SEO for Dummies and You! Search Engine Optimization 101
Why Name It SEO for Dummies?
You may be wondering why I've titled it "SEO for Dummies". There's no special reason, I just thought of covering most of the so-called "SEO tips and tricks" through this insightful article.
There are plenty of other useful guides out there, but just a handful actually help you and make sure that you understand what needs to be said. So, starting from the very basics, let's move on to the more complex stuff and see where we get by the end.
NOTE: Even though I'm not a Matt Cutts (Head of Google Search Spam) Fan, some of his videos are incorporated here as they're kind of helpful for newbies.
Do You Have What It Takes?
Are you sure you want to trek on the treacherous path, the path theming with black and white animals (The various Google Updates) and fancy algorithm changes?
Not everyone has what it takes to tackle these monsters and in the end they give up and curse themselves and the places where they post their content.
You should inculcate values of determination, perseverance, skill, research and most of all the courage to make changes to a successful website so as to prevent it from going down the drain in the near future.
One of the biggest mistakes people make is leaving their successes to fend for themselves as they feel that changes made would result in adverse effects (Of course, this is likely - it's a risky field after all).
Do you own a Domain or do you publish on a Revenue Sharing Site?
Buying a Domain Name
The first step towards having your own website is that of buying a domain name. You could buy one with the extension of your choice namely: .com, .org, .net, .info, .com.au, .co.uk, .co.in, etc. But don't just pick one that you fancy. Put some thought into it! Think of the future, what are the goals of your site or blog?
How Do You Choose Your domain name?
Picking a domain name today is really difficult because of the various factors that you need to tackle. Once you've picked your domain name you could say the battle is just beginning. But before that, let's look into what you may encounter:
Whom are you going to serve? Is it a specific country that you're targetting or the entire globe? Depending on your answer to this question you could either choose a .com or a local extension.
I'd pick a .org extension only if I were an actual organisation, else it would be totally useless.
My Domain Name Is Already Taken!
Is that what's troubling you? Then, welcome to the bandwagon! That's the issue we all have to face when we're off shopping for domain names. Since there are millions of sites up and everyone is looking for their keywords in the URL it becomes hard to find what we actually need.
Morevoer, there are thousands who buy domain names and just park them to prevent others from using them. In most cases they're validated as brand names with different extensions which could be used for wrong doings. In the other cases, it's just out of greed.
Let's See What You Know About Domain Namesview quiz statistics
Matt Cutts - Head of the Google Spam Team
If you were to buy today
What kind of Domain name would you choose?
Should I Add Keywords into My Domain Name?
This is one of the main reasons I've titled the post "SEO for Dummies". It's because most people would do anything to get a domain name with their main keyword in it. They even buy domain names with like 20 - 30 characters in them - sheesh! There's a limit people...
If you're building a website that's aimed at success you're definitely going to be providing something that's useful. In that case wouldn't you want to build up a brand name instead?
Among the top sites can you name a few that have "Keywords" in their domain name? There may be a few, but none come to mind.
On the other hand popular sites such as: Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Bing, Amazon, Mashable, Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest and various others aren't even actual words in most cases - Now that's what we call branding.
Do you have the notion that keywords in your domain name are going to help you rank better? Well, the sad part is that it's actually true. But, it's not going to be the case for long.
Keyword in the URL
What Would I do?
If I were to buy a domain name (And I have), I wouldn't bother about getting the keyword into the domain unless I'm only interested in search engine traffic and wouldn't want people to return to the site on their own. You should know that people don't usually trust long domain names as they seem fishy.
I doubt you'd find short tail keyword domain names available as they're probably already taken and if they're up for auction, be ready to shell out thousands of dollars.
Therefore, I'd pick something that's catchy and try to build up a brand name instead.
Just Summing It Up:
- Keep it Short and Sweet
- Try and make it sound catchy - That's better for branding
- Avoid use of Numbers such as 4 for "for" and other short forms, people may not remember and probably land up on a competitors site.
- Don't use Hyphens in the domain name
- If you're buying a domain name, make sure it doesn't have any spam action by the search engines. if you're not sure, it's best to buy a new domain name.
How's it going so far?
Keyword Research - Key Phrase Research, Rather
Every website or article that you publish is going to be directed to a certain group of people looking for something specific. There's no way search engines are going to know what your article is unless you tell them.
