The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners Round Up

Over the past few weeks we’ve taken a look at search engine optimization from a beginner’s stand point.  We’ve covered how  search engines work, where to get started with analytics and keyword research, optimizing on page elements you control directly and how to get Google juice through directory submissions and link building. This post will summarize The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners nicely, but if you’re not into the whole brevity thing and feel like you need a more detailed refresher I encourage you to jump back to older posts for a read. I’ve included a short list of some of my favorite tools and resources for SEO below, if you’ve got any to add please share them with readers in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Mike

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Part 1 – How search engines work?

We eased into the subject by taking a deeper look at how search engines work and understanding the 4 key tasks they perform: crawling, indexing, determining importance, and presenting search results. Programs called robots crawl from page to page using links and measure hundreds of different signals on a page with sophisticated algorithms to determine its relevance and importance to the keyword or phrase.

Part 2 – Where do I start?

SEO can seem like a daunting task, especially for a green horn, so this post answered the question – Where do I start? The first step is getting acquainted with tools you’ll need. Start by installing or gaining access to the analytics package of your site. Google Analytics is a good one and it’s free. The next step is tedious but important to everything else you’re going to do, so make sure to do a thorough job on keyword research. Think of what words you want to be found for and ask real people (like your customers) what words they would use to search for you. Write all these terms down including all possible variations and common misspelling of those words and plug them into a keyword analysis tool.  Again, Google offers a great free keyword tool with AdWords that you can use to determine which keywords on your list get searched the most and how competitive those terms are.  Generally speaking, the more competitive the term the harder it will be to rank highly for it so pick your battles wisely.

Part 3 – Getting under the hood

It’s time to get hands on so I assume you can add/edit your website files and have a basic understanding of HTML. If you need a few lessons check out this HTML Fundamentals interactive tutorial from Codecademy. There are many HTML tags you can learn all about, but I focus on only 3 that should be fairly easy for a beginner to work with that tell search engines and (more importantly) people what’s important about your site. The HTML title tag is found at the top of every HTML document between the <title></title> tags and should describe what each page is about. The Meta Description tag allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. If you find that the title and meta description is the same on all your pages, change them and you may see results quickly. Header tags are used to identify and organize content in descending order of importance and should incorporate your keywords.

If you have a static website that doesn’t change much, you may want to consider starting a blog to continually add fresh content to your site.  Google loves sites with lots of pages and blogging is a great way to fill that need while also letting you play around with internal linking and sprinkling keywords into your URL structure. Matt Cutts from Google discusses using keywords in your URL’s whenever possible in this short video. You’ll also want to make sure Google knows about all of your URL’s, so creating and submitting an XML Sitemap helps you make sure Google knows about the URLs on your site. This may be tricky if you are a beginner, but there are plenty of free XML Sitemap generators out there like this one. If creating a sitemap is a breeze, then you may also want to explore more advanced stuff like 404 Error pages, 301 Redirects and using the robots.txt file.

Part 4 – Building links & directory submissions

When other sites link to yours, it provides a signal to a search engine that your site is full of relevant content – sort of like someone casting a vote for your page. We call that Google Juice.  Building these links is one of the biggest challenges for SEO, but it’s also the most important. If you do nothing else, work to build back links to your site.  Things like well written headlines hook readers which can lead to more links. Comment on other blogs with a bread crumb link back to your site or offer to guest post on blogs with related content. One secret trick to link building is that getting .edu sites to link to yours gives you a good dose of link juice…if you can get them. Contact schools and universities and find a reason for them to link to your site.

Directories are a good place to start building your back links from, some are free while other are paid.  Web directories were originally created to organize content on the internet into logical categories, and this data powered many of the web’s largest search engines for some time. DMOZ has attracted a lot of criticism lately. Its human edited and takes a long time for a listing to get published, and even longer to change if you goof something up.  But it’s free so go ahead and submit a well written listing under a category that fits your business and move on with life. If you can afford $299/year, Yahoo! Directory is another one to have on your radar if you’re just getting started. If you want to focus on the local area, head over to Google Places to claim your free listing and use these tips from Google to optimize your Places listing to best show in local search engine results pages.

Other Helpful Stuff

As you continue learning about SEO you’ll discover that it’s a pretty big topic to wrap your brain around, and that the playing field is constantly changing. People devote entire careers to this specialized niche of digital marketing and it can be very expensive to hire an SEO because their results can be very lucrative for you. If you’re more of a do-it-yourselfer and follow the steps outlined above, you’ll be off to a good start and a few steps ahead of the game.  There’s tons of great free resources out there on the web to help you learn more. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Google Keyword Tool – free keyword analysis and recommendation tool
  • Google Analytics – free analytics package for analyzing web traffic
  • Open Site Explorer – a backlink analysis tool for competitive research
  • Search Engine Land – news and information about SEO
  • seomoz – useful blog about SEO, also offers paid tools
  • seobook – useful blog about SEO, also offers paid tools and lists of free resources
  • SEOquake – a browser plugin that fetches information about any page based on a large number of parameters
  • SEOCentro – a host of free SEO tools like Meta Tag Analyzer, rank checker, keyword analyzer, etc.

