Why all the fuss over SEO?

Just about every savvy company thinks they need an SEO manager or SEO expert.  After all, SEO is the key to being found on Google and other search engines.  I understand the need to be found on page 1 of search.Best place to hide a dead body  I realize that that the best place to hide a dead body is on page two of a Google search.  However, the question I wonder about is why are people so focused on the unique skill of SEO? Should SEO be afforded its own byline on a job description the way computer literacy once was? Is it such a unique skill that people need to be sought out for their mastery? Or, as I am beginning to think, is SEO literacy more akin to mastery of Microsoft Office?

Now, before I go any further in proffering up what I think is important, I’d like to tell you that I’m not the only one out there who is saying that most SEO is straight forward stuff. When I first started thinking this way, I thought that I was contemplating heresy.  My feeling was that the task of SEO, while requiring some knowledge, is not especially complicated. You simply have to pay attention to a given number of variables over the pages of your website.  In my angst, I posed my heretical thoughts to several individuals who work with SEO on a daily basis and most (surprise?) agreed with me. Moreover, they decried the individuals who try to make the simple look complicated in the name of job security. What these professionals know and I am learning is that there are some basic rules to follow when implementing SEO. So what are these golden rules?  Here is a shortlist:

Develop a keyword list

As Rand Fishkin’s moz.com notes, “[i]t all begins with words typed into a search box.” Think about what words people will use to search for you or your product. If you are selling a dog walking service then people will probably use terms like dog walker, dog walking, dog care, dog daycare or dog exercise when they are thinking about having someone walk their dog. So, make a list of these words and use them in your content.

how to create a keyword search
From ppc.org

You can also use Google’s Webmaster tools to see what terms people are using to find your site.  Look under Search Queries to find this information. If folks are not finding you based on the terms you think they should then you need to rethink your keyword strategy. Also, if they are finding you based on terms you didn’t think were relevant then consider how you can better incorporate these terms into your search.

Also, if you are a local business, make sure your content focuses on local content.  According to Search Engine Journal, “[i]n order for small businesses to reach their target audiences, which are often geo-specific, they must ensure that they are ranking high in these local searches.” That means you need to associate your content with the physical location. For example, a dog walker in Boston might want to include references to the Boston Common.

Create good, quality content so people will want to visit your site

This brings me to the second golden rule of SEO which is to create content that people want to read. Going back to the dog walking service, you can think of numerous topics that will interest dog owners. For example, you can have pages that discuss what type of exercise is best for dogs.  You could write about how far or for how long you should walk your dog. Also, you could write about how much exercise is needed at various ages for an animal. By answering these questions, not only will you be creating content that is relevant to busy dog owners but you’ll give them an opportunity to know and trust your product.

Create quality links and share

One of the most important ways to get found on search is by having quality links to your site. If you are a dog walking service, having other businesses that cater to dogs linking to your site is really important. You can imagine that there are dog daycare centers or dog grooming businesses that would want to better serve customers by letting them know about these additional services.

Also, sharing content on social networks is indeed important. Most businesses are aware of the importance of social networks for distributing their content. While best practices on social networks are a whole separate blog article, it is key that businesses choose the network(s) that are most relevant to their audience and become active on them. Rather than choosing to attack all networks at once, it makes sense to choose the one or two networks where your customers are likely to live and start posting content on them.

Build a beautiful website with clean, spiderable HTML

Have you ever seen a website that looks like it needs to attend a beauty shop? What was your reaction to the site? Stay or leave? Most likely you chose to leave. Why? You left because the site was unattractive or perhaps it didn’t answer your questions. Now think about a really attractive site. Maybe Nike.com?  Now, I know that very few individuals could afford to build a site like Nike’s, however my message is simply that you choose to spend time on the site because it is attractive. So hire a graphic artist to improve your site; it will be money well spent.

IMAGE NOT FOUNDIn addition to beauty, you need to make your site intuitive and easy to follow. If it’s easy for humans to follow then search engines will have an easy time combing your site as well. Make it clear to the user how to get to the information they want to find.  Also, avoid using Flash files, Java applets and non-text files. If you have lots of your content as images then search engines WILL NOT be able to find the content.  You want to use text generously throughout your site.

You might have heard that it is important to use appropriate tagging on your site. It used to be that all SEO was about having the appropriate words in your <meta> tags. This is no longer the case. There are a couple of straight forward techniques that a company should follow here such as ensuring they have filled out the <title></title> tags appropriately, including  appropriate meta <meta> descriptions and  making sure images have <alt> tags included. Today, SEO is much more about having appropriate content and much less about tag management.

Don’t be that guy – avoid black hat techniques

The last point here is to avoid what experts call “black hat techniques”. This is a fancy term for keyword stuffing. Essentially, you should not use devious tactics to include keywords on your page. These tactics include using the same keyword multiple times on your page even when it seems redundant and unnecessary.  Another example is using a keyword multiple times on the page in a color that makes the words not visible to the reader but visible to the search engines. There are probably other tricks but in the end they are all spam. DON’T USE THEM!

Conclusion

What I have written here is just a primer. It is not meant to be exhaustive. Before implementing any of these techniques, I recommend reading a few (not a hundred) more articles on best practices for each. In my reading, I have found Rand Fishkin’s MOZ,  Search Engine Journal and Google’s own self-starter guide to be quite helpful.

The good news though is that if you follow these rules you’ll be able to achieve your SEO goals without needing to hire a dedicated SEO specialist.

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