Getting Started With Search Engine Optimization
A high-level overview explaining the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Great for novice web site owners, t-shirt shop owners, or those interest in internet trends.
- What exactly is SEO?
- OFF-SITE OPTIMIZATION
- ON-SITE OPTIMIZATION
What exactly is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is part of a website’s marketing plan. Traffic is essential to any website’s success and optimizing your website so that you gain the most traffic possible is what SEO is all about. To be successful at optimizing a website for search engines, a website owner must have technical, coding, and targeted writing skills. It requires pro-active thinking, constant research and analysis, and customer focus. It can be learned, but it’s not something you are going to master over night. Make big enough mistakes and you could end up getting your site banned from search engine listings for a long time – but do your research and follow the rules and you could bring a lot of traffic to your site. Just remember: the world of search is ever evolving and it’s a lot to keep up with.
Paid vs. Organic Search
There are two types of ways that visitors will find your site when they are using a search engine. One is paid search. Using services like Google Adwords you can purchase ads that will display when visitors are searching for keywords that you determine, such as “funny t-shirts.” Depending on the keywords that you choose, the ads can cost a lot of money. They can definitely bring in a lot of relevant visitors who are willing to purchase, but it’s often very hard to get a return on your investment (ROI). For example, you could spend $100 on a very well put together Adwords campaign and maybe bring 500 qualified visitors to your website. In order to break even on your investment, 70 of those 500 would have to purchase a t-shirt (at an average of $7 profit per t-shirt). That means that about 15% of the visitors from your Adwords campaign have to buy. That’s pretty high for a t-shirt website. Adwords can definitely be successful, but it’s not designed for amateurs and it’s not designed for small budgets.
It’s not always possible or practical to pay for visitors, and when your paid ad campaign ends you have no guarantee that anyone will find your site on their own. That’s where organic search comes in. Organic or Natural Search is the term used to describe the search engine results that appear to a user without any paid help. The higher in the search engine result pages (SERPs) that your site appears, the more traffic your site will get. This SEO guide will focus on gaining the highest unpaid organic results for your website. Optimizing your website for search engines can definitely cost money, but this guide will focus on the items that cost no money – only time.
Where to Start?
There are two different divisions of SEO – On site Optimization and Off-Site Optimization. This first section will focus on the things that you need to do off-site to build your optimization campaign. Then we’ll move into what needs to be done to your actual site.
Before anything, you need to know what keywords are related to your website. You’ll hear that SEO is basically all about keyword targeting, and for the most part that’s true. While it does dig much deeper than that, the heart of SEO strategy is targeting the keywords that a user is likely to search for in a search engine – and making sure that your site is among the top results when they do. The problem that a lot of people make is not keeping up with the trends of search engine users. Keywords are in fact outdated. Like I said before… search is constantly evolving and you’ve got to do research and be pro-active to stay ahead.
The way people actually search today is by keyword phrase – or a group of 2 or more keywords. “T-shirt” is a keyword. “Funny t-shirt,” or “I’m with Stupid t-shirt” are keyword phrases. In 2007, single keywords only accounted for 10% of all searches, whereas 2 word phrases accounted for almost 40%. People are getting smarter in how they search and find information on the internet, and so website owners need to evolve with them.
Picking the Right Keyword Phrases
Relevancy is the name of the game. I said earlier that the goal of SEO is to bring traffic to your site. Which is true, but as a website owner I realize that traffic alone is not what’s important to you. In order to make money you need to convert your traffic into sales. Successful conversions depend on the relevancy of the visitors that are brought to your site. If you are the first search result on Google for “geek t-shirts” and you don’t sell any geek related t-shirts, then the visitors you get to your site are not going to be interested in purchasing anything from you. That’s why it’s very important to choose the right keyword phrases that are going to convert into sales. Keep in mind that a lot of converting visitors to sales still relies on the design of your website, the quality and demand of your products, etc.
So how do you pick the right phrases to target? This is where being customer focused comes into play. Think like your customers. Get to know your demographic, and your products. What will users be searching for that will bring them to your site and make them want to buy your product? There are a ton of very useful tools to help you choose keywords and I suggest you use them, but ultimately a human (you or an SEO consultant) is going to be the best judge of what works best for your customers and your website. I suggest using the Google Keyword Tool (you’ll have to be logged into Adwords for the link to work). You can enter a keyword such as “t-shirt” and it will spit back a full page of keyword suggestions, and also give you information on how often they are searched, what rankings they currently hold, etc. You can also just enter the URL of your website and it will spit back keyword suggestions based on the content of your site. Keep in mind that the higher ranked keywords and phrases are going to be harder to target. You are going to have to work pretty hard, and probably spend a lot of money in order to optimize your site enough to be ranked high for broad searches like “funny t-shirts.”
