I consider myself to be a very active participant of social media, and agree that it offers a lot of interesting opportunities. However, I think it’s important for us to avoid getting so caught up in the social media whirlwind that we forget about good old fashioned SEO (Search Engine Optimization).
Think about it this way: When you go to your financial advisor, he would never recommend that you put your entire net worth into a single stock. Well, any good Internet marketing consultant will tell you the same thing about your online marketing strategy. The most effective strategies are those that are well diversified between social media, natural search and paid search.
In today’s post, we’re going to focus exclusively on the natural search piece of the puzzle. Since paid search and Google+ Local would require their own dedicated posts, hopefully HostGator will invite me back in the future to discuss those topics.
To help you get started in the right direction, I’ve assembled a list of twenty-one ways small businesses can make their websites more “Google friendly.” This will also benefit your rankings in Yahoo and Bing. Before we dive in, I want to point out that this list assumes you’ve already done keyword research to identify your target keywords. If you haven’t had a chance to do that, bookmark this page, research what keywords you should optimize your website for, and then come back and dive right in:
Have good title tags: Not only do title tags tell search engines what your site is about, but compelling title tags will also give users a reason to click through to your website when it appears in their search results.
Have well-written meta descriptions: Since a meta description is used to provide the text under the title link in search results, you want to write really good ones that contain keywords and accurately describe the different pages of your site. If you’re using WordPress, you can use the WordPress SEO by Yoast to help with both title tags and meta descriptions.
Use keywords in your internal link anchor text: Search engines pay a lot of attention to the links on your site, along with the words that you use in them. Instead of using phrases like “click here” or “for more information,” use anchor text that contains keywords and tells users where they will be going. However, only do this when it’s natural and will make sense to visitors. Be sure not to get too key wordy with this. Example if your business services page is about blue widget repair you could use “blue widget repair” for your internal link anchor text or maybe just “widget repair” is you do more than just blue widgets, but you wouldn’t want to use “blue widget repair in Houston” because it sounds forced and unnatural (too key wordy).
Use relevant keywords in your general copy (but don’t overdo it): This can be tricky, but it’s worth the effort. While some people will say you should ONLY write for humans and others will say you should write for search engines, the truth is that you need to find a balance between the two. While stuffing a keyword into your content dozens of times will sound ridiculous when humans read it and could trigger an “over-optimization penalty”, you can find creative ways to include a couple of keywords for search engines to come across. It’s usually sufficient if you use your keywords a few times in your copy, as well as once in the title, heading or subheading of the page.
Use a good link structure: Instead of domainname.com/page.html, it’s better to use a structure like domainname.com/descriptivekeyword.html. If you’re using WordPress, you’ll want to change the default permalink structure. As with most keyword tips, moderation is key. Don’t go “over the top” with long keyword phrases!
Use descriptive alt text and titles on images: All images on your website should have alt tags (alternative text) and titles. Alt tags are used to describe the image, and in the event that the server cannot find the image it’s looking for, this text will display to visitors. This text also improves the accessibility of your pages, and helps visitors like those who have a visual impairment and use a screen reader. Alt tags are also a great opportunity to legitimately add some extra keywords to a page.
Use descriptive filenames for images: If you have an image of a frog, instead of something generic like 1.jpg, you should name the file frog-1.jpg.
Have an XML sitemap: An XML sitemap is a coded sitemap that makes it easier for search engine spiders to index all the pages of your website. WordPress users can create one with the Google XML Sitemaps plugin, while other website owners with a standard HTML site can use the XML Sitemaps Generator. Once it’s created, you’ll want to register your sitemap with Google Webmaster Tools.
Have an HTML sitemap: Putting an HTML sitemap on your website will not only make it easier for Google to crawl your deep content, but will also provide users with a better navigational experience.
Use keywords in heads and subheads: An important aspect of basic on-page optimization, this allows you to tell Google and users exactly what your website is all about.
