Search Engine Optimization is all the things that are done to increase the visibility of a website in organic search. Sites that show up higher in results will get more traffic than ones that are farther down the search page. Generally speaking, a ranking of 1 – 10 means your site is on the first page of search results.
As search has changed, the term “search engine optimization” has become a little misleading because optimization is really more about the people who are searching than the search engines themselves.
Just like this photo, the ways to do this are not clear – and the road map keeps changing. The following five guidelines are current as of early 2014.
Use carefully selected keyword terms in the right places
Identify the keywords that are being used for search in your industry. A good (and free) place to start is with the Google AdWords Keyword Planner. If you already have a site with Google Analytics (GA) and WebMasterTools (WMT) set up, dig into that data. Among other things, GA will show you what visitors do when they come to your site and WMT will list the impressions and clicks you are getting for keyword terms.
Once you have identified a handful of terms (focus on 3 – 5 to start), use them in the on- and off-page content of your site. On-page means the title, headers, and body of your pages. Off-page is the metadata. Off-page is only visible to the spiders that crawl your site looking for key information about your page.
Make your site search engine-friendly
If search engines can’t crawl and index your site correctly, you won’t be able to rank well. Review Google’s comprehensive webmaster guidelines and don’t forget to submit a sitemap (one for users and an XML Sitemap for search engines) when you are ready to launch.
Some additional elements to remember are:
Enabling caching. This is especially relevant if your site is image-heavy. Sites that take a long time to load will lose visitors quickly.
Compress images. Resize your photos so they are no larger than your content area. In Photoshop, you can also reduce the image file size by half when you “Save for web and devices.”
Build a responsive site. Mobile use is on the rise and if you don’t have a mobile-friendly site, visitors won’t stay. This affects your “bounce rate” and ranking.
Don’t duplicate the content on other pages. If you must have the same content in multiple places, use canonicals.
Keep your page URLs simple and easy to understand.
Make your site easy to navigate.
Keep your website fresh
Your website is your virtual storefront. Remember to keep it fresh, unique, and interesting so your customers will want to return again and again. A “set-it-and-forget-it” approach will not help your ranking.
Sites with lots of new, relevant content get the most attention. Add a blog post every week or two – and don’t forget to use keywords in the right places. Your objective in blog writing is to publish content that people will be eager to share.
A word about links
Internal links: When you build your site, make sure that the internal link structure makes sense. Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link. Make sure your links are easy to see on the page.
Backlinks: The best links to your site are the natural ones and if you try to get links any other way, chances are likely it will do more harm than good. The search algorithms are sophisticated enough to know when other sites/blogs have found your content valuable and naturally link to it. Effectively promote your new blog posts by using RSS feeds, subscribe-to-my-blog widgets, or even social media.
Engage in the world of social media
This is another place where you can become an authority on the web. With Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and G+, it’s a bit tricky to figure out where to begin. Some industries are more suited to one social platform. Unless you absolutely love engagement in the social world, you’ll be better served to pick one (or two) and stay active in the conversation there. Your authority and engagement in social media impacts your credibility on the web so be sure to +1, like, comment and engage on related sites: it’s not just about what you do on your own social pages.
A note about G+: G+ is Google’s social media platform and since Google commands almost 80% of all search, take a close look at how you can join the G+ conversation. Add authorship to your site and link your content to your G+ page. Although Google has said they don’t use authorship for ranking “at the moment,” they certainly could in the future and we know that the authorship rich snippets results get higher click-through rates than normal.