> Now that you have the keyword phrases that you want to target, you are probably wondering what you do to your site to actually target them. We’ll discuss that soon, as there is most likely a lot that needs to be done to your site in order to make sure it’s optimized properly. But first, let’s go over some more preparation items and things that can be done off-site…
Now that you have a good idea about your customers, your demographics, and the keyword phrases that you want to target, you can use that information to develop a link profile.
A link profile is a term used to describe how many quality links are coming into your site. These links can also be called “back links,” or “Inbound links.” The links out on the internet that link to your site are very important for your search ranking. It’s not a matter of how many people are linking to your site; it’s a matter of the quality of those links. Too many bad quality links to your site can cause search engines like Google and Yahoo to penalize you and rank your site lower, or even not at all. Let’s go over some of the things to look out for when building links to your site:
• Reciprocal Links – when someone links to you on their site and you place a link back to them on your site – this is called reciprocal linking or link exchanging. You’ll no doubt get lots of requests from random website owners wanting to “link exchange” with you, and while its a great way to build up links to your site, its not necessarily a great way to increase your search engine rankings, and in most cases it can hurt you and the other site. Never build a page that is nothing more than links to other sites, unless they are relevant to your visitor’s needs and the overall theme of your website. Remember that everything you do needs to be relevant. If you are a t-shirt site and you have a page of links to Viagra websites, random blogs, porno sites, or other sites that have nothing to do with t-shirts then a search engine will see those as irrelevant and may even penalize you for trying to inflate your link ranking. Whether the sites that you link to have links back to you or not doesn’t matter if they aren’t relevant to your site.
Now if you only link exchange with other sites like yours, then that’s a step in the right direction. You won’t get penalized for it since all the links involved are relevant to your site. However, you aren’t necessarily going to get a higher search engine ranking for it, regardless of how many sites you exchange links with. The reason for this is that one-way links have a much greater weight with search engines than reciprocal links.
• One- Way Links – one way links are links from sites that link to your site, where you do not link back to them. Search engines see this as a big thumb’s up that your site has merit and is important. If someone links to you then they are saying that there is something of value to be found at your site. Relevancy is always most important. If a blog about t-shirts links to your t-shirt website then this is highly relevant. If a porn site links to your t-shirt website, then this is less relevant – and brings me to the next point…
• Choose Your Friends Wisely – Links from sites that are deemed bad, or less reputable, or that break search engine rules, etc can cause you harm if you affiliate with them. If you don’t do drugs then you don’t want to hang out with the kids that do, because it makes you look bad regardless of your own actions. Don’t let sites that participate in link exchanges, or porn, or spamming techniques link to you. If they link to you without your permission, write them everyday and demand they remove your link. If you are unsure if they are considered “bad,” then chances are they are.
• Quality and Quantity – When building links to your site, its important to not go overboard or go too fast. Search engines will look at the rate that links to your site appear and compare that to the other sites in your market. If you get 100 links to your site in 1 day and other sites that are similar to yours are not getting linked to that quickly, then the search engine is going to look into the quality of the links to your site and will either filter most of them out, or penalize you. So take your time. Don’t go putting a link to your site in the comments of every blog you can find, or submitting your site to every directory available all in one day. And for this reason, don’t ever use services that submit your site to every search engine or directory automatically.
Remember to keep your customer in mind and don’t deceive them. Only link when it makes sense to do so. And never make a link that promises something it doesn’t. For example: A link that says “geek t-shirts” that brings you to a site with no geek t-shirts is not going to do you any good, and chances are the customer who clicked on it is going to immediately leave your site when they realize that you don’t have geek t-shirts. The search engines will know that the link is not relevant to your site and will count it against you.
• Use your Keyword Phrases – When creating links to your site, use your keyword phrases. A link that says “funny t-shirts” is going to be more valuable and relevant than a link that simply says your websites name, like “bluefishtshirts.com.” When people link to you, ask them to use your keyword phrases and give them options.
Where to Create Links
Now that you know how to create links and what to look out for, you need to know where the best places to place links to your site are. The answer is everywhere and anywhere… just remember to keep it relevant! Go where your customers are. If you sell to only senior citizens, then find out where they hang out online and get connected there (is there an online BINGO community?). If you sell to teens and college kids then places like Facebook and MySpace are great. Get connected where your customers are… just don’t become a spammer.
