How to do basic search engine optimization? (no prior SEO experience required)

I am writing this blog post with one aim only: to help you, my reader, have a glimpse of what basic SEO is. I’ll also show you, at the end of the article, what full SEO means.

Steps to take:
1. Set your basic things: from keywords to objectives
2. Modify the web site so that engines ‘see’ it right
3. Get links to your web site
4. What else can you do on a basic level?
5. What should advanced techniques of SEO imply?

Details

1. Set your basic things: from keywords to objectives

Ok, let’s start by defining the keywords. This is a very important thing for your business, and in most of the cases you are the one doing the research.

How do you create the keywords? Think of keywords by various methods:
a. Your industry (if you sell books, think of printing, of printing house, of selling books, of bookstores and libraries);
b. Your geographical area (if you’re in Berlin, Germany, use local keywords; also use acronyms like DE – country specific);
c. Your main activity (selling books, online stores, online shopping, shopping for books);
d. Use power words (words like free or expensive, now or today, join or get; find power words like these).

How to have brainstorming of ideas? A very good tool to use is Google’s Keyword Tool. You should clearly state the language and country you’re in, for accurate results. For brainstorming, Google Sets is also fine. Looking up words into a country-specific dictionary might also help.

Now we have a large list of random words.

You should now focus on generating a list of:
a. Two – three words for the title (but no more than 40 characters, with spaces) – hugely important; This should be the key phrase by which people get to your web site;
b. A list with very important strings for you (4-5 strings); You will create pages for each of these strings, so make them nice;
c. A nice-to-have-but-not-mandatory list of 10-15 words (let’s say 10 strings); Just a list of good-to-have words.

How to cut words from the large lists to get to the smaller lists?
a. Know the words that are used in your business; If you sell books, the word [book] is sort of mandatory;
b. Use earlier mentioned Google’s Keyword Tool to see what words do users search for; If you sell books on a lot of fields, and one field is backarapper (see the meaning of this word and other words on “Encyclopedia of Arda: Old and Rare Words”), you should avoid having backarapper; Currently there are 314 results on Google for this words; Clearly not a term you wish to be found for; So, focus on the most searched queries;
c. Do a search on your own for those keywords, to see the competition; So if search for [books] on Google.com I get more than a billion results. If I do a search for [books in uk] I get about 200M results. If I search for [books in uk online store history] I get 6M. So, the more specific my query is, the less competition is there; It’s best to find words that are searched for (see point b.), but in the same time there is little competition on them (see point c.);
d. Try to understand what will a certain word bring you; If one searches:
[book critics review],
I think we can agree that this term will bring you a person looking for texts; On the other hand, a person looking for:
[buy book on self-improvement]
will bring you a potential customer; Try and focus on words that bring you value;
e. Try to concatenate results; So, let’s say you have these three strings:
[books online] – 2 words
[online store] –  2 words
[books in UK] –  3 words
[cheap books online] –  3 words

In total, there are 10 words.

This query:
[cheap books online store in UK]
is just one string with 5 words, and contains all the words. I managed to get a 50% reduction in the number of words by concatenation. Use this tip.

Now let’s get to objectives. There are more results to a SEO campaign, but I will present just a few:
a. Reaching a Top 10, Top 20, Top 30 result for a string; This should be country-specific, with language-specific settings; Have a look at this query:
i. http://www.google.ro/search?q=books&hl=ro&num=10, then look at this:
ii. http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=books&hl=en&num=10 and this:
iii. http://www.google.com/search?q=books&hl=en&num=10

You’ll see that the results differ. The only change in the URL is the language in which the Google messages are shown. So, the first observation: language matters (the URLs are all from Google, but showing different results). Now have a look at this:
i. http://www.google.com/search?q=bird&hl=en&num=10 then on the first 10 results for “bird” on this page:
ii. http://www.google.com/search?q=bird&hl=en&num=100

As you see, there are slight differences. So, showing 10 or 100 results per page changes the resulting page.

