SEO basics – 5 key steps

Google Classic by Brett Jordan

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the process of optimising a website so that it can be more easily found by search engines. The better the standard of optimisation, the better the chance of getting your site higher up the rankings.

The power of major search engines like Google (who have a world-wide market share of nearly 84%) means that getting highly ranked increases the likelihood of getting an improved level of qualified traffic to your website for a particular group of keywords and phrases.

Although getting onto the first page of Google is a very tough task, it’s still important to optimise your website. And in addition to working towards improving the discoverability of your website, following basic SEO principles is also good for accessibility, navigation and design.

What follows are five basic steps to good SEO:

Keywords

What is your site about? What are the key topics and themes? Brainstorm keyword ideas with staff members and colleagues (including senior management) to consider the keywords that you would like your site to be associated with. If possible, speak to customers and other external stakeholders and ask them what they would put into a search engine to find what you have to offer.

Once you’ve chosen a list of keywords, use Google’s AdWords keyword tool to assess keyword data by country and territory, search volumes and competition. There’s no point trying to optimise for highly competitive terms, for example ‘insurance’. Instead, focus on the long tail and go for a term like ‘affordable family health insurance’. This term generates far less searches but is much more specific and therefore easier to rank for.

Title tags and descriptions

Apart from content, the title or title tag is the most important on-page SEO element and appears at the top of the web browser and within the search engine results pages (SERPs) above the description. It is the main text that defines what a web page is about and although it’s important to include keywords in the title, it’s also essential that it accurately and concisely (65-70 characters with spaces) describes the page’s content.

The meta description is shown in the SERPs below the title tag and is a key piece of information for a user. It should be a short paragraph (160-170 characters with spaces) that advertises what the page is about in an inviting and engaging way.

Although the description does not affect search rankings, keywords should be included in order to attract a searcher’s attention and generate click-throughs to the web page.

Header tags

Like a good newspaper article, a web page should be broken into headings and sub-headings. The heading (or h1 tag) is the most important and should be used to draw the reader in. As well as being bolder or in a larger font, it should also include keywords. The sub-headings (h2, h3, h4, etc) are usually smaller but also include keywords and break the page into logical sections.

Header tags are important for SEO as they let search engines know what’s ‘important’ on a web page. Therefore, main keywords should be included in the main header as well as the other headings as this – along with the title tag and body content – will tell a search engine bot what the page is about.

Content

Although the ‘technical’ aspects of SEO mentioned above are vital to good SEO, more than anything, content is king. Content on websites should never be produced solely for SEO, as this is not only bad practice but also far less effective than it used to be.

In my opinion, many of the best sites around contain brilliant content that is original, natural and human. And content doesn’t just have to be copy. Content can also include images, video, infographics, slideshows and podcasts. The key is to create great content that will add value and make people take notice. That way, content will be read, shared … and linked to!

Link-building

If you produce consistently good content then others will be more likely to link out to your site. Every time another site links to you consider this to be a ‘recommendation’ or ‘testimonial’. Search engines use links (quantity, but especially quality) to determine how websites are related to one another and in what way.

If a site has a good number of quality links (i.e. not from link farms) from other relevant, subject-related websites, search engines will determine that the site must be good. Link-building is an incredibly important aspect of SEO but to get good links it all comes back to producing good quality content!

 

I’ve not gone into a great deal of detail in this post – I just wanted to provide a brief overview of things to consider. For more detailed information and advice, please visit my Delicious SEO bookmark pages.

Feel free to add your thoughts, ideas and advice on SEO basics in the comments – I’d love to hear from you!


  • http://twitter.com/iPageDesigner iPage Designer

    Ensuring that all outbound links from your website include the attribute rel=”nofollow” will also help maintain your ‘Google Pagerank’ too. Think of a webpage as a bucket, slowly filling up with Google ‘Juice’. Overtime if your content is well received by Google, your page will start to index well.

    But, if your webpage includes lots of outbound links to other sites, your bucket is full of holes, thus allowing the Google juice to seep away! You should really be applying the attribute rel=”nofollow”, to plug the holes, so to speak!

    So, users can still click on your outbound links (which is great), but the all important page rank can be maintained and not slip away from your page!

    • http://twitter.com/gavinllewellyn Gavin Llewellyn

      Thanks for the comment, Paul.

      I’m afraid I’m going to have to disagree with you on this point.

      I consider linking out to people as a way of vouching for their content and giving them a little bit of credit for something I’ve found useful. The outbound link therefore not only sends people over to their site but also gives them a little SEO boost in the process.

      Matt Cutts, the head of Google’s Webspam team, has stated: “The best-known use for nofollow is blog comment spam… Nofollow is recommended anywhere that links can’t be vouched for”.

      Because I can vouch for all the links in my blog posts, I therefore do not add a NoFollow attribute (the only exception is when I link to a Wikipedia article or Twitter page who themselves use the NoFollow attribute when they link out).

      Search Engine Journal makes a great point when they say: “Linking to someone with a NoFollow attribute is a sign of not trusting them. It’s like reaching to shake someone’s hand, but stopping to put on a pair of latex gloves”.