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!
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.
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.
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.
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!