What Marketers Need to Know about Search Engine Optimization

August 31, 2012 Neil Ingalls

There are many elements to properly implement a website with “best practice” Search Engine Optimization and many more reasons for taking the time to do it correctly. SEO has been around since the inception of Google and Yahoo, and marketers quickly realized the benefits for their websites appearing in search results. This article will give you a brief 411 on why to optimize, where to optimize, and how these efforts will pay off.

Why Should You Optimize Your Website?

Google is the most visited website in the world, and it serves as a portal to discover other websites on the web. If a person is looking for lawnmowers they know that a Google search will return a response page full of websites that can explain, sell, or provide services for lawnmowers. Google’s mission and their #1 priority is to provide users with the best experience by giving them the best websites relevant to the search. If they fail in this mission, users will not use their service, and they become the next ghost town on the web. For example, if you search lawnmowers, but the results page is full of webpages that are talking about ice makers, the search engine has failed in its purpose and you are not likely to return. With millions of searches a day, Google provides steady traffic to a wide variety of websites that are optimized correctly. In most cases, Google is the number one source of referral traffic to a website. If you sell lawnmowers, it will probably help your business considerably to actually tell Google that you sell them. So, how do you tell Google that you sell lawnmowers?

How Do You Optimize Your Website?

There a MANY elements to optimizing your site for search engines, but let's focus on the big ones here.

  1. Site Command -- Make sure the search engine can see your site. Go to Google, Yahoo and/or Bing and perform a site search. In the search field, type "site: your domain name" and the search engine will tell you all of the pages that it can detect for your particular domain. For Sproutloud the example would be "site:Sproutloud.com". The search engine will return a list of all of your pages it detects, so if you don't see all of your pages, something is wrong. There are a number of ways that pages can be purposefully or accidentally blocked from search engines. If something you want customers and search engines to see does not appear in the search results pages from a site command, you will need to contact a search professional to make changes to your site.
  2. Unique content -- Your website needs to have unique content. Search engines don’t want to present users with the same content over and over again in their search results page. For this reason, they filter out duplicate content from their results page, meaning if you copy your content from another domain, they will simply filter your result from the results page and no one will see your website within the search engine.
  3. Links to your site -- A search engine is really an index of the web, assembled and categorized so that it can return relevant webpages to particular searches. One of the many ways that search engines determine the relevancy or authority to answer a particular search is how many links are going to a site and where they are coming from. Think of this just like you would think of a scholarly article. A researcher will want to cite reputable, well-researched, and high-quality authors; the search engine wants to do the same to provide the best experience for its users. Think about a link as a citation, and by obtaining links or citations from high-quality sources, you are garnering legitimacy and authority on a particular subject. This is why it is important to gain links to your website from high-quality and relevant sources.
  4. Canonicalization and on-site duplication -- As mentioned earlier, duplication is a big problem. The same is true for pages on your website. For these reasons, avoid copying substantive amounts of content from one page to another. Sometimes this is not done on purpose; one common example is a site-wide canonicalization error. Your website should either exist on www. or a non www domain, but not both. This is quick and easy to check. Simply go to the address by at the top of your browser and delete or insert www to your homepage. If the page renders correctly WITHOUT changing the URL you have entered, there is a problem. To put it another way, if http://www.sproutloud.com and http://sproutloud.com were both working URLs, there would be canonicalization. If both pages are working, the search engine will see them as two distinct entities that have serious duplication issues. Usually this problem will persist site-wide, meaning that every page on your site will have a duplicate and you have inadvertently created a mirror website.
  5. Target your audience with keywords -- You sell lawnmowers, so your website needs to say something about lawnmowers and the different types of lawnmowers that you sell. This sounds pretty obvious, but there are many websites that miss the mark too often to not mention it. Pick an important phrase for each page to optimize that page, and don’t try to optimize multiple pages to the same phrase. You want to select a particular page for the search engine to select for a valuable phrase. Ask yourself, "how do people find me and what are they really looking for?", and then use the answers to properly keyword target your website.
  6. Metadata -- Create optimized meta titles and meta description by placing a targeted keyword or phrase in both of them. The phrase needs to be present in the metadata and on the page to consistently tell the search engine why the page is relevant for that particular phrase.

These are the top six points to look for in a quick analysis of a website. There are a number of solutions to fix or alter these points, so do not panic if you find something wrong. There are a large number of additional elements to look for when asked to perform a full and detailed review of a site, but these are a great starting point. This article will be followed up with more information on the various ways to assess traffic and measure your progress.

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