So, when setting a “Get to Top 10 results” objective, set clear the URL – establish right from the start how will the Google URL look like; It will save you some headaches later;
b. Getting an action from the user entering the site; What would such an example be? For a company an action might be getting a call, getting a form submission; For an NGO an action might be promoting the web site and carrying the message of a specific call-for-action; For a blogger an action might be subscribing to the blog’s feed via email or RSS; For a portal, an action might be setting the current page as homepage; For a Service provider, the action might be getting a call; For a company, an action might be increasing brand awareness;

Each of these actions have some way to measure (from number of downloads, to number of calls, emails, tweets, blog subscribers to increased of brand awareness measured via polls). What’s important to retain is to have a way to measure things prior and post SEO campaign;

A typical action is just visiting the web site (an increase in the number of visitors on the website, but this is more related to the point below). Anyhow, I suggest to install an traffic analytics solution on your web site. My favorite is Google Analytics.

c. Converting visitors into fans, customers and loyal promoters of your brand; This is a much better objective than the sheer number of visitors entering a web site; You’ll have something more important than a visitor, you’ll have a brand promoter; If only things were that simple; What can this bring you? A fan of your web site will promote your web site on the Internet for free, and that’s just great.

2. Modify the web site so that engines ‘see’ it right

a. A very first thing to do is check that your web site is in the index of a search engine; Typically, by typing [site:certainsite.com] you’ll get a situation in that search engine’s status; It’s best to type the URL without www. in front.

In my example, there are 167 indexed pages at the “Get a result now!” blog (another English blog of mine) which is quite good. This means, I probably have no worries on this matter. I probably needn’t continue on this step anymore. So check for yourself and if things are fine, skip the following.

But still, if I wish to make sure that I do things right, these are the things I want to check out so that I know that the web site is not blocked by engines:
i. If there is a robots.txt file on my server, I might want to read more about this on Robots.txt standard to be sure it’s properly set;
ii. If one page has a specific meta tag which ‘tells’ the engines not to scan my page, then that’s bad; See more on this thing on Wikipedia; Avoid using these meta tags if you know little about them;
iii. A nofollow attribute is also a bad thing to have on links; Read more on this again on Wikipedia;

b. Besides making sure you aren’t blocked, you should ‘invite’ the engines to your web site. Basic things you can do for this task include:
i. Reading on HTML sitemaps and implementing them to your web site (a HTML sitemap can be viewed great by users entering the site to find information fast);
ii. Reading on sitemap.xml file and implementing things you find out (this sitemap is for search engines only – you inform them via this file what is your site’s structure; you can also set some priorities – which page is most important);
iii. Join Google Webmasters’ Tools and Yahoo! Site Explorer and use them effectively so that the Engines ‘know’ a lot about your web site;

Now you have made sure that the web crawlers aren’t blocked, and they are actually invited to your web site. What’s next?
c. Creating a site architecture that is aimed at the right keywords
On the basic theme, a web site architecture should look like this (click to enlarge):

A graphical example of how to structure information on a web site
A graphical example of how to structure information on a web site

What’s there to notice on this structure?
i. The homepage is, in most cases, the most important page of the whole web site; Optimize it for a few words that are crucial to your business; This page should be optimized for the top 2-3 words in your web site; Use the homepage for directing the best traffic to your web site (if possible, of course, it is not mandatory to do this, see point iii. for an alternative, even if less effective, solution);
ii. Don’t create a homepage optimized for a huge number of words; The homepage in my example has the maximum number words you can optimize a web site for (5 words); Try to keep it lower than that (or at most 5 words; oh, and in this case it’s words, not strings);
iii. For the less important keywords and strings, create an individual page; Each keyword string should have its very own page; Try to see the web site through the searcher’s eyes: if one searches for a certain word on Google, what page would it get to? Make it easy for the searcher to find a useful page on the web site;
iv. Try to link the pages one from another (when doing this pay attention to this factor: The link on the page should contain the keyword; Rather than having a link Click here, or a link like www.ysite.com, have a link that is similar to Buy books online – this link has keywords in it, real keywords!);

d. Getting a specific page optimized
There are a lot of factors to consider when analyzing a specific web page being optimized. For a start, have a look at this resource by SEOmoz: Google Search Engine Ranking Factors.

For a basic summary of the article (all the things in the SEOmoz’s list are important, but I selected the best bits, and bits that are really quite easy to implement):
i. Use the title of the page as a very important aspect; (the title is the text in top-left corner of the browser)
ii. Use the keyword in <h1> tag; Read more on <h1> tag on W3C; For a basic explanation, <h1> tag refers to a title in a document; To let the engines know that a certain text in a document is more important than the other you can of course use larger text, bolding, different fonts; But using <h1> is much better from engine’s perspective;
iii. Use the keyword in the URL of the page; (this web site’s URL is www.getseoideas.com –  see the bolded word and understand why I picked this title)
iv. Name the images right (there is a thing called ALT text; use it when inserting an image on your web site);
v. Emphasize a word by Bold, Italic or Underline; (each of these solutions informs the search engines that those words are considered important)
vi. Use check spelling to avoid typing errors;
vii. (be very careful with this) Avoid duplicate content; Don’t post content from other sites to your web site, try not to direct Google to pages that are very similar one to another, avoid having one page with different URLs (so if I go to either of www.site.com, site.com, www.site.com/index.html – I should be redirected to just one version of the web site; I don’t want visitors to have three different URLs for the same page).

