Got SEO? Tips on Getting Found, Ranked and Noticed On Search Engines
This week, for the sixth article in our Inbound Marketing Series, we’ll be discussing what search engines are looking for when they index website search results and how to get your website ranking on a few of the most common ones like Google and Bing. In the past few weeks, we’ve reviewed best practices for creating remarkable content for your business blog and how to successfully promote that content online. These steps as well as developing a complete inbound marketing strategy and preparing your site for Inbound marketing are essential and must be completed before or during the time you start optimizing your website for search engines.
The next step in any successful inbound marketing strategy involves optimizing and ensuring that your website gets indexed or found by common search engines like Google and Bing. The sheer importance of this critical step is that without the help of search engines, your website will basically be lost in a sea of billions of other sites.
Most Webmasters and digital marketing professionals refer to this tactic as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) or Search Engine Marketing. If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you know that we talk about this stuff a lot! We have provided you with our top-secret recipe for superb search engine optimization and a checklist that covers the 30 things you should consider to get a site indexed on search engines, we discussed how much a small business should be spending on SEO services, and reviewed 10 budget-conscious tips for small and local businesses to rank on Google. We have even gone over factors that could prevent your site from ranking on search engines and dished out all the dirty practices that some “professionals” use that can ultimately get your site banned from search engines (especially Google).
At this point, you must be asking, “What else do I need to do for search engines to love my website?“ Right??
Well here’s your answer: Because there are so many different search engines, and these search engines are constantly changing their methods and criteria also known as “algorithms” for listing websites, SEO is not an exact science.
According to Site Pro News, SEO has a major, long-term impact on lead generation as 49% of marketers in the B2C business seem to agree that SEO ranks in first place when it comes to impacting their businesses.
So what are search engines are looking for?
A search engine has one job: to refer you to the most relevant content online within your search parameters.
So when building a website or setting up your inbound marketing plan a basic general rule would be to keep everything relevant! But what exactly is relevancy and how is it determined? Typically, a website is deemed relevant if the following 4 tactics are implemented:
- Content: Is determined by the theme that is being given, the text on the page, and the titles and descriptions that are given.
- Performance: How fast is your site and does it work properly?
- Authority: Does your site have good enough content to link to or do other authoritative sites use your website as a reference or cite the information that’s available?
- User Experience: How does the site look? Is it easy for users to navigate around? Does it look safe? Does it have a high bounce rate?
To gain SEO success with major search engines like Google, it is also wise that you understand the exact procedure of how sites get ranked or indexed onto these search engines. Typically, for brand new or redesigned sites the process is as follows:
- Get your site crawled by search engine bots.
- Get your site indexed.
- Improve search rankings.
What is crawling?
Search engine crawling refers to bots browsing particular pages on the web. If you have a newly launched site, the Google bot will have to find or crawl your site’s pages to know of your site’s existence on the web. That said, the bot’s job does not end with crawling. It must index the pages too.
What is indexing?
Once a bot has found a page by crawling it, it then has to add the page to the list of other crawled pages belonging to the same category. This process is known as “indexing.” Similar to an index in a book, search engines have an index of pages categorized in various ways. These pages are not the pages from your website exactly, but a sort of snap shot of the pages as they were seen the last time they were crawled.
When a user enters a search query into a search engine, the search bots quickly go through these indexes to judge which pages are appropriate to return in results. With the help of complicated mathematical algorithms in Google’s case, the search engine is able to decide where in the search results each page should be listed.
Key (Meta) Elements to Search Engine Stardom
One of the reasons SEO success is often hard to achieve is because each search engine and directory has its own set of ranking and listing criteria. Nevertheless, most search engines all look at the same basic elements. To improve your search engine presence, and get those search engine bots to crawl and index the content on your website, it must contain the following elements listed below.
These elements also know as “meta elements,” “meta data” or “meta tags,” make up the information or data required for search engine bots to read the content on each page of your website with various HTML tags. Without these HTML tags in place, it will take a lot longer and will be much more difficult for the bots to understand what your site is offering. Furthermore, sites that do contain these elements will likely be listed before yours unless you consistently keep track of and update your meta tags.
Here are the most common HTML meta tags you will want to include on each page of your website with examples on how to use:
- Title Tag — The title tag provides a brief summary of what people can expect from the page. It displays in a few important places, including the browser’s title bar, and as the title for your listing in search engine results. It helps if each page in your site contains a unique title, but keep it concise — less than 65 characters. The HTML code for this would look like:
<title> Name of Your Company: Your Company's offering, mission or goal of this Webpage </title>
- Description Tag — The description tag displays below your website’s link in search results and should entice people to visit your site. Every page in your site should include a unique description using the focus keyword for that page. Duplicate meta descriptions from page to page will be seen as spam to search engines and will not get you anywhere! Keep your descriptions less than 250 characters and avoid non-alphanumeric characters.
