Day 2: A step-by-step guide to Search Engine Optimization

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization is the process of improving traffic volume and quality through higher search engine rankings. With a little time effort, you can drive traffic to your site from Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines through organic (free) traffic. Although true SEO is an ongoing process, hitting on the basic SEO principles on your site can result in increased traffic.

Studies have shown that most web users do not look at search engine results past the first three pages; however, our goal is to get your site onto the first page of the search engines to see results.

This guide is by no means exhaustive, but following the highlighted suggestions can bring in quality, targeted traffic you would otherwise have to pay Google for on a per-click basis.

Step #1 – Choose the Right Keywords for your Site

Google and other search engines want to return the most relevant websites to the keywords entered by their users. If we identify keywords that are very relevant to your website, and “target” these keywords, we can generate traffic to your website from users who enter these keywords.

Identify your niche

The first step in choosing the correct keywords to target is to identify the niche, or topic, of your site. It is important to be specific when identifying your niche, as this will help us target the most relevant keywords for your site. For example, if your website rates and reviews sports cars, “automobiles”, or even “sports cars” would be too general to identify your niche.

Perhaps you focus on certain models, or perform a specific type of review.

If not, you can start with sports cars as your niche and drill down as you do more research.

Check out the Competition

There are a variety of tools available to research the competition in your niche. The easiest and cheapest way is to use Google’s Keyword Tool, which can be found at Link.

Using the Google tool, you can type in a keyword related to your niche in the Keyword Planner section to see an analysis of a variety of keywords related to that niche.

Below is a screen shot of the Google Keyword Tool for the keyword “sports cars.” As you can see, information is provided not only for “sports cars”, but also for a number of related keywords.

Image

Here you are looking for two things. The first is keywords that are relevant to your site. If you need to drill down to more specific keywords, use a more specific word on the list, and re-enter
that keyword as your search term.

If you need to drill down further, you can select a more specific keyword in the list and re-do the search. Below is a screen shot for “Sport car review.”

Image

Google Tool Keyword "Sports Car Review"

After identifying keywords relevant to your niche, you then want to determine which keywords are the best keywords to target for your site. Look at the “Avg. monthly searches” column for a
keyword you believe is a good fit for your site, and compare to the “Competition” column.

Although the competition column tells us how competitive paid search is for a specified keyword, it is still a decent proxy for determining how competitive a keyword is. The idea is to identify keywords that have more search volume for their respective competition level.

For example, in the screen shot above, “cars reviews” is a keyword with mild-moderate competition and mild-moderate search volume, which may be a good keyword target for our site.

Unless you have a very popular website, keywords in the moderate range are the best to target to get results from our SEO efforts. A final note on initial keyword research is that paid tools exist which will give you more specific information. Good tools include Spyfu.

After you have identified target keywords which you feel are attainable, i.e., your site’s content is relevant to that keyword and your site matches the competition level of that keyword, you need to look at competitor websites for that keyword. Basically, type your target keywords into Google and see which sites are ranked highly for those keywords.

If the web sites that come up seem to be very popular or more developed than yours, you may want to target other keywords. If websites come up that you feel your site can beat for that keyword, you have found yourself a target keyword.

It’s good to have 3-5 target keywords that your site is competitive for, and an additional 1-2 target keywords which may be a bit of a reach right now.

Keep in mind this is only our preliminary research. Once you read the rest of the tutorial and get a better idea of how SEO works, you can see how well your competitor sites are SEO’d for a keyword to determine if you can rank higher than them for that keyword.

You should now have a list of target keywords you want to rank highly for in the search engines so we can optimize your site for these target keywords.

Step #2 – Internal Optimization

Search Engine Optimization has two major components which the search engines rank your site on—internal factors, which is your content, and external factors, which is basically how many sites link to your site from their site.

As far as internal content goes, we want to find ways to include our target keywords without overstuffing them all over the page. This section focuses on what you can do to your site to increase your search engine placement.

Keywords in Domain Name and URL

One of the biggest internal factors in Google’s algorithm is the URL of your website.

If one of your target keywords is in your domain name, this will give a huge boost to your search rankings.

Unfortunately, it may be too late to pick the most optimized domain name. We can still capitalize on the URL by naming pages with keywords, such as www.domain-name.com/target-keyword.html.

Keywords in Page Title Tag

Do NOT make the title of your home page “Welcome to mydomain.com.” Instead, put a target keyword or two that is relevant to that web page. It’s also good to eliminate unnecessary words, such as “and”. For example, you can replace “and” with “|” to separate words.

For example, “Sports Car Reviews | Test Drives | Car Specs” could be the title of your homepage. Google is placing a value on all of the keywords in your title, so use target keywords which are found on that specific page, and DO NOT water down with useless words like “and”.

It’s also important to note that you should not stuff 10 keywords into your title, as it will both water down the keywords you are focusing on, and Google may even penalize you for “keyword stuffing”.

A good rule of thumb is to include a MAXIMUM of 10 TOTAL words in your page titles, and only words that can also be found in the body of the page. Put a few relevant keywords in your title and you will see a huge SEO impact.

