Tuesday, June 28, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part II, Search Engines and Keywords

The term SEO is a general technical term that is thrown around quite a bit. The letters stand for Search Engine Optimization. The term is often used in reference to specific practices, but what Search Engine Optimization is in reality is a process. It has many parts and often they are intertwined. In Part I of this series we covered preparing your SEO foundation by setting up analytics to evaluate your website’s performance on the web and starting the process of getting your site indexed by the major search engines. In this article I will quickly cover the concepts behind search engines and keywords.

First, a little bit about how search engines operate. When a user types something into the entry field of a search engine, the word or phrase that they type in and submit is called a search engine query. Think of it as a request to the search engine. The words or phrases that make up that query then become keywords.

Once the user has entered and submitted the query the search engine must look through literally billions of documents to return results. In doing so it filters results and returns them according to their “relevance” to the search query and ranks them according to “importance”. The goal of SEO is to influence both relevance and importance.

What relevance means to a search engine means more than simply having a page with the words searched for prominently displayed. The search engine engineers have worked hard over the years to produce mathematical formulas so that the search engine will return results that the users will appreciate and enjoy. Many factors influence relevance and we will discuss many of these as we move along.

Importance refers to the perceived value of the result. This usually boils down to popularity – the more popular a web destination is the more valuable the information it contains must be. This is not determined manually - it would be impossible to do this in a timely manner. Instead, the search engine engineers have written mathematical equations to sort through all the data in their index and filter them according to this importance. These formulas take in to account hundreds of factors which are referred to as Search Engine Ranking Factors. The good news is that in order to influence your ranking and results in search engines you will find success by focusing on a dozen or so of these factors. A focused, methodical approach adhering to best practice guidelines published on the web makes the job suddenly manageable.

This is starting to look like it might be a lot of work, it will be. You may ask yourself, “Is this going to be worth the effort?” I can’t really answer that question for you, but I can point out several key points:

  • Search is very popular, reaching practically every online American, and billions of people around the world. Currently a majority of purchases begin with a web search.
  • Being listed in the first few results is critical to visibility
  • Being listed at the top of results not only provides the greatest amount of traffic, but instills trust in consumers as to the worthiness and relative importance of the company/website.
  • A lot of offline economic activity is driven by searches on the web.

Once you have decided to do keyword optimization your first step is to find keywords that will work for you and produce the desired results. We will cover the basics of keyword research in Part 3.

If you decide to have a professional handle your SEO for you, you are now equipped with knowledge that will help you understand the concept and process. This will help you make decisions regarding who to hire and how to work with them. One thing I would recommend is having them show you the successful results of previous projects and provide references. Beware anyone trying to sell you a shortcut to make you #1 on Google overnight and such. Remember, good SEO is a process.

Friday, June 17, 2011

PROMOTING YOUR WEBSITE – SEO BASICS Part I, The Foundation

Your shiny new website is online and live – all you need to do now is get people to find it. Of course you should remember to do the obvious right away. Make sure your web address is on your business card, printed material and any advertising you do. Use it on signage where appropriate. When you do put it on signs make it big enough to be seen from a distance. This is not an afterthought. Web addresses are often easier to remember than phone numbers.

Next comes the scary part - Search Engine Optimization. So much talk is bandied about on the term SEO and much of it makes it seem like so much voodoo. It’s like you have to be some sort of technical expert or wizard to make it work. The truth is Search Engine Optimization is a many-faceted process. Let me emphasize that last word, process – meaning ongoing. The good news is that there are certain essential foundation steps you can take to improve your website’s optimization immediately. These steps form the foundation for further improvement and tweaking. Follow these steps and you will see a significant improvement in your website’s traffic in 30-90 days.

