Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Strategies that Work!
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of making pages as relevant as they can be for search engines to believe they are valuable enough to be considered for top rankings for as many key phrases as possible in organic or natural listings.
Does your organization show up on the first page of results in search engines like Google, Bing or Yahoo? The content and structure of your website can have a dramatic effect on how easily people can find your website. Your placement on search engines is important. At a minimum, it should be easy for your potential customers to find your site using your organization’s name. Showing up on the first page of search results for key terms — for instance, something like “Salt Lake City investment club,” if that describes your organization — can also make a huge difference in your site traffic, not to mention in potential participants’ ability to find and connect with you.
You don’t have complete control over where and how your website shows up in search engines, but you have more power than you might think. While SEO is often described in ways that make it seem like a mystical art form, none of the key steps are particularly hard to understand. They are often, however, time-consuming, and most require at least the ability to update your site’s text, if not basic HTML skills.
Investing time in comparatively straightforward tasks like including key phrases in titles and headlines can reap some substantial benefits. Below, we suggest 10 steps that can help search engines find and prioritize your site content. While some steps are more technical than others, these concepts can help anyone understand and prioritize search engine optimization for their organization.
1. Ensure Your Site Has High-Quality Information
The cornerstone of any optimization strategy — or just a good strategy, for that matter — is a lot of great, relevant information tailored to those you’d like to attract to your site. A large volume of high-quality content helps with a number of the steps listed below — for instance, you’re more likely to have information that’s useful to any particular person, you’re more likely to include the key phrases for which people are searching, and other sites are more likely to link to yours.
2. Help Search Engines Find Your Site
Search engines read through huge volumes of information on the web with software programs called “robots” or “spiders” (because they navigate, or “crawl,” through the Web). These spiders create an index which contains, essentially, all the pages they’ve found and the words that are contained on them. You need to make sure your website is included in those indexes. You can easily check to see if your site has been indexed by Google’s index by searching “site:www.yourdomain.org” This search will show a list of all the pages from your site that are included in Google’s index (ideally, every page on your site).
3. Encourage Others to Link to You
The more incoming links you have from credible organizations, the higher you will be listed in search results. To check to see the links that Google has indexed for your site, enter “link:www.yourdomain.org” into the Google search bar. The resulting list doesn’t include every link from every site but is a guide to the approximate quantity of high-quality links.
How do you get people to link to you? There are likely a number of organizations that have a list of organizations like yours. Ensuring you’re included in all the relevant directories is a good start. See if partner organizations will link to you. Do a search on the phrases for which you’d like to be found and look for ways to get the organizations at the top of the search results to link to you. Think through content you could provide — perhaps reports, articles, toolkits, directories of your own — that would be so useful that organizations would be inspired to link to it.
4. Identify the Keywords For Which You’d Like to Be Found
We’ve talked so far about ways for people to find your site as a whole — but people are unlikely to be looking for your site specifically. They’re much more likely to be looking for good information or a resource on a particular topic, which they’ll identify by entering the first words that come to mind when they think about their topic, known as keywords in search engine optimization lingo.
Identifying the keywords that people are likely to use, and for which you’d like to be found, is a critical step in search engine optimization. You should ideally think through keywords not just for your organization as a whole, but for each content page that might have useful information for your target audience.
How do you identify your core keywords? It’s not a science. First off, try to identify phrases that are reasonably specific to your organization. Trying to show up in the top of the search results for “the environment” is likely to be a losing battle, but “measuring river-water quality” is a more achievable goal. In thinking through your keywords, consider:
What phrases are associated with your organization?
How are people currently finding you?
What search phrases are people using in your domain?
How many keywords should you have? That’s up to you. Ideally, you’d have a least a couple keyword phrases for each page on your site. Some organizations optimize for thousands of keywords. However, starting with just a few phrases and a few pages is far better than nothing.
Once you’ve identified your priority keywords, the next step is to integrate them into your Web pages. When someone searches on a key phrase, the search engine looks for pages that include prominent mentions of the phrase: ones that contain it a number of times, show it toward the top of the page, and include it in key locations.
