Bassoon Song: Websites by Joel

Search Engine Optimization: Neither Mystery nor Magic

Search engine optimization: those words can bewilder, bemuse, and befuddle. Everyone in the web business talks and writes about it. If you’ve just published a website, it seems that a significant portion of the Indian subcontinent is devoted to diagnosing your website and improving your SEO. Search engine optimization is always out there, tantalizing you with top Google results, trashing your current site with their automated ranking system, and talking you into spending more money than you intended.

I’ll let you in on a secret: the bulk of search engine optimization is simply a combination of good writing, good marketing, and having a great website, with a generous dash of common sense added. Because so many websites lack one or more of these, an industry has evolved promoting SEO as a mystery which only the experts can unravel with their secret and patented methods that nobody else is using. And all this hocus pocus usually comes with a hefy price tag too!

Content is Key

I’ve seen way too many websites that begin with a variation of “our company is a global leader in (fill in the blank).” Really? Global leader? Either I’m ill informed—especially when the company in question is a tech company and I’d never heard of them before—or “global leader” doesn’t mean what I think it means. First of all, do you search for a company based on global leadership? Would you search for web designers with the phrase, “global leader in web design”?

Your website needs to tell people clearly and succinctly who you are, what you do, the geographic area you serve (if relevant), and what you sell or what you can do for your customers.

  • Do go into depth about your products and services.
  • Do not use empty phrases, cliches, or duplication.
  • Do use a clear, logical structure to your site, with sensible internal and external links.
  • Do not duplicate your links or any other “trick” to “get better results.”
  • Do try to get other sites to link to you by virtue of what you offer.

Set your Target: Narrowcast

Your business is not going to become Amazon.com overnight. I hate saying this to entreprenueurs, but it’s true. Search engine optimization often begins with finding your niche, that is your most likely customers and the customers/market that you want to target for growth.

If you're a brick and mortar business, where are you located? How do your customers find you? What makes your products and services unique? What do you offer that no one else does? What do you do better than anyone else? Why are your products and services a better value than most? Or why are they better than most? (Sorry, if you’re only competing on cost, you're not in my target market. I follow my own advice).

Take Aim

My first rule for search engine optimization (once you develop great content): if you don’t say it on your website, people won’t find you. Case in point: I had a client that wanted me to change something, let’s call it “widget training.” They wanted me to change every instance of “widget training” to “widget learning.” After the changes settled in for a month or two and Google re-indexed the site, the client complained because their site wasn’t coming up on Google anymore when they searched “widget training.” For the record, I tried to tell them before I made the changes... If you don’t say, neither Google nor potential customers will find you.

After the Ranking: Click Throughs

Every website needs at least one well-written description. The description is called a meta tag, and is hidden from user view. However, when your site comes up on the Google results page, Google also displays some text, either text that appears right under your top level heading or the contents of your description tag. Do you want people to click through from Google? Do I even need to ask?

Descriptions and Common Sense

  • First rule: Every entry page on your website should have its own description tag. If you want Google to find a particular page within your site for a certain segment of your market, that page should have its own description.
  • Second rule: The description absolutely must echo the page and contain some of the same language. If you’re selling widget training for bicylce commuters, a description of “Free beer, visit our site to find out more” may be enticing, but Google will ignore it and your site (unless you are having an event and giving away free beer).
  • Third rule: When possible, include the “search terms,” those all important words of how you want to be found in the description. If you follow rule three, and have the search terms well placed in good content, Google will be happy, and you may be happy too!

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Search Engine Optimization: Not Magic