Some common sense and a few techniques to be at the top results of search engines
Most people tend to fear SEO. We're afraid of how this impacts our business and we end up spending a lot of money in materials, software and services to tame our SEO monster. Frankly, there's not much to worry about it in the first place. Let me explain.
SEO is about the relationship between your site and search engines. There are two different approaches to SEO, the white-hat method will focus on improving your site whereas the black-hat techniques will try dupe search engines. We are going to explain the white hat techniques because it's the best way to get solid and durable results!
We will go through the following topics to help you optimise in all fronts:
- SEO and common sense
- Know thy audience
- Target the right goals
- Quality content: the niche and the keywords
- Get your pages indexed: internal links and sitemap
- Get a good reputation: back-links and affiliates
- Get real visitors on your site: meta-descriptions and social networks
- SEO optimisation checklist
- What not to do
Why SEO is a matter of human common sense
Search engines want to display at the top of their results the most relevant websites, those with good content that will keep their users engaged. None of the search engines want to put a website on top only because it has been optimised by some guru. What matters is content and what human readers will think of your site. We are all a Joe Public at heart and we all know when we like what we see. Trust your intuition and the opinion of common people more than anything. Although some people might know the tricks to boost your rankings artificially, this will only be a temporary and unsustainable workaround. The point is that companies like Google are trying to find out how people manipulate their search results and how to counter these techniques. When Google finds out about a way to artificially increase a search ranking they will change their algorithm to get more natural results. In the end, what counts is common sense and quality content.
Know thy audience
Before doing anything to the site itself you should make sure that you can understand your visitors and keep track of the trends. If you don't observe your visitors experience, you won't know if your efforts are going in the right direction. Gathering and analysing statistics about your site's visits is easy and often very rewarding (it's your primary feedback source!). Tools like OpenWebAnalytics, Piwik, Google Analytics or the popular Google Webmasters tools are there to help you do that. Depending on your content and your target audience you will have to focus on different data, it's up to you to determine your success according to your goals.
Target the right goals
The #1 advice is: focus on high quality, interesting, useful content. That alone will make all the difference. This advice cannot be overstressed.
The second powerful ingredient for a good ranking are back-links. The more people link to your site the more your site is considered to be loved by readers. If you have good content, back-links will naturally follow but you can give it a little help spreading your content.
Last but not least, we should never forget that what we aim with SEO is to get more exposure. There are other ways to get exposure apart from search engines and we should take advantage of them too. Social networks are the first place to look for exposure. Good content with good exposure is a natural way to get good search engine rankings.
Quality content: the niche and the keywords
A niche is usually a particular product or service that is a sub-set of a market. The term niche refers to the specific rather than the general. Restaurants are a market whereas French wine is a niche inside that market. Defining your niche is an important part of the process... for any business. Your niche is what you do, it is your value, it is what you are going to offer and what customers want from you.
You already have a niche?
Think about your niche in as few words as possible. These are your keywords, the words you are going to focus for the rest of the optimisation process. What you want is to be on the first results of search engines when these few words are present in the search query. If you haven't done so, type these words in a search engine and learn from your niche, get to know who is doing well and how well they are doing. At the end of this tutorial there's a list of tools that can help you get an idea of how a site is ranking. Anyway, congratulations! You are already half way through optimisation.
You don't have a niche yet (how to find a niche to make money?):
Think about a niche from two different angles, first think about how popular that niche is and how many people are interested in it (the more the better). Then think about a niche in how tough is the competition and how many people are already in that niche (the fewer the better). The best choice is the niche that could get you more visitors. A very popular niche with a very tough competition could be less profitable than a small niche with little competition.
To make money you should also focus on niches that pay well. Usually, niches that pay are niches that, ultimately, will sell something to your users. Again, there are two different approaches: you can focus on a niche that will sell a lot of cheap stuff or a niche that will sell a few expensive items.
If your primary income is from advertising, the niches that pay the most are: product reviews (cell phones, watches, gadgets...), clothing, special events like marriages or recurrent events like birthdays, tourism information... and anything that people might search on the web before buying something. Your goal here is to prepare the customer to buy and display ads where she/he can buy it.
Your keywords to success
Focusing on the right keywords is a matter of choosing the most relevant words that describe your niche. By relevant I mean, the words that people will use when looking for your content. You can't appear on the first result for every single search but you must appear on top of the searches that matter.
Start by making a list of all the words (or expressions) that you would like to rank well. Then take a look at the trends of searches for these words on Google Trends. Target the words that have the highest number of searches. Make a search for these keywords and see what comes out, try to identify how tough is the competition for the given keyword. A Google result that displays a lot of advertising is a good indication that the competition is tough. Select only a few of the keywords that have the best ratio between lots of searches and few competitors. Repeat this process for every keyword you can think of.
Once you have chosen a few keywords, use them in your content. These words must be present on your page frequently enough as to be an important word on your publications. Keep the repetition of words natural, don't sacrifice the quality of your content by overdoing it. In particular, chose prominent places for your keywords, put them in the page URL, in the title of the page, the title of the article, on headings, on bold letters... as a general rule, words that are visually more important are also considered more important by search engines.
Get your pages indexed: internal links and sitemap
How to get your pages indexed?
