That’s what SEO – or search engine optimisation – is really about.
Search engines like Google or Bing have algorithms that are very complex and kept somewhat secret (so that they can’t be manipulated falsely). But they have common criteria for successful ranking in their searches too.
Search engines have ‘bots’ that crawl around the web and build a huge index of sites, these sites are then ‘ranked’ as to which are most relevant . To give you some idea; a search engine algorithm will measure at least 200 factors to try to find a good match when someone types words (keywords) or phrases (key phrases) in as a search.
Firstly, do some Google and Bing searching and research
The top ranking sites that come up in response to you searching for similar businesses to your own are there for a reason. What are they getting right? Look closely at what they are providing visitors in terms of content and how their site works technically.
Search engines want to find and offer searchers sites that are a close match to what people are seeking, that have plenty of information, are well established, and have authority in their market or area of expertise.
Simply put, search engines are trying to determine the relevance and popularity of each website, and ranking them in accordance with that. When someone types in a question or keyword search the engine wants to provide them with relevant and useful results.
These days this goes beyond finding a page or site with relevant words on it (although that still matters), now search engines assume that the more popular a site or page is the more valuable the information it provides is.
To break down the bare basics of SEO for WordPress sites, all sites need to address three basic areas for SEO success
- Content SEO & Keywords on Pages & Images, Producing Content Marketing – the text, images, video content on your site pages and blog posts
- Site Architecture and Technical Design for SEO – technical aspects of your site design that adjust to what search engines can ‘read’
- Off-Page SEO – Plugins for Social Media, Regularly Sharing Content Elsewhere – producing ‘sharable’ content for social media, social sharing, linking, social media management apps
These three factors are universal, but it is also worth considering in a more detailed way where you want your site to show up. Where are your target market hanging out online? How are they searching for and sharing information online?
For some sites being found on visual and image based social networks like Pinterest or Instagram may be more crucial than coming first in a Google search.
For some sites that are looking for purely local business SEO needs to utilise Google Maps, Yelp and local business searches.
For other sites an international clientele is appropriate and a strategy of optimising for worldwide search engines across countries, with appropriate localisations in those countries is a better strategy.
Sound confusing? Well there are some very specific things to address with SEO depending on who your site is aiming to reach, and where.
Google advises that you will get better ranking in their search engine if you:
- Write pages for users not search engines. That means you need to provide readable interesting information and not just stuff your site with keywords.
- Make sure your web designer structures a site with a clear hierarchy and text links, the way pages interlink inside the site matters a lot! Not all web designers are SEO aware, make sure yours is.
- Ensure your site is genuinely useful and information rich, well written copy that includes researched keywords is a must for all your pages and blog posts.
- Clearly and accurately describe your page content in the <title> elements and ALT descriptions.
- Domain names are very important to Google’s search results so choose a descriptive, easy to read domain name for your website and your sub-pages.
- Make sure you have unique descriptions (in 160 characters or less) for each page on your site included in the ‘Meta Description’ section.
- Use researched keywords to create unique descriptive reader friendly URLs that do not duplicate titles or content on pages exactly.
- Optimise all of your images – that means filling in short descriptive titles, and adding longer descriptions as ALT information. It’s also useful to caption images on the page below them for SEO.
- Keep providing useful content, keep it up to date, and fresh. One of the reasons many sites include blogs now is for this exact reason – to offer useful content that attracts customers, and keeps your website ‘fresh’ for users and search engines.
- Always embed video on your site from your YouTube channel (and include transcripts under those videos on YouTube)
- Always add subtitles to video so they make sense when they play silently on Facebook or other social media
The official SEO guide from Google has more detailed advice about SEO for Google.
Google also has a useful keyword research tool that you can use if you sign up to Google Ads (you can do this for free). This allows you to see how many people use keywords that you believe might be relevant to your site, and will suggest keywords and AdWords for you. Read more here.
Bing has a number of useful webmaster tools for SEO too. You can find them here.
Some of the other crucial factors for being ranked high up the list of ‘found’ sites by a search engine would include the site having:
- Plenty of relevant keywords included in the text of the site (site pages and titles, blog articles, video transcripts, image titles and ALT description)
- Quick loading time for text, images and video
- Outbound and inbound links that lead to and from relevant, reputable and popular sites
- Being a mobile friendly site
- Having your site (or blog articles) shared on social media or mentioned in social media or on other sites that are popular or reputable
To really understand SEO, you need to think like someone using a search engine
In general, there are three ‘types’ of query that people tend to enter as a search:
- Doing – I want to do something; buy something, listen to a tune, travel somewhere…
- Knowledge – I need information; the best nearby cafe, how to balance my accounts, what a band’s name is…
- Going – I want to go a particular site on the internet, I’m looking for something I already know exists or has a site…
Things search engines don’t cope with well:
- Online forms and logins – anything hidden behind a login may well remain hidden to a search engine
- Duplicate pages – beware of this particularly if you use a content management system, search engines are looking for completely original content and will rank your site down if you duplicate pages, even on completely different sites or places on the web
- Blocked code – the site should be set up so that it’s crawling directives help rather than hinder search engines
- Poor internal link structure – if the search engines’ bots can’t navigate the structure of the site easily some of the content may get missed out
- Non-text content that isn’t optimised for SEO – rich media formats (flash, images, photos, video, audio, plug ins) are nowhere near as readable as HTML text for search engines
- Copy and content not using terms (keywords) that people commonly use to search with
- Location targeting that isn’t congruous – if your content is in English targeting China this will put search engines off your site
- Spelling! Yes – those tricky American spellings, if you are selling to Australian people use Australian spellings, if you are seeking international sales US English will work better
- Not doing what it says in the title – if you have a page that says ‘Special Offers’ and there aren’t any offers on the page search engines will rank you lower
Finally, SEO is part of a larger online marketing strategy
Site SEO alone will not do, although it’s a crucial place to start. You need to market your content across the web via social sharing, blog writing, video blogging etc. Search engines love it when your blog posts or social media posts attract likes, shares and comments. You need to keep producing great content that gets shared and talked about, and keep your page content fresh and up to date.