SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) is vitally important and directly relates to the success of your website. It is a known fact that the best way to get traffic to your website is by simply having your site show up in the first page or two of the major search engine's results. Visitors that come in from those search engine results pages (referred to as SERP’s) have two main things going for them - they are more likely to buy or use your service, and they didn't cost you any money to get there. Getting your site onto those first two pages is not easy and you have to be aware of the latest tactics and methods to keep ahead of your competitors
Yes, competitors. Many people aren't aware of the competitive nature of SERPs positioning, but it is. Keep in mind that you are ranked in comparison with the other sites in the results. If the search engine thinks that your content is more relevant, then you rank higher, if it is determined that your content is less relevant, then your site falls in the results. If they know what they are doing, the other sites showing up for the searches you wish to rank high in are watching you, and the other sites on the first two pages to see what they are doing, and if they are rising or falling.
So how do you ensure that you can rank well against the other sites out there and rise in the SERPs? Let’s assume that there are only three search engines, because frankly, Google, Yahoo, and MSN (in that order) represent the vast majority of searches, and Google tops the list, so let’s focus only on Google because if you do right by them, what you do will be good for other search engines as well.
Before moving on it's important that you understand the nature of SEO. It is not an exact science. Google doesn’t divulge too much information and the reason for this is simple: if they revealed exactly how their logic works, it would be exploited, and this has happened before. The methods for performing SEO are based upon the trial and error to ascertain what works and what doesn't and what will get your site unindexed - or worse case scenario - banned.
This is important. There are good and bad ways to optimise your site. The bad ways are called 'Black Hat'. Sure, they may work for awhile, and some Google can't (or doesn't bother to) pick up automatically. However you can report a site to Google as using Black Hat SEO tactics and Google will remove that site from the index (meaning it won't show up in search results). Removing a site from the index is usually only done for a certain amount of time and can be appealable. Banning is far more severe and banned sites are often gone for good with no way to get Google to add it back to their index. Beware of a lot of things that seem shady. If you think they are shady, chances are that Google will think so too and your competition won't hesitate to report you.
There are two ways to optimise your site ...
On Page Optimisation
This is what most people think of when they think of SEO. In reality it is the less effective of the two methods, though as Google improves its ability to determine real content from rubbish it is getting more valuable. A bit of history first.
Back when website owners started realising the importance of rank in the SERPs, they started adding all sorts of content to their sites to improve their ranking. The most common of these was the meta keywords. These are words that are placed in the code on a website that tell the search engines what the site is about. Years ago the search engines believed these keywords, but they don't anymore. The keyword system was abused by putting competitors names in them, or by even putting completely bogus words in. A site looking to sell more jeans would put Britney Spears in their keywords to get people to visit them inadvertently. Therefore, keywords play very little importance anymore, and it is widely acknowledged that Google doesn’t take any notice of them at all.
As the search engines got wise to the whole bogus keywords carry-on, they started looking at all of the content on a website. They can only read text, so images and animated graphics (like flash) were ignored, so you may ask how they can know what a site is about? They asked themselves the same question and came up with an obvious answer: they can't. But other humans can. This is called 'Off Page Optimisation' and is covered in the second type of optimisation.
They never really disregarded the website entirely, but they lowered its importance in their overall factoring of a page's importance and relevancy. However, as their knowledge increases and they have more computing power to analyse content, search engines are starting to consider the page's content as being increasingly more important. They can often discern the difference between human generated and computer generated text, and can tell if the content on a page is relevant to a particular topic or not. As they do this more, the page itself will continue to get more important.
There used to be a lot of tactics and tricks to get the search engines to pay more attention to websites, but the number one tip is now this: Content should be “human readable” (don't try to write it to load it with terms and keywords) that has value and real relevancy. Make sure that you do use the words and phrases you think people will search for, and do use them more than once, but don't go overboard. Bold text and using larger fonts (and H1 tags) also helps, but shouldn’t be overdone.
Here's a quick rundown of things to check.
If it’s been a long time since your website was checked out, have us make sure the page title is descriptive and varies on each page.
Once again, if it’s some time since any work has been done on your site, have us check the meta description tag and make sure it is fully optimised as this is what most search engines show as the blurb about your site on the results page.
Make sure there are relevant keywords in your copy more than once on each page and important text can be made bolder if it fits in with the overall design.
Make sure that images have alt tags (the text that shows up on mouseover). It lets the search engines know what the image is about and can cause your images to show up on the Google image search. Use title tags on your links. It will help the search engines know more about the page you are linking to and improve relevancy. Don't put too many links to other sites as links out lower your page's importance.
Off Page Optimisation
This is also called 'Off Site Optimisation' which is a misnomer. Search engines care little about 'websites' and care more about 'web pages'. The reason for this is that they don't link to a site, they link to a page. So what is this mysterious type of SEO you ask? Well, if you read the “on page” part above you will have learned that Google and the other search engines decided that they couldn't trust the page itself too much as too many people put fake content on a page to generate traffic. So they decided that the best way to know if a page was relevant was to let people do it for them.
How do they make this work? Well, they simply look at who links to you and what their page is about. If your page is about sewing, and another page that Google knows people like is also about sewing and it links to you, then your page is probably not misrepresenting itself. This is the driving force behind what is called 'PageRank'. PageRank is essentially a calculation of the importance of the pages linking to you versus the relevancy of your content to those pages. If a page about real estate links to a page about donuts, then chances are that the search engines won't assign any importance to that link, but links between pages of similar content have high importance.
There is also a nebulous thing that we know exists, but don't know how to quantify - it is the matter of how much a search engine trusts a site. Sites with high trust have their outbound links given more importance than sites the search engine does not trust. An easy way to determine if a site is trustworthy or not is to think about it yourself - the staff at the search engines are human, generally they will trust and distrust the same sites you do.
Link/Banner farms - sites with nothing but links to various other sites. These used to work, but the search engines wised up and now having a link farm link to you will hurt, not help.
Sites with a lot of advertising on them - The search engines know that these sites are mostly computer generated and have no valuable content, and so pay little heed to what they link to.
Black Hat Sites - sites that use questionable SEO tactics aren't ones that you want linking to you. Google is suspicious of them, so avoid them if possible.
Directories - There are two types of directories. Automatic and human verified. Google knows which are which and if your site is listed on a human verified directory (meaning that someone looked at your site and verified that your description and content match the category you chose to have it listed in) then it knows that your content is relevant to the description you gave. Find the directories for your market (just Google things like “widgets directory” or whatever your niche/market is and you'll find some to list in.
News Sites - Many news sites allow you to post comments on them. Don't spam, but find some relevant articles to your site and post a few comments. It’s not advised that you place your link right in the article (unless you think it applies) but rather have your link in your profile.
Sites with high PageRank - This is key. There is little point having sites with no page rank link to your site with no page rank. You want sites with high page rank linking to you. Install the Google toolbar (CLICK HERE) and select yes when it asks if you want to view PageRank. This will let you know how other sites rank and help you determine where to try to get links.
There are a lot of other tips and information out there, but there’s also a lot of useless software and ebooks which will tell you no more than what is written above. We suggest you focus on niche research and ensuring your site is regularly updated with valuable, relevant content and of course constantly work towards getting quality links to your website.