Have a clean link structure: Instead of cluttering your HTML with style attributes, use CSS to style your website without hindering search engine spiders from crawling your code.
Validate your source code: Like the tip above, validating your source code will ensure that search engine spiders don’t run into any technical difficulties when crawling your website.
Focus on homepage optimization: This is the most important page of your website, and the key to your site being found by search engines. Your homepage should be easy to understand and summarize the rest of your website. Your homepage should also have your main keywords spread throughout the title, heading, content and alt tags of the homepage. Just remember to keep things natural and avoid the temptation to stuff in too many keywords.
Start a link building campaign: Having quality inbound links shows Google that your site can be trusted. When it comes to inbound links, “quality” is the most important word. For example, a link you get from publishing a great guest post is going to be worth a lot more than multiple links from borderline spammy directories. Also be sure not to go nuts with “exact match” anchor text, or you could actually see yourself losing rankings for your desired keyword phrases. Click here for a quick primer on the different kinds of anchor text and how to use them.
Guest post frequently: In addition to helping you build links, this will also allow you to network with other people in your industry, which can lead to them linking to you on additional occasions. Just be aware that there’s a big difference between the right way and the wrong way to do this!
Have a company blog on your website: The nice thing about this one is it can also aid in your social media efforts. A blog can be used to communicate directly to your customers, as well as demonstrate your expertise in your field. And in regards to SEO, publishing new content will ensure your website is being crawled on a regular basis. Consistent blogging is also a great way to naturally attract incoming links.
Avoid most WYSIWYG HTML editors: The reason it’s generally best to avoid most WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) editors is because they will add a lot of clutter and junk to your source code. This can make it difficult for search engines to pick out the content that’s actually important. While I haven’t had many problems with the editor in WordPress, an example of a troublesome editor is the one included with cPanel.
Have a robots.txt file: As mentioned above, you can create this file with Google Webmaster Tools. The main benefit of a robots.txt file is you can tell Google if there are any pages of your site that you don’t want indexed.
Add your business listing to Google Places for Business: While Google’s frequent name changes of their local service can be confusing, all you need to do is click that link, add your business listing and then you’ll be good to go. While optimizing for Google+ Local (which is the current name of this Google Maps section) is beyond the scope of this post, if you just add your business listing there, you’ll already be way ahead of many businesses. Also, you can check out a breakdown of Google’s recent changes in this article.
Last but not least: While this one only applies to WordPress users, because it will automatically do many of the things we’ve discussed today, I highly recommend installing the free WordPress SEO plugin.
Now that I’ve covered a lot of the things that you should do, I’d also like to list a few common but deadly Internet marketing mistakes I see businesses make on a regular basis. You can also click here for a more extensive list.
- Not having a professionally designed website: If your site doesn’t look professional or trustworthy, visitors aren’t going to stick around long enough to become a lead or customer.
- Doing nothing else after getting a website up: Since the Internet is extremely competitive, if you want results, you have to consistently promote your site through channels like organic search and social media.
- Attempting to save money by going with the cheapest vendor: Given that a bad SEO provider can literally get your website kicked out of Google’s search results, it’s not worth risking your entire online presence over trying to save a little money.
- Not having a clear call to action above the fold: Whether you want visitors to sign up for your mailing list or make a direct purchase, you need to let them know what to do. If visitors have no idea what to do once they reach your site, you’re going to be very disappointed with your conversion metrics.
- Not enlisting professional help: Because you’ve already got so much on your plate, the smart thing to do is enlist help from a reliable professional so that you can stay focused on the things you do best.
- Not setting up conversion tracking: While basic Google Analytics data is helpful, it’s really only the tip of the iceberg. If you want data that’s truly actionable, you need to set up conversion goals and call tracking for your site.
If you have any questions about the tips outlined in this please let me know in the comments section.
Gerald Weber is the founder of sem-group.net in Houston Texas and co-founder of viralcontentbuzz.com which is the free platform that helps bloggers generate REAL “social buzz” on quality content. Follow Gerald on Google+ to learn more.