The only way you can do this is through the body of the article, tags, descriptions, excerpts, breadcrumbs, the URL and a lot of other ways. So how do you come up with the right phrases that you must incorporate within your article?
NOTE: Don't write articles around keywords, instead think of what you want to write about and then conduct a little research before you actually write in order to know what your audience is typing into search engines when they plan on reading about something you intend to write.
So what do you do when writing articles for your Blog/Website
Do Other Sites on Your Hosting Affect Your Ranking?
What Is the Best Hosting Service?
Yes, I do have to include a paragraph about hosting, even though the article is about "SEO for Dummies". If you don't know why I'm doing so, then you've certainly got a lot to learn about regarding SEO. Don't worry, it's not that hard and I'm sure you'd be a lot better off after you've read through this entire article.
You need to pick a reliable host as you're going to want your website to be up most of the time. People just hate it when they visit a site only to realize that the servers are under maintenance. This would result in increased bounce rates.
High bounce rates are fine, but bouncing by clicking the back button and returning to the search results could have negative effects as search engines are known to track bounces back to their search pages and over time rank such sites lower.
Another factor that is known to play a prominent role is site load speeds. Your site would load quickly if it's powered by good servers and your web design is top notch.
If you're wondering why quick load times are a necessity you need to think again. People are always in a hurry and stats show that they don't wait more than 3 seconds for a page to load. Moreover, it could lead to bounces back to search engines and what I said earlier would repeat.
My personal opinion states that search engine bots wouldn't like sites that load slow either. Because, we know that search engine bots browse sites for a stipulated amount of time. You would want them to cover as many pages as they can in this time frame.
I'm not going to be reviewing any Hosting services now, you could check out some reviews yourself later on.
Study Your Audience Before You Decide What to Put ip on a Site
What's the Main Purpose of the Site?
Once you've figured out your domain name and got a good host, you now need to decide what you're going to be offering on your website.
Yes, I'm saying this now because you would probably just have a vague idea in mind. Even if you happen to have a detailed list of pages and posts in mind, do you really know what you're audience is looking for?
Ask Yourself the Following Questions:
- Is my site going to provide any new information that's not readily available elsewhere?
- Will users benefit from my site, rather than visiting the parent shopping site (In case of Comparison and affiliate based websites)
- Is there something that I would love to see on the website if I were the visitor?
- In case of E-commerce Sites, would you trust your site if you were a shopper? If not, make some changes to the design and probably add a contact number for people to call you.
NOTE: If you're just going to be regurgitating content from other websites just re-phrased in a way, you're wasting your time. You may get a few visits (And if you're lucky become the best in your niche after stealing other peoples ideas - even though this is a long shot).
Underscores and Hyphens
One of the commonly asked questions regarding SEO is the use of Underscores and Hyphens and this article on "SEO for Dummies" would never be complete without me talking about this small issue.
In my personal opinion through tests on my own sites and those of my clients, I've realized that what most people say about this subject is true - There's no difference and you're free to use them as you wish (rankings don't exactly get affected).
But, I on the other hand wouldn't use underscores in my URL's anymore, because I learnt one thing a long time ago, which I'll explain through a sample below:
Let's consider a page on a site: "SEO for Dummies"
I could set it up to be either:
www.example.com/seo-for-dummies (Using Hyphens) or
www.example.com/seo_for_dummies (Using Underscores)
Even though it may or may not have direct SEO implications, if you use Underscores you could end up getting less traffic to your website. Because if a person were to search for:
Probablity of A Page Showing up
Hyphens or Underscores
Seo For Dummies
Basicially, the underscores page shows up only if the user types in the words along with the Underscore. Today search engines are better and may detect what you're looking for, but it is still less likely that it will show up. Here's a post by Matt Cutts
Decrease Your Bounce Rate
There are plenty of SEO professionals that say Bounce Rate kills a site. Well, yeah it does because you're not getting any business. However, in my personal opinion I say it doesn't matter as long as the person doesn't click the back button and return to the search results page.
A good site is one that provides a user with all the information they need with minimal clicks. So, if you're doing that right you may end up having a high bounce rate, does that make your site useless? - No way!
If people find what they're looking for on a single page of your site, they would probably not return back to the search results page (Hence even if your Analytic's account shows a high bounce rate, it wouldn't affect your rankings).
Search Engines can't track what people do once they get to your site, unless of course they go back to the search results page (As already explained above). So, don't get all disheartened juts because you read high bounce rates are bad. Instead evaluate your site and decide what you could do to improve it and offer people better information and products.
