This article appeared in the September/October 2008 issue of Writers’ Journal in the “Computer Business” column. It’s the fourth in a 6 part series. I’ve dominated that column since then and if there’s anything you’d like to know more about, Please feel free to comment or drop me a note.
Maybe a few aren’t so dirty, but figuring out how to get traffic to your web presence can sometimes feel like wading through sludge. You’ve put in a lot of time an energy getting your web site or blog up and running and now you’re ready to share it with the world. But the world needs to know you exist. The internet is a big place and getting the information superhighway to put an exit ramp near you takes some effort.
When you’ve used a search engine to look for something on the web, have you ever clicked through to the second page of results? The third? Chances are you haven’t which is why SEO has become an internet marketing buzz word. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and it means that a website looks as friendly to search engine crawlers as possible. For a search engine to do you any favors, it has to rank you in the top 10 results. That placement can be difficult to get and there are a lot of companies out there who will gladly charge you a lot of money to optimize your site. The good news is that you don’t really need that sort of help.
Provided that you didn’t design or build your site so that it is inaccessible to search engines, (See Part 4 in this series for my notes on Flash and navigation) the bulk of the optimization that you need can be accomplished by you. Just a reminder, search engines cannot crawl through a Flash movie so if the entire site or even just the navigation is done in Flash, you are invisible to search engines. Also, the web is the web because all of the pages link to each other. Your site navigation needs to interlink all of its pages or the orphaned pages are effectively invisible to search engines.
Now that we’ve established that, let me give you a few secrets about SEO and getting found on the web.
1) SEO is only relevant if you want to take advantage of free (or organic) placement on search engines. If you intend to pay for your placement, SEO isn’t as important to you as the buzz would have you believe.
Paid search engine placement is offered through a number of services. Google AdWords is one of the biggest. If you’ve ever done search and seen the “Sponsored Links” either at the top or to the right of your search results, then you’ve seen paid placement in action. The sites listed there are paying for the privilege at a rate of .30-$10 a click—whatever they bid. The sites only pay when someone clicks on the link. I don’t recommend paid placement for the average site. It can get expensive and the return on investment for most sites simply isn’t very high. Paid placement works best for sites selling something. In the short term, it can substitute for organic placement, or it can drive traffic to your site during or immediately after a newsy event has taken place.
Optimally, you will be the first organic listing on any relevant search term.
2) Content and links are the most helpful things you can include on your site.
This is one area where a high-paid marketing or design company cannot help you. Because companies are constantly looking for ways to cheat, the algorithms that search engine crawlers use to determine ranking are constantly changing and heavily guarded secrets. That being said, there are a few truths that remain constant and evergreen.
The web as we know it today is descended from ARPANET, a collection of universities and research facilities trying to share their data. Despite the dramatic changes in the web since the late 1960’s search engine crawlers and people alike are still influenced by the original purpose of the web: the distribution of lots and lots of free information and resources.
Because of this expectation, search engine crawlers will always rank a site with a lot of content on it higher than one that does not have content. Content is text, images, video, audio, and links. Crawlers also like fresh content which is why blogs have become so popular. You are a writer so you can create this content with far more ease than most people or even big businesses.
Once you have some content, it’s important to provide links. Link each page on your site to all the other pages on your site, minimally with your navigation. Ideally, you’ll also provide in-text links to more of your own content and to content on other people’s sites. Just make sure that the content is relevant to your topic. In a perfect world, other sites will think your content is so good that they’ll link to you.
3) Properly formatted pages or blog posts will automatically help with your search engine placement.
Here’s where your own attention to detail can help you far beyond having an attractive and usable web page. I mentioned in the forth article in this series that there are ways of making your text attractive to the human eye. Strangely enough, with the way pages are coded, this formatting will also help your search engine ranking.
- Make your headlines or page titles useful
- Highlight key points by making them subheads, bullet points, or numbered lists
- Draw attention to keywords by making them bold, italic or clickable
4) Meta Tag keywords or topic keywords will help your search engine ranking.
Keyword is another buzz term and it’s also a misnomer. If you’ve ever typed a single word into a search engine box you know exactly what I mean—you get too many results that are too varied to be of any use. A pair or trip of words gets better results. Keyphrase is a lot more accurate. The trick to keywords is understanding what your potential audience is looking for and then figuring out that they type into that box. Google AdWords has a tool that will help you with this. Other ways of identifying keywords include trying out your phrase on LiveSearch and seeing what comes up. If the top ranking sites have nothing to do with your topic, or are only marginally relevant, then that keyword doesn’t mean quite what you think it does. LiveSearch offers up a list of related search terms at the top right of the results page. Try some of those out. You can also identify a few potential competitors and see what keywords they are optimized for by tying their url into Google AdWords’s free tool.
Once you have some key terms, make sure you use these in your blog posts, page titles, image names and alt tags, and web pages. Optimize each page for the keywords that fit it best.
5) Longevity counts.
There’s a magic number on the web: 18—18 months to be exact. If you do nothing other than put up a website and then walk away from it, in 18 months you’re going to start getting traffic. You may not be the best ranking site, but it will be better. Search engines equate a site existing on the web longer than a year with commitment and, therefore, relevance. If you’re a latecomer, this means registering your domain name for two to five years and putting something up as fast as you can. You can refine it later. It also means that purchasing an existing domain name at auction can do you a world of good. You’ll inherit the domain’s tenure as well as any traffic it’s getting.
That doesn’t mean you’re off the hook. You need to use those 18 months to build your content and establish links to other sites.
6) Chances are that your best traffic will come from places other than search engines.
How’s that for a kicker? Remember those links I’ve been harping on? That’s where your best traffic is going to come from. You can also drive traffic to your site by reading and participating on other people’s blogs and forums, or by participating on social networking sites like Twitter or Facebook, or on newsgroups and email lists like Yahoo Groups. Don’t ignore your email signature. How many emails do you send out a day? Every one of those can have your url appended to the signature.
Last of all, don’t wait for the search engines to find you. Once you have a site, invite the crawlers to come by for a visit.
Search Engine Crawlers
Angela Render is an author who has been editing and developing websites for over a decade. She teaches regular classes on Internet marketing. Her Internet marketing workbook, Marketing for Writers: A Practical Workbook, is available on her website at www.AngelaRender.com.