Have you ever wondered why some companies consistently appear on the first page of Google, while you can't seem to move above the third or fourth page? As you get your business up and running on the internet, search engine optimization (aka: SEO) can be a critical step to success online. Search is a great way to get your name in front of new customers and expand your reach beyond your local market. Here are our SEO basics to help you get your website to the top.
Basic optimization of your website mostly takes place behind the scenes, in the HTML code of your pages. You don't have to know how to code a page, but understanding the key elements and how they're used by search engines is the first step in making sure your website can be found through search.
The page title doesn't necessarily appear on the web page itself; it shows up at the top of the browser window, and is often followed by the name of the browser. (For instance, the title of this page is SEO Basics—LegalZoom.com. And if you're using Internet Explorer, the title will be followed by Windows Internet Explorer.)
Page title is similar to a chapter heading or paragraph heading. It tells search engine spiders what resides on the page. For example, let's say you sell movies in three different genres: mystery, horror, and romantic comedy. Your site is divided into five total pages: a home page, a mystery page, a horror page, a romantic comedy page, and a contact page. Each page's title should reflect its contents, so your mystery page might have Mystery Movies as its title.
The meta description is another element that does not appear on the page itself. It isn't visible to your site's visitors, but search engines use it to get more information about what is on the page. Usually, it contains the various products and services that are offered on the page. A meta description for your Mystery Movies page might read, "YourCompanyName sells mystery movies and other thrillers. 100% Free shipping."
Meta keywords are another opportunity to tell the search engines what is on a page. Just like the meta description, the list of keywords doesn't appear to visitors. The search engines will use meta keywords to index your page's contents, so you want to make sure you have an accurate representation. For our movie company example, meta keywords might represent the different types of mystery movies you sell on your Mystery Movies page: "mystery movies, mystery dvds, private eye movies, murder mystery, thrillers." You can also include variations of the items you carry with common misspellings, so that people will be able to find you even if they make a typo when searching.
A note of caution about meta keywords: "Keyword stuffing," or listing more keywords than are relevant for the page, is a tactic used by spammers and can hurt your site's ranking in search engines. Meta keywords should give an overview of what is on the page, not list every item on the page.
The Relevance Question
The key to performing successful SEO is simply to make sure that your page title, meta description, and meta keywords accurately describe the content on the page. Using elements that don't match your site's content can cause your site to fall in search results. And it can hurt your conversion ratios. You want to capture searchers looking for your products, not waste time with those who aren't interested in what you sell. Searchers looking for showtimes at a local theater aren't going to buy any of your mystery movies, so there's no point in bringing them to your site; they'll just leave. Focus on grabbing them when they come home from the theater and want to buy a DVD of the movie they've just seen.
Relevance is the single most important factor in the success of your SEO effort.
Beyond the Basics
Every website owner should know these basics. Whether you alter the HTML code on your site or your programmer does it, you should understand what each of these items is and make sure the information in each is accurate. All page titles, meta descriptions, and meta keywords should reflect the content of a given page to ensure that your site and its content are found by search engines looking for relevant information.
However, covering the basics can't guarantee first or even second page results, especially if your products or services are highly competitive. There's a whole industry focused on optimizing websites for search, and it might make sense to outsource your SEO needs to someone with more knowledge.
No matter how you decide to go about it, optimizing for search is a necessity for your business website.