If you are in business you know how important it is to be able to evaluate the results of your efforts. In order to do this with your website you will need statistics on your website visitors and search engine rankings. This is known as analytics. There are many tools available for this. I recommend the use of Google Analytics. It is free, you just have to sign up for a free Google account and you can get your own analytics account and track as many of your own websites as you like. It will provide you with detailed information on your site’s traffic and performance. Once you have a Google analytics account, log in to your account and copy the tracking code using cut and paste. You can paste it in to notepad and save it somewhere on your computer where you can access it easily. This code will be pasted onto your website pages for tracking. If you are using a blogging platform or a CMS like Joomla or Kentico you have a way to enter this code using the backend interface. Once the code is on your web sites pages (you want the code on every page you want indexed) in a short time you will see the status column in your Analytics account display an green checkmark indicating that your site is verified and being tracked.

Once you have your analytics in place the next step I recommend is signing up for a Google Webmaster Tools account and add your site to that. After you have added your site you will need to verify it. You will be given several choices for this, and instructions for each. You will also want to add a sitemap to your website and submit it to Google through Google Webmaster Tools. Again, if you are using a blogging or CMS platform a sitemap function may already be included or you can easily add it with a plug-in. One of the advantages of these types of setups is that they automatically update your sitemap for you when your content changes. If your site does not create one automatically there is an online service that will create one for you. Just go to this website http://www.neuroticweb.com/recursos/sitemap/ and enter your website’s URL (web address) and it will generate one for you. You can then cut and paste it into Notepad (don’t use Word or any other word processing program, it will mess up the formatting) and save it as sitemap.xml. Then you will want to get it uploaded to your web host in what is called the root of your website. Once that is done you can add the site in your Google Webmaster Tools account and verify the site using your Google Analytics account and then you can submit the address of your sitemap in the form. If you have doubts about the address of your sitemap just enter the address in a browser. It will display in the browser if you have it right. If it is in the root the address will look like this http://<yourdomain>/sitemap.xml. It can take a while for Google to download your sitemap but once they do in your Google Webmaster Tools Dashboard you will have a report of the pages that were indexed as well as other important data on your site. If you manually created and uploaded a sitemap to your website you will need to be sure and update it whenever you add or remove pages from your website.

You will also want to add your site to the Bing search index. The easiest way to do this is to go to http://www.bing.com/toolbox/webmasters/ get a Windows Live ID if you don’t already have one and sign in. Click on Add Site and put in the address of your website. You will also need to verify your site for Bing and once you have submitted the site you will be given two choices to verify it and directions on how to accomplish this. It typically takes three days for any data to show up.

Now that you have analytics going and a sitemap submitted to get you indexed on Google and Bing you will want to register on other indexes. An important directory that a lot of people don’t know about is DMOZ. This is a free directory that a lot of search engines, including OL Search, Google, Netscape Search, Yahoo Search, and hundreds of other sites use. Just go to their website http://www.dmoz.org/ and click on ‘suggest url’ and there will be directions to walk you through submitting your site’s URL to the directory. Once your site has been accepted into the Open Directory, it may take anywhere from 2 weeks to several months for your site to be listed on partner sites which use the Open Directory data.

You can submit your site to Yahoo! Search for free by going to http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit . It will require the creation of a Yahoo! Account. It may take several weeks for the site to be crawled. If you have a blog you can also submit your site’s RSS feed. Yahoo also has paid submission options which will guarantee quick submission in to the directory. For more information on these visit - https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/submit/intro/ . I usually recommend using the free solutions first and move on to paid solutions later if you need to.

Whatever you do, do not try services or software products that promise to submit your site to hundreds of search engines, generate thousands of links or something to that effect – unless you really like getting hundreds of junk emails a day. They will also list you on spam lists.

You have now laid the foundation for making sure that your site is “seen” by the major search engines which drive most of the traffic on the web. It’s a bit of work, but will pay great dividends. Any further SEO work you do from here on out will benefit from having taken these steps. The next layer of SEO is keywords and content. We will cover this as well as some basic search engine theory in the Part II.

Looky!