• Social Networking Sites – Any website business should have an accompanying social network site. It creates community around your brand, customer loyalty, quality links to your site, etc. Start with a MySpace page built just to promote your website. Add links to your site, an RSS feed of your products or simply just links to your new or featured products. Go ahead and start a Facebook page too, and Orkut, etc. They might be a lot to keep up with, but if that’s where your customers are then that’s where you should be. You can also create your own social network site by using services like OneSite, Ning, or KickApps.
• Social Bookmarking – Bookmarking sites like Digg, Technorati, Delicious, etc. are all great ways to build links to your site. Use a service like SocialMarker.com to make it easier to submit to all of them (just spread it out, don’t do it all in one day). Make sure you follow the terms of conditions for each service, as they don’t like it when you only use their service to bookmark your own sites. Get your friends to submit too.
TIP: Use SocialMaker.com to link to your website, then use it again to link to your MySpace page, your Facebook page, any blogs that write about you, etc.
• Blogs – Creating your own blog is a great way to build links to your site, and also bring customers closer to your brand. There are plenty of free blogging websites out there. Write about new products, spotlight featured products, interview customers and suppliers, etc. Keep it interesting and relevant, and don’t flood it with links. Write with the customer in mind. Also, start hanging out on blogs where you are most likely to find your customers and participate in the comments. Don’t go linking to your site on blog comments just for the hell of it, have reason or you’re going to look like an idiot.
• Forums – This is something that’s going to take a long time to develop, but its definitely an avenue to look into if you are social enough and smart enough. Forum members are vicious and very loyal. They will smell a spammer and call you out big time. If you offend them enough then they’ll go far to make sure everyone knows you are an idiot (they’ll post hateful topics about you, tell people to ignore you, they’ll blog about you, and the forum admin may even ban you.) Find forums where your customers are going to be and start actually participating. Don’t sign up for a new forum and post “Hey check out my site!,” even if you think the members would actually enjoy your site. Participate in the discussions with useful commentary, make friends, and then they’ll see you as someone they can trust and they’ll follow any link you throw at them. Or simply, add a link in your signature and just never say anything about it unless asked.
• Other Stuff – There are many ways to create traffic to your site that are reputable and long lasting. Some require more technical skill or money than others. Some ideas: Writing articles and blog posts for other sites about industry related topics, create useful widgets and applications (like on Facebook), create contests or games, get your customers engaged with a weekly newsletter or a photo/video upload section, create free tools that are useful and fun (like Nekkidtees’ Smiley Generator)… just get creative and remember you are serving your customer, not the search engines.
Will Optimizing my Site Really Make a Difference?
SEO is just as much about the design and optimization of your site as it is the links to your site. You can have a great link profile, with tons of relevant and quality links to your site… but if your site itself isn’t optimized properly then you’ll be nowhere to be found on the SERPs.
Every web page has many attributes that can be altered to target your keyword phrases, and learning how to make the appropriate changes to optimize these attributes can give you a huge advantage over your competition. Even if your competitor has a better site overall, you can beat them on the search engine results just by making a few changes that they didn’t do.
You don’t need to know web design or html coding to make the necessary changes to your website, but getting scared off at this point is not a good idea. The steps to follow are absolutely essential.
Optimizing your site using your target keyword phrases starts with the name of your domain, and the name of each page within your website. If you don’t already have a domain name for your site, then be sure to pick one that is simple, short, easy to remember and that incorporates keywords that easily give away what your site is about.
Also use your keyword phrases in the naming structure of each page. Use a structure that makes sense to you, and that is easy to follow.
Here’s a good example: www.tshirtsite.com/guys-tshirts/tshirtname.html
Try to use hyphens when connecting two words, and avoid underscores (guys_tshirts). Combining the phrase into one connected word (guystshirts) is not bad, but search engines can read it better as two separate word swhen you use hyphens (guys-tshirts).
Meta tags are attributes within the html code of a webpage that tell search engines about the page, and the keywords associated with it. They are the key to the optimization of each page of your website.
Below is the meta tag data for our SpreadsterZone.com site:
<head> <title>Spreadshirt t-shirt shop help, templates, tutorials, t-shirt designs and more from SpreadsterZone</title> <meta name=”Description” content=”SpreadsterZone – Spreadshirt t-shirt shop help, custom templates, t-shirt designs, vector conversion and tutorials.” /> <meta name=”Keywords” content=”spreadshirt, t-shirt shop, help, tutorials, templates, t-shirt designs, vector conversion, vector designs, tshirt shop templates, how to sell t-shirts online” /> </head>
Let’s go over each type of meta tag and what to include in each, then we’ll explain how to edit them on your site or Spreadshirt shop.
