|Chasing that top position in search results is hard. There are so many things to take into consideration. Have you listed the right keywords often enough or too much? What about links? How many should you get and where should you get them from?|
The answers to these questions and more affect how your website (and specifically your web pages) rank in search results.
So where do you start? Well, if you care about improving your search engine ranking, then read these 10 tips.
10 Ways to Improve Search Engine Ranking
1. Keywords and phrases
Keywords are synonymous with search engine optimization. Yes, they are important (how else will anyone know your page is about coffee if you never use the word?), but not as important as they once were.
Don’t sweat over the details of keyword density. If you do, you will only make your copy difficult to read and look awkward. Instead, try and write good copy and let the keywords flow naturally. It’s all about making the user experience a good one.
Something else to think about, as well as keywords within the copy itself, is to try to use them in appropriate places, like in the page title and headings.
When you are trying to think of which keywords to target, try to think about what people will be searching for. What questions will they be asking? Now this may be a little harder to do for some pages and I don’t think anyone will look down on you if you get stumped on a contact page for instance, but blog posts can do well by looking to answer questions. If the page title and URL reflect the question being asked, you will be in a good starting position.
I did a little experiment searching for the post title of my last blog to prove a point. I cleared the browser cache and made sure I was logged out of Google first. You can see the results in the screen shot below.
Now, I got the number one spot on Google for the search term shown. That’s not as hard as it sounds, as it is rather specific, but the principal remains.
For more insights, here is +Rand Fishkin’s Whiteboard Friday to help explain about keyword density and usage.
2. Fresh content
Search engines pay attention to new content. The reasons are obvious. If you are searching for an answer, you will want to find the latest and most relevant content and not something that is several years out of date!
The other big advantage with new or updated content, is that it gives people (that’s you and me) a reason to keep coming back to a site. Now, don’t feel pressured to create brand new content at the drop of a hat, every single day. That’s not practical. However, a site that has no updates for months (or even years) is sitting stagnant and is basically dead in the water.
If you are stuck for content to add, think about what people will be searching for (there’s the tie in with keywords). What questions will they ask? Could you write a tutorial about your specialist subject? Are there news and current events that have an impact on your area which people need to know about? Could you write a review? The list is as diverse as the people you are trying to win over.
3. Good markup
If you are new to creating content on a webpage, by markup we mean the HTML elements that make up a page.
Even if you know nothing about building a website, you should know the basics, because using good markup does two very important things.
- It makes the site easier to read and navigate for real people.
- It helps the search engines understand what your site is about, which in turn helps your ranking in SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages).
So first up, lets talk about headings. There are 6 different sizes to choose from starting with h1 (the largest) and moving all the way down to h6 (the smallest). Headings should follow a strick hierarchy, starting with a single h1 tag at the top of the page. Beneath the h1 tag, you then have h2, followed by h3, etc. Here’s an example of the right and wrong ways to do it.
Correct way to use HTML headings
Incorrect way to use HTML headings
Another thing to watch out for, which is implied above, is to make sure your HTML elements are properly nested. This not only makes your page display properly, but it makes the search engines job less difficult. Here’s another example.
Correct way to nest HTML elements
<p>Some <b>bold</b> text</p>
Incorrect way to nest HTML elements
<p>Some <b>bold text</p></b>
A good content management system will allow you to check the HTML that is behind the copy you are writing, so you can make sure it is spot on!
4. Pictures and video
As well as the visual impact of pictures and video, they too can have an impact on search. They even get their own search results!
Give your pictures meaningful alt (alternate text for times when an image cannot be displayed) and title attributes. If you include your chosen keywords, even better!
Make sure your images have sensible names. If your picture is of a cow being milked, call it cow-being-milked.jpg or something similar. Don’t just leave it as IMG_8765.jpg.
Images contain meta data. You can add specific information to the meta data yourself to help the search engines understand the image better. Add relevant keywords and comments about the image to give it context.
5. Link building
Link building done the right way, can seriously improve your site’s search engine ranking. Done the wrong way and it can harm it instead!
When talking about backlinks (links from other websites to yours), what you should be striving to achieve are natural links from authoritative websites in your subject area. They have more impact than links from unrelated websites. For instance, if I wrote an article about SEO (like this one) and it was linked to by Moz (yeah, I can dream) that would have a much greater impact than if it was linked to by an ice cream parlour (I have a dairy theme today).
One way to get those backlinks, but which is coming under fire from the likes of Google, is guest blogging. That is where you write a blog post for someone else, with a link back to your site, in the hopes that some of the authority is passed to you.
