How to Use SEO Basics to Help People Discover Your Website
If you are jumping into creating (or improving) your business website, you have probably heard how important search engine optimization (SEO) is. But, you might not really understand what it is and how to achieve it with your own site.
Sure, you know you might as well not have a website if it doesn't pop up when people search for what you are selling. But how do you feed the Google monster and get noticed? Let's get back to the basics - SEO basics!
How Search Engines Work: SEO Basics
Search engines use spiders (imagine little software robots under the command of the search engines) to crawl the internet. Spiders categorize and file pages on websites they find as they scan content and follow links. They are constantly revisiting websites in search of new content to file away in their search engine’s index. (Which is why it's important for you to regularly update your website!)
When you type words into a search engine, like Google, everything in that index that the search engine has decided is quality content gets searched. Quality content is determined by each search engine’s secret and ever-changing algorithms. Why secret? People try to game the system to get their content a high ranking. So, keeping the specifics hush-hush helps keep cheaters from gaining an unfair advantage.
Instead of wasting time trying to be tricky, you want to help the spiders do their job. The entire focus of SEO basics is helping the spiders index your content. You want to remove any barriers and show them your site is the bee’s knees!
Using well-researched keywords and perfectly crafted meta tags are great ways to feed those hungry spiders!
What’s in a Word? Unlocking Keywords
Keywords are the main words that people use to search on a search engine. Keywords are vital to help search engines know when to put your web page into search results.
However, overusing keywords, or “stuffing” your content, will ding your SEO. (Keyword stuffing is an old and ill-advised tactic that recommended listing a bunch of keywords on a page rather than using them within informational content.) So don’t try to outsmart the system!
Targeted Keywords: Get Specific and Get Better Rankings
When it comes to keywords, the more specific, the better. How specific? Let’s look at an example:
- Broad - Soap
- Targeted - Handmade soap
- Long-tail - All natural handmade cedarwood soap
As you see from our example, broad keywords are vague. Lots of competition makes them hard to rank for. Consequently, they are often referred to as vanity keywords. In addition, there are a lot of generic searches for broad keywords. They are extremely expensive to advertise for. And they have a lower conversion rate.
Broad keywords often have various meanings. “Soap” will return well over 300 million results when typed into a search engine. Topping those results is the Wikipedia page for "simple object access protocol" (SOAP, aka techie stuff), a sitcom named Soap that aired in the United States about four decades ago, and soap opera news and updates. (Not exactly what I had in mind!) You won't even see a reference to bar soap in the top results! Image results are largely stock photos and commercial brand images of bar and liquid soaps.
In short, ranking for broad keywords demand more work for fewer results when compared to other options.
While it would be pretty cool to see a handmade soap earn a high ranking for such a broad term, the amount of time and money needed to get there is prohibitive. (If you want to aim for that kind of ranking, make it a long-term goal.)
Targeted keywords are more specific than broad keywords. But, they are still relatively competitive to rank for. While their search volume and conversion rate are both decent, they are still somewhat expensive to advertise for.
Let’s go back to our example. A search for “handmade soap”, our targeted keyword example, returns over six million results. That’s a lot of results, but it's still a fraction of the results from our broad keyword. Top results include the bath and beauty section of Etsy, commercial soap businesses that use handmade terminology (i.e. Soaptopia), and well-established indie businesses that have been around for several years. The image search shows a similar mix with a few stock photos thrown in.
So, targeted keywords are slightly more specific than broad keywords. And, they offer a better conversion rate. They are still difficult to rank for. Many websites that rank for targeted keywords do so, in part, because of their longevity. Still, ranking for targeted keywords is more obtainable than ranking for broad keywords.
Long Tail Keywords
The most specific keywords are long tail keywords. Long tail keywords are phrases that usually consist of three or more words. Compared to broad and targeted keywords, long tail keywords are less competitive to rank for. There are also fewer searches for this category of keywords. However, most folks who search using long tail keywords have something very specific in mind. (Meaning they are more motivated to act on their search results!) That all adds up to the lowest advertising costs and the highest conversion rates.
“All-natural handmade cedarwood soap” only returns about a million hits when entered into a search engine. The top results are individual sellers from Amazon, eBay, and Etsy, along with a few indie businesses and commercial soap sites. Images are from marketplace sellers and indie biz sites, too.
Someone who searches for a long tail keyword is motivated to find very specific relevant products or information. Since fewer sites fit the bill, there is not a lot of competition in the arena. If you're just getting started with honing in on SEO basics, tackling long tail keywords is going to give you the best results the fastest!
Making the Most of Keywords
When you are creating content for your website, you want to keep in mind the specific keywords that you want to rank for on search engines. Don't simply use a keyword to use the keyword. Your content must be informative, valuable, or important when using keywords. Don't forget that you can use variations of the keyword throughout your content to cover all your bases.
There are two areas that many soap business owners forget to put keywords to work to conquer SEO basics, and that's within their images and links! (Bonus: these tips will also help your website be more accessible for screen readers and other assistive technology.)
When uploading images to the web, you can rank within the image results and also boost a specific page for keywords based on the images. You should always name your image files appropriately for the keywords and topics they'll be used for. (For instance, rather than uploading "DSC156484.jpg", you should rename the image to "all-natural-handmade-cedarwood-soap.jpg".)
You also want to use the alternative text of an image to describe the image using your keywords. This helps both SEO and accessibility! If you use Wordpress, Shopify, or any number of other website builders, you should have an input field for the alternative text when uploading an image. If not, you may need to dive into the HTML of the page and add the alt attribute to the image code yourself.
When it comes to your links, you also want to make sure that the link text is descriptive of the page being linked (and if possible, containing an important keyword for the linked page.) For instance, you do not want links that read "click here" - they should describe what you get when you click!
Meta Tag Mystery: Stay Search Engine Friendly
Metadata, in the most simple terms, is data about other data. If you take it back to old school, a library's card catalog is metadata. Each card hits the high points - title, author, subject - that describe each publication in the library.
Meta tags organize metadata into behind-the-scenes cheatsheets for those search engine spiders, telling them what each page on your site is all about. (Meta tags are not shown on the page to visitors, they are only in the source code.) Meta tags include the page's meta title, meta description, and meta keywords.
- Include your most important keyword in your meta title.
- Give each page a unique title.
- Your title should encourage searchers to visit the page.
- Ideally, your meta title will be 20-80 characters long. (100 characters is the max.)
- Describe the page using keywords.
- Avoid flowery language.
- Each page must have a unique description.
- Your description should encourage clicks.
- Using 100-160 characters is recommended, but 200 characters are the max allowed.
- Previously, meta keywords told search engines what keywords were important. Now, they are largely obsolete due to abuse.
Finding the Keywords that Work
As you have probably realized, utilizing the perfect keywords for your target customer is going to help you make huge strides toward improving your SEO. But what's the best way to narrow down your keyword options? And, be smart about using them?
- Research keywords with Google Keyword Planner.
- Use keywords appropriately in your meta tags.
- Use keywords and alternative keywords in your content. Alternative keywords have a similar meaning to your chosen keyword but use slightly different word choices or word order. (e.g. keyword: best all-natural handmade soap; alternative keywords: all-natural handmade soap, cedarwood all-natural handmade soap)
- Remember to target a variety of specific keywords throughout your website.
- Don’t stuff! Overuse of keywords can get you blacklisted from search engines.
Don't forget: as important as keywords are, they can only get you stellar SEO results if they are packaged in great content that is valuable to your targeted customers!
Are you feeling a little less lost in the world of search engine optimization? Have any questions about how to tackle SEO basics for your website? Leave a comment below.
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