What can you do to rank better in search results? Enter “The DaVinci Code” of marketing: SEO a.k.a. Search Engine Optimization. There’s a big secret (Google’s algorithm), a holy grail (rankings) and even good (white hat techniques) versus evil (black hat techniques).
We’re going to keep it simple with eight basic things that can help startups, social entrepreneurs, small businesses and solopreneurs get more love from Google. These are all 100% white hat because that’s how we roll.
1. Write for real people and forget SEO
On your first draft, forget all about SEO and write your heart out about something that really matters to your clients. If you are worrying about what Google will think, it will be hard to write something engaging. And ultimately, your content is meant to inspire real people to take action. Write first, then edit for SEO.
2. Know your keywords
A keyword is what people enter into Google when they search for something. It can be a single word (“unicorn”) or a phrase (“pre-owned unicorns San Francisco”). What are some keywords that might lead people to your page or blog post?
Keyword research is a topic unto itself, but here’s a down and dirty way to get the started if this is new to you.
If you are using Google Analyics (and you should be!) check out the keywords that have already led people onto your site. Then surf on over to the free Google Keywords Tool and plug in a few of your keywords. Google will kick out some alternatives. Jot down ones that resonate with you and that get at least 3,000 searches per month.
If your article is on buying a pre-owned unicorn you might find:
- “pre-owned unicorn”
- “used unicorns”
- “negotiating tips for pre-owned unicorns”
- “buy a used unicorn”
- “buying tips unicorn”
Think of this as an exercise in empathy. You are trying to find the words that people would use to describe what they are searching for.
3. Keywords in your content
Now that you have your list of keywords, check through your content and pepper in your keywords. Use a light touch here. Make it natural. We want your original voice to sing, but give Google a few notes to grab.
4. Keywords in your page title & URL
Google pays more attention to your page title and URL than to the paragraph text, so work in some keywords.
- Bad for SEO: http://www.unicornfancypants.com/home
- Better for SEO: http://www.unicornfancypants.com/buy-used-unicorn-tips
Example page titles:
- Bad for SEO: Mystical Creature Fanciers: Pony Up for a One Horned Wonder
- Better for SEO: Buying Your First Pre-Owned Unicorn: Tips and Tricks
5. Keywords in your headings
Breaking up the text on your page with headings helps people to skim your article and zero in on the stuff that’s most relevant to them. It’s also good for SEO because Google looks more carefully at headings than paragraph content. How you create these headings matters. If you’re using WordPress or another CMS and you simply bold or underline your text, Google doesn’t know it’s a heading. You need to wrap the text in a heading tag.
If you are using WordPress, you can do this in the Visual Editor by highlighting your text, selecting the “kitchen sink button” and then choosing one of the heading tags from the format drop down menu.
6. Add keywords to your images
Google can’t read any text inside images (jpg, png, gif), but there are a few places where you can add keywords to the images that Google pays special attention. Again, don’t go overboard and stuff a long string of keywords into any of these places.
- The file name of the image. Don’t use a default name like IMG-1534.jpg, give it a real name that people and Google can understand. (ex. pre-owned-unicorns.jpg)
- The title tag. This is that little bit of text that shows up when you roll your cursor over the image. (ex. Negotiating with Unicorn Salespeople)
- The alt text. This is what screen readers narrate to vision-impaired folk. Using these tags is good for real people, not just Google! (ex. Man negotiates with a pre-owned unicorn salesman)
7. Link with good anchor text
Google pays special attention to the anchor text you use when you create a link. Linking up click here is a wasted opportunity. Instead, write descriptive anchor text for your links, such as: Get a free copy of the Pre-owned Unicorn Buyers Guide 2010.
8. Get the word out
Up till now, we’ve focused on your remarkable, relevant content. Google also looks to see how many pages link to you and how reputable those pages are. When people link to your page, it helps your search ranking. Social media like Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook can help you spread the word about your awesome content.
SEO is a huge and challenging topic. That’s exactly how Google wants it. They constantly fiddle with the secret sauce to keep people from gaming the system.
If you want to know more about SEO, why not go straight to the source? Matt Cutts from the Web Spam team at Google gave an engaging and easy-to-follow talk at WordCamp SF 2009, but it’s still relevant.