Interested in search engine optimization, but not sure where to start? Today’s post from guest author and SEO expert, David Wallace, will help you understand the basics of using SEO for small business.
Contrary to some beliefs, search engine optimization (SEO) is not rocket science. In fact, the real truth is that anyone with the time can implement the fundamental elements that are involved in optimizing a web site. This is good news for small businesses that often lack the funds it takes to hire a professional SEO firm.
Before discussing those elements, a foundation must be laid that is just as important, if not more so, than the optimization effort itself – and that is keyword research. Bypassing the keyword research process could set you up to target phrases that are entirely wrong for your business model, not to mention keywords that no one is actually searching for. Most small business owners already have a general idea of keywords that are relevant to their business. The idea with keyword research is to back up assumptions with real data and in the process, uncover additional keywords that might have been missed.
While there are several great keyword research tools to choose from, I’m going to suggest the free Google Keyword Tool, which is perfect for the “budget conscious”. The tool is pretty straightforward – enter a phrase or phrases, include your web site, and search away. You can even select advanced options, such as narrowing your search by locations and languages, searches conducted on mobile devices as opposed to PCs, and more. Not only will the tool compile additional phrases you may not have considered, it will also reveal global and local searches and show the competition for each phrase.
Once a list of target keyword phrases has been put together, the next step is to identify which pages on your site will support each phrase. I call this the “keyword mapping process.” Often times this will be an easy task, while other times it may require quite a process. If you are having difficulty identifying which pages relate to specific keywords, try searching Google with a “site” command (site:www.yoururl.com keyword phrase). This will often produce a list of pages from your site that may be good candidates for your list.
Now on to the fundamental elements of each web page that can be optimized, as well as some basic guidelines. In most cases there are only five elements of a web page that you need to optimize:
- Title Tags
- Meta Description Tags
- Page Copy
- Alt Attributes
- Anchor Text in Textual Links.
Title Tags are the single most important element of optimizing a page. If you do nothing else, optimize the title tag! There are various formats that can be used use but I generally like the following:
<title>Keyword Phrase Here | Company or Website Name Here</title>
Some people like to have the company name first for branding purposes. Others leave it out altogether so they have more characters to work with (Note: You generally have about 65 characters to work with in a title tag before it may get cut off by an engine). That is not a hard and fast rule as each engine is different. I personally feel it is important to have the company or product name in the title tag because branding is crucial. At any rate, try to avoid stuffing too many keywords into a title tag or using repetition of the same keywords over and over again. The goal is to make sure your targeted phrase is in place but at the same time make sure your title attracts clicks from searchers.
Meta Description Tag
While many search engines will actually use a snippet of text from your body copy to form the description that you see in the search engine results pages (SERPs for short), it does not hurt to write a short description based on the general topic of the page. These can and will appear in the SERPs as search engines do index them as well as factor them in their ranking algorithms. They can also be useful in providing a well written description for someone who may be linking to that page from their site as well as filling in description forms in directories.
Hopefully your site already has well-written copy. The idea here is to ensure your targeted phrases are represented in the copy but in a natural language. In other words, don’t try to force a phrase in so often that your copy looks unnatural. Copy needs to be written first and foremost to convert, educate, entice or whatever else your goal is. In other words, it needs to be written for your users. They are the ones that will end up supporting your business, not the search engines.
Don’t worry about keyword density formulas because they just don’t exist. If they did, it would fluctuate every time because competition for positions in organic search is always going to vary. Depending on how much copy actually exists on a page, try to make sure the phrase you are targeting is represented at least a few times. Avoid scenarios like this:
Our green widgets are the best green widgets in the green widget industry. We offer big green widgets as well as small green widgets. We offer green widgets in large quantities as well as small. When searching for green widgets, you need to look no further because our green widgets are the best green widgets on the entire planet of green widgets.
Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? That’s because it is and it will turn off visitors faster then anything else you do.
Alt attributes, also commonly referred to as “alt tags” (although the wrong term for them) consist of the text that lies behind images on your pages. Search engine algorithms do factor in alt attributes behind linked images. While all of your images should have an alt attribute for usability, images that are hyperlinked to another page should “describe the page” they are linking to, while un-linked images should “describe the image” itself. With this in mind, good SEO really comes into play with linked images. It is here that you can insert keywords that are relevant to the page they are linking. However, I caution you to keep it simple and don’t use these as an opportunity to stuff an endless stream of keywords in there. It will look spammy and won’t help.
Anchor Text in Textual Links
Just as alt attributes in linked images can help a SEO effort, using targeted anchor text in textual links to other pages is helpful as well. Again, a word of caution: when optimizing anchor text in textual links, keep your site visitors in mind. Make sure copy remains in a natural state.
You may have noticed that I did not discuss the keyword meta tag, header tags, bold tags, etc. That is because they are not that important. The keyword meta tag is pretty much useless. Google and Bing do not index them. If you do feel the need to add a keyword meta tag, think about inserting common mis-spellings of keywords – that is if there is not a lot of competition out there for those same words. If you want to target a few mis-spelled words, better to do it here then in your copy. Heading tags have never made that much of a difference (although including H1 tags in your headings can be somewhat helpful). The same is true of bolding text. You can certainly employ these but do so again where it makes sense to do so and not just because you think it will help your rankings.
Keep in mind that these are basic fundamentals. Each site and each page for that matter is different and as such can create unique scenarios. These are simply some fundamental things to keep in mind when optimizing individual web pages that any small business owner can implement.
About the Author: David Wallace, co-founder and CEO of SearchRank, is a recognized expert in the industry of search and social media marketing. Since 1997, David has been involved in developing successful search engine and social media marketing campaigns for large and small businesses.