To me--and many I know in the search engine optimization field--SEO is really just good old hard work. It contains no real secrets, per se.
I see a lot of "search engine optimization secrets revealed" whitepapers in the internet marketing space. To be honest, it's a killer headline and as a call-to-action, it works. However, Google's true SEO secrets are contained within the brains of allegedly two engineers and a triple-gated secure safe deep inside a Google mountain. If Google's PageRank--one of more than 100 factors in Google's search algorithm--was the only secret to rankings, that would be too easy. Yet many people focus on PageRank, a minimal metric to watch.
In trying to get at this closely guarded secret, the industry has produced mountains of information and resources, including SEO tools, books, courses, downloads and more. It's up to you to find what works for your company. With search engines changing all the time, this can be difficult, but there are some basics. If applied right, you should start to see movement in your rankings.
Of a recent list of websites I looked at, more than 90 percent of them were guilty of at least one of four main SEO mistakes. I was even guilty of these in the beginning. Now I've been listed No. 2 on Google out of 115 million competing websites for the last year. To start moving your way up, make sure you aren't making any of the following mistakes.
Mistake #1: Poor site design
If you designed your site using FrontPage 97 and haven't updated it recently, you're definitely guilty of this first error. I'm not saying that a less-than-optimal design can't sell a message or product. One of the best providers of information in the website usability field--Jacob Nielsen at useit.com--has a very basic site. But it's intentional. If your site, however, is poorly designed and not related to your industry, you need to reconsider what you're doing. Think about user experience, stickiness and conversions.
Mistake #2: Weak or disorganized content
You need to make a unique, competitive statement with web copy that sells your services. This means focusing on benefits, just not features. Use innovative ways to talk about how you're different from the competition. You can be a little edgy, but be professional and make it personal, if you can.
Organization is also important. Don't cram too much on one page; most visitors only scan web pages and look for strong headlines--a good attention grabber. If you have product pages, it's fine to include summary pages, but break them into independent product pages where possible. If you've done your keyword research properly, make sure that one to two keywords or phrases match each content page and that the HTML structure on your page--such as title and description--supports it.
Mistake #3: Hidden contact information
Include your contact information and maps in an easy-to-find location. This may seem obvious, but many companies try to hide behind their sites. If you want to be bold, try posting your cell phone number. One guy I know puts his personal phone number directly on the home page. He doesn't get many calls, but it shows trust in the visitor when you include such information. Be sure to add your e-mail or an e-mail support form and make it easy to access.
Mistake #4: Missing SEO basics
One of the most important factors when using SEO for websites is good keyword research. A unique title that matches your keyword as well as web copy that supports your topic meet more than 50 percent of the requirements for most search engines. Adding related key terms in H1 tags also can be helpful. Many people seem to focus on keyword density, but "term weighting" is more important. This is when data from your page and other related web pages are included as a measure of relevancy for ranking. Add a call-to-action description tag and make it unique for each page.
Use keywords in your body text "early, often and naturally." This means: Don't think about SEO as if you were an engine trying to match density, prominence, proximity or synonyms in a perfect way. If you know density matters, but that term weighting is more important, then create an appropriate strategy. Adding synonyms will help you with more phrases and bring about ideas for content.
The industry knows that at least the first 200 words are vital in telling non-human visitors--the search engine bots--what your page is about. A solid structure and outline using these "on page" factors, with a natural internal link structure can be the first steps to moving you up in the rankings. External factors--trusted inbound links from relevant sites--have been, and always will, be a strong indicator for better search engine ranking. This is where unique content via articles can have a big impact, as discusses in my previous column, "The No.1 SEO Tip."
I've seen my own sites rank for a brand new domain with related content for the topic in less than a week using the above strategies. Of course, highly competitive key terms take a lot longer to get visible ranking, which means first page on the natural search results page. If you need help determining whether you're making any of these mistakes, ask the following questions:
- Can visitors immediately tell what the site is about?
- Can users easily navigate the site?
- Does the site provide a unique selling proposition, with testimonials?
- Does it clearly outline how to do business with you?
- Does it provide clear ways to contact you--e-mail, phone or chat?
- Is the site optimized for search engines? Is it optimized for keywords matching your site and pages?
- Did you structure the page well with title, description and SEO "on page" factors? Did you do the same for links?
- Do you keep content fresh?
If you answered no to any of these questions, there's definitely room for improvement.