You’ve Heard About It, You Know It’s Important – But What Does It Mean?

In a nutshell, SEO (search engine optimization) means working with and utilizing the ways that search engines like Google, Yahoo! and Bing look at, find and display websites.

The goal of SEO is to get your website listing to appear as close as possible to the top of the organic search results listings. Ideally you’d be #1, of course; but appearing anywhere on thefirst screen greatly increases your chances of being clicked.

How Do Search Engines Work?

Search engines ‘crawl’ through the web looking for words, terms, and phrases that match the user’s search words.  Then they display the results in the form of listings, in order of perceived relevancy to the user.

In the olden days (10 years ago) search engines relied  heavily on keywords to determine the content of a site: but unscrupulous spammers’ misleading use of these keywords have made it necessary for search engines to refine their methods.

Imagine a mall whose stores change to suit each individual shopper. The mall wants to offer the best possible service, and offer stores that suit their shoppers’ needs most closely. If you want to be one of these stores, you need to show the mall that you are legitimate, reliable, and provide what the given shopper is looking for.

Make Yourself Visible

A good first step is to register your website (for free) with the Open Directory, which Google’s directory is based on; and submit your website to Bing, Yahoo!, and any other search engine you’ve heard of.  Most search engines also offer services packages for their business directories for a fee.

Meta Tags

Make it as obvious as possible who you are and what you offer. This is where meta tags come in. Meta tags are simply information about your information.  Meta titles and descriptions are also what show up on your search listing.

Think of your meta title and description as a combination service proposal and window display.  You want the mall to know why they should choose you, but at the same time you are appealing to the shopper directly. Remember, even if you do make it into the mall on a Saturday, there’s still your competition to deal with!

Describe Yourself Accurately

The big search engines are all about accuracy and integrity. They expect – demand! – that the websites they list will not interfere with their own quality of service. Conversely, they favour those websites that contribute to the user’s positive experience. That is to say: You are useful, you are who you say you are, and you are well-recommended (by users through reviews and by visiting & remaining on  your site).

The first thing the search engines look at is your own description of your site. Users are being specific in their searches, and so should you be specific in your description. Are you really just ‘Joe’s Hardware Store’? Or rather: ‘Joe’s Hardware, best prices, service in Toronto’ or even ‘Moen, American Standard in Toronto. Joe’s Hardware‘. Remember, it’s all about what the user is typing into the search bar. It’s up to you to figure out what search words and phrases your target audience will be using, and integrate them into your title & description.

Search engines look for consistency of content with description. Make sure that your meta tags & keywords are incorporated into your headers & body text. This goes back to integrity. Are you who and what you say you are? Do you offer what you promise in your listing?  Your value to the search engines will be determined by your benefit to your visitors. The closer your meta tags reflect your content, the more likely you will be to attract visitors who are looking for what you offer.

Back-links

A back-link is a link from another site to yours. Back-linking is a powerful tool and key to improving your page ranking SERP (search engine results page) listing position. However, not just any old back-link will do. The valuable ones are with solid, reputable sites in relevant industries to your own.

When a website in good standing (the higher page ranking, the better) in a relevant industry offers as back-link from their site to yours, Google regards as a ‘vote’; an introduction from someone they already know & trust on the subject.  So if you run a catering business, you are looking to get back-links on foodie sites, event planning sites, food product sites…from a marketing standpoint as well as for SEO purposes, these are the ‘people’ from whom your ‘introduction’ will be meaningful. Your best friend’s scrap-booking blog or cousin’s automotive site – not so much.

 Traffic

Simple, straightforward and irreplaceable – the number one thing that will bring your site listing up in the search results and in search engine page ranking is TRAFFIC. Every time someone goes to your site, it’s a vote: with added weight depending on the length of time they remain and the more activity they perform on your site. Do they stay on the first page? Or check out other pages? It matters.

Most of us have no choice but to start small.  Blast everyone you know everywhere – email, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, everywhere – with your link.  Create a promotion that involves going to your site. Do whatever you have to do – the more people that visit, the better.

Content is Still King

Your website’s value lies in the quality & usefulness of its content to the user. Period.

Going back to the ‘mall’ analogy, think of your content as inventory. A beautifully-designed facade and trendy window display might bring visitors into your store, but if you aren’t backing it up with the goods, they won’t stay: Most won’t even walk through the door. It’s called ‘bouncing’, and we’ve all done it. A listing or a link intrigues us enough to click, but after a quick glance at the page we decide, Nope! and with another click, we ‘bounce’ off  to another site.

The fact that all this takes place in under 5 seconds is what makes writing for the web such a challenge. The importance, relevance and usefulness of your information must be immediately obvious. This isn’t print marketing; there isn’t that moment of downtime after your message’s  initial impact for the message to sink in.

Visitors are looking for something; something they came to your site hoping to find.  Is your inventory dumped on a table, or in the back of the store, neatly labelled in boxes? Or are your best pieces displayed to advantage, immediately visible from the doorway? Is the layout of the store inviting and easy to navigate? Most importantly, are you focusing on what your visitors are looking for?  Or the information you think they should have?  That may work in other media, but not online.

The Bottom Line

Good SEO copywriting means writing to your target customer AND the search engines that (hopefully) will lead them to your site. If you’re ignoring one or the other, you’re not getting it.

It’s not easy coming up with the perfect meta titles and descriptions that stay within the prescribed number of characters, but it’s necessary and will absolutely make a difference. Do a few searches of your own.  Google keyword phrases that you would like to see your site listing come up for and see what terms your competitors are using.

Never forget that a SERP listing is an answer to a question, not an announcement. The key is to figure out the question. In other words, the terms people are using to look for your products or services. If you can figure that out, you’re on your way to attracting them.

Naomi Moscoe is a writer, editor, marketing consultant & content developer who moved to website development at client demand only to discover she loved it. She works with a wide range of  businesses &  entrepreneurs and considers the education she’s gaining the best part of freelance. (Well, that and the hours)