That sounds fair enough, so why is it coming under fire? Simply, because it has been abused. There have been sites set up designed to game the system. They don’t benefit anyone and so now guest blogging has earned a bad reputation and you may find it has a detrimental affect on search results. That is not to say that it should be avoided at all costs, but you should be aware of the pitfalls. You can read more about the issue directly from Google’s head of webspam Matt Cutts. He outlines exactly the problem with guest blogging for SEO and the reasons why Google at least are taking action.
Back onto the positive side of things. You should try to make sure that the anchor text in links to your site contain the keywords you are targeting. Don’t have text like “To read about the cheese making process, click here.” A much better way would be “Read about the cheese making process.”
The flip side of link building are outbound links. Those are links that direct visitors to an external site. When used correctly, they can add credence to the content on your own site. For example, when talking about keywords in section 1, I linked to an external source to corroborate the things I was saying. It adds an extra layer of credibility to the content on your site and also gives visitors a choice to read more on the subject being discussed.
6. Tell people
You can have a brilliant website, packed full of interesting and amazing things, but if no one knows it is there, you won’t get any visitors.
There are many avenues of notification you can use and I encourage you to use them!
An obvious one these days is to use social networks. If you write a new blog post, or have updated an older page on your site, then post a status update on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or where ever your target audience is. They may even help spread the message by retweeting and sharing your post.
E-mail is another good delivery mechanism. You can easily build a list of people that are interested in the content you produce and who wish to receive e-mails when you have something new to share.
It is not all about digital media you know. Don’t neglect the more traditional methods of communication. A news article in your local paper, or an advert can be ideal places to give out a page URL. You might want to consider other media as well, like television, radio or the tried and trusted snail mail.
The aim here is to market your content to get traffic. Search engines can spot a busy site a mile off and will give that preference over a site that never gets any visitors.
7. Page speed
If you take two identical sites, but one of them is faster than the other. You would find the faster one ranking better than the other. It’s that simple. People do not want to sit around waiting for a page to load and the search engines know this. The days of dial up speeds, waiting for a single image to appear line by line, are well and truly dead.
There are several ways you can optimize your site to improve it’s performance. Probably the most useful is to look at the images on the site. If you are displaying an image at a resolution of 500 x 500 pixels, then make sure you upload an image that is 500 x 500 pixels. Uploading an image that is 3000 x 3000 pixels and squeezing it into a smaller space will increase your page’s load times.
Unless you know the ins and outs of different bit depths and other techniques for making file sizes that little bit smaller, you might want to try something that does it all for you. I have heard some good feedback from web developers I know about Yahoo’s Smush.it, which crunches the image files for you.
8. Table of contents
If you have a long article, it is a good idea to break it up into sections. This makes it easier to read and also helps Google to identify specific parts of the text.
You can see I have included a table of contents at the top of this post, with links to each section. That not only makes it easy for someone reading to skip to the bit they want, but because I have used anchor text it allows Google to do something rather nifty.
Some search results also include a link to jump to a specific part of a page. This can only work if you have the correct markup within your page. Believe it or not, jumping to a specific part of a webpage has been part of Google Search since 2009.
9. Authorship and Google+
Authorship links the content you create with your Google+ profile. While there is still a lot of debate as to the affects on search results, one thing is clear. Authorship (especially if your avatar appears next to a search result) improves click through rate.
Additionally, Google have stated they want to be able to identify subject authorities using authorship. So at some point in the future it may well have a direct affect on search results. Time will tell.
However, this section is not just about authorship. Google+ does affect search results. When someone is logged in to Google and uses search, a little thing called Search Plus Your World kicks in. It is more commonly referred to as personalised search results. The gist is, if you are doing a search for something while logged in, Google takes into account the +1’s and shares of the people you know and the people they know. Suddenly a web page may appear on page one of the search result, just because you have a connection via Google+. That is a powerful tool and a compelling reason to adopt Google+ as part of your social network marketing strategy!
Another benefit to Google+ is that every single public post you create there is automatically indexed by Search. That means your Google+ posts have a chance of ranking in addition to the your own site’s web pages. Here is an interesting post by +Mark Traphagen which shows him re-sharing a Google+ post and ranking higher in search results than the original!
10. Create original content
You would think this one was a no brainer, right? Duplicate content gets penalized by search engines. Why return two or more identical results? There is no reason for search engines to do that, hence the penalty.
If you need to create pages that are similar, just changing a few words here or though is not enough to remove the penalty. You need to make sure they are significantly different from each other.
If on those rare occasions where you really have to post something that is basically the same, make use of the rel=canonical tag to tell the search engines which is the preferred version of something.