords tag is essentially a place for you to list your top keywords separated by commas. Don’t stuff this area with a huge list of keywords, five or so should suffice, and be sure you use all the keywords you list here at least once in the body text of your page. Otherwise search engine’s may penalize you for trying to rank for irrelevant keywords.
The purpose of the description tag is to summarize the contents of a page for search engines. Also, what you write for your site’s meta-description will often display below your linked title tag on a search engine’s results page. In the description section it’s best to use your main keyword and perhaps a couple of less important keywords or related terms and phrases. It’s important to include your main keyword because it will appear bold in the description text. In addition to informing search engines as to a page’s content, a good description can entice searchers to click on your site.
SEO Writing for Your vSite
When you write content for your site you should make sure to use your keywords throughout the text. While there is no set number of times you should use a keyword, a good rule of thumb is to use it once or twice per paragraph, but never so much that it is awkward to read. It’s good to optimize your text, but realize that you need to write compelling, easy-to-read content for humans, not search engines.
It’s also beneficial to add a variation or two of your keyword to the body text. For example, if you have a page targeting “used cars” then might think about using the related phrase “pre-owned cars.” Also, it’s best practice to put your main keyword early in the body text. Generally, the earlier the keyword is used, the better.
Certain text formatting, such as Bold or Italicized text, can also help with optimizing your page. If it seems appropriate, consider italicizing your keyword phrase in your page’s body copy, and possibly bolding your keyword phrase once. The value of this formatting is fairly small, so don’t feel obligated to do employ this in your content - and don’t over-do it or it will make your page content unattractive and difficult to read.
Linking Within Your Site
Links within your site, or “internal” links, are another place where you can put your keyword to work. If you have a page targeting the term “chocolate cupcakes”, then ideally any other page with a link to that page would link to it using chocolate cupcakes for the link text or “anchor text.”
Off Page SEO - Backlinks
Everything we’ve covered so far has been related to SEO for on-page factors, but there is another off-page component of SEO which is very important: backlinks. Backlinks or Inbound links are links from another web page to your web page. In general, the more backlinks you have the better.
Backlinks are used by search engines to determine the popularity and relevancy of a web page’s content - search engines see them as votes of confidence. Not all backlinks are created equally, though, and search engines will analyze the quality of a particular backlink before passing on any SEO “juice.” The quality of backlinks are judged on a variety of factors:
- Popularity and Importance: a popular website which links back to your site/page is going to give more of an SEO boost than an unpopular site. Popularity can basically be interpreted as quantity of traffic. For instance, getting a link from the New York Times website would be great for your site.
- Topic related sites: if you are a doctor and you get a backlink from an health website, this is going to be much more beneficial than a backlink from a website about motorcycles.
- Keyword in Anchor Text: Ideally, you’d like the backlink to contain one of your keywords versus a link that reads “click here.”
- Backlink diversity: It’s best to have backlinks from as many relevant websites as possible, not just a handful. Generally, you gain more value by receiving a link from a new website than you do from a site which has linked to you previously.
There are many other factors in backlinking, but they are beyond the scope of this article. If you do a search for “backlinks” and “seo” you’ll find a wealth of articles on the web that can provide more depth.
Getting backlinks can take some work, but here are some ways to get started building backlinks to your site:
- Commenting on Blogs: Find blogs related to your subject area and engage with the the blog writer through meaningful, thought-provoking comments. Often there is an option to leave a link to your own web-page. Just make sure you’re adding value and not spamming blogs with your links.
- Forums: Find forums related to your particular industry and answer people’s questions in those forums. Usually you will have the option to put a link to your web-page in your forum signature or on your profile page - make sure you incorporate a keyword in your link.
- Article Marketing: Try writing an article for article directories like ezinearticles.com, goarticles.com, or helium.com. In your articles you’re allowed to place a link back to your website.
- Create a Hubpage or Squidoo Lens with relevant content which links back to your site.
- Email Webmasters: If you feel a link to your website would add value to another website, consider emailing the webmaster. This takes a lot of work, but it can have a great pay off.
- Guest Blogging: Are you an expert in your field? Then it may be worth approaching a blogger in the same field and offering to write her a blog post. She gets the benefit of free high quality content, and you would typically get a link back to your site at the end of your post. It’s a win-win.
Run a search on “getting backlinks” and you’ll get a wealth of other creative ideas.
SEO is a complex and multi-faceted topic and there’s no way to cover everything in one article. Below are a couple great resources for learning more about the topic.