PS: I’ll personally sponsor a $10 Amazon.com gift card for the first person to correctly guess the movie reference in this post in the comments below.  Ready…..go!

The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners – Part 3

Congratulations!  If you’ve been following along with my last few posts you’re over a big hump as a beginner SEO. You’re now ready to tackle optimizing the on page elements of your website.  If you feel like you need a refresher, check back to read up on how search engines work and how to conduct a keyword analysis, otherwise let’s start by…

Getting Under the Hood

Since we’ve gone to all the trouble of picking out good keywords we want to make they’re actually present in well written content, and that our website code is clean, making it nice and easy for robots to crawl and index pages. This part of the process is very hands on and I’m making an assumption that you have a basic understanding of HTML and how to edit and publish files on your domain through your web hosting service.

HTML Code

There are some specific parts of the underlying HTML source code of your website that provide signals to search engines, so it behooves you to pay attention to and understand what they are. You can examine the source code of just about any webpage simply by right clicking your mouse and selecting “View Page Source” from the dialogue box that pops up. Below are some tags and a sample screen shot:

HTML Title Tags: Look for the title at the top of an HTML document between these <TITLE> tags. A title tag tells both users and search engines what the topic of a page is about. Every web page can and should have a title declared using your keywords to describe what you think is important to potential readers.

Meta Description Tag: The meta description tag looks like this in your code <META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”informative description here”> and allows you to suggest how you’d like your pages to be described in search listings. Search engines can and do create different descriptions based on what they determine is most relevant to the search, but using them increases the odds that your preferred text will appear.

Header Tags: There are 6 HTML Header tags ranging from <H1> to <H6> that are used to identify and organize content in descending order of importance. Copy placed inside a header tag appears in a slightly larger and boldfaced font than its surrounding text. H1 tags are commonly used as a main headline, while a sub headline may be in H2.

URL Structure

If you blog regularly you’ll have more opportunity to play around with using your keywords in the URL structure of links. Using keywords in your URL’s whenever possible “does help a little bit” as Matt Cutts from Google explains in the video below. Most blogging platforms today will grab the main headline of your post and add it to the end of the URL. If you’re like me, you like to write headlines that will grab a reader’s attention which isn’t always going to be search engine friendly. A good tip is to write that arresting headline that will garner the most readers as you publish your content across the web, then a few days after the traffic big hump go back and change the URL structure to something more search engine friendly stuffed with keywords.

Sitemaps

Another tool you should be using to help Google better understand your site and all of its glory is an XML Sitemap. Sitemaps help search engines crawl and index pages that might not be easily discovered otherwise, like content that hides behind a form. You can submit a Sitemap via Google’s Webmaster Tools. They don’t affect the actual rank of your pages, and it’s not guaranteed that all of your links will be crawled by submitting one, but it does lead to an increased presence and greater visibility of your site in Google’s index. There are plenty of XML Sitemap generators out there you can use for free so get it done if you haven’t already. More information about Sitemaps can be found in Google’s Webmasters Central Blog here

Content

As you begin to tweak your copy remember that you’re writing for people, not search engines. Stay focused and on topic. If you have to write your keywords on post-it notes and stick them to your monitor to do so, then do it!  Content is King is one of the most overused clichés in SEO, but it there is a lot of truth to that statement. Search engines love fresh useful content. Blogging is a great way to continually publish fresh content, especially on topics most people would consider “evergreen”.

Other Useful On Page Search Engine Stuff

  • 404 Error Page: A 404 error is returned when someone tries to navigate to a page on your site that doesn’t exist. Having a custom 404 page can greatly improve that users experience by providing helpful information like a link back to your home page or other popular content.  It can even make you laugh like some of these clever examples.
  • 301 Redirects: Anyone who’s ever “moved” a website to a new domain  should be familiar with a 301 redirect. A 301 redirect tells a search engine that a URL it’s looking for has permanently moved to a new location. This is a critical part of ensuring you don’t have duplicated content on different URL’s that can negatively impact your page rank.  For more information about 301 redirects can be found here
  • robots.txt file: Robots.txt is a text file that gets stored in your websites root directory and provides instruction to search engine robots.  It allows you to specify what areas of your site you don’t want bots to crawl and index (like a 404 error page). You can also indicate the location of your sitemap and indicate the speed robots can crawl a server. More info about robots.txt can be found here.  

Don’t forget to check out next week’s post on topics around off page optimization. We’ll explore directories, link building and more! Have questions? Let me know in the comments section below.

Mike

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The SEO Essentials Guide for Beginners Round Up:
Part 1 – How search engines work?
Part 2 – Where do I start?
Part 3 – Getting under the hood
Part 4 – Building links & directory submissions