This is the second post in a 2-part series to act as a Search Engine Optimization Primer. In my previous post, we provided the foundation for learning about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). We talked about the history and evolution of search engines and how we have come to rely on this magical number called PageRank. In this post, I am going to venture away from the theoretical and into the tactical. This post is going to address the "What now?" aspect of SEO. Below, you will find 10 steps to SEO to get you started. You will notice there is a progression. First, we will talk about keyword selection (very important). Then we will talk about content building (very important), and finally we will talk about backlink generation (most important)
- Keyword Competitive Analysis
So let’s assume that you have an idea for a website or blog. Maybe you have even built some content around the topic. Whether you need your site to be revenue generating, to drive traffic to another website, or just for fun, you need to be strategic as to what keywords you are going to target. Google provides a number of tools that are very helpful in this endeavor. The Google Adwords: Keyword Tool provides you with information such as how many people search for a given keyword and similar keywords as well as how many people are competing for that keyword from a revenue generating (or Adsense) perspective.
- Long Tail Keywords
Let’s say you’re trying to ranking high in the SERPs for the search term "Search Engine Optimization". This is a very competitive keyword. Rather than trying for this term right away, try to rank well for a "long tail keyword". An example of this would be "Search Engine Optimization for SharePoint external websites". Put this keyword as the title of your site and you’ll find you’ll rank highly for this long tail keyword fairly quickly. Rank high for a number of long tail keywords and suddenly you’ll rank well for the root keyword.
- Tell search engines that your keywords are important by using them in important tags.
Search engines are not smart. You need to tell them very specifically what’s important in your content. The way you do this is include your keywords in tags within your content that signal to the engine that it’s important. These tags include (but are not limited to) <title>, <h1>,<h2>,<h3> and <b>.
- Bold keywords
As a continuation of the last recommendation, bold keywords within your content to signal the search engine that it’s important. Of course, there is a balance between SEO and readable blogs.
- Good content
This one should go without saying, but good content is what will drive users to your website and keep them coming back. Especially good content will also act as "link bait". These are pages that people can’t help but link back. From a PageRank perspective, this will help your overall rankings in the SERPs.
- Be verbose
You need to be conscious of your readers and what type of content and in what format they prefer to consume information, but from a SEO perspective, don’t be afraid to write a lot per page (or post). Search engines love to have a lot of text to gobble up and find keywords for. By making your pages long with a large number of words, the search engine will rank your site for more keywords. When you look at a traffic and keyword report, you’ll be amazed at how many keywords you rank for that you weren’t even targeting. You can then take that information and target those new keywords more strategically.
It’s no coincidence that this post is 1,000 words.
- Backlinks, Backlinks, Backlinks
As I mentioned in Part I of this series, backlinks are the holy grail of PageRank. You need to have a well defined strategy to build links on a daily basis. There are many sources for backlinks. Some of the more popular ones are "link bait", blog comments, guest blogging, forum posting, directory listing, and article writing. Decide which avenues are most appropriate for your content, but this is a must.
Remember: It’s much better to have a few backlinks from high PR sites than a bunch from 0 or NR PR sites.
- Fresh content
This is for both your readers and for SEO. Readers want content that is fresh and new. The worst thing in the world is to have someone love your site or blog, but have stale content. Keep it fresh and you’ll grow your user base. From a search engine perspective, if you constantly add new content, then they will know that they need to come back and crawl the content daily or even hourly.
Add new content daily, if possible.
- Use keywords throughout content
This one should also go without saying, but the way that search engines determine how relevant your content is for a given keyword is the frequency of that keyword in the content. You’ve seen this where a very low PageRank site ranks at the top of the SERPs. Look at their content. Chances are, the keyword they rank well for is peppered throughout the content.
Be careful here, though. Don’t be overly aggressive with this strategy. Search engines will recognize this and deem you a "keyword stuffer" and it could hurt your rankings.
In this post, the keyword "SEO" was used 8 times and the more verbose keyword "search engine" was used 15 times.
- Be kind to search engines (Google) and they will be kind to you
All of the previous recommendations have been dancing around a central theme. I became aware of all of these techniques by understanding how the major search engines work, prefer to consume content, and how they rank sites. Keep learning about the current landscape and stay abreast of any changes. This, more than anything else, will make you a SEO master.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will get you well on your way to mastering the SERPs. Good Luck!