I don’t make my living as an search engine optimization expert, but I’ve been a web developer since 2000. I’ve watched with morbid curiosity as the SEO trainwreck has unfolded and evolved over the last decade. If that sounds boring, understand that shows like Desperate Housewives were not yet available for people who enjoy watching the self-indulgent suffering of others. I’ve gotten off-topic, slightly.
Bad Search Engine Optimization
A client recently brought in other contractors who professed to have the keys to SEO gold: keyword meta tags, and url redirecting. To be fair, they weren’t hired as SEO experts either – they’re good at their primary jobs, and were trying to help out with the information they had. Unfortunately, that information was about 10 years out of date.
I have good news and bad news. The bad news is that there are no shortcuts to effective search engine optimization. None of the big three search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN/Bing) use them, and they make up 93% of the search engine market share.1 Google2 and Yahoo3 have both stated that they stopped using them, and MSN never did.
Why? Because if you give people an easy way to tell you what their site is about, and how relevant it is, everybody is going to say their site is the source for a thousand different things. In fact, that’s exactly what happened, which is why keyword meta tags stopped being effective long before search engines officially pulled the plug.
Good Search Engine Optimization
Good SEO is organic. Most of it just happens naturally if you’re doing what a good site should – providing quality content that people would be interested in reading. It happens a little better if you’re aware of a few things first. If there are certain key phrases everyone is searching to get to sites like yours, you should mention those key phrases in your content. Don’t overdo it, because Google and visitors know the difference. Also, you do get a boost in rankings if other sites link to yours. Finally, search engines will list you higher if searchers actually click the link to your site in their search results.
Here is my cost-effective guide to good search engine rankings. I’m sure professional SEO experts (the rare good ones) have a few more tricks up their sleeves, but these basics will get you farther than you’d think, for free.
- Research. Signup for Google AdWords and build out a campaign as if you were going to advertise. When you pick the keywords you’d like to sponsor, they’ll show you how popular those terms are. You want to gear your site toward the most popular search terms that are relevant to your site.
- Description Meta Tags. Use the description meta tag. It won’t help your search engine ranking, but it will tell people why they should click your link after searching.
- Add Content. Make a regular habit of adding content to your site. Strive for 1-2 pages of relevant content per week. This is why blogs do so well in search engines – they’re constantly growing in relevant content. If you do nothing else, add to your site’s content frequently!
- Encourage Links to Your Site. You can ask the webmasters of other related (noncompeting) sites if they’d be interested in exchanging links to each other’s sites. This really only works between legitimate sites. “Link farms”, networks of sites setup just to link to each other, are ignored by search engines at best, and penalized at worst. Also, if your content is relevant and worthy, other sites will begin linking to you without asking.
- Be Creative. My client and I realized they’d been sitting on a goldmine of content. They’d built a 100+ page reference guide for their industry, but it was a members-only resource. Soon it will be public, drawing in people who would have never heard of their site otherwise.
That’s it. Nothing beats having a rich site, full of content people actually want to read. There are no shortcuts, because any “trick” is abused to the point of nullifying the effect. It’s organic search engine optimization, and it works.