Each page has a title tag and the contents of the title tag will display at the top of the window in your internet browser when you visit the site. The title tag looks like this:
<title>Spreadshirt t-shirt shop help, templates, tutorials, t-shirt designs and more from SpreadsterZone</title>
You want to choose a title that makes sense to the visitor, but that also uses your keyword phrases. Start the title with 3 or 4 of your top phrases and end it with the name of your website or brand. Don’t stuff it with keywords, write it in as complete of a sentence as possible.
The description tag is the chunk of text that a search engine will use to display in the search engine results for your website. Because of this, its your chance to sell the visitor and entice them to click and visit your site. It should definitely use your keyword phrases, but more importantly it should tell the customer what they will find at your site if they click to visit. The description tag looks like this:
<meta name=”description” content=”SpreadsterZone – Spreadshirt t-shirt shop help, custom templates, t-shirt designs, vector conversion and tutorials.” />
It should be simple, and no more than 2 sentences long or 140 characters and should be written in complete sentences.
The keywords tag is where a lot of site owners go overboard. Its merely a tag that tells search engines what keywords they can find within the site. Don’t over stuff your keywords tag as this can really hurt your rankings. Keep it short and simple, use your top keyword phrases that we chose earlier, and seperate each phrase with a comma. Any keyword or phrase thats used in the keywords meta tag that isn’t also found throughout your site will be considered useless, and a search engine may even penalize you for keyword stuffing since its not relevant to the site. A keyword tag looks like this:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”spreadshirt, t-shirt shop, help, tutorials, templates, t shirt designs, vector conversion, vector designs, tshirt shop templates, how to sell t-shirts online” />
Avoid using the same word over and over, even if the word repeats in each of your keyword phrases.
>When a search engine finds consistency between the title, description, keywords and the content of the pages within your site, then your site will be ranked higher.
Hot to Change the Meta Tags of Your Web Page
To change the meta tags of your webpages you will need an HTML editor like Dreamweaver, or you can simply open each html page in Notepad.
Locate the <head> tag of each page and enter your meta tag info (use the sample above as a template). Be sure that your meta tag info is between the <head> and </head> tags. Change this for every single page on your website.
Keep in mind that every page of your website can have different meta tags. Its not a big deal if every page uses the same tags, as long as your keyword phrases and description is broad. But its a lot more accurate if you tweak the keywords and description to fit with the content of each page. This will make sure that your meta tags are completely relevant to every single page and will make your site that much more optimized.
Alt tags are meta tags that are not found in the header of a page, but rather are embedded in the code of each image on your site. When you insert an image into a webpage it usually does not automatically include alt tags. To change or add the alt tags of an image you need to open the web page in an HTML editor or Notepad. Find the code that pertains to the image, it should look like this:
<img src=”img/tshirt.jpg” width=”150″ height=”150″ alt=”funny t-shirt” />
Edit the information between the quotes after alt=. Use keyword phrases that pertain to the site but that are relevant to what the actual images represents. You can make an alt tag as long as you want, but its best to keep it short and not over stuff it with keywords.
That’s the basics you’ll need to know to get your website on its way to being properly optimized and ready to be ranked and indexed by search engines. Don’t expect better results over night. It takes awhile for search engines to crawl you again and notice a change. Your rankings also rely heavily on the competing sites in your market. If another site with content similar to yours is also very well optimized they may rank higher than you if they get more traffic, if their site is older, or if they have more quality links than you. Don’t get discouraged, just keep optimizing your site.
Re-evaluate your chosen keyword phrases from time to time. If after awhile you notice that you aren’t getting good results for a certain phrase or keyword then maybe that keyword is just too competitive for you right now. Try focusing your efforts on keywords that are easier to rank high on. For example, “funny t-shirts” is very hard to rank high on because there are many highly trafficked and optimized sites that aggressively target that phrase.
Ideally you should spend an hour a day working on the SEO of your site – this means constantly being out there on the social networks, forums, and blogs promoting your site by participating and engaging with your customers. This also means studying your competitor’s websites and making sure that you are always one step ahead of them, and that you are targeting the keywords that are going to get you the best results. It also means researching SEO and being in tune to the latest changes and techniques. The internet changes daily, and search engines are constantly updating themselves to make sure their results are the most accurate and relevant that they can be. You could optimize your site today and start getting great search engine rankings, but leave your site as is for 6 months and I guarantee that your site won’t have nearly the same rankings.
What I’ve given you here are generalized and basic concepts to get your site optimized quickly and without any cost. SEO is a monster and there are a lot of other techniques that you should definitely look into – some will cost you money, but most will not.