So, for a basic thing, set the above things right, create a page for about 500 words of text related to that specific page. Work on the structure of the pages and you should be done.

e. Optimizing usability
If usability could be summarized in one sentence, that would be: “What is the perfect way in which a visitor on the web site should feel?” The visitor should find what he looks for fast. That’s your job and that’s usability: create a great human experience. It’s not easy.

Some examples of how this is done: The logo should link to the homepage, the size of the text should make it viewed easily, the links should be intuitive, the images should have ALT text, the web site should be seen properly in different browsers and resolution, the number of clicks to get to the information / contact / download page should be as low as possible, windows should not pop-up, Flash use should be reduced to a minimal, you should have always visible menu navigation, you should help the eyes find useful information fast, create a HTML sitemap for easy navigation, and don’t forget about a search button.

Some things to do right away: try to make the one action you wish your visitors do most as easy as possible. Put the phone visible (if contact is what you want), create a contact form that’s visible in any page (if you wish feed-back), create a link for download that doesn’t do a lot of redirects (if you think that’s the top action). The main action of the web site should be the easiest to find on any web page of your web site.

3. Get links to your web site

First of all, let’s establish one thing: there are links and there are links. For a look on how to get great links, see this SEOmoz clip: How to Get Awesome Links.

Great resource, I couldn’t have done it any better.

I will present you with two not-that-good solutions for getting links. Some poorer quality links, but nevertheless they give you some results.

a. Web directories
This is a good resource for viewing lots of free directories: Directory critic.

You should try your best on inserting your web site in relevant directories to your business.

Here’s how a SEO company might help you with the process:
i. Semi-automated process; The web directories have a lot of fields that can be filled in based on some patterns; Thus, there are more semi-automated means; They all help you insert your web site into web directories faster;
ii. The reciprocal links code; When you want to add your web site into a new directory, you are given a reciprocal code; You take the code, put it on the web site, and then you can insert your web site; This copy & paste, then saving the file to your web server might look simple for a few web directories; When we’re talking about hundreds of web directories, things get trickier; By having a list of reciprocal codes ready at will, a SEO company can help you do this task in a breeze; A SEO company already has the list of reciprocal codes for all the web sites, you get the code once, and then they insert it for you; Nice and simple. To give you an idea, I can typically insert a site in less than a minute per directory. In a typical day, I do about 700 web directory submission. It’s your call if use a SEO company for this. Don’t hire me, hire any SEO professional who can do this task easily and with better results. (and most of the time, it’s actually cheaper to externalize this process)

If time is not an issue for you, you can insert your web site on your own, and I’ll give you some tips on that:
i. (required for the next steps) Use FireFox web browser;
ii. Use Tab Mix Plus extension and configure it so that when you right click a set of links you can “Open links in all tabs”; (you should create lists of links that should be opened in tabs; an easy solution for this is self-sending you an email with loads of links in it; they will be made clickable by the email software; then open as many links as you like very fast)
iii. Use Secure Login add-on for better handling of login accounts (a SEO company will probably already have accounts created, but it’s your time);
iv. (ta-da!, the masterpiece) Use AutoFill forms add-on for fast inserting a web site into web directories;

Autofill is an extension difficult to master, but I’ll make your life easier. Below you’ll find the most used fields for adding web site into web directories. Learn how to implement them in AutoFill for FireFox, and you’re ready to go.

Title:
(?:title)|(?:site_name)|(?:sitename)|(?:linkname)|(?:linkcomment)

Description:
(?:description)|(?:desc)|(?:site_profile)|(?:text)|(?:scont)|(?:message)|(?:subject)

Keywords:
(?:keyword)|(?:metatag)|(?:tag_list)|(?:keys)|(?:ks)|(?:metaw)|(?:slowa)|(?:keyw)|(?:kws)

Homepage URL:
(?:url)|(?:site)|(?:link)|(?:web)|(?:www)|(?:homepage)|(?:txtaddr)|(?:adres_strony)|(?:os0)|(?:sajt)|(?:URL__req_url_max100)

URL of the reciprocal link:
(?:RECPR_URL)|(?:reciprcl)|(?:urlback)|(?:pg_exchange)|(?:recurl)|(?:link_back)|(?:return_url)|(?:linkrec)|(?:linkback)|(?:recip)|(?:publ)|(?:txtRecLinkURL)|(?:rlink)|(?:^rlu$)|(?:^tburl$)|(?:^txtLinkPage$)|(?:^our_url$)|(?:^recip_url$)

I don’t say it will be easy learning how to use these tools to master directory submissions, but I consider I’ve helped you quite a lot in this process.

b. Blogs
Posting comments on blogs is at the limit of spamming. Is it spam? Not. Is it a real comment? Not. Somewhere in between.

