The most common question I see on SEO forums, primarily from SEO newbies, is something along the lines of "How do I get my site to rank well?" My first thought is, "Wow, ok, that's a really broad question. Maybe I should direct this noob to a few SEO 101 tutorials." That was one reason I created the Beginner and Comprehensive Guides to SEO, Link Building, PPC, Social Media, Affiliate Marketing and Blogging post earlier this year.* Still, even with the wealth of information that's available for people to learn the basics of SEO, it seems like they should have an even more basic starting point.
When I put together my SEO For WordPress presentation last month, I laid out a description of the purpose of an optimized page. Looking back on it, I now think that slide makes for a great basic starting point that helps answer the broad question, "How do I get my site to rank well?". So here is what I would say to an SEO newbie. Start with understanding these 5 goals of a search optimized page, and then expand your knowledge with the resources compiled in the Beginner and Comprehensive Guides to SEO, Link Building, PPC, Social Media, Affiliate Marketing and Blogging post.
You have 5 goals when optimizing any of your site's web pages.*** Your goals are to:
HELP SEARCH ENGINES FIND THE PAGE
A search engine must first be able to locate a page before it can do anything else with it. Your goal here is to make sure that at least one link to the page exists on another page that the search engines routinely spider. This link can either be on the same site or on another site. How can you determine if a page is routinely spidered by Google? The best way is to check the cache date of the page over time. You should check daily until a new cache date appears. How often the cache date changes (daily, weekly, biweekly, monthly, etc.) is a good indicator of how often that page gets spidered. If you place a link on a page that gets spidered daily, then of course, Google will see that link quickly, and will follow it - thereby discovering the page you are optimizing very quickly. If it only comes around monthly, then it will take up to a month before the link to your new page will be seen and followed. You can go to google.com and simply type in cache:http://www.exampledomain.com/examplepage.html or you can use a bookmarklet to check any page you have loaded in your browser window. You can use the bookmarklet below by just dragging the link to your browser's Bookmarks toolbar.
Summary: Place a link to your new page on a page that is crawled by Google frequently (checking cache to determine frequency of crawl). This allows Google to find the link quickly, follow it, and discover your new page.
HELP SEARCH ENGINES INDEX THE PAGE
Really, this means that you shouldn't PREVENT search engines from indexing your page. As long as you don't tell the search engines otherwise, they will index your page once they find it. So the takeaway here is that you don't want to add anything to the robots.txt file, or the page's meta tags that restrict search engines from indexing the page. I recommend reading Google's explanations on disallowing access. If you aren't using one of the methods they describe to block indexing, then you know that you aren't putting up any specific roadblocks, thereby giving search engines the freedom to index the page. Just want to know the surest ways of allowing access?
If you want to allow all robots to spider your entire site, put the following code in your robots.txt file:
The following robots meta tag (or none at all) placed in a page's header will also allow all robots to spider the page.
<meta name="robots" content="index,follow">
HELP SEARCH ENGINES UNDERSTAND THE PAGE
Using content on the page that clearly identifies what the page is about is the meat of this step. While entire books can be written about writing compelling copy that engages users and increases conversions, the basics are simple and help both users and search engines understand the page's content.
- Structure the page's content in the same way you would structure an important document. Use an outline format. Place the most important page topics in heirarchical headings (H1, H2, H3), with descriptive or explanatory text under each heading.
- Use lists and bold text where appropriate to help special content stand out and be more easily readable.
- Most importantly, make sure that the actual words and phrases that define the page's content are actually used. The example I used in my WordPress presentation was that if your page was a recipe for cherry-filled chocolate cake, then it would be a really great idea to actually use the phrase "cherry-filled chocolate cake recipe" in the content. If you only use the phrase "Yummy Yum Yum" as the name of the recipe, you may find it difficult to rank well for the phrase "cherry-filled chocolate cake recipe".
Summary: Use words and phrases that are descriptive of the content. Structure the content in a clear, hierarchical format whenever possible, using headings, lists, and emphasis to highlight the most important concepts.
HELP SEARCH ENGINES EVALUATE THE PAGE
Although you have little control over the actual evaluation process that search engines use, you can help them evaluate the importance of the page. How? Much of this evaluation process is centered around how important other sites perceive your page to be. If other sites frequently link to your page, search engines take those links into account and consider those links as votes for your page. In addition, if the pages that link to your site are also perceived as important pages, then those votes carry more weight. Your job, then, is to first create content that other sites might want to link to, and then to make sure that others are aware of the page. This step can involve many marketing tactics, from social networking to advertising to word of mouth. Although you have very little control over the links on other sites, you do have control in "getting the word out". The better you are at spreading the word about your page, the more likely it is that you will obtain links from quality sites (assuming your content is worth linking to). In addition, if you've made it easy for users to understand what the page is about, the chances of someone using a relevant phrase as the anchor text (or link text) of the link back to you is increased. Descriptive link text gives yet another clue to the search engines that your page is not only perceived as important, but that it is relevant as well.
Summary: Your job in helping search engines evaluate the importance of your page is to create quality content and then to spread the word far and wide that your content exists. The combination of good content and creating awareness of the content is the surest way of acquiring links to the page. With luck (and descriptive page copy), the links acquired may also include descriptive, relevant link text that will help search engines understand that your page is not only important - but relevant as well.
HELP SEARCH ENGINES RANK THE PAGE
If you've been successful with the first four steps, then you've done your job in helping the search engines properly rank your page for relevant keyword phrases. We cannot control the search engine algorithms, so we must do what we can to help those algorithms find, index, understand, and evaluate our pages. If we do that well, we stand a much better chance of helping search engines properly rank our pages.
* I do try to keep the Beginner and Comprehensive Guides to SEO, Link Building, PPC, Social Media, Affiliate Marketing and Blogging resource list up to date, btw, but if you think it's missing something that should be on it, let me know.
** The Google Cache bookmarklet was "borrowed" from Pole Position Marketing's SEO Bookmarklets page. They have a number of other useful bookmarklets there as well.
*** Note that these goals are only concerned with ranking a page in search engines for relevant search queries. You should have other goals for your pages as well, including but not limited to, usability and conversion. Those goals, while extremely important, are beyond the scope of this post.