Search engine optimization, or SEO for short, is a key factor in the success of your online business. By engaging in SEO practices, you can increase the ranking of your website with search engines like Google. This makes prospective customers more likely to find you online through organic search results, rather than social media or word of mouth referrals. As the number of websites going live every day increases, competition for the coveted number one spot within results listings is getting harder.
Until recently, SEO used to be full of black-hat practices, including keyword stuffing, which led to nonsensical web copy. With Google’s recent Panda and Penguin algorithm updates, however, those days are over. Now, the algorithms focus on the reader’s experience, and the highest ranked pages are those that provide value to internet users.
Although SEO is less formulaic than it used to be, and best practices might not seem so clear-cut anymore, the following ten steps will help you improve your website’s search engine ranking, and attract more fans and customers.
Choose your keywords carefully
Depending on the type of website you have, you might be using keywords that are highly competitive. This is going to be a tough market to crack, especially if your website is new, and it could take years for you to achieve the same amount of search engine credibility as your competitors. In the meantime, you will struggle to gain any exposure through SEO.
If you don’t have a high marketing budget, avoid choosing the most competitive keywords, as this won’t help your ranking. Instead, try choosing mid-tail or long-tail keywords that aren’t as popular and focusing on increasing your SEO around those. Further down the line, when you have the status and the budget, you can focus your efforts on gaining ground in the competitive keywords market.
Use your keywords wisely
One of the major changes that has come with Google’s Panda and Penguin updates is the shift in keyword focus. Before this, many SEO experts focused on keyword density, and websites successfully increased their ranking by using the same set of words or phrases a certain number of times in their copy.
The new algorithm, however, won’t rank sites that use the same keywords multiple times. Now the focus is on quality content, so be smart with your keywords and diversify. The Google AdWords tool is useful for finding words or phrases related to your main keyword. You can still use the same word or phrase more than once in your web copy – sometimes you might have to – but bear in mind that a keyword density more than 3-4% might be marked as spam!
Include keywords in your domain name
This has long been an influential factor in SEO, and Panda and Penguin haven’t changed this. Ideally, your domain name should include the name of your business, so it matches the title of your website. If this isn’t possible, perhaps because someone else has already purchased that domain, try to create a domain that describes what your business does, and include your domain name in the copy of your website.
Pay attention to your links
Backlinking – the act of linking to your page from external websites – used to be a major factor in SEO success, and consequently the popularity of article submission websites soared. Since the Panda and Penguin updates, Google has become wise to exclude irrelevant incoming links.
According to online entrepreneur Mahesh Mohan, backlinking from article submission sites no longer has an effect on your ranking. Instead, you should focus on building incoming links from authoritative websites that have a high ranking themselves.
Since Penguin, Google’s new algorithms are paying attention to link velocity, the level of traffic you get from external links, and penalizing low quality sites that gain a high link velocity by posting thousands of backlinks to their website in the first few weeks. Therefore, as well as focusing on gaining backlinks from reputable, authoritative websites, you should also build up your link velocity over time.
Another old SEO practice to avoid is that of stuffing keywords into anchor text (text that is linked to another website). Traditionally, including keywords in anchor text raised your SEO ranking, even if they didn’t make any sense in the context of the sentence. Now, however, websites that include out-of-context keywords will be penalized and could find their ranking drops!
Content is king
Writing quality content improves the user experience, and increases the likelihood you will receive incoming links from authoritative sites. Consequently, the main activity that will help you raise your ranking is producing valuable and engaging content. Consultant Barry Moltz recommends that website owners focus on providing quality content that will generate more reader attention, social sharing and traffic.
Release new content regularly
Although quality beats quantity, it’s still important to update your website regularly. In addition to keywords, one of the factors that search engine algorithms take into account when deciding where your website appears in results listings is how often you update the content.
Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, says that you don’t have to post every day to have a successful SEO strategy, but instead you should focus on providing value to readers. It’s still important to post new material, however, so try to build up a pool of content in advance so that you can keep updating your website or blog even when you’re busy.
Improve your social media presence
Your profiles on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ all contribute to your SEO ranking, as they are an indicator of your brand’s reputation. As well as improving your ranking, maintaining social media profiles and engaging with fans and followers is also a great way of bringing new traffic to your website.
Protect yourself from spammers
If you’ve been running a website for any amount of time, you’ll probably have received more than a few spam comments. As part of Google’s attempt to crack down on spam, if you allow these comments to be published on your pages, you could find your website itself flagged as spam. To protect yourself from spammers, see what plugins or add-ons your platform or host can offer. WordPress users can install several plugins, like Yoast and Akismet to prevent spammers from harming your online reputation.
Use your website’s code
SEO experts and experienced webmasters have all been advising the most important areas of your website and blog posts which you should include SEO keywords. The H1, h2 and h3 tags, the page title, and the Meta description are all important keyword opportunities. Beyond these, you should use keywords sparingly in the text and concentrate on providing useful information.
SEO rankings don’t rise overnight. Instead, it’s more effective to forget about rankings as much as possible, especially in the early days of your website, and focus on creating quality content regularly. It used to be possible for new websites to achieve a high ranking almost instantly, but 99% of the time, they weren’t providing readers with any value – something which would now hinder rather than help your ranking.
As you can see from the 10 SEO tips above, ranking success is now less to do with numbers and ratios, and more to do with quality. The good news is that you no longer have to sacrifice your website’s content to make way for tacky SEO practices, but instead can focus on doing what you do best, watching your website’s reputation and popularity boost your SEO ranking for you!