Unfortunately, there’s no substitute for the time-consuming task of incorporating your keywords into each content page. For each page, consider how you can incorporate your keywords into:
- Headlines and section titles. Text that is formatted prominently (bigger, bolder, higher on the page) is more likely to affect search engine placement than other text, so keywords will hold more weight in headlines.
- Link text. The words used as a link to your page are prioritized highly when the search engines consider that page. Optimize the links within your own site and especially any external links you have control over, for example in your blog, email signatures, social network profiles, and so on. Encourage others to link to you using your keywords — for instance, by providing keyword-heavy titles and descriptions for resources on your site.
- Page title metadata. Each page has what’s called a “title metadata field,” which controls the text that shows up in header bar at the top of the browser window — and which is also frequently shown as the page title in search engine results. This is one of the most important places to include your keywords. This title field can be edited through the HTML code of the page, or through most methods you might use to update your site — for instance, through Dreamweaver, Contribute, and most content-management systems.
- Page description metadata. Each page has a “description” field, a longer description of page content that can be accessed in a similar way to the “title” metadata. The description is another important place to include your keywords and is also sometimes shown by search engines as the description of your page in search results.
- Page text. Repeating your keywords a number of times (but not so many times to annoy your readers, of course) throughout the page text is likely to boost your placement.
- Page URL. If you can control the actual filename of the page (e.g. “search_engines.html”), keywords embedded in the URL are also counted as highly relevant.
If you are looking for a comparatively quick way to optimize each page, adding keywords in just the title and description metadata can provide substantial results without a wholesale rewrite of your site. Note that the keywords need to be shown as text. Spiders can’t read images, so any page, header, or feature that’s displayed as a graphic — regardless of how prominent on the page — is invisible to search engines.
6. Ensure a Search-Friendly Web Site Architecture
Okay, we need to delve into a bit of technical detail for a minute. Unfortunately, the detailed structure of a Web site can affect your search engine placement in important ways. If you’re not generally familiar with Web site construction concepts and HTML (the language of Web sites), you may need to flag this section to the attention of a trusted Web developer.
Spiders don’t read in the same way that a human would, so it’s important to follow some basic site structure guidelines to ensure that they can find and read your information:
- Include content early in each HTML page. When looking for content keywords, search engines prioritize keywords that show up early in the text of the page — and that text includes all of the HTML code. Try to structure the page so that the HTML code includes the content as early as possible — as opposed to, for instance, including code for complex headers, navigation bars, and sidebars before getting to the actual page text.
- Use standard header tags. Some search engines prioritize text that is displayed in standard formatting tags such as H1 or H2, so it’s worthwhile using those as opposed to creating custom names for your header styles.
- Be careful of duplicate pages. Search engines react badly to duplicate content, as it’s a common ploy of those trying to spam a search engine into better placement. Be careful of structures that show the same page content at multiple URLs (for instance, as a print-friendly version). If multiple versions are important, use the “robots” meta tag to specify that additional versions shouldn’t be indexed. Also, take particular care not to set up a site so it can be seen in its entirety at multiple domains.
One last caution: avoid tricks. In reading through this article and others, you may think you’ve found loopholes to get higher placement without the work. That’s very unlikely. Search engines spend a huge amount of time trying to preclude shortcuts, and they don’t take kindly to being tricked. If you set up your site in a way that looks to a search engine like you’re trying to fool them, they may remove your site from their listings altogether.
7. Keep Your Site Fresh
Search engines love new pages. Try to add new stories, reports, news releases, and the like so that search engines feel that your site is frequently updated and thus should be frequently indexed. If your site is rarely updated, it can take months for search engines to find your infrequent new additions.
Blogs can be a particularly useful way to easily add new pages to your site — and can also provide great information that encourages links from others (not to mention all the other ways blogs can help in marketing and outreach!).
8. Be Patient, but Keep Checking In
Search engines don’t respond to changes overnight. In fact, it might take a month or more to see the results of your efforts reflected in search engine results. Don’t give up hope — keep including keywords in new content, and asking other organizations to link to your resources.
Once you do see some results, don’t rest on your laurels. The internet is a dynamic place, and new websites, articles, and changing search engine priorities can affect your placement. Check in on the search results for your keywords at least every month or so to help maintain your position and continue to enhance your strategy.
Special thanks to idealware.org for their help with this article. See read their article, follow this link.