Search Engine Optimization – Part 1

Search Engine Optimization or SEO on a WordPress based web site is not that difficult when you know what you are doing. There are a lot of things you can change with your site that will give you a better chance of being picked up properly by the search engines.

Right now the big dog on the field is Google. Google has approximately 68 percent of the US search market. Following Google is Bing with about 19% and third place Yahoo has about 10 percent of the search engine market. Everyone else falls in the remaining 2% of searches. So when you’re optimizing your website it pays to optimize for Google Google first, Bing and Yahoo second. Approximately 13 billion searches a month are run through Google. You’re going to get the most bang for your buck if you focus on Google first. It’s been my experience that optimizing for Google will usually get you good results with the others.

Google and Readability

Properly doing Search Engine Optimization for Google can be a challenge. They regularly change the way they look at things. So what worked six months ago or two years ago doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll work today and in fact can work against you. When you are trying to optimize your site for Google a lot of people will suggest things that fall under what’s referred to as “black hat “techniques. These techniques are the underhanded little tricks that may get you a good result short term but when you are caught will hurt you significantly and get caught you will. So I recommend staying away from these things which include black text on a black background, or using the same word over and over and over again to try to basically flood the search engine and get an artificial high score. Instead what seems to be the consistent focus for the last several years is that what Google is looking for is meaningful content that engages the reader. Meaningful content being educational, informative and/or entertaining. It does not mean bad copy. So when you write your web content one of the key things to keep in mind for your content is readability. When Google analyzes your website they take your readability into consideration. The harder it is to read, the lower lower the rank might be. There are apparently some exceptions for certain fields. So a scientific journal is expected to be at a high hard reading level so being at a hard difficulty level will not count against it but if you are running a simple entertainment blog or a local store website, if you need a PhD to understand it Google won’t like that and you won’t score as high as the ones who make it readable. So I suggest aiming for somewhere between a 5th and 7th grade reading level. You can usually check this using a word processor program or one of the numerous online or plug in checkers.

Page Structure

After readability we have to look at the structure of the page itself. Websites being designed with HTML code there’s little things to look at in your editor that while not having to be a web geek yourself will help you get better results. One thing that is looked at is have you used your keywords in your headers. By headers I mean that h1 h2 h3 and so forth things that you’ll see that progressively make your section titles bigger. And h1 tag is considered to be the most important and you should really only have one on your page. This is where you would put your main focus keyword in. So for example if the topic of the page is how to sharpen a knife and the focused on key word is “knife sharpening” you might want to call the section “the rules of knife sharpening” or perhaps “how to sharpen your knife effectively.” This way you were using the keywords that focus on your topic which will rank you better. Another thing that you can do is in your actual content make sure you mention your keywords a couple of times by a couple of times. I mean you don’t want to write a run on sentence sounds like this “you know how to sharpen your knife sharpening your knife can be difficult unless you know how to sharpen your knife” this is a sign of a bad sentence you would want to stick to something simple like “here are some tips on how to sharpen your knife”. This is more readable and looks to be more like the way people would talk. Properly structuring your site is a key part of good search engine optimization.

Images

Another thing to keep in mind are images. Images break up your page. They help it flow better and people like pages with pictures on them. So include a couple, say 1 or 3. More is okay if it fits the page topic, but at least 1 to 3 would be good. Your picture when you insert it has two specific areas that you’ll want to pay attention to. One is the alt tag and the other is the description tag. Use these to put a description of the picture and include your keywords. Going back to the knife sharpening example you would perhaps put a picture of someone with a knife and a whetstone sharpening the knife and the alt tag would basically say “an example of person sharpening knife”. The title tag would be similar. These are used because search engines can’t understand what a picture is. To them its just data, so a picture of a flower to them looks to be pretty much the same as a picture of a car, a picture of a rock or a picture of a lazy house cat. By using these tags you actually feed them information which they use to evaluate your page and when they write it to see how it stores for those. You can also use the caption tag if it fits your page design.  By properly using and tagging your images you’ll improve your sites search engine optimization.

Meta Tags

Next we come to the geeky part, the meta tags. A good use of meta tags is crucial to your site’s search engine optimization. Meta tags are parts of the code that make up your website that help tell the search engines what the page is about. There are dozens of different tags you can use but for the most part we’re only going to be concerned with two tags the title tag for the page and the description tag. You will see reference to the keywords tag but Google does not use them. Other search engines may though. Some people say use them some people say avoid them. I personally avoid them but I don’t think that using them will hurt you.

The title tag is a description of what the page is about. When you look on most of your current web browsers at the top of the window it will tell you what the title of the page is. Unfortunately you will often see people using titles that don’t tell you anything about the site or the page. So if the page is about “knife sharpening” a better title tag might be “jack guide to knife sharpening – home page” this lets you know you’re on the homepage but it also includes specific keywords that Google used to evaluate the page.

The next one is the description tag. This is about 140 characters long they gives you a short summary section that you can fill in to describe the page. This is what will show up in a Google results when it comes up in the search engine. If you don’t use this Google will giess and pull something from somewhere in your page. Sometimes it makes sense and sometimes it doesn’t. So it’s best to include it. This way you have some level of control over how your page shows up. Use this section to create a focused summary that will draw in a person and give them a reason to click on the page. So for example for the knife sharpening page the description might read something like “have you ever had trouble sharpening a knife? this guide helps you quickly, efficiently and safely through the process of knife sharpening.”

Website Structure

The final part crucial part of good search engine optimization is your actual website structure. I have been on thousands of websites where, when you look at the actual address full address or URL of the page that I am on it looks something like / 20/245/widget.php. This tells me nothing about the page. More importantly it tells Google nothing about the page. So a more readable for the human and for the computer URL might be /knife-sharpening/. This uses your keywords, and is readable to all parties. When using a WordPress based website, you do this by changing the permalinks section. To do this, goto Settings, click on Permalinks and select Post-Name. When you save it, it restructures your site accordingly. Then when you add new pages or add new posts you simply make sure that whatever your title is, that it’s descriptive and WordPress will generate the readable URL for you. So you don’t have to be too much of a geek but you do have to find the settings and that.

These couple of tips should help you optimize your page efficiently and safely in a way that will survive pretty much any updates Google throws at it. They also help you avoid black hat tactics, and gives you a very good chance for long-term success and ranking on the search engines.

Join me next week for Part 2 – Basic SEO in WordPress