Keywords in Header Tags

Using header tags is a great way not only to increase your search engine placement, but also to organize your website. Keep in mind that search engines crawl through your site and so organization in your coding allows the search engine to better understand how to rank your site.

If you are using a program like Dreamweaver to create your website, it’s very easy to make headings using the tags, etc.

Header tags by default are usually not very aesthetically pleasing, so use a CSS Style to customize your header tags: H1 {color: green; font-family: Arial; font-size: 20px }

Header tags are weighed more heavily than regular text on your webpage, so make sure your headers include target keywords, especially keywords that are used in the content under the header.

Keywords in Image Names and Alt Tags

Pictures on your website are often overlooked when performing SEO, yet they are a great way to add keywords to your site without getting penalized for keyword stuffing. Make sure the name of the image files on each page is named as your target keywords, specifically target keywords that are in the content of the page.

After re-naming your image files to target keywords, you then need to add keywords to the tag. The alt tag is the text that is displayed if the image does not load correctly. The html coding for your image files should look something like this for a smiley face image:
Image

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<body>

<img src="smiley.gif" alt="Smiley face" width="42" height="42">

</body>
</html>

Bold and Italicizing Keywords

Google and other search engines will give weight to words which are bolded or italicized on your site more so than plain text. Once the content on a page is written, you can go through and bold or italicize target keywords which appear on the page.

DO NOT bold or italicize a target keyword more than once on each page, or you run the risk of being penalized by Google’s algorithm.

Placing Keywords towards the Top of the Page

Google reads web sites from top-left to bottom right. Although placing keywords closer to the beginning of where Google is reading can help, it is not as weighed as most of the other internal webpage techniques. Additionally, if you can start your content before any side navigation bar you will force Google to read your content first. Don’t spend a lot of time on it, but if you can shift some of your target keywords closer to the top, it will only help.

Keywords in Anchor Text

Anchor text is the visible, clickable text of hyperlinks. Anchor text is another opportunity to insert target keywords. Again, we want to use keywords which are relevant to the context on the page, especially the content immediately surrounding the link.

As always, we need to be careful of keyword stuffing, so don’t go through and restrict every link on your page to target keywords.

Navigation links are specifically a good place to put some keywords in because most people just use the standard navigation titles such as “Home”, “About Us”, etc. Instead, try to include words which relate better to the content of your page.

This is a good time to point out the fact that search engines CANNOT read text in actual pictures. This means that if your site is in all flash, you are not going to get any search engine credit for keywords in those pictures. If you have a lot of pictures on your site, try to include a text version so you can still gain credit from the search engines.

Include a Site Map
A site map is a great idea to help the users of your website find the pages they are looking for, and they also provide the opportunity to have a page with links loaded with relevant keywords. On your site map page, make the anchor text of each link the title of the page they link to.

Site maps also help search engines index your page more easily, so they are a must have.

Meta Tags
Meta tags, such as description and keywords are not weighed by many search engines anymore as they are easy to manipulate. Since a few search engines still place a very small amount of weight on them, you can put a few of your relevant, target keywords in meta tags.

Spend a very minimal amount of time on these as they are becoming obsolete as far as search engine placement is concerned.

Keyword Density
As you have probably noticed, keywords are the name of the game as far as internal SEO goes.

This is because the goal of all search engines is to give users the most relevant website results to the search term. In addition to all of the places you have inserted your target keywords so far, you need to include these keywords in the actual content. You should not only include keywords in the content, but the content should be about those keywords to keep it relevant.

While including keywords is important, search engines will penalize you for keyword stuffing. Keyword stuffing is intentionally loading your keywords everywhere you can.

You need to be careful not to overload any of the places we have talked about with keywords. If you do, Google will penalize you accordingly, which could hurt your SEO efforts more than it is helping.

One way to make sure that you are not overstuffing keywords is to check keyword density. Keyword density is how frequently (the percentage) a keyword appears in the coding of your page.

There are a variety of keyword density checkers available for free online. One easy tool is www.keyworddensity.com. [BROKEN LINK] With this tool, you just need to enter your web page URL and the keyword you are checking the density for.

Differing opinion exists on what the ideal keyword density is, but it is a safe bet to keep your density below 10% for any given keyword.

Most tools will give you a total density breakdown as well as a density of the various components of your coding, such as title, visible text, tags, etc. Make sure no component is excessive so that the search engines do not penalize you for overstuffing keywords.

Staying in the 2-8% range is a good place to be for your target keywords.

Keep in mind that if your density is low for your target keywords, you are missing out on an opportunity to add weight to those keywords.

Things NOT to Do
Now that you know the most important on-page SEO techniques, it is important that you understand some of the things not to do so that search engines do not penalize you.

Always be aware of keyword density so that you are not considered to be keyword stuffing. Be sure to stay below 10% with keyword density for your target keywords.

Original content is another thing search engines value highly. You should always add new, original content to your website.

While original content is highly favored, duplicate content can be harmful to your search rankings. Duplicate content can come in the form of the same exact content on various pages of your own site.

