The third class went a little deeper into natural search. I think it’s important to first reiterate some important matters. Search engine optimization (SEO) is not an overnight process; it might take 6 months for your efforts to show any results. The goal of SEO is to be the Web page with the most relevant content, all else follows.
There’s a difference between paid and natural search and I like to compare it with the difference between advertising and public relations. In very broad and general terms: advertising is paid, you control the message, but it is not as credible; public relations is “free,” you can’t control the message, but it is more credible.
Without further delay, here are some key lessons. This time, I used the Nashville Symphony Orchestra as guinea pig where needed.
- You can’t optimize for an unlimited amount of terms. If you optimize your site, you want to optimize your home page for high volume words (remembering the 80/20 rule). Pages below the home page can be optimized for more specific terms.
- Check to see what you’re up against. Your real-world competitors might not necessarily be your search engine competitors. Searching for the term “Nashville classical music” does not lead to the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. In fact, it does not lead to any classical music ensemble or opera company whatsoever. The search competitors are a radio station, a review site, an event listing site and a record label. In other words, not necessarily organizations you would see as competitors for tickets.
- Are you speaking the language of our audience? In other words, do your key words match up with the search terms of our audience? Don’t use jargon, give people what they want. Sometimes, this might be counter intuitive, especially when you have to consider your branding efforts. For example, although you might want to brand yourself as “assisted living,” you will get searched as a “nursing home” (which has double the results). You will have to balance your branding and SEO efforts.
- If your Web site has an internal search function, collect the data. This will offer great insight on what your audience wants and what terms they are using. If you’re interested in general trends and in what kind of searches are related to high volume terms, you should use Google Insight for Search.
- What’s the deal with NOFOLLOW links? Links from Twitter, Facebook, Google Ads and most advertising banners tell spiders not to follow the link. Does this mean that they are useless for SEO? No. Mihaela Lica writes: “People don’t care about “nofollow” attributes. If they see a link and they think the content it leads to is interesting, they follow.” SEO is not just about getting links, it’s about creating and promoting valuable, relevant content.
Now for some specific coding and technical advice:
- Use the “title” tag wisely. Use a different title for each page, otherwise Google might think you’re offering the same content on multiple pages. Keep the title short; around a 90-character limit.
- Always use “alt” tags for images. Not only is this user-friendly for people who are blind or visually impaired, it enhances your SEO efforts.
- Always use a descriptive anchor text (don’t use “click here” or “read more”). Links can even have a “description” tag.
- Use the meta “description” tag if you don’t want the search engine to describe the site for you. Nashville’s Web site is described by Google as: “The Nashville Symphony is joined by the U.S. Army’s premiere singing ambassadors, the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, this Thursday through…” As you can see, this is momentary copy that does not accurately describe the whole of the organization, and it gets cut off! Compare this to the tailored copy of engine manufacturer Briggs and Stratton: “Find out why Briggs & Stratton are the leading makers of small engines, lawn mower engines, portable generators, and home generators.” Keep the description below 170 characters (about the size of a tweet!).
- Many sites work with dynamic content. Make sure the URLs that are generated are optimized. Session IDs, especially if they grow really long, don’t tell much about the content. For example: http://www.nashvillesymphony.org/main.taf?p=9 could be transformed into http://www.nashvillesymphony.org/parking_and_directions (this is advice I should heed for my own blog!)
Once again, these are only some of the lessons. Stay tuned for more in the coming weeks.