I’ve had a lot of people asking me about SEO lately, and it’s no wonder. For those of you who don’t know, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. In layman terms, it means things you can do to your website’s code to help it rank higher in a Google search for the words/phrases you want it to. Sound like a good thing? It sure is.
First I’d like to say, beware of businesses that offer SEO services and promise the world to you (such as a listing on the first page of a Google search within a week). There are two ways to optimize your website so it appears higher up in search engine results. One is ethical and the other is not. In the web world these are referred to as “white hat SEO” and “black hat SEO” (I’ll let you decide which is which). Black hat SEO uses tactics that attempt to fool search engines, such as adding huge amounts of hidden text to a page that contain your target keywords. The problem with these tactics is that Google is getting smarter all the time – and if Google at any time realizes what is going on, your site could be blacklisted and removed from their database.
So what does this so-called ethical way entail? In short, honestly building your target keywords and phrases into every level of your site – from your domain name and page content to your site files and title tags. Google lists the sites it deems most relevant to the keywords searched for. If you can make your site as relevant as possible to those words, you’re going to start seeing your site climbing the “Google ladder” as it were.
Below are seven (highly ethical) ways you can do some basic SEO for your website and improve your website’s search engine listings.
1) Choose your Target Keywords Wisely
At the heart of any effort to optimize a site for search engines reside your target keywords. These are the words or phrases that, when searched for on Google or any other search engine, you want your website to show up for. Once you have chosen your target keywords, you’re going to incorporate them into every level of your site – so it’s important to get them right. Try not to choose words that are going to have extremely high competition (such as “musician” or “artist”) but rather try to pinpoint some phrases that will have less competition (such as “jazz drummer nyc” or “portrait painter nyc”). How do you know which words and phrases have more or less competition? Luckily, there is great free tool online that will allow you to find out just that. Google’s Keyword Tool allows you to enter keywords and phrases to see how many searches there are for that each month, and how high the competition is among other websites.
A common misconception about keywords is that you should only use single words. Phrases are great because you will have less competition in searches, and the people who do search for your phrase will be much more likely to actually be interested in your website, as it will be highly relevant to their search. I’m sure by now you’ve noticed that relevance is the keyword in all of this – no pun intended! Another tip: don’t use what Google calls stop words. These are words that Google thinks are irrelevant and therefore ignores. They are: And, A, The, In, On, Of, Be, I and Me. Avoid using these in your keywords as they will only slow down the search engine’s assessment of your site. And finally, limit your group of keywords and/or phrases to around five. Having too many will only dilute their weight on your webpage. The more you use your phrases on your site, the more power they will hold (within reason – use them too often and Google will deem your site spam, potentially withholding it from search results).
2) Choose a Relevant Domain
Your domain name may hold the biggest weight when it comes to search engine results. This is why if your domain name is simply your full name, it is most likely guaranteed that when people do a search for your name, your site is going to come up first (that is, unless your name is Anna Smith or Joe Miller in which case you might have some competition). For artists, choosing your name for a domain is often a wise choice – but still, incorporating one of your keywords is something worth considering. I made my music site domain simply janellereichman.com, but I could have just as easily made it janellereichmansax.com or reichmansaxnyc.com for added punch with search engines.
3) Use Meta Tags
Meta tags are bits of text within your site’s code that provide valuable information for search engines. I will list the three main Meta tags here and show you how to use them. And don’t forget, when using these tags – use your keywords! All Meta tags should be placed between the <head> and </head> tags at the top of your webpage’s code. I will provide snapshots below that show this.
The Title Tag
This tag allows you to enter what will be the title of your webpage and show up at the top of a user’s Internet browser window. Your title will be the text between <title> and </title>. To give you an idea, in the title tag for this site is “Continuum Web Design | Websites for Artists” (shown below). Notice how it uses web design, websites and artists – three of my lovely keywords. Below is a snapshot of this page’s code so you can see these tags in action.
The Meta Description Tag
This tag allows you to enter a short paragraph length description of your site’s contents. This description will show up in search engine results directly beneath your site’s title (mentioned above). This is also an excellent place to use your keywords.
The Meta Keywords Tag
Because of heavy overuse and abuse, this tag doesn’t hold the weight it once did – but it’s worth using nonetheless. The keywords tag is just that – a place for you to list your keywords and phrases. Separate your keywords/phrases with commas, and put it directly beneath the Meta description tag. Below is a snapshot of the Meta Description and Meta Keywords tags.
4) Use Your Keywords in File Names
This means all site files – page files (such as about.html or gigs.html) and image files (does 38747203475.jpg sound familiar?). These are excellent places to use your keywords, so don’t miss out! For example, let’s say you are a flower shop owner. Instead of just about.html for the about page, why not make it about-flower-shop.html? No harm done, and you’ve just added relevance to your page for your designated keywords. Image files are another great way to use your keywords. Instead of nondescript image file names (such as the gobbledygook listed above), consider using image file names that relate to what the image is of – and then adding in one or a few of your keywords when appropriate and relevant.
5) Use Image Alt Tags
Alt stands for alternate. Image alt tags provide viewers with alternate information about your image when, for whatever reason, the image cannot be displayed. Alt tags are important to use for accessibility reasons (those using screen readers will be missing out on crucial information if you have no alt tags for your images) and they can also help you with your SEO. Below is an example of an image file in a webpage.
<img src=”images/continuum-website.jpg” alt=”artist website” />
Src stands for source and tells the browser where to find the image (notice that the image file name uses one of my target keywords) and after alt in quotes, you can enter your alternate text – using even more of your keywords.
6) Use Heading Tags
Heading tags range from <h1> to <h6> and are great places to put headings ranging in importance respectively. You would put your main heading and most important information within your <h1></h1> tags. Make sure that each page on your website has at least one <h1> tag and uses at least one or a few of your target keywords, as well as tells the viewer what is being communicated on that given page. Don’t use more than one or two <h1> tags on any one page or they will lose their value. Here’s an example of using a header tag:
<h1>Seven SEO Tips for Artists</h1>
7) Get linked to!
What I mean by this is, the more links there are on the Internet that direct to your website, the better your search engine listing will be. This is because if many sites are linking to yours, Google will deem your site a relevant one. You can do some of this on your own site. Within your site, link from each page to other pages (this will already be true if you have any kind of a navigational bar in place). Another way to do this would be to swap links with people you know – offer to them that you will link to their site if they link to yours. And finally, get your site listed on as many external sites as you can: directories, databases, etc. – anything you can think of. And again, beware of companies that aim to trick Google with link campaigns as they could really hurt you in the long run.
I hope this blog post has made SEO less of a mystery and has shown you some easy ways that you can improve your site’s search engine listing yourself. SEO doesn’t have to be rocket science – it’s just a matter of building your keywords naturally into your site’s contents – all of its contents.