While SEO (Search Engine Optimization) can be a painstaking process that requires some significant technical knowledge, the basics can actually be covered pretty easily.
If you think back to the early days of the Internet, so much was different. Sites were static and simple. Google was just starting to crawl the web. In these early days, it was fairly easy to add a few keywords to the site’s code and jump up in the search rankings.
The problem now is that the Internet has grown. There are millions of sites and those sites are much more complex and dynamic, constantly changing and pumping new content into the search engines. Google has grown to the top search engine (by far) in large part do to the programming it uses to dissect and rank sites. This search algorithm is extremely intelligent and uses a number of factors in determining how your page ranks in searches.
But to keep it simple, you need to do two things:
- Make your site RELEVANT
- Make your site VISIBLE
What follows are some key things to think about and add to any site. Each one could fill a chapter as to how to make them happen and each would vary depending on the technology behind your website. So I’ll have to leave up to you to research a little about implementing the ideas.
Make Your Website Relevant
To be relevant, the content in your site (the words, the images, etc.) should be information that readers will find useful and interesting. It means up to date, recently posted content. Write it first for people not search engines.
The use of “Keywords” does not mean what most people thinks. Every web page has something called “meta” information or information about that page that is hidden from the reader but used by search engines to help determine what the page is about. There are three major “meta tags” – title, description and keywords. The title is shown at the top of the browser and used as the headline in search results. The description is a couple sentences and is used by the search engines as the little blurb you see in search results. Keywords are a comma separated list of words that used to be important. But after years of spam, google now completely ignores them.
Today when we talk about keywords, we mean what are the key phrases that you want to be found for? These “key” words, not “keywords” should be used as you write, used for the title and description tags, etc.
The ‘Title’ meta tag should be meaningful and specific to each page on a site. It is maybe ten words and can be a phrase or title.
The ‘Description’ meta tag – the same. This is one-two sentence, about 160 characters max and should read like a sentence. Remember this is what should show up as the blurb in search results, so you should make it something that makes people want to click on your result.
This example shows a page title, description, and URL in a Google search result. Make note of the magnifying glass icon as well, we’ll get to that shortly.
WordPress users should look for a plugin that allows you to edit these areas. I recommend All in One SEO Pack.
Search engines also look at the number of links that point to your site and the quality of those links. Ideally, lots of other related sites have linked to you and when they do, they use important ‘anchor text’ for the links.
For example, if Joe from down the street (who has no visitors) links to me with the words ‘CLICK HERE’, it means next to nothing. If the biggest web design site on the Internet links to me with the words ‘GREAT WEB DESIGNER’ that means a lot and the relevance of my site just went up.
Get as many of those relevant links as you can and the importance of your site in the eyes of the search engines starts going up.
NOTE: Whatever you do… DO NOT buy or trade links or enter into any kind of link trading system. These are clearly spelled out in the Google rules and will get you removed from their listings all together.
Make your site visible
HTML Vs Flash
This is a big discussion and each have their benefits. But for me it comes down to this… Which one allows your site to be seen in the most places by the most people? Flash cannot be seen by many mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad. Flash hides a lot of content from search engines and often uses a url structure that is meaningless. There are ways to improve the SEO of flash sites but the answer is to create an HTML splash page or an entire HTML “mirror site” and an entire mobile version. So I stick to pure HTML that can be seen on everything.
There should be a ‘sitemap’ that is crawlable and easily findable by Google and other search engines. Search engines should be notified of changes to the site as they happen.
This is not the old fashioned sitemap that allows visitors to see a list of all your pages. This is an xml file that search engines can crawl. Sound too technical? Well, it is but simple blog plug-ins can do it for you. Google XML Sitemaps for WordPress automates this process. Just install it and it does the rest.
Google Local Search
If you are searching for something location based the first half of the page now is taken up by map listings, which are taken from Google Places. If you own a business and have not yet listed yourself there, follow the link and do so immediately. No really. Stop reading and go add yourself to Places, then come back.
Google Instant Preview
Google announced a new feature called Instant Preview. Instant Preview adds a screenshot of every site to the search results. You do not even have to leave the page to see every website in the results. Look at the search results and you will see a small magnifying glass icon.
User will be able to quickly see a preview of all results without leaving the results page. You can see if a site is designed professionally, if it looks like a scam site, or in a list of photographers, whether their images are any good or not.
Perhaps most important of all… It can’t see flash. Look at the instant preview of any flash site and you get a grey box. When you click on that magnifying glass, you get a visual preview of the website.
This stuff matters. Think about the audience searching for a photographer. If I am searching for a photographer, I can complete a search and instantly get a glimpse of all the results without even clicking over to the site itself.
The desired result is a complete web “presence”. This is everything that makes up your online life – website, blog, Twitter, Facebook, the comments you leave on other people’s sites, etc. Everything.
This is a slideshow I used in a talk at the Los Angeles PUG (Pictage User Group) that outlines some key points.
Making Things Easier
I think it is important to be aware of all the technical aspects outlined in this article.
But I also understand that it is a lot to consider and can seem overwhelming. This is why I always recommend people use WordPress. It is free software that is easy to install and does about 90% of everything in this article without you thinking about it. To make it better, you can add plugins like Google XML Sitemaps and All in One SEO Pack that I mentioned before.
But even installing WordPress and setting up plugins takes time. There are plugins that don’t work well or that even break your site. You should be backing up your database as often as possible. You should have certain settings in place. It can still be a lot.
That was the thought behind the creation of PhotographyBlogSites.com. After years of doing custom sites one at a time and installing and setting things up the same way from a technical aspect, we came up with a system using WordPress in its “MultiSite” mode where anyone could signup and instantly have all the settings in place, instantly have all the plugins available and not have to worry about backing anything up. Just start adding your content.
Photo by Robert Scoble in Building 43 of Google