By Laura Donovan
We are often asked to help companies with SEO. Everyone would like to be on Page 1 of Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERP). And while the exact algorithms used to rank websites are not published (and most of us wouldn’t understand them if they were) Google does give us some very important clues in their published “Webmaster Guidelines.” These Guidelines are updated periodically and help website developers understand what Google deems important when deciding which websites are displayed at the top of their Results Pages.
The guidelines seem to break down into three categories:
1. On-page optimization/Content. Search engines look for key words in several areas of the web page*
- Page URL
- Page Titles
- Image “alt” tags
- Image names
- Heading Tags
- Internal links (anchor text)
*Figuring out what key words your potential clients will use to search for you is the most important part of this equation.
2. Technical Optimization. Sites should have:
- Intuitive Navigation (Text links – no broken links)
- Fast loading pages
- XML sitemap
- Clean code (HTML5, CSS3)
- Helpful 404, 301 and 302 pages
- “Responsive” Design (Sites should be tested on various browsers and mobile devices.
3. Quality Content. This is, by far, the most important feature of any Website. Most of the algorithm changes over the last few years have had to do with quality content.
- Pages with “thin” content are being downgraded.
- Grammar and spelling. (Google uses a spell check feature and downgrades sites with bad grammar or spelling errors.)
- Duplicate content will be punished.
- No keyword “stuffing.”
Google’s complete Guidelines can be found here.
Getting Existing Sites to Page 1
On-page and technical optimization is more efficiently and economically done when the website is being developed. Existing sites can be retrofitted to a point, but there are some things that can’t be done (or are more difficult) after the site is published. (For example, websites that do not employ a “Responsive” design may not display well on mobile devices. Since mobile devices have become more popular than computers for people who access websites, companies should consider redesigning their websites to incorporate this mobile-friendly design.)
Companies that are not ready for a complete website redesign might consider reworking existing pages to include fresh, well-written text and adding optimized images.
Blogs : Content on Steroids
One very powerful way to increase visibility on search engines is by adding a blog to the website and posting to it often. Each blog post actually becomes a web page, which is indexed by Google. Each post can be optimized with good URL’s, titles, headings and internal links. Images can be added that use relevant key words in “alt” tags and titles. Blog posts often appear higher on search engines than website home pages for specific key words.
If you are not able to add a blog to your existing website, consider a “stand-alone” blog. Using WordPress (or other blogging software) you can add a blog that will display well on mobile devices and computers. While linking a blog to an antiquated website may not be the best option, it may be an economical alternative to a complete website redesign.
Once you have your blog up and running, add all of your posts to your Social Sites. Google has admitted that “Social Signals” play a part in getting top rank for organic searches.
- Add “social sharing buttons” to the site so people can share your content.
- Add “social buttons” to allow people to follow you on social sites (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest)
- Like, Share and Comment on other people’s social posts, blogs and articles (using your website’s URL).
Finally, if you don’t already have one, sign up for a Google Plus Page. This is arguably the most powerful tool in your SEO toolbox. From your Google Plus Page, you can sign up for Google Places for business, which will get you on the Google Map. Also, we find that content posted to Google Plus is more likely to find its way to the top of Google Search results.
SEO isn’t dead. It has simply “morphed” into something that gives quality websites a chance to shine.