SEO – Giving yourself search results

What do you know about SEO?
The web plays a major part in almost every small business today. When establishing a small business, one of the first steps is creating a web presence so that when someone searches for your goods or services online, you appear. I’m not a web expert by any means. But, I had the good fortune to sit in on a SEO meeting for publishers last year and man did I learn a TON. So, since when I tried to do research on what SEO was I had trouble finding good pointers, I’m going to write some up for all of you.

Forgive me for doing this tonight instead of following along in my book, but I feel like it’s an important and useful topic.

The Basics
For starters, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. This means optimized or made the best possible for search engines like Google and Yahoo. The idea behind a SEO is that when someone is looking for information on a topic that you’ve written about, they find your site.

When a site is designed based around some basic SEO principles it increases the number of visitors that site gets because that site comes up higher in the search results. For example: if you were to type SEO into Google – the first answer to come up is using SEO best.

SEO is generally implemented on three levels: in the site architecture, in its editorial content and in what I’ll call “marketing.” Site architecture is building the site so it has a strong foundation; that is, so search engines can navigate it easily. Editorial content online is different than in print – search engines, while smart, are not clever. They require you to be literal (example: if your headline is “A marriage not made in heaven,” Google will not know that article is about a tech device). Marketing online, like marketing anywhere, is about exposure.

Site Architecture
How a site is built greatly influences how well and how quickly Google can look through it for relevant content when a user inputs a specific query, or search term. While, again, I am not a developer or web designer, here are some things briefly outlined so you know what to ask YOUR designer or developer about when creating your site.

Site Map – A site map is essentially an outline or flow chart of your site. It tells Google how to navigate your website and helps make sure that the search engine can access every part of your site.

Heading tags – When programming/designing a site, there are several heading levels that can be applied to different portions of the text. Normally, a heading one tag is the main title line for the article or what in print would be the “headline.” Then a heading two tag would be the dek (or subheading). Again, keep in mind the example with the tech device; if your headings are too clever, Google won’t know what you mean. Be sure to keep them simple. One technique that is used is the swapping of the heading one and heading two tags – so if you have a clever heading, it gets a heading two tag (so google sees it as less important) and you label your subheading or dek with a heading one tag, and make that content more literal.

Internal Linking – Internal linking is good. Link between articles whenever it is relevant. It encourages readers to browse your site further and increases the amount of time spent on your site. It also creates “incoming links” which I’ll discuss further in the Marketing section.

Meta Heads – The best way I can think of to describe Meta Heads is to tell you they are invisible words that are added at a programing level that tell Google what that page is about. They are not actually in your content, but are added to your site code (the coding that a web browser reads when figuring out how to display your website) and talk directly to the search engine.

Editorial Content
A word that gets thrown around a lot when talking about SEO is “Keywords.” Keywords are terms that people search for. That’s actually all that means. There are sites (some, like, offer a free trial) that track how many times a particular search query is input into a search engine. Keywords are normally words that are frequently included in these queries – words that search engines end up looking for often. The idea is that if you know what people are looking for (these keywords) and you include them in your pieces, your pieces will come up more often. For example: if you write about weddings, you choose as keywords “bride,” “wedding dress,” “matrimony,” “vows,” etc. because when someone is looking for information about weddings, those are words they commonly search for.

Directing more users to your site is not the only benefit of keywords however. When used correctly, with a proper understanding of specific search terms and how searches are conducted, keywords will help the right readers find your site – the ones that are actually looking for the kind of content you provide and are interested in your topic. Keyword density (how often a keyword is used in an article) is one of the things Google measures when determining search result ranking (the order the results will appear in). The more keywords that are in a chain (one after another) the more specifically the searcher’s term and your site match (example: black and white puppy might come up if you search for black puppy or for white puppy, but the user who looks for black and white puppy will find exactly what they’re looking for).

After relevance, marketing is the next determining factor in how high a particular site is in the results a query returns. Essentially, this boils down to two things: domain domination and incoming links. Google knows The New York Times means business. So, a domain like The New York Times will come up higher than, say, a blog post. There isn’t much that you can do about this.

Incoming links, however, you can do a lot about. Google counts the number of incoming links in order to evaluate the quality of your content.  Furthermore, Google also searches the pages that link back to your page. The idea is that the more people who liked your work enough to link back to it, the more authoritative the piece must be. The more of those pages that are also about the topic the user is searching for, the higher it rates the quality of those incoming links. In a post later this week, I’ll discuss how to create / encourage incoming links in order to increase your website’s exposure.

Sorry all, that this post ran so long. Generally, I try to keep posts a quick read. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do this topic justice without going in-depth. Let me know if you find it helpful!

*Taken from my notes on the SEO for Publishers seminar at the Publishing Business Conference and Expo 2009, hosted by Publishing Executive.

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