Before going into detail about how you can optimize your website for search engines I would like to quickly explain what search engine optimization is and why it is so important.
Right now the web is dominated by three major search engines: Google, Yahoo, and MSN (live).
What is a Search Engine?
A search engine can be thought of as the largest storefront of all time. But, it dispenses EVERYTHING (all information on the web). You walk up to the counter (visit Google.com) and ask the magical clerk anything (type in your search), you hit “go” and off he runs back into the largest warehouse of all time to find you exactly what you need. In a matter of milliseconds he’s back with a list of the things he thinks you need. Essentially this is how a search engine works.
Roughly speaking a search engine has two facades – a front and a back. The front is what we interact with all of the time. The front of a search engine is the process by which we perform searches – it is the store clerk in the above example. You’re probably familiar with the big search box and search button all of the major services have on their font pages. You visit “google.com” you type in what you are looking to research or purchase, hit “search” and you are taken to a page with a list of results. Of all of the sites on the Internet these are what the search engine (in this case Google) believe most closely match what you are looking for. That is the “front” of a search engine – pretty simple.
The back of the search engine is where all the work is done, it is where everything on the Internet is found and sorted in such a way so that your search can bring up meaningful, relevant results; and a key component to this process are a search engine’s robots. A robot is a program (a part of a search engine) that actually goes out, across different sites on the Internet, and grabs information (text, pictures, audio, video, links, everything). The robot grabs the information and brings it back to the warehouse.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization is the process by which we get the attention of the store clerk – we grab his collar, look him in the eye, and tell him that he should look to us (our website) for everyone searching for what we have to offer. So, for example, if I am running an online bicycle shop I want to be #1 anytime anyone searches for “bike store” in the search engines.
Why is Search Engine Optimization Important?
Search engine optimization is so important because IT IS THE WAY PEOPLE FIND THINGS. Be clear what is being said here, search engines are not the way people find things on (only) the web!
SEARCH ENGINES ARE THE WAY PEOPLE FIND THINGS!
People use search engines to find what they want, to do research, and even for entertainment. People are becoming dependent on search engines to quickly serve up what they need. Looking for the definition of a word? Use a search engine. Want to find a great chicken recipe? Use a search engine. Can’t remember the name of that great website you visited? Use a search engine.
And the number of searches is astounding. According to recent estimates on any given day roughly 600,000,000 searches are preformed!
So why is it important? In a nutshell it is important because your clients and customers are using it to find your services. If your website is optimized they will find you – if it isn’t they will find your competitors.
Beyond this key point there are two more reasons why search engine optimization is so important:
1) Search Engine Optimization Turns Conventional Marketing on Its Head
2) It Has PERFECT Timing
In conventional marketing you force your company in front of your potential customer. You send them a direct mail postcard, you create a billboard, or TV advertisement and try as much as possible to get their attention – to attract their eyeballs and hairy lobes. Maybe you’ve done your homework, targeting a very specific list, but you’re still asking for their attention – and who knows when and if you’ll get it.
Search engine optimization is the complete opposite, your potential customer always finds you. By strategically optimizing your website you ensure your audience sees you when they are looking for what you have to offer. As long as you’ve taken the proper steps (which we’ll talk about in just a minute) your services come pre-sold, by one of the greatest word-of-mouth tools ever created – the search engine!
Finally, the timing of this whole process is impeccable. Your services aren’t presented at dinner (as a targeted, but inappropriately timed cold call might), they aren’t presented while someone is driving (in the case of an ad or billboard), they are presented at precisely the moment someone is looking for what you have to offer.
To conclude why your website must be search engine optimized:
1) Your audience uses search engines to find and research EVERYTHING – including your services. If you aren’t found, your competitors will be and you will lose business.
2) Search Engine Optimization Turns Conventional Marketing on Its Head
3) It Has PERFECT Timing
How Do I Perform Search Engine Optimization?
Now that we know how a search engine works the key really lies in what we present to those robots and that store clerk to make sure our site is selected. How can we present our information in such a way so that they can easily get our website in front of our prospective clients? How can we get to #1?!
It’s simple; you need a “search engine friendly” website.
A search engine friendly website is one that the robots can read. It is well coded (well created) with a solid foundation. At a very basic level a search engine friendly website will have a lot of REAL text (not flash or text within images). Beyond that there are some fundamental guidelines your web development company should follow – what is called “semantic coding.” It is a three part process by which the marketing needs of your site are matched to the coding requirements search engines require, along with the actual visual design. From the ground up you should have conversations with your web development and Internet marketing team, making sure they know what your site needs to accomplish.
Without getting into too much technical detail regarding the structure of your site there are a number of steps you as site owner can take to ensure you are maximizing your web potential:
Create Great TITLE Tags – Each page has a title (this is the message that is displayed in your web browser at the very top of your site). Inside the code of your website you’ll see it displayed as:
What goes between those bracketed title tags is the title. This is the most important single line of code on each page. Make sure it is relevant to the content on the page, and, if possible try to make it marketable; as it will usually be used as the title of your site should it come up in a search result. This rule can be applied to every page of your site.
Check Your Sites’ META Tags – Although not as important as it once was check the META tags of your website’s pages. Each page should have individual META information (if appropriate) that pertains to that specific page. This META information helps supplement the robots and store clerk in their quest for information. The META information adds additional insight into what exactly your site is about.
Links – Beyond the coding of your website, links are an absolute necessity to search engine optimization. A link from another site to yours is like a vote of confidence. The more sites that link to yours (particularly those sites in similar industries) the more likely the search engines are going to recognize you as a leader in your field, and the higher you will get for searches. Only links from other, outside sites will help your site (for example a “helpful links” page on your own site doesn’t count).
In order to quickly find how many sites link to yours you can visit http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/ and plug your web address into the search box and hit “Explore URL”. Then select “inlinks” at the top. The list of titles and addresses that appear are all of the sites throughout the web that link to yours.
Although there are a number of additional factors that do affect your search engine optimization with these four things in mind you will be ahead of the curve:
1) Proper Semantic Coding
2) TITLE Tags
3) META Tags
Should you have any additional questions or would like more information on how you can get your site up in the search engines please feel free to drop me an email or give me a call (239) 362-1271: zach – may or may not be at – atilus.com.