<META name="description" content="Describe exactly what this page of your website offers, keep it to 250 characters or less and be sure to use some of your keywords here. This blurb of text is what 250 characters looks like but we recommend keeping your descriptions short and sweet.">
- Keywords — These are select words and key phrases that someone would use when searching for your business. Although meta keywords are pretty much ignored by search engines nowadays, if you still want to use them, make sure they are specific to that page and that they are formatted correctly. Stick to just ONE “focus” keyword or key phrase that sums up the topic or theme of the particular page of the site you are tagging and use that as the meta keyword for your meta data if you must add keywords to your page. In addition, you can also research and include up to 5 words or key phrases at most that best represent the content of that web page. Then use these words and phrases frequently within that page (but only where it makes sense — don’t cram them in). Search engines can tell (and will penalize you) if your content has an excessive number of keywords, so don’t overdo it. A good tool to use for keyword research is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner. The HTML code for this would look like:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”keyword1, keyword2, keyword3″>
- Header Tag (H1 Tag) — Each page in your site should include only one header tag. While it doesn’t display in search results, it’s generally the largest or most prominent text on the page. The header tells visitors what they’re reading or viewing. Keep it brief — no longer than a short sentence and place your best keywords in your < h1 > tag. Remember, only use this tag once per page! The tag looks like this:
<h1> Main heading </h1>
- Subheadings — Dividing different parts of your content using subheadings (H2,H3,H4) will help you describe the focus of your content. So make sure you take advantage of using these elements to rank better in search engines. Optimize these by using short but descriptive and relevant keywords.
<h2> Sub Heading </h2>
<h3> Sub Heading </h3>
<h4> Sub Heading </h4>
- Image Tag (alt image) — Images help break up the text and add visual interest to your site. Be sure to include at least one image on each page, and properly format it with an “alt” attribute using keywords for the page. Because search engines can’t see images the way we do, they depend on alt attributes to appropriately catalog and index the image. Also, optimize your images by making the file size smaller to make the image loads faster — it’ll help boost your search rankings. Use this alt tag code template to help write your alt tags:
<img src="image_name.jpg" alt="Image_Caption_Here">
Meta Tag Generators
Now that you understand what the key meta elements and tags above refer to, we figured we’ll make your life a little easier and let you in on a pretty big secret: You don’t actually have to write each of these tags yourself! Luckily, there are many free tools online that will help you write and create the codes we’ve discussed above and present them in a neat package that is ready to be loaded onto your site. A few great sites to try are:
Miscellaneous Meta Elements
The 6 meta tag attributes above should be used and integrated as a standard practice for each page of your site, whether that content is old or new. Below are a few other types of useful meta tags. These tags are not required for each page of your website and may not apply in all instances.
- Canonical Tag — Canonical tags help if you have several pages on your website with the same content and has the duplicate pages tell search engines “HERE is the real page!” A duplicate page often occurs on e-commerce sites that offer a couple of different ways to ordering products through various category pages, or tags on blog posts that create multiple pages with different URLs containing the same content. For whatever reason you may have more than one page with the same content, it is a good practice to let Google and other search engines know about it before they slap you on the wrist and give you a penalty for it. This way, any links going to the duplicate URLs will send their link powers to your real page. Put the tag on the original webpage so that any time any parameters cause the duplicated page to show up, the tag will point the search engine back to the original. The canonical tag looks like this:
<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://www.yourwebsite.com/yourwebpage”>
- Meta Content Type and Content Language Tags — These meta-tags tell the search engine bots and the browser which language and which coding standard your website is written. These tags are important because they enable the bots to understand the contents of your site. The meta-tags look like this:
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Language” content=”insert language code”>
<meta http-equiv=”Content-Type” content=”insert coding type and character set”>
- Meta Charset Attribute or Tag — The charset attribute specifies the character encoding for the HTML document. The charset attribute is new for HTML5, and replaces the need for:
<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=UTF-8">
Specifying the character-set using the http-equiv attribute is still allowed, but the new way requires less code. Now with HTML5 you can add your character encoding with a much easier to remember
META element that looks like:
- Meta Robots Tag — or robot.txt is a text file that is created to instruct robots on how they should crawl and index the pages of your website. The meta-tag is written in the following format:
<meta name=”robots” content=”insert parameters”>
In the “content” section must be one or more of the following parameters:
- INDEX – tells the bots to index the page
- NOINDEX – tells the bots not to index the page, but to continue and follow the links to other pages
- FOLLOW– tells the bots to continue and follow all links
- NOFOLLOW – tells the bots not to follow the links on the page
Here are the four implementations of the Robots Meta Tag and what they mean:
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, nofollow”>
This means: “Do not Index this page. Do not follow the links on the page.” Your page will not be included in the search index AND your links to other pages will not be followed. This tag is most often used when a site is in development. A developer will noindex/nofollow the pages of the site to keep them from being picked up by the search engines, then forget to remove the tag. When launching your new website, ensure this tag has been removed. DOUBLE CHECK!
