Search engine optimization (SEO) continues to be one of the most critical methods of generating traffic and increasing your websites popularity. Sadly, SEO isn’t something you can just pick up and master overnight — it’s probably best to leave it up to the search engine pros. However, there are a few quick and easy ways to improve your search ranking from dead last to the forefront.
Getting your website listed in Google, Yahoo and MSN isn’t a mystical process that should be left to geeks, techies or the pimple-faced kid down the street. For most small business owners, getting ranked simply comes down to ensuring you’ve done the basics. While this isn’t intended to be the end all, be all of Search Engine Optimization, we find that you’ll get the most for you efforts by sticking to these 5 tried and true methods:
1. Make sure your ‘Title’ tags are related to the content of the site. Excuse me, title tag? What’s that? Well basically, your title tag is a line of HTML code that specifies the title of an individual web page. If you look in the upper left hand corner of your browser and in the first line of a search result, you’ll see the results of a title tag. Specifically, a title tag in HTML looks like this:
<title> San Jose Plumbing | Clean Plumbers, Inc </title>
Most search experts agree that having correct title tags is one of the top three factors that determine where a search engine will rank you. Where many people fail with their title tags is they use the same text for every page on their and they fail to properly describe the page with their title tags.
Imagine going to a book store and picking a book up off the shelf with the title “True Spy Stories of the Cold War”. Then you get home open that book and, to your surprise, it turns out to be a steamy romance. You would probably want your money back. So spend a minute and look at the title tags of every page on your site and see if you have accurately described the page with your title tags. A good title tag will include the keyword(s) you are trying to rank that page for, and don’t forget to add your name or your company’s name as I’ve done in the example above. Be aware — brevity is a blessing; Google and the rest will truncate your title tags after 65 characters including spaces.
2. Your Meta Description Tags Count Too! If your title tags are the cover of your book, your meta description tags are the back cover telling your reader what’s inside. If you were to look at the search results of any query, the text underneath the link but above the URL of a search result comes from what is in your meta description. (If you don’t have anything in the meta description, the search engines will typically pull a couple lines of text from the page and place it in the results.) To find your meta description tag pop open your site’s code and search for the following:
<META NAME=”Description” CONTENT=”Describe your site with Keyword Rich Text Here.”>
As I indicated in the example above, you should write a couple sentences that describe your site and/or your page. In your meta description, you get a bit more room to talk but you should use no more than 200 characters. Just like with your title tags, every page should have a unique meta description.
3. URL and File Names Matter. Now what looks better?
You might have noticed I keep talking about keywords. Your URLs and page names matter for the purposes of generating a click to your site as well as improved search rankings. Several studies, such as a MarketingSherpa’s 2008 Search Marketing Benchmark Guide, clearly demonstrate that short, descriptive URLs like example B increase the likelihood of a searcher to click on your search result. After all its not just about ranking well, you have to get clicks too. Google search engineer Matt Cutts also says that having short, descriptive URLs is a factor in better rankings. Specifically, this means having a URL that has no more than 5 words after the .com/url extension. One of the best places to look for an example besides what I’ve put above is at Amazon.com. Do a search from their homepage for anything and you will see a solidly formed URL.
4. Let People Know About Your Site. Many business owners miss the opportunity to brag about their online home, especially after they’ve spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars to have a site created. Google is the ultimate democracy and works by looking at the number of people who link to you. While there are some caveats to this, you can prime the pump a bit. If I were a business owner, I’d take a couple minutes to create profiles on social networking sites, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Merchant Circle, InLocal, and Google Maps. These will give you a handful of strong links to your site and let the search engines know you exist and start the process of getting your site listed.
5. Check the Text of Your Site. One of the things I run into frequently is websites with relatively little text, content that says nothing about the business and/or fails to use keywords related to the business. When the search engines visit your site, they download a page and look at the text trying to make a determination of what the website as a whole is about and where it belongs. If you are trying to get ranked for “San Jose Plumber”, you should have at least a page with that keyword in it a couple times. It’s also important that the copy appear natural and be understandable because after all, a website that captures the interest of the search engines but fails to capture the interest of your customers can hardly be justifiable.
These five methods are a great start for getting your website on the search engine map, but folks, this is just the beginning. Since the SEO game is constantly evolving (some go so far as to call it an arms race), it can be difficult to stay on top. Hire a Search Engine Optimization expert, and you’ll be pulling in new traffic while leaving the competition in the dust.