Monday, 27 August 2012

SEO Essentials for Beginners

Search Engine Optimization, or SEO for short, is the process of creating and ‘optimizing’ a website/blog that attracts a large amount of traffic through various different sources – including search engines, social media, as well as other forms of referral traffic.

A SEO strategy involves many different aspects, all aimed at maximizing your website/blog’s ability to get traffic.

One of the most essential pieces in the SEO puzzle is search engine visibility, and the ability to rank as high up the Search Engine Results Page (or SERPs) for certain keywords that are relevant to your business, and then being able to drive traffic through the search engines. Similarly, the way that you create and structure your content, and of course, get backlinks from other sources to your blog are two important aspects of one’s SEO strategy.

Here is a list of tips, tricks and things that should be considered by anyone who is relatively new to the field, when devising an SEO strategy:

1. Commitment: Search engine optimization is far from being a ‘one-time-thing’. Search engine algorithms change on a frequent basis. For instance strategies that may be getting your website traffic right now might become completely redundant in a couple of months. Therefore SEO requires a certain amount of long-term commitment, as well as the ability to adapt.

2. Patience: Search Engine Optimization requires a certain amount of patience. The results of your SEO strategy might take weeks or months before they bear fruit. Don’t expect any tangible short-term results. Instead, concentrate your efforts on getting long-term gains – such as creating a website that generates a large amount of targeted traffic down the road. Targeted traffic is what you’re looking for, and in order to be able to get targeted traffic, you need to slowly build a faithful following of readers.

3. Niche: It is important to choose your website or blog’s niche carefully. It could be anything – from sports, to internet marketing, politics, celebrity gossip, music, cooking, computers, cell phones, career advice, etc. Identifying your website’s niche will allow you to optimize and promote it in a much more effective manner. It will also make it easier for you to compete. Make sure that the niche you choose is well-defined, and that you have a knowledge of the keywords, phrases and themes revenant to your niche.

4. Keywords: One of the most essential aspects of SEO and the ability to rank well on search engines, is keyword research. Basically, what you want to do is rank as high up as possible for certain keywords relevant to your niche – preferably as high-up the SERPS as possible. The difference between choosing the correct and incorrect keywords will essentially make or break your SEO. Choose keywords that are highly relevant to your niche, and that you can easily compete for them. I recommend using Google free Adwords Keyword Tool for this purpose, however if you’re in the market for something better, Market Samurai would be a great (albeit paid-for) alternative and an all-round excellent tool for keyword research. Use keywords, as well as long-tailed key-phrases.

5. Content: Content is king! Remember that the purpose of all your SEO efforts is maximizing visitors. What you want is as many people reading your content as possible. The best way to do that is actually giving your visitors content that they would love reading, share and link to. Do your research and create unique, high-quality, highly-valuable and informative content. Try (naturally) including keywords relevant to your blog – and this particular write-up – a few of times in your blog. Always avoid keyword stuffing, as not only will it put potential visitors off your blog, it will also put you at risk of getting penalized by search engines. Always remember that when it comes to content creation is to focus on developing content for human readers, not search engines.

6. Pages: A website or a blog consists of a certain number of pages. It is important to optimize these pages by adding meta information for each page. This includes adding meta titles (the title that shows up in the SERPs) and meta description (the few lines of text beneath the title in the SERP) for each page. Make sure that this information is relevant to the content of the page, and if possible, includes the keywords/phrases that the particular page (and your blog in general) might want to rank for. Keep in mind that all meta information needs to be completely unique.

7. Images: Optimizing any and all images on your website is just as important as optimizing your content, pages or any other aspect of your website. Include titles, description and most importantly, ‘ALT text’ for all your images. Make sure that the information provided here describes the image. Doing this will allow search engines to be able to ‘see’ and index your images, allowing you to get search engine traffic.

8. Navigation: Navigation remains one of the most essential aspects of search engine optimization. Here are the essentials: divide all contents of your website, specifically posts, into different main sections and make sure that all pages and sections of your website are interlinked, and easily accessible from any part of your website. Visitors should not have to click unnecessarily, click too many times or go back and forth to be able to visit a particular page on your blog.

9. Sitemap: A sitemap is essentially a single page which contains a list (and links) of all the pages on a website. Sitemaps are essential as they allow search engine crawlers to seamlessly crawl your website, and index all its pages and content. It is also useful for visitors, as it provides them with access to all parts of your website from a single page. Adding a sitemap is usually as simple as installing a plugin, which then creates a sitemap for your website and updates it as well as soon as new content is added.

10.  Link-building: Link building is perhaps the most important aspect of search engine optimization. What you are looking for is creating inbound links to your website from other websites and blogs. These links need to be relevant links (links from websites relevant to your niche), not from spam sources and should preferably be links from authority and high-PR sources. Some of the best link-building methods out there include guest posting on other blogs and websites (while giving a backlink to your own blog), press releases, posting comments on other blogs (constructive, informative, non-spam comments that take the conversation forward, and should be relevant), and sharing your posts, pages and content on social websites (Facebook, Twitter, StumpleUpon, Reddit, etc.). Above all, try creating content that is so unique, well-written and informative, that people (especially authority sources) are compelled to link to it!

11. Blackhat SEO: Avoid any and all ‘blackhat SEO’ practices at all cost – stuff that is likely to land you in hot water with search engines. This includes stuff like spam and buying links, among others. Avoid risking your long-term well-being for short-term gains. Blackhat SEO techniques put you at risk of getting de-indexed from search engine if (or rather when) caught. Instead, use the above-mentioned points to slowly and steadily grow your traffic instead. Think long-term instead of short-term.

12. Analytics: Use analytics and stats to monitor how your SEO is doing. Google Analytics is one of the best, most powerful analytics suite out there right now – it lets you keep a track of your optimization efforts, and provides tons of data, statistics and in-depth insight into thousands of different aspect of your blog. Above all, it lets you measure how well you’re doing in comparison to your goals. You can then fix and tweak stuff that isn’t working, for instance if you’re not being found on search engine for your keywords.

13. Social: Leverage the power of social media as much as you can. Having a presence on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus is essential; however it is also important to build a strong following and send regular updates out to your followers on social mediums (avoid spamming!). In addition, use other mediums such as Flickr, Reddit, StumbleUpon, and if applicable to your niche, Quora or Yahoo Answers as well. Google, in particular, places strong emphasis on social signals. Integrate social sharing buttons on your website, make it easy and simple for your visitors to like and share your posts.

14. Diversify: As the old saying goes, never put all your eggs in one basket. Diversify your sources of traffic, and avoid becoming over-reliant on a single source of traffic. Remember, the world of SEO is ever-changing; and while Google may very well be the biggest source of referral traffic right now, the next update to its search algorithm might hit you hard. It is important to be able to get traffic from other sources, and one of the best ways to do that is building email lists, and allowing and encouraging people to subscribe to your content.

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