SEO In A Nutshell June 19, 2016 I’ve had several customers inquire about SEO lately, so I decided to write this short essay on the basics of it. SEO, or search engine optimization, is a broad topic. Indeed, there are individuals and companies out there that have built very large and successful businesses by helping website owners improve their website’s search engine page rank (which means how near the top of results returned by user searches on Google, Bing, and the other search engines a website’s listing appears). There’s tons of info out there on the subject, and countless theories and methodologies that claim to hold the secret to “coming up #1” on Google searches. Some work better than others, while some don’t work at all, but all of them usually require significant investments in both time and money. My purpose here is not to discourage further research (or subsequent action) on the matter, but rather to provide a basic understanding of the current consensus among SEO experts regarding what Google, Bing and the other search engines take into account when assigning your website it’s page rank. If you’re aware of these things, you’ll be far better prepared to take whatever subsequent steps you deem necessary in order to improve your website’s online visibility. Your Search Engine Ranking is based on the following things: 1.) The quality of your page content. Google’s stated objective is to provide it’s users with a “quality search experience”, so the quality and relevance of website content is their primary consideration. They also favor sites with content that is fresh, and frequently updated. That’s why having some kind of blog or news section with recently added – and original – material is always a good idea. Also, the more specifically you can orient your material – both in terms of subject matter as well as geographic location – the better your chances of obtaining a high search engine page rank. 2.) The structure of your page content. Obviously, in order for Google, Bing and the other search engines to designate a website as having a superior quality of content, their “bots” (automated programs that continuously visit and catalogue websites) have to be able to interpret it as such. Consequently, it’s critical that the programatic structure be as optimized as possible. Moreover, in addition to technical things like image file naming and tag structure, things like keyword density, link anchor text and other content-placement considerations need to be given proper attention. It’s important to realize as well that in many cases, it would be less expensive – and more effective – to simply get a new website that’s properly constructed with these SEO considerations from the ground up, than it would be to contract a third-party SEO resource to attempt to patch and correct structural inadequacies in your current website. 3.) Mobile-friendliness of your page. Surveys have consistently shown that half – or more – of all web content is now consumed using mobile devices. Google has therefore announced that mobile-friendly websites will definitively enjoy a higher page rank. At this point in history, regardless of anything else, if you’re website is not mobile friendly it’s almost certainly assigned an inferior page rank. 4.) The quality of inbound links (NOT the quantity). OK. This one is the Big Kahuna! The core premise behind a search engine has remained the same for the past decade and a half; namely, the presumption that inbound link popularity means quality content. However, Google, Bing and the other search engines have become quite sophisticated in their ability to determine the authenticity of inbound links (sometimes called “backlinks”). They’re wise to once popular link-farming schemes. Likewise, commercial link exchange programs and even voluntary reciprocal links between websites of unrelated subject matter are now practically worthless. Google also frowns upon any type of paid-for link system. Granted, paid-for links are not always easy to detect, but when they are, Google expects the “no follow” attribute to be assigned to the link so that it doesn’t influence search results. The bottom line is that Google is smart, and attempting to influence page rank through any covert or underhanded means will not only fail to help your page rank, but could actually spur Google into penalizing you! Build your website for people, NOT for search Engines. That’s Google’s golden rule. It’s also important to understand that all backlinks are not created equal. A single backlink from a popular, high-traffic website can be worth a thousand (or more!) backlinks from obscure sites that get almost no visits. Additionally, the subject matter of the referring site must be related to that of YOUR website for the backlink to provide any SEO benefit. By the same token, Google, Bing and the other search engines also prefer the CONTEXT of backlinks to be organic, meaning that they’re placed within body copy of the referring page as a legitimate reference to the topic at hand, and not simply within a generic list or ad banner set as an afterthought. All of this can be a little intimidating, but there are several things you can do to properly and effectively increase your website’s link popularity. First, make sure you’re offering something of genuine – and unique – value. In addition to making sure that your website content is high-quality, original and frequently updated, try giving something away. It could be something like a specialized online calculator or other such tool, or some free information that’s only available from you. That’s the kind of thing that will inspire other webmasters to link to you without even asking them to. However, you shouldn’t be reluctant to ask directly! You’d be surprised at how many people will gladly give you a shout-out from within their blog if you simply let them know that you’re there. Also, it’s important to regularly issue press releases and do other forms of self-promotion. That’s what gets you backlinks from local media outlets, as well as popular trade journals and specialty publications, which are among the most effective backlinks in terms of their SEO value. Don’t forget too, that your social media footprint will also go along way toward helping you publicize new offerings on your website. Make sure you maintain a strong – and current – presence on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus, etc. Finally, there’s two other things that I generally encourage my clients to do. If you don’t already have one, a Universal Business Listing (www.ubl.org) is well worth the annual fee. It will quickly get you listed in a plethora of local search engines and directories, many of which the larger search engines such as Google and Bing consider to be quality backlinks. Also, promotional products and services from the search engines themselves, such as Google Adwords, can be very effective and are also reasonably economical, provided that your target subject is somewhat specialized and your target audience is somewhat more geographically localized. 5.) The duration of average visits to your website. If your website employs Google Analytics (and if it doesn’t, it should), you’ll see that Google knows things like the bounce rate (the percentage of visitors who click away from your website after visiting just one page) and how long visitors typically spend on your website. Google now presumes that websites that average longer user session durations by definition have superior content – which of course, means a higher search engine page rank. Therefore, whatever you can do to hold visitor attention for longer lengths of time will work to improve your search engine positioning. Interactive slide shows, presentations or user-driven applications are great ways to grab and hold visitor attention for a few minutes. Another obvious such method is to include video on your website. Mind you, website video is NOT a substitution for text content, because obviously, Google, Bing and the other search engines can’t read and analyze video the way they can text content. Consequently, video should be used to supplement your written content, and to engage visitors for longer periods of time than written content alone can. Remember too, that YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world – second only to Google – so if you don’t yet have a YouTube channel, you need to get one and start populating it with videos that tell the world who you are and what you have to offer! These are the fundamental principals of the present SEO paradigm. While SEO is an ever-changing field of endeavor, if you adhere to these basic guidelines, your website will naturally enjoy a reasonably high page rank – and remember, Coastal Graphics can help you with any or all of these tasks, and for a lot less than you probably think! Contact us today to find out how.