Duplicate content, to a lesser degree, can also come in the form of other web sites sharing the same exact content as yours. While this will not get you banned, it can definitely hurt your search engine placement if you copied material from other sites and put on your own.

Finally, remember that search engines cannot read flash. Also, you should not use frames on your site unless necessary.

Basically, any activity that is intentionally underhanded in an attempt to trick search engines runs the risk of getting your site banned from that search engine. Our goal is to optimize your site so you rank highly for content that is very relevant to a search term.

Step #3 – External Optimization

The goal of all search engines is to provide the most relevant websites for any given search term to better satisfy their users. In the early days of search engines, on-page optimization was all that mattered.

During this time, Google came to the marketplace with a revolutionary algorithm — one that placed a heavy value on how your site is viewed in the internet community by giving weight to external factors.

The basis of Google’s original model, which is now used by virtually every search engine, is the concept of backlinks. Backlinks are inbound links to your website found on other websites.

For example, if another car review website puts a link to your website on their website, this gives your website a backlink in the search engines. Backlinks are considered a vote for the popularity of your website in the eyes of search engines.

Since external factors are not easy to manipulate, search engines give a large weight to backlinks. In fact, the easiest way to see huge changes in search engine rankings is to have many backlinks from relevant websites.

Check your Backlinks
There are a variety of tools you can use to check your backlinks. Most major search engines have a function to check. For Google, just type link:yourdomain.com and it will tell you which sites backlink to yours in Google.

Other good tools are www.backlinkwatch.com and Monitor Backlinks. Using these tools you can check how many backlinks you have, which sites they are from, and the anchor text used.

Learn About the Competition
It is important not only to keep tabs on the backlinks of your website, but also on those of your competitors (those sites ranked just higher and just lower than yours). Checking out the competition can give you an idea of what you need to do to get ranked above your competition.

Researching competitors can also give you ideas of sites you can approach to request a backlink.

Google PageRank
Google gives websites a PageRank, usually from 0-9, which is based on the number of backlinks to your domain. While many people obsess over their PageRank in Google, you need to remember that Google ranks pages, not domains, so PageRank is not an absolute determinant of where you will end up in rankings.

What is important is that PageRank is based on backlinks, which is heavily weighted.

A site with a high PageRank, such as 7, backlinking to yours is very valuable. The higher the PageRank of your backlinks, the more valuable that link is.

Factors Important to Backlinks
In addition to high PageRank sites linking back, there are other factors important to your backlinks. The first is the content of the linking website.

A backlink with relevant content is much more valuable than a backlink from a page that has no relation to the topic of your website. The second important factor is the anchor text (display text) of the link on the page of the website linking back to yours.

Another important factor is the number of links on the page of the referring site. For example, if the backlink site page is filled with links, search engines will not give your site as much credit as if there were only a few links on the linking page.

Requesting Backlinks
Backlinks can be obtained in many different ways, all of which take time.

One way is to simply email webmasters and request a link be placed on their website. If you have a truly premium site, some webmasters may do this voluntarily, but most will want you to put a link on your site in return.

The key is to exchange links with websites with high a high PageRank. Requesting links manually can be very time consuming, so usually should be reserved for sites with high PageRanks and very relevant content, basically, sites that stand to increase your search engine ranking a great deal.

In addition to manually emailing important potential backlinks, you can use programs to automatically email lists of relevant sites. The program Majestic has a great function which will automatically search for relevant websites and their contact email, and then blanket email everyone on the list.

This will not give the webmaster you are requesting a link from the personalization that a manual email will give, but it is a quick way to gain some links. When providing a return link, do not place more than 20-30 links to other websites on any of your pages.

Instead, create a central linking page which has general topics, and then a subpage that has outgoing links related to that specific topic. In this way, you are creating a number of different pages in your web so that no single page of yours has more than 20-30 outgoing links.

Using Article Submissions and Directory Submissions to Gain Backlinks
Aside from requesting backlinks, you can also build backlinks to your site by writing short articles about a topic or niche related to your website. A simple Google search will reveal a number of article submission websites.

Article submission websites allow users to submit the articles they write, and if approved, will be listed in their article database. The key here is to put a “resource box” at the bottom of your article. A resource box basically includes a link back to your website and some anchor text and keywords to give your link context points.

Through submitting unique articles you write to article submission websites, you gain 1-way backlinks to your website, which is very valuable in the search engine rankings. The top article submission sites have a high PageRank, which can make a huge impact on your search ranking if you write an article that gets included in their database.

Although writing articles takes some time, if you spend a little time every week writing a short article, you will see a huge SEO improvement. The important thing is to include your resource box at the bottom so that you get a free 1 way backlink to your website.

In addition to article submissions, backlinks to your website can be gained through directory submission websites. As with article submission sites, there are many directory sites, which often specialize in the topic or niche of your website.

A quick Google search for something like “your topic + directory” will give you a list of directories to submit to. It’s important to submit to both general directories and topic specific directories as they will give relevant and high quality backlinks.

In Day 3, we’ll show you what you need to know about search marketing.

Till next time,

The Bevo Media Exchange Team
Bevo Media

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