Communicators everywhere are on a constant quest to find ways of putting their content in front of potential customers. One of the best ways is through search engines like Google, YouTube, Bing, and Yahoo.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of developing and designing web pages to gain organic traffic from targeted readers through search engines and is well-known to be one of the most cost-effective forms of online marketing. The first search engine result for any search term cannot be guaranteed due to heavy competition, mass information online, and a user’s tracking history or location, among other things; but websites and content can be structured to ensure that customers can find information when they need it.
“Search engine optimization affects only organic search results, not paid or ‘sponsored’ results such as Google AdWords.” 1
- Search is the #1 driver of web traffic, beating social media by over 300%
- 93% of online experiences begin with a search engine
- There are over 4 billion Google Searches every day
- 42% click the first organic search position on Google
- 75% of users never scroll past the first page
- 70% of links search users click are organic (means they ignore paid ads)
- 80% say they rarely or never click on paid ads
- 80% of unsuccessful searches result in a keyword refinement
- SEO leads have some of the highest close rates – averaging 15% (outbound leads like direct mail & print advertising have a 2% close rate)
The first priority for all web sites is to develop accurate and useful content for our site visitors – not for search engines. Content refers to any text published on the web. This generally refers to web pages, news releases, blog posts, social media, email, forums, and other means. It is quality content that drives our reputation and ultimately builds engagement and brand loyalty.
“Search engine optimization is about putting your site’s best foot forward when it comes to visibility in search engines, but your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.” – Google
Search engines have become far more sophisticated. It used to be that you could insert meta-descriptions and meta-keywords in the back-end of your website, and that would get you attention from search engines, regardless of whether your page content was pertinent to a user’s search. Now search engines analyze page content far more efficiently and return results that are very specific to a user’s search.
Content should be original and unique in order to provide value to our users.
Users will enter words into the search engines in order to find answers to their questions – these are called keywords.
Keywords are identified target phrases that will resonate with the online audience. These keywords can be identified as 1 word or 2-3 word phrases. Keywords should include complicated or detailed terms used by an experienced user and simple terms for a new user.
Keywords can be used within:
- Page Titles
- Page Headings H1-H2
- General paragraph content
- Image Filenames
- Body Text
- Image Alt Attributes
- Bold & Italic Text
Free Keyword tools & resources:
Effectively promoting content throughout all digital avenues will lead to increased discovery by users – and ultimately develop search engine optimization. This includes making announcements and promotions through social media, press releases, blogs, and other digital communications.
Some strategies for engagement and exposure can include:
- Social Media promotion
- Press Releases
- Google+ Integration
- Intentional RSS Feeds
- Directory Submissions
- Search Engine Submission
- Guest Bloggers
- Leverage existing business relationships to develop cross-linking
The following checklist will not guarantee that your content will appear as a top result, but it is a good place to ensure that you have established consistent best practices for your pages.
Overall Site Structure
Site Architecture: A simple navigational structure will organize content and make navigation easier for users and search engines.
- Breadcrumbs should be utilized to allow visitors to quickly navigate back to a previous section or root page. 1
- Four Site Maps should exist
- User Site Map: HTML Site Map will be available on a 404 “Page Not Found Error” in case users type in a wrong URL or get lost. 3
- Search Engines Site Map: XML Sitemap will be submitted to search engines to optimize their ability to crawl the website architecture. Google’s Sitemap Generator
- Image Sitemap: to organize images and optimize for search engine image search. 5
- Mobile Sitemap: unique mobile format and management is crucial for responsive design.6
- One version of a URL will be provided to reach a document. Subdomains and root directory access will be avoided.
URL Structure: Simple and organized URLs make it easier for search engines to read web pages and also make pages more enticing for others to reference.
- URLs should be dynamically written with relevant words that help define what the page is about, not just ID numbers.
- Hyphens (-) should be used over underscores(_).
- A 301 redirect should be used from non-preferred URLs.
TITLE Tags: A title tag defines the page topic for users and will be the first line of a search engine result.
- Every web page should have a short and informative unique title.
- The <title> tag should be placed within the <head> tag of the HTML document.
META Descriptions: A meta tag defines the page topic for search engines.
- Every web page should have a brief and informative unique meta tag with more information than just keywords.
- Avoid generic descriptions like “this is a web page” or “page about medicine”
- Google’s Content Analysis Tool should be used to build meta tags.
- The <meta name> tag should be placed within the <head> tag of the HTML document.
Within Page Content
Anchor Text: Anchor text is the clickable text on a link that tells users and search engines about the linked page.
- Anchor text should be short and informative.
- Links should be formatted to be easy to find and navigate.
Images: Images should be included to provide value and visual interest to pages. They should be organized in one media file directory and include:
- should be distinct and descriptive (including the defined JPEG, GIF, PNG, or BMP format)
- “alt” text
- Should be defined to provide alternative text for the image to be viewed by screen readers and indexed within Google Image Search
- Should be brief and descriptive, with identified keywords if it works well
Heading Tags: Heading tags are a visual cue to users that the text is important and helps organize the content hierarchical structure.
- Multiple sizes should be available for <H1> through <H6>
- Should act like an outline to organize the main points of the document
- Headings should be used sparingly
Robots.txt: A “robots.txt” file allows search engines to access and crawl a website. It is placed in the root directory and is named “robots.txt”. Specific pages can be omitted if desired.
Webmaster Tools: Google & Yahoo/Bing offer webmaster tools that help improve a site’s performance, content, and structure. Analytics and goals may identified and used in order to develop digital communication strategy.“nofollow”: Links can be identified as “nofollow” to inform search engines that some information shouldn’t be cross linked. This is ideal for blog comments & message boards to avoid spam.
- Google, Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide, http://goo.gl/ji7N, Last Accessed 3/25/ 2013
- Google, Webmaster Tools, URL Structure, http://support.google.com/webmasters/bin/answer.py?hl=en&answer=76329, Last Accessed 3/25/2013
- Google’s 404 Widget, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/08/make-your-404-pages-more-useful.html
- Google’s Sitemap Generator, https://code.google.com/p/googlesitemapgenerator/
- Google Webmaster Tools, Image Sitemaps, https://support.google.com/webmasters/answer/178636?hl=en
- Google Webmaster Tools, Mobile Sitemap, http://goo.gl/XMlMx
- Google Webmaster Tools, www.google.com/webmasters/tools/
- Yahoo & Bing Webmaster Tools, www.bing.com/toolbox/webmaster