Chose wisely if you wish to do this, read the blogs’ rules regarding comments (if there are such rules), and just read a few messages on the blog to see if you will be spamming or not.

On which blogs should you post? I estimate that 99% of blogs have a thing called “nofollow” on external links. So, if you post a comment on such a blog, the link in your comment will be ignored by search engines. But there are a few blogs (I’ll present them below) on which you can leave a comment and the “nofollow” is not present on those blogs. It’s thus safe to post comments on those blogs – the links will be counted by search engines.

How can you find if a blog has nofollow links in it? Install NoDoFollow FireFox extension which shows you this very thing.

How to easily find lists of blogs that are nofollow-free? I’ll present below three resources:
i. Over 160 Relevant Link Following Blogs;

ii. PageRank Guide – Do-Follow Blog List;

iii. The Ultimate DoFollow Blog List;

4. What else can you do on a basic level?

On a basic level, you can ask for a SEO expertise – ask for a web site audit, you’ll get a lot of help.

You can also read stuff on SEO – the SEO book is the best book on SEO I’ve read.

Read some blogs (see the blogroll of my site for these links, always updated).

You can put your signature in the footer of your emails so that the person you communicate with via email will know you have a great web site.

Ask your partners for some links – this might help you.

5. What should advanced techniques of SEO imply?

Advanced is just that – going deeply into SEO. You can go much deeper than the level I presented in here. There are a lot of things to learn, a lot of things to do. And if you join me on my quest of this blog, we just might grow together.

Materials for Romanians

I’ve written some extra information for my Romanian readers:
1. If you know Romanian, you might be interested in this article, written by me, for generating keywords: Cum afli care sunt cele mai cautate cuvinte cheie de catre o persoana referitor la afacerea ta?;
2. For Romanian blogs with dofollow, see this links: DoFollow Blogs – Bloguri NoFollow Free;
3. For a Romanian dictionary to help you find great words, see DEXonline;
4. For language-specific settings extra information: if you speak Romanian, have a look on this article on setting things right: De ce optimizarea pentru vizitatorii din Romania pentru cuvinte cheie in limba engleza este problematica?;
5. Also read about: Care sunt cele mai bune platforme sociale pe care sa iti promovezi un site?;
6. On Google Analytics: De ce ai folosi Google Analytics pe site-ul tau?;
7. About robots.txt standard: De ce sa pui pe site-ul tau un fisier robots.txt?;
8. HTML Sitemap: Care sunt functiile unui Sitemap general al site-ului?;
9. How to do SEO (some tips): Cum se face in mod corect optimizarea Google?;
10. About the Sitemap.xml file: Sitemap.xml: Care este utilitatea lui?;
11. How to structure information on a web site: Cum se poate structura informatia pe site?;
12. How to promote a contact page on your web site: Cum realizezi o pagina de contact excelenta?;
13. How to create a contact page: Cum arata o pagina cu date de contact bine realizata?‘.

________________________
Bottom line: I hope you’ll find some use of this blog post. In a way, this blog post represents a sum of basic things I do for each site I optimize. May you learn much more than me on SEO and the Internet becomes a better place.


Note: Also see the Yahoo! Group on which I present similar issues:IMRo. To join, email imro-subscribe@yahoogroups.com and reply to the confirmation email.

I am a Freelancer. My expertise is in SEO (Search Engine Optimization) / UX (user experience) / WordPress. Co-founder of lumeaseoppc.ro (series of events on SEO & PPC) and cetd.ro (Book on branding for MDs). On a personal level, I like self-development - events, sports, healthy living, volunteering, reading. I live in London, and lots of things live in me.

2 Comments

  • Stephan Miller

    30 March 2009 - 15:28

    Thanks for the link and I have got to say, there is a lot of worthwhile information in this post worth digesting, so I Stumbled it for you.

  • Olivian

    30 March 2009 - 18:29

    Thanks Stephan, I really appreciate your input. :)

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