<meta name=”robots” content=”index, nofollow”>
This means: “Index this page, but DO NOT follow the links on the page.” Your page WILL be in the index BUT your links to other pages will not be followed. This will break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<meta name=”robots” content=”noindex, follow”>
This means: “Do not Index this page, but DO follow the links on the page.” Your page will drop OUT of the index BUT your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages.
<meta name=”robots” content=”index, follow”>
This means: “Do Index AND follow the links on the page.” Your page WILL be in the index AND your links to other pages will be followed. This will NOT break the link path on your site from this page to other pages. By default web pages are set to these INDEX, FOLLOW, so it’s not necessary to include a robots tag if all you’re going to tell it is
NOTE: The robots tag may be ignored by less scrupulous spiders. To learn more about robot.txt, check out this awesome guide from MOZ.
Putting It All Together
Now that you have the information you need to tag the content on your site to make it easier for robots to read – you’re likely wondering WHERE all these meta elements go and WHAT exactly you’re suppose to do with them.
To update, add or make changes to your website, you will need:
- Access to your websites FTP or File Transfer Protocol – to transfer files to and from your server to your computer
- The username and password of your server
- A simple text editing program like Simpeltext or Notepad
If at this point you are getting tense and sweaty because you seriously have no idea what the heck we’re saying , we suggest that you ask a friend that has some Internet knowledge or better yet: hire a professional web developer! Your server provider can also help you and if you use a CMS system, try asking the supplier of the program for help.
How To Implement The Tags On Your Website
Adding meta tags to your website isn’t very hard, but it should be done in an accurate way. Again if you are not comfortable with basic HTML, please consult a professional before you attempt to update your site’s meta tags yourself. Below are the 10 basic steps you would take to update the meta tags on each page of your website:
- Backup your website. This ensures that you have a saved copy of your site just in case something goes wrong.
- Create relevant meta tags for each page of your site by following our guide above.
- Connect your site’s FTP connection to your webserver.
- Find the index.htm or index.html file in the FTP.
- Open this file with Notepad, SimpleText or an HTML editor.
- Copy and paste the meta tags between the “<> </>” parts in the source of your websites’ page.
- Save the page.
- Replace the index file via the FTP on the webserver.
- Test your page to ensure new information has been accepted. A few good tools for this are: SEOcentro, MetaTags.org, Scrub The Web and Small SEO Tools.
- Repeat steps 1 to 9 to add meta tags to every page of your website.
All your website’s meta tags have to be placed in the HEAD part of the website. See the example below for reference:
In addition to the meta tags above, here are a few more considerations for SEO:
- Page Content — Your website’s content, the text that your visitors see and read on your website, is just as important for search engines as the meta information they cannot see. Post and share content that is between 300 and 700 words, including the keywords you selected, and bold each of the keywords once on the page. And always make sure everything on your site is original material.
- Navigation — Navigation refers to all the links on your site. Visitors and search engines both rely on good navigation to get around your site. Broken links are like hitting a brick wall, so be sure to check your links regularly.
- Sitemap — A sitemap is essentially a map or directory of all the pages in your website. Sitemaps guide search engines throughout your site with the names and locations of pages. They can speed up indexing and, in some cases, increase site traffic by indexing previously buried pages.
- Link Building — Links are a big factor in how search engines rank your site. There are two types: interlinks and back links. Interlinking is simply creating a link from a keyword or sentence on one page to another area of your website. For example, the sentence “Find an attorney near you” would be linked to the list of office locations on your site. Back links are other websites that link to your site. Search engines weigh these more heavily when determining your rank, and unfortunately, these are more difficult to achieve. Some easy ways to create back links are listing your business in online directories, and sending news announcements and press releases that include your website address. You can also contact other business owners in your community and offer them a link exchange.
- Google Analytics – As we discussed a few weeks ago, Google Analytics is a free service that provides comprehensive statistics about your website visitors. Google Analytics is a very simple and powerful tool and if your business conducts any type of inbound marketing, like the SEO we have described above, there are many ways to track and improve your current tactics. For more information about using Google Analytics to improve your site’s ranking, check out our GA Cheat Sheet.
The strategies described above represent just the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of beginning to create a well-optimized website. However, once these internal technical SEO strategies are in place (and you’ve covered steps 2-5 in our Inbound Marketing Series) – your site is officially ready for your Inbound Marketing strategy to commence. Next week we’ll be dishing out some tips from industry professionals on ways to make social media marketing for your business a cinch! Stay tuned.
Need help with SEO on your website? Let us worry about meta tags and page indexing for! Fill out our free marketing consultation form for more information about our SEO packages.