Most of the time you don't have to do anything to get your pages indexed. Google, in particular, is very good at discovering new stuff landing on the web. Popular sites like Wikipedia get indexed almost instantly on Google. If you ever created a Wikipedia article you might have noticed. On the other hand, if you post in a low traffic blog updated only once in a while, Google might take much longer to index the page. In other words, updating the site frequently is a great way to keep Google coming often. But quality should never be sacrificed to speed up publications. It's better if you can concentrate on quality and speed up the indexing. One post per week is enough to keep Google bots very much interested.
Site-maps and internal links
To facilitate the discovery of your site you can create and submit a site map to search engines. This site map is intended to be seen only by robots but you can see, as an example, the site map of idilix.net here. The site map helps search engine discover all the pages that you want them to index. When you publish a new page, search engines will notice the site map change and they will fetch the new stuff more efficiently. Some people argue that site maps are not good for all kinds of sites or that it doesn't do any difference. In fact, search engines usually follow links from page to page to discover new content. It's more important to have good internal links (links on your site that point to other pages on your site) than a good site map.
Get a good reputation: back-links and affiliates
External back-links are the links from other sites that point to one of your site's page. External back-links are an indication that the particular page is a reference in the topic. The more back links you get on a page the more reputation you build and this is translated in a real boost on your position in search results.
Improve search ranking: reputation and nofollow
To determine how relevant a page is to a given search query (keyword), search engines have created a very complex algorithm that analyses hundreds of variables in order to create an ordered list of relevancy. Since there are always equally relevant websites for a given keyword, other factors come into play as well. Google in particular uses their "PageRank" to determine how “important” a site is. Sites with greater PageRank have more chances of being at the top of the page for a wider range of keywords. The PageRank will not only rank you higher in the results but will also encourage advertisers to pay more to appear on your site.
The PageRank can be seen like a flow of reputation. If you receive a back-link from a site with a good reputation, chances are that your site deserves a good reputation too. If this reputable site is linking to dozens of other sites like yours on the same page, you will receive only a portion of this reputation, the rest will go to the other sites. If you don't want to "share your reputation" with a particular site but still, wants to put a link to it, you can add the "nofollow" flag. So, to sum it up, if a reputable site has two links on a page and one is marked as nofollow, all it's reputation will be shared with the other link. These are the general rules but you should not worry about the nofollow too much because it's sort of controversial, we don't really know if search engines take it seriously.
The nofollow attribute was initially though to prevent spamindexing, that is, preventing spammers to build PageRank by putting links in comments. Since then, webmasters have used nofollow to do “PageRank sculpting”. This “sculpting” works by using nofollow in some links so that the PageRank could be concentrated on the links that do not have the nofollow attribute. The use of nofollow is controversial since search engines do not want webmasters to make PageRank sculpting (so it could result in harming the PageRank) although there are Websites owned by Google that do use nofollow attributes. I would recommend using nofollow in a really sensible way, ask yourself the questions: do I endorse the site I'm linking to? Do I want this page to be visited by my users? If you have answered yes to both questions, do not use the nofollow attribute.
You can participate in this back-linking process by putting links to your pages in other great quality sites. Great quality sites fight spam so spamming is not a solution to get quality back-links. You can post genuine and interesting comments on popular sites, you can post relevant links on forums related to your niche, share your publications on social networks like Reddit, Digg, Stumble upon, Twitter, Facebook, Google+ etc...
Another option is to have affiliates that create a network of sites that link to one another. This can be done either by making direct contact with other site owners, preferably from your niche and with a similar reputation, and exchange links (this can work well, other site owners are people just like you) or enrol in a full-blown affiliate program that will set some rules for every affiliate and manage the back-linking between all of them. Search for affiliate programs on the web and you will find plenty of them.
Get real visitors on your site: meta descriptions and social networks
Meta tags are not visible when you visit your page, they are intended to be used by search engines to better classify your site. But meta-tags are not only a computer thing, humans also get a chance to see them. The most important one is the meta-description of your page, it is the few lines of text that appear under your link in search results. It's often a snippet from your content but you can decide to write it yourself. A good meta-description should invite readers to click on your link and not only be a summary or an excerpt from your content.
Meta-tags can ad a lot more of information to your page and help you find the people you are targeting. They can inform about the type of publication, the date of publication, the geographical location (if you have a business located somewhere or where a photo was taken...), the licence and usage rights of your content, the duration of videos, the names of authors and their associate Google+ profile, how often should the page be indexed for new content and many more...
In addition to all that, meta-tags can also help to display your content nicely when shared on social networks by determining the text and image that should be associated with your content. Sharing your content on social networks is probably the most efficient way of getting a rapid visit spike on your site. If you share often, using good meta-tags and hash-tags you can get a really great amount of real visitors on your site regularly.
Getting real visitors on your page is a combination of
- Good content
- Right keywords
- Smart meta-tags
SEO optimization checklist
- clean code, consider using a CMS like Drupal or Wordpress that are well accepted by SE
- avoid duplicate content or make sure the right page is indexed
- make the site load fast (people using instant search on Google will see slow sites at the bottom)
- IP address location will give better search results for searches performed in that location.
Keywords in URL give better result than title or content.
What not to do
- pay for backlinks that can get you banned
- make unnatural stuff (keywords, wrong subject...)
PageRank and its non relation to other expected factors
PageRank and nofollow (novouching) by Google expert personal blog
Keywords on URL do count
Importance of speed in SEO
IP location importance in search (Matt Cuts)
Three great white-hat back-linking methods