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Our quick guide to help you sift through the quagmire of SEO advice and find the gold nuggets of useful optimisation information.
If you were to follow every piece of SEO advice to the letter, you’d probably need a strong full-time team to get it all done. Some information overlaps, some contradicts and some will just confuse. So knowing what is important can help gain perspective and achieve some level of focus.
Search Engine Optimisation is built around a single basic premise: make your site accessible and useful. If you can do this, Google will reward you with rankings and targeted visitors will arrive in droves. Unfortunately achieving this very simple objective is often anything but simple.
There are so many elements to consider. Are H1 tags important? Do I need to write Meta? Why can’t I just buy all my links? Questions aplenty and no shortfall in answers either. So what is really important, what must your site have?
The Absolutely Necessary
Ignore the overused mantra that if you ‘produce great content people will come’. That is nonsense. I can well imagine that there are thousands of bits of so-called ‘great content’ lying dormant in search engine purgatory.
Your content is a building block, it isn’t the whole structure. If you create targeted content that appeals to both human visitors and search engines you’ve created the foundations for success. Anchor it with keywords and audience engagement (calls to action, appealing tone and breaking up of blocks of text) to get the very best results [see: How an SEO Copywriter Can Add Value to Your Website].
NOTE: Internet audiences don’t have a massive attention span. Get your important information (and primary keywords) up top. Draw them in and encourage visitors to continue. Use sub-headings, bullet points and even graphics to guide the eye down and relay the primary message. Don’t use it as an excuse to cut down on your writing requirements, just bear it in mind when it comes to formatting.
If content represents the bricks, links are your cement. They provide strength and give the site a real structure – however, to be truly successful, you need to ensure that there’s a good spread. But whilst everybody talks about the benefits of links, actually going out and sourcing them is a whole different game.
Sometimes being a little brassy is your best bet. If you find a link that you want, go out and ask for it. Give the site owner a reason to link; explain how their audience might benefit from visiting your pages. Equally, if you have suppliers, clients or other contacts with sites, get on the phone (or email if you are so inclined) and see if they will oblige. Even a reciprocal link can have some value.
Then there’s the PR route. If you’ve got news, share it. Create press releases, generate a buzz and get it distributed through a popular newswire. But also make sure your releases are optimised. Include links and embed them within your page’s primary keywords. This contextual linking provides all sorts of site-wide benefits [see: How a Press Release Can Benefit Your Brand and SEO].
What else is there? Well if you can find some directories, paid or otherwise get yourself added. Ensure you’re signed up for the search engine’s local map service and consider a little content distribution. Write articles and distribute them as hubs or to article directories. This falls into the optional category, but if you’re looking to build links quickly, it’s a great place to start.
Getting back to on-site work now, your internal structure will prove vital. Search engines want to be able to index your site as quick as possible. This means removing dead links and ensuring a logical pathway from page to page. Keep it simple and ensure any page is accessible.
This benefits search engines and human visitors alike. By making it easier for both, you stand a better chance of ranking higher and improving your conversion rates. If your navigation is confusing and full of cul-de-sacs you’ll soon find that both suffer.
Optimise internal links where appropriate by embedding them within relevant keywords. This just further indicates to search engine spiders what it is that you want the target page to rank for. Also include a Sitemap page. Again, this will give the search engines straightforward access to each page and ensure visitors can find them within a couple of clicks.
Get These Three Right
…And the rest will follow. Meta, headings and other on-page elements are important, but these have to take priority.
The Absolute Nonsense
There’s Nothing Wrong with Paid Links
…Except of course they are against Google’s rules. When you look to do link building, you’re likely to encounter any number of cowboys trying to sell you a link on their page. It doesn’t matter how much traffic they get or what their PageRank is; if your link gets detected, your SEO will suffer [see: Google’s Newspaper Clampdown Highlights Risk of Paid Links].
Most are highly detectable anyway. Often just squeezed into a box that says ‘sponsors’ or ‘recommended sites’ and using a keyword link – to borrow a quote, as clear as an azure sky of deepest summer.
There’s nothing wrong until you get caught. Some will say ‘if’ you get caught, but there’s plenty of legitimate work you can do without gambling your site’s strength, so why bother?
Spam Will Conquer All
You can write all the nonsense forum posts and blog comments you like, but ultimately this isn’t a long-term strategy. Keep it on topic. Your site is your business, if you start tarnishing its name with horrible spammy practices, more likely than not it will come back to haunt you.
There’s evidence that suggests that spam can still work, just read the latest post on SEOmoz’ I’m Getting More Worried about the Effectiveness of Webspam‘. But why invest all your resources into this negative pursuit when you could be writing useful blog posts, improving your content and finding new ethical links [see: How Do You Define Ethical Link Building in SEO?].
If you’re going to comment, add something to the conversation. Forums are a great way to reach out to potential clients, but aren’t just an excuse to write what you want in order to earn a (probably no-followed) link.
Innovation and Brilliance will Optimise Itself
Like with the earlier content conundrum, an excellent site does not guarantee excellent rankings. The ‘build it and they will come’ fallacy is probably the biggest nonsense.
I could write a revolutionary, mind-blowing blog post, but if it didn’t get picked up, couldn’t be found and was never read, what good is it? Of course, you can market it to death through social bookmarking and your Twitter or Facebook profile, but again this leaves it to chance.
The same is true for your site. You might have the lowest prices, the best product and a stunning design, but if people don’t find you then what’s the point. Again, you could do some marketing on the side, but people are as fickle as they are forgetful.
What you need is an optimised site. If your blog is going to get traffic and links, get it added to blog directories and the Google News. If you believe in your site and what it offers, prove it. Do the leg work and create stellar copy and begin the link building process yourself.
Then and only then, if it is actually as good as you think, will it thrive. You’ll receive visitors, they will spread the word for you and site owners will be encouraged to send over some links. This natural SEO is the ultimate aim for any site and provides the most value; however you need to get that ball rolling first.
The Pub Analogy
It’s like having the best pub in the world (I can’t believe nobody has optimised for that term by the way) and building it in thewilderness. You can sit there waiting for some passing custom, paying your staff (site host) to do nothing, or you can be proactive and actually get your name seen by your targeted audience. As the pub’s reputation builds, so too will your visibility.
Eventually your once deserted pub will be overrun with interested, regular punters with Google acting as a major coach operator, ferrying them in by the hundred. But you have to build bridges to get to this stage, marketing your property and making sure it has everything customers will be looking for when they arrive. A pub without toilets is likely to be as useful as a site without content for instance.
Maintaining Your Focus
In SEO it’s vital that you keep your focus. There’s plenty to distract you too, so be wary. Get your on-page work sorted out first, so you have decent content and navigation in place to welcome visitors. This will provide you with keyword relevance for good measure too.
Then you need to worry about developing that link authority. Go out and source links far and wide. Get a good spread from authoritative sources and watch as your pages flourish.
Don’t build a great pub that nobody can find. Equally, don’t spend your time bringing in visitors if your pub isn’t complete. Add the finishing touches when the fundamentals are complete. You’ll get more benefit this way and ensure your reputation is as strong as your site.
Hand Holding A 3D SEO Sphere via BigStock