Advanced Web Marketing: SEO
What is SEO?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, includes all the things you can do to increase the visibility of your website in the unpaid “organic” results of search engines like Google. In other words, SEO determines how easily people can find your website. There are two basic types of SEO:
What you do on your website to help search engines find your website: e.g. keyword optimization, developing high quality web content, optimizing the structure of the website, site map development, etc.
What you do off your website to help search engines find your website: e.g. article distribution, business profiles, blog comments, niche directories, online video submission, social bookmarks, press release distribution, social media, etc.
How good is your website’s SEO?
If you type in your domain name on the following two websites, you can get information about how good your current SEO is for your website, as well as tips to guide you in improving your SEO. Scores often range from the 30’s (indicating room for improvement) to the 70’s (indicating good SEO).
Google Analytics is another great tool to get information related to your website’s SEO. This is a free service that your web administrator can help you set up to track and report traffic on your website, and it can tell you things like:
- What are the top keywords referring people to your site?
- What pages are “sticky,” drawing users to your website or keeping them there for longer?
- What are your “exit” pages, from which people leave your site?
How do you improve your website’s SEO?
Best practices for search engine optimization are constantly changing: Google makes between 500 and 600 changes each year to their algorithm controlling the order of their search results! The best source for up-to-date information on how to improve your website’s SEO may be Google itself – here are Google’s own recommendations on how to improve your SEO, and you can find more in-depth information on any part of this tipsheet simply by googling it.
SEO is complex and constantly changing, to be sure. That said, the basic idea behind all SEO strategies is straightforward: you simply want to make sure you optimize your website content to deliver what people want to find. Here are some simple things you can do to improve the SEO of your website:
Know what your readers want
Create content and use appropriate terms that resonate with your target audience. Write for your audience, not for Google! This will benefit your readers and SEO alike.
Use relevant keywords
These are the words or phrases that you want people to use to search for your page. They should clearly identify what your page is about, using the same language that your ideal reader would use to describe your products, talk about problems or interests relevant to your business, or related topics. Each page’s content should target one “long-tail keyword” – a three- to four-word phrase specific to the content of the page and your products. Use the exact phrase, and consider including it in the following locations on your page:
- Title tag – The title tag is the most important text on the page, this is the text that’s shown in search results, when someone bookmarks your page, or at the top of the browser window on a page.
- URL – The URL is another very important place to put your keyword; then, when people link to your page, it will improve your SEO by automatically including your keyword. Separate words with a hyphen, as opposed to with underscores, or writing a phrase as one word. The URL should be kept under 115 characters.
- Meta description – The meta description is the page description that displays in search results. Note that search engines will index up to 255 characters (with spaces) but will display only 150 characters to users in their search results.
- Headers – Headers (and sub headers) should be kept to 10 or fewer words, and 65 or fewer characters with spaces. Be sure to title your sections using header tags, not just bold or underlined text; such tags alert search engines to look at this text first.
- Body – Use your keyword in the body (text) of your page as appropriate, but don’t overdo it – using a keyword to excess is known as “keyword stuffing” and may actually hurt your SEO.
Add your business location to the footer
Location is important for most local farms and food businesses, so adding your location to your footer will ensure that it displays on each page of your website, improving your search engine ranking for location-specific searches.
Optimize your ALT text
ALT text is the text used to describe images (and other non-text content) on the page, which displays when this content does not. You may want to include a long-tail keyword once in your ALT text. Most importantly, focus on making sure that each ALT text accurately and uniquely describes the image, so that text-only browsers or visually impaired users can get the same basic information.
Optimize your HTML ‘site maps’ and XML ‘sitemaps’
These are the two types of maps each website must have – the HTML site map is for the general public, and the XML sitemap is for search engines. Every main page in your website that you want visitors to be able to find should be listed in both; this also helps search engines index your pages.
Optimize your page speed
Pages that download faster rank better in terms of SEO. You can improve the page speeds on your website by things like avoiding redirects, optimizing images, and enabling “gzip” compression. Here are suggestions from Google on how to improve your page speed.
Make a custom 404 page
A 404 page is the error page that displays when people get to a page on your website that doesn’t work. Developing a custom 404 page that explains to users why the page doesn’t exist and draws users back to your website is good for SEO.
Make sure your site is mobile-friendly
Mobile-friendliness is becoming increasing crucial, and sites that are not mobile-friendly no longer rank highly in search engine results when using mobile devices. You can check if your website is mobile-friendly at this website.
Increase your backlinks
Search engines give high rankings to quality relevant backlinks from other websites, directories, and social media. Link to other websites and ask them to reciprocally link to your website. Link to your page from your own social media, blog, or video pages.
Paid SEO services
If you want someone else to handle your SEO work, there are many paid services available for getting help improving your website’s SEO, including:
- Local web developers, like midnightsondesigns.com
- moz.com (which offers a free “Beginniners Guide to SEO” here)
Not all paid services are reputable, of course, and some can actually hurt your SEO if they use strategies that don’t adhere to the current webmaster guidelines recommended by Google and by other search engines. Be sure to use referrals and/or to ask a company for references and detailed information on how they will improve your website’s SEO before you commit to working with them.
What are other ways to draw people to your website?
Beyond SEO, paid online advertising methods can make your website more visible, such as:
“Pay-per-click” (PPC) advertising
A general term for advertising on other websites to direct traffic to yours, paying based on the number of times the ad is clicked. Most forms of pay-per-click online advertising allow you to target users based on their geography or interests (i.e. their online behavior).
An online advertising service that allows you to pay for text ads that come up when specific search terms are entered on Google search pages and on partner websites. These are the ads that come up at the top or right of Google search results, linking to related websites with the designation “ad” next to them.
Paid promotions on Facebook
A service that allows you to pay for “sponsored” posts that show up on others’ Facebook news feed pages. This is most effective for content that is likely to lead users to “share” posts with others on Facebook, in addition to just clicking on the post.