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Back to Basics – SEO 101

Mark Jackson
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seo-101Quite a few folks who are new to SEO come to Search Engine Watch or the SES conferences to gain an understanding of what many of us have practiced for years. So, first of all…welcome newbies! Don’t be afraid.

SEO, or search engine optimization, can seem quite intimidating for the "common man" or those just starting out, but it doesn't have to be.

Yes, some elements of SEO can get quite complex. But there are still some things you can do to help your website do well in the search engines without having to hire an agency or high-priced talent.

Before going further, it’s important to remember one common truth: “words” drive search results. No matter if you want to be found for image search, video search, web search, shopping search, or what have you, the core of any search conducted by humans typing (or speaking!) a word or any number of words.

Keyword Research

Keyword research is the basis of putting in place a sound foundation for your business. Some SEOs claim keyword research is worthless. Keyword research (along with competitive analysis) is perhaps the most important activity that you can undertake to set the stage for all of the other work that you need to do.

There are many tools and keyword research resources.

Most use or know about Google’s AdWords Keyword Tool nowadays. It’s free and pretty simple to use.

When using Google's keyword tool, make sure you select “Exact Match” (from the left navigation) so that you can get a sense of how many monthly searches are performed using that specific keyword/phrase. Broad match will show you high search volume, which you may mistake as a huge traffic opportunity, while Exact match will show you search volume for exactly that particular keyword/phrase.

Competitive Analysis

When kicking off a search engine optimization effort, you should get a sense of where you stand in terms of authority and content. If your domain/website has 20 total links indexed and 10 pages of content, you’ve got some work to do.

Authority is not, directly, about the number of links to your website, and the question of how much content you should have is relative to the competitive landscape that you operate under. Understanding what you may need to build, in terms of links and content, is a process of understanding what it might take to be successful for your particular niche/business industry and – specifically – which keywords you’re targeting.

One tool that can help you determine relative authority is OpenSiteExplorer.

For a quick competitive analysis, you can look at the domain authority and linking root domains (how many unique websites are linking to the domain).

Then, you can use Bing.com to check a website’s indexation (how many pages they have indexed in the search engines) by doing a “site:www.sitename.com” search. Why Bing? they seem to be pretty accurate with the “real” number of pages a website has, while Google’s numbers seem to be a bit "hit and miss" (in some cases, over-stated).

You often have to click through the results (toggle all the way through the pages of results until you get to the last page) to get a more accurate number. Some initial results will show, for example, 1,000 pages indexed until you click through…then you end up with a number that will be something close to what you’d see in Google Webmaster Tools.

Now, break out a spreadsheet, and keep tabs on your site’s authority, linking root domains, and pages indexed and see how your website stacks up against your competitors (those websites which tend to rank for keywords that you’re targeting – not just one keyword, but a good grouping). You might also check SEMRush.

Title Tag

With all of the hoopla around the multitude of changes affecting SEO in the past two-three years, one basic element to SEO hasn’t been talked about nearly enough: title tags.

For most of us, we are still – primarily – interested in SEO for our website (the pages of our site; not video SEO, image SEO, shopping/local, etc.).

Without a doubt, you must have links pointing to your website. This will take you some time. But, what you can do – right away – that is key, is to get some focus on your website (referred to as “on-page SEO”). Of the many elements of on-page, the most important here is the title tag.

Every page of your website is unique (or should be). As such, the title tag of your website should be written specifically for every page of your website. Opinions will vary on this, but you should begin your title tag with the most important/competitive (one with the highest monthly search volume, and one which you feel that you might have a chance in hell to rank for) keywords/phrases.

Here’s an example, from our client, which we'll call "Example Residential":

“Air Conditioners” page (URL: http://www.example.com/products/air-conditioners/).

Title tag: Air Conditioners | Air Conditioning Units | Central Air Conditioners | Example Residential

Rankings? Second on Google for “air conditioners” and third for “air conditioner”

Note: the header tag on this page is “Air Conditioners”, which is another piece of “important text on the page”.

Notice the synergy of URL, to title, to H1. Each of these elements working together is important.

Here’s another example:

“Furnace” page (URL: http://www.example.com/products/furnaces/).

Title tag: Furnaces | Gas Furnace | Home Heating System | High Efficiency Furnace | Example Residential

Rankings? Number one for “furnaces” and number two for “gas furnace”.

By employing even “basic” SEO, you too can see results. Get good links, build out your content to make sure that you have a page built to target your most important keywords, and write effective title tags. Yes, there are 1,000 other things that you can employ in the years to come, but – for now – this will address the SEO basics.


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