Advertisements Can Kill You
Almost all websites on the web either sell physical products, affiliate products or place some sort of ads in order to generate income. We know very well that most sites are business ventures and hence this is a necessity.
If you're going to be placing ads on your site, the following points may be helpful:
- Don't place too many ads above the fold - Most search engines these days, especially Google shuns sites that open with nothing but ads. One header ad is alright, as long as there's useful content above the fold too.
- Are you an Affiliate? If you are, you should know very well that people could always go directly to the parent site. So, make sure you provide something of real value. As a friendly Hubber Will Apse pointed out in a forum discussion recently, make sure you don't just copy and paste product descriptions. It's a well known fact, but there are quite a few people who still do it.
- Make sure the code of the ads doesn't hinder search engine bots from crawling your website.
Titles and Headers - SEO and Easy Reading
One of the most crucial parts of your content (In terms of ranking) is that of your Title and Headers because this is what tells search engines what your page is all about.
Of course, now they're smart enough to figure it out through the general content, but they still focus on headings to gain vital information. I'm not saying stuff your headings with keywords, that may have a negative effect in some cases. Instead, show search engine crawlers that your page has a variety of heading tags (And also regular content). They love well structured content.
I personally use <h1> through <h3> tags in almost all my work. This page has plenty of them too. The title has <h1> tags whereas headings are <h2> and subheadings<h3>. Apart from SEO I use them to make the text flow better so that it's easier for visitors to read.
Quick Overview - Just Found It
Meta Descriptions don't always show up, they do so only when search algorithms think it's relevant (Which is most of the time). So, make sure you have an appealing Meta Description to make people want to click through. Adding your keyword along with a call to action is the best thing to do.
The optimum length of meta descriptions is roughly around 155 characters. Take a look at this Moz page regarding Meta Descriptions they already cover it well. I don't want to repeat it.
Meta descriptions are written within quotes as under: <head> <meta name="description" content="This is just an example and will show in Search Results"> </head>
Rich Snippets Are Really Helpful
When browsing and searching for stuff online, you may have come across search results with star ratings and various other cool stuff on the search page itself. Have you wondered how they did this?
You could do this on your website as well. It's called structured markup. Take a look at this page on the Google Webmasters Page to know more about it.
Go Local and Go Social!
If you're business targets a specific locality, make sure that you focus your SEO tasks to ensure you rank better when people around you search for products and services you offer. You could do this by:
- Registering on Local Directories
- Signing up for Google Places
- Setting up your country in Google Webmaster Tools
The future of search is going to be social. So, while you've still got time go ahead and interact with your audience and customers. Answer their questions, conduct competitions and give away prizes. It's all going to payoff sooner or later.
Is Your Site Mobile Friendly?
Yes, this article may be titled "Seo for Dummies", but now even the simplest of sites need to be mobile. You've basically got two options:
- Build a Responsive website - Which is easy if you're using a CMS such as wordpress.
- Create a mobile site and re-direct mobile users to the site.
Responsive sites would surely be the best way forward, but if it's going to be too big an issue you could try what many old sites do and that is build a separate mobile friendly website.
Re-Work on Your Site
Once you've got your website up and running you're probably going to get many visitors. But, are they happy with what you have to offer? Would they like to see some improvements?
Ask them and you'll be surprised at the number of responses you receive. Ask your support staff to inform you about the most frequently asked questions, it's possible that you may have failed to answer it through your website.
I've not gone deep into any of the factors as the article was just based on "SEO for Dummies". There are plenty of other helpful resources that already talk about the above points in detail and a few helpful resources to keep you updated are posted on the right.
But know that, SEO keeps changing and every day is a new day and strategies you used yesterday may be obsolete today. So, keep in mind the future before you proceed. The best thing to do is to put your visitors priorities first and automatically search engines would be pleased.
After all, getting loads of traffic with no conversions is useless.
Veterans please note:
We've all got our very own ideas regarding SEO and there's no single way to do it. So if you've got something to say or if you disagree, feel free to leave a comment. I'm always open to friendly conversations.
Newbies, I'm ready to help:
Have you got questions that I've failed to answer through this article? If that's the case, feel free to leave a comment and I'll get back to you within 12 hours or so on most days with a detailed comment or a link to something that would help you out. In some cases I may even add a new section to the article, if I think it's relevant.