Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
The arcane art of ensuring your or a customer’s website bubbles up to the first page of Google is what search engine optimization (SEO) is all about. Extreme SEO would be ensuring said website hits one of the “olympic” spots – first, second, or third (gold, silver, bronze). Bear in mind there are two parts of this puzzle. The website you’re trying to rank and the keywords you’re trying to rank it for. So saying your site ranks first on Google really doesn’t mean anything if you can’t qualify that statement with a useful (and valuable) keyword search.
“My site ranks on the first page on Google for the keyword search ‘ancient dog paranoia of the Ming Dynasty'” means very little because really, who is searching for that? Sure, you can spin up a site and probably rank for that tomorrow. But ranking for something valuable is more difficult and the competition can be very strong.
It’s also important to note that there are two more considerations and they are “on page” and “off page” SEO.
On Page SEO is what you do to your website to let Google know it’s relevance. Off Page SEO is how other websites interact with your site, linking to it with good strong links (hopefully). You have 100% control over your on page SEO so you must focus on it quite a bit. The off page SEO is largely out of your hands. You can ask for links, you can comment on blogs with a backlink, you can even buy links back to your site but the best approach to improving your off page SEO is to have a very strong site with excellent content that other people find and want to link back to. Pull that off, and your SEO rankings will soar.
Lets take a look at a few SEO techniques
1. Keyword research
As mentioned above, the second important part of claiming you rank high on Google results is qualifying the keyword you are ranking for. If you want to rank for “payday loans”, you have an uphill battle as that is one of the most widely used search terms (and therefore most competitive) of all time. Viagra, I guess, would rank close behind that. Unless you have a very well established site with lots of existing positive on/off page SEO in place, it’s preferable to set your sights a little lower. For this, you’ll want to look into less common keywords and look at what are called “long tail” keywords – keywords with 3, 4 or more words.
For example, a keyword search for “knee pain” will find far more searches than “knee pain sitting to standing”. The first will show a lot of hits and is much more competitive than the second. Likewise, if you are doing SEO for a knee surgeon with offices in Atlanta, for example, it would be better to rank for “knee surgeon atlanta georgia” than for “knee surgeon”. The second example has less competition and is more geographically targeted.
Technically, in the above example, “knee surgeon” would be a standard keyword while “knee surgeon atlanta georgia” would be a long tail keyword. There are tools you can (and should) use to also find more similar terms to use in your SEO efforts. Along side “knee pain” you might also want to include “patella” and “injury” in your content. Google’s ability to understand similar phraseology these days is amazing and will reward you with higher search results when you use them.
The keywords you end up deciding on will be used in articles – content – and posted on the site. These in depth, excellently written articles that are both easy to read and informative are the bedrock of what Google considers for ranking these days. Gone are the days when you could just put a single search term 500 times at the bottom of your page and expect to rank. These days, Google penalizes for that kind of activity. Don’t do it. Write good, timely, relevant articles.
2. Choosing a domain name
It’s great if your domain name contains the keyword you’re trying rank for. This has also changed a bit. A year or two ago, if you were trying to rank for “knee pain surgery atlanta” it would be great to buy “www.kneepainsurgeryatlanta.com”. These days, Google looks at that as a little fishy. Much better to have a domain such as: www.atlantakneesurgery.com and then make sure the content on the page strongly supports it. It’s always best to opt for a “.com” name if you can find it. Don’t rule out buying an expiring domain as you can inherit a lot of domain power that way.
3. Keyword density
When writing your articles, you want to keep the keywords you are trying to rank for in mind, but you don’t want to use them in a way that makes the article feel wrong. Again, in the “olden days” (last year or so) it was ok to “keyword stuff” but these days Google will penalize you for it. Use your keywords naturally and remember that Google rewards your use of synonyms and such. The rule of thumb is that you don’t want your keyword density to rise above 3%, so if you have a 1000 word article, your keyword use should be below 30 times. There are many tools that will give you this report quickly so you don’t need to count them. 🙂
4. Tags and titles
The title of your article is one of the single most important aspects to consider. If your article is “knee surgery procedures”, you’ll want that to be a part of the page title AND you want to mention it (almost) verbatim within the first 100 words of the article.
5. Good Internal Linking
When you want to link to other areas on your page, use keywords as the “anchor text”. So instead of “click here” with “here” being the link, use “click on knee surgery for more information” with “knee surgery” being the link. A link’s anchor text carries a LOT of weight with Google so don’t waste it. You also want to ensure you mix it up a bit. In the previous example, you can use “knee surgery” one time and maybe the URL (www.atlantakneesurgery.com) the next time. Google loves anchor text but not when it’s all identical as thousands of links all with exact same anchor text strongly implies “black hat” SEO has taken place. So mix it up. This applies to internal links as well as links from other sites coming back to your site (backlinks). If you think about it, you (should!) have very little control over how other web masters link to your site so if there are 500 links and they all have identical anchor text, it’s very suspicious to Google.
We’ve only scratched the surface here. Actually, we’ve only scratched the surface of a scratch. SEO is, on the surface, fairly easy to understand but as you dig in more it truly is the iceberg situation where 10% is on the surface but there’s another 90% that’s not so obvious that is out of site at first.