One of the most often made claims in SEO forums is that someone’s site has been “well designed”, “optimized”, “made search engine friendly”, etc. These claims usually come from people who are asking for helping.
There is a total disconnect between your belief that you have optimized your site for search and your need to understand why you cannot rank. That is not to say that optimization will guarantee rankings. Nothing guarantees rankings.
Your best shot at getting good rankings begins with keyword research. The average, mediocre, “can get the job done” SEO knows the value of keyword research. If you don’t figure out what people are searching for, you’re not optimizing for search, you’re spinning your wheels.
Advanced keyword research takes you down paths that look at the value of query traffic, the competitiveness of queries, and the opportunities for growth in query traffic. Most SEOs never consider the third aspect of advanced keyword research without being specifically asked to.
Assuming you have actually chosen good keywords, however, you can still get in over your head. For a lot of small business operators, the keyword research is usually pretty easy. Once they browse a few SEO forums and blogs and learn about keyword research they get their hands on a tool that shows them what people are looking for. They often make decent selections based on their own knowledge of their industries.
But where the average Web site operator falls down quickly is in understanding basic Web page optimization. On-site optimization occurs at three levels: the indicators you use in your copy, the indicators you use in your design, and the indicators you use in your organization.
An experienced SEO is going to look at a page with an eye toward balancing each of these levels between the need to feed the search engines content and the need to enhance the user experience. The sooner you get the user to committing to the desired action, the happier everyone should be. You want that final click to be sure and satisfactory.
Your copy needs to:
- Tell people what your page is about
- Show people why they want to do what you want them to do
- Show people HOW to do what you want them to do
- Satisfy people’s needs to know more
If you do anything else with your copy, you’re probably hurting your user experience.
But those four points give you at least four ways of inserting your keywords into your copy. You want the users to understand and feel that your copy is relevant to their search. They are either looking for information, entertainment, or something to buy/do. They may not buy from you but if you’re selling what they want be as helpful as possible so that, if they don’t like whomever they do buy from they’ll remember your helpfulness. They may give you a chance on the second round.
Search engines want to present their users with the most relevant AND valuable resources. As many people have pointed out through the years, search engines (especially Google) often make the poorest choices possible. But it’s not always the search engines’ fault.
Webmasters don’t think in terms of “How do I show I am relevant?”. They tend to think in terms of “How can I impress my visitors?”. Your mission is not to impress people. Your mission is to inform people. Always. Without exception.
A photographer who shows his portfolio on the Web needs to inform potential clients on how well he does his job.
An ecommerce site needs to inform potential customers on what products are available, what their costs are, how those products will help the buyer, what those products’ benefist are, how to buy the products, and many other things. If your pages don’t inform the buyer about something, you’re wasting pages.
A non-profit organization needs to inform potential sponsors and beneficiaries of what the organization does, who benefits from its work, and how people can help.
Information is key in on-site optimization. If you put a word on a page in any context, make sure it informs the visitor of something relevant. By providing information you build relevance to your topic. Most Web sites that fail to maintain successful rankings, or which never achieve successful rankings, provide too little information.
Empashis is also important. Some people are easily suckered in by faux testimonials, repetitive sales hype that uses big splashy fonts, and colored “important point” boxes. Many people are more likely to leave a page quickly if they don’t know what the page is trying to do. Usability advocates strongly suggest that you break up a page’s content into sections with clear headers. Those headers can help you emphasize important keywords.
But usability also calls for making your copy scanable. Use of bold and italics to emphasize important information also makes your copy scannable. One technique I have used in devising scannable copy is to look at just the emphasized text. Even if the reader has to fill in a few blanks, can the average reader get the point just by reading the emphasized copy?
If your emphasized copy is too cryptic, it’s not going to scan well. It isn’t optimized.
And page organization is enhanced by site organization. If you have 50 pages of content, you can divide those pages into groups and sub-groups, where each group member points back to a group hub page that organizes the sub-content. Page group optimization can be implemented in several ways. You can used folders (sub-directories) or sub-domains to group your pages. You can use similar (meaningful) keywords in the page URLs. You can include common words in page titles. You can have all the pages link back to their hub, where the hub links back to them. You can interlink the pages in the group so they all lead to each other.
You can also use a standard block of text (or even 2 or more standard blocks of text) that help readers understand that your page is part of a special group.
And you can cross-promote your groups through links between hub pages, internal advertising links and displays, and more. Your cross-promotion should inform visitors about what else your site offers them. Your cross-promotion should make it easy for visitors to find related topics.
You want every link to be crawlable, every page to be indexable. If in your heart you are thinking, “I need to keep the search engines from finding this page”, you are probably succumbing to some SEO myth — usually about hoarding PageRank (you cannot hoard PageRank). Yes, there are truly some pages search engines don’t need to see. Just exclude them in robots.txt. Don’t get funky with your links.
Finally, a well-optimized page is not carved in stone. If you didn’t do it right the first time, you should be able and willing to make changes. After all, that is the SEO method: Experiment, evaluate, adjust.
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