What’s the point of having a website if no one ever finds it?
This website, for example, is responsible for the bulk of my own business. I get calls every week from prospects who say, “I found your site. The information is great. I wanted to ask about a project …”
This is not by accident. Like any carefully constructed website, mine is easy to find because of a few basic principles of SEO or “search engine optimization.”
SEO has become a deep and complex area of expertise, but there are a few basics that are responsible for most of the results you get.
Understand how search works. Search engines are complex, but they aren’t very smart. They don’t understand the meaning of what you’re looking for on the Internet. They just look for the words you search for. So if you type “airplane” into Google, it will show you pages where it finds the word “airplane.” If it can’t find that word on a particular page, it won’t show you the page.
Make a list of your keywords. If you’re selling gourmet coffee, make a list of all the words and phrases associated with gourmet coffee and the specific product names and features on your site, such as “gourmet coffee,” “gourmet coffee beans,” “gourmet coffee reviews,” etc.
Use different keywords on every page. Think of each page of your site as a “doorway” into your business. The more doorways, the more people who can come in. Create a separate page for each word or phrase on your keyword list.
Use unique page titles. Don’t confuse the page title with the headline. A page title is what search engines consider the “name” of any given page. It appears in the bar at the top of your browser.
For example, look at the top left of your browser and you’ll see that the title of the page you are reading now is “Simple SEO tips.” But the headline is “5 simple SEO tips to boost your search traffic.”
The page title is the most important place to put your keywords. It should be 5 to 10 words long with your keywords as close to the beginning of the title as possible. The page title should be different on every page of your site. Rewriting your page titles is the easiest way to improve your search engine visibility.
Use keywords in page text. At minimum, this includes using keywords in your headlines and subheads and in the first 200 characters of the page text. Don’t repeat the same keywords over and over hoping to trick search engines. This is called “keyword stuffing” and, while it used to work years ago, it doesn’t today. In fact, most major search engines will penalize you for this. Pages should read naturally, using keywords where they make sense.
There’s a lot more to SEO than these 5 tips, some of it simple, some of it arcane. And what works changes a little every day as search engines evolve and become better at connecting people to the content they’re looking for.
Someday, search engines may be so smart they’ll know what your pages are about regardless of the words you use. But until then, remember that no matter what your page is about, it won’t be found by a search engine for a keyword unless that word appears on the page.
So if you’re selling a vacuum cleaner and insist on calling it a “home dirt remover,” people searching for “vacuum cleaner” simply won’t find it.
Does all this SEO stuff really work? Well, a few years ago I gave my website a total overhaul, using basic SEO principles. Soon, my site went from search purgatory to appearing on pages 1, 2, or 3 for a variety of keywords.
The rule of thumb is, most people won’t search beyond the first few pages. So if your site doesn’t come up high in the results, it’s as if you have no site at all.