Thursday, June 19, 2014

Search Engine Optimization the Organic Way

A few years ago, there was a great buzz about search engine optimization (SEO) largely driven by some "Get to the Top of the Listings, Quick" scams that search engine developers quickly figured out and began penalizing sites for. 

One of the benefits of this was that it got non-technical people who used their website for marketing their businesses or organizations thinking about search driven traffic and what they could do to make sure that they showed up when their customers searched.  As the SEO movement has evolved, it's become more and more clear that the most effective way to show up in search results is through the development of relevant content, proper website coding and intelligent cross promotion with complimentary websites.  Using these methods as part of a normal process of creating and promoting a website is considered organic.

Develop Relevant Content

As search engines get smarter, they are better able to determine how the content you provide matches with the words or phrase a potential visitor enters into a search.  If you try to think like your visitor, you'll get the best results.  I find the best way to begin is to create a list of keywords and phrases about the page I'm creating.  A list for this page might look something like:
  • Search Engine Optimization
  • SEO
  • Position in Results
  • Keywords
  • Website
  • Marketing
  • Content
  • Encoding
  • Promotion
Armed with that list, I can layout this article in a way that highlights each one of these keywords and phrases.  To keep things natural, I think about the key concepts in that list and order them in the way that they would be tackled using traditional writing techniques.  So the first section of this blog post is an overview.  It ends with a lead in to the three main sections.  Then I discuss each section.  This is the way content is developed organically, the same way any content writing is done. 

This is in stark contrast to the SEO scams where keywords were literally jammed into different areas of the page whether they made sense there or not.  Often, keywords would be hidden on the page using code as well.  Search engines caught on relatively quickly and started blacklisting pages that used these techniques and penalized them even after they stopped.

Proper Website Encoding

On the technical side, the way a website is coded can assist search engines "understand" how important you see the content you provide.  By using heading title tags (H1, H2 H3, H4) and Paragraph tags (P) to mark up the text on your website, you tell the search engines about the main themes of the page.  H1 is the first heading and should be as close to a short but exact definition of your page as possible. 

For this blog post, "Search Engine Optimization the Organic Way" would be a good choice for an H1 tag.  It is usually recommended that you only have a single H1 on a page  The H2 tag helps you further define the content of your page.  "Proper Website Encoding", "Develop Relevant Content" and "Cross Promote with Complimentary Websites" would be the H2 titles for this page.  As you get further down, H3 and H4 tags help you break down your main themes further if necessary.  Finally, content like what you're reading right now belongs in a paragraph tag.  Search engines will still look at the keywords in your paragraphs and how they relate to your other titles.

Cross Promote with Complimentary Websites -
The content you put up on the web is a great start, but how do search engines know that you're a legitimate source for information, products or services?  The short answer is they don't.  Not just "reading" the content on your site.  The internet is a...well, it's a web.  And webs are made up of interconnections.  Search engines have developed complex systems to determine what these interconnections say about each individual connection. 

So lets say you own a local restaurant.  At your restaurant, you have Heinz Ketchup as a condiment.  To let your customers find out more about Heinz Ketchup, you link to the Heinz website from your own.  That connection doesn't do much for Heinz' reputation from a search engine stand point.  In fact, Heinz only benefits from sites like yours when thousands or hundreds of thousands of them link to it.  On the flip side, if Heinz decides to create a directory of their favorite restaurants that serve Heinz Ketchup and they select yours and link to you, that's a great boost to your site's reputation with the search engines.

There's a catch, though.  Search engines recognize that some sites will allow others to create these interconnections.  So say Heinz has a discussion forum about Ketchup and they allow visitors to add links there.  That's less authoritative than say a link from a Heinz Ketchup blog that Heinz itself creates.  As I said, the search engines are getting smarter.  They can determine what's official content and what's user created content. 

Going back again to the SEO Scam, they would set up link farms where all their customers would link through to a specific page, giving it authority because thousands of less known sites "approve it", and then those link farms would contain links back to the SEO Scam's customers.  At first this provided a boost, but as I said earlier, the search engines caught on and not only frowned on this, but also penalized the sites long after they removed the dishonest attempt at gaining better position in results.

Exchanging links with suppliers or others that you do business with is a great way to promote each other.  Joining legitimate professional organizations, like local Chambers of Commerce and getting links to and from them are also good ways to legitimately build these interconnections.  You can also add your site to directory services and social networks, but select carefully and don't expect these links alone to boost your search engine placement very much.  They do provide alternative ways for people to find you, however.

In conclusion, doing things the right way goes a long way towards letting search engines know that you're a legitimate source for information.  Stay away from the tricks.  They might help you temporarily, but in the long run, it's better to just be honest with the search engines and your visitors.  Provide content relevant to what you offer.  Encode it properly.  Create connections to other websites that match or compliment your own.

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