What is SEO

SEO or Search Engine Optimization is making a web page reach positions on the proper keywords in the search engine result pages. Most people use search engines on a daily basis to search for almost anything, if you manage to get your site visible on the proper keywords it can take it from a small site to a massive one.

Learning the basics in SEO

Give the search engines a chance to find your content

The first steps in SEO should always be to make your site easy to read for the Search Engines. There are a few things you have to think about here because what is easy to a human might be very hard for an automatic viewer.

For example, images are hard for search engines to categorize even if it’s extremely easy for a human to see that it’s a pine tree on the picture it is a complex nut for a machine to crack.

There are a lot of other things that can make a search engine having problems with your site and these are, Flash, Java, Frames and Pictures. It is of course not a problem having pictures on the site or showing a nice flash game, just make sure that there are ways for the search engines to find the content of the site. Think of it like this, the spiders that the engines send out to index your site can read text and use html-links but they have troubles with the elements mentioned before (even though they get better at it even as we speak). If you can show all your content with text and you can get to it by following html-links you have a good start. Using frames to build your site can still cause some problems even if these demands are met because frames has a tendency to make the site fragmented. If it is possible, stay away from frames. If you have problems making standard links to all your pages (if you use a flash navigation or similar) a sitemap might help out. There are two kinds of sitemaps that can be used, an xml one and html. Preferably you should have both but the html can even help your visitors if they get lost. If you use Java or similar you should make use of the noscript tags to make it possible for users that don’t accept scripts and for the search engines as well.

Explain what your site is about

Search engines read text, but they are not very good readers. They have a hard time understanding the metaphors and they never read between the lines. Make sure your content is readable even for a stupid reader, like Google.

One of the usual mistakes we do when we write about something for our sites is that we don’t really explain exactly what it is about. By using the words that we consider important we make it easier for search engines to understand the articles on the site.

Take this article for example, it’s about SEO and so far I haven’t mentioned SEO in the text. Google is getting smarter every day and could probably find out but why make it hard?

Don’t over use the words but keep them in mind when you write. If you are writing about food it wouldn’t hurt to once in a while mentioning food instead of writing “something to still your hunger”, “the old bangers and mash” or “grub”.

Make sure to use proper headlines and highlights. If you use correct markup for your headlines and if you are strict with mentioning the primary subject in them the SE:s will have a lot easier job indexing your articles.

Use meta tags but be careful. Write a proper description for every page on your site and set it as description in the meta. Set keywords that are the right ones (keywords are used less than in the beginning of search engines) and stay away from stuffing the tag full with unrelated keywords.

Use Alt and Title where possible, if you set proper Alt and Title tags on your images it makes it a lot easier to read both for search engines and for people with bad sight.

If people like you, Google will too

When your site is working perfectly and the little spiders can crawl it without problems there is still some work to do. One of the most important inventions when it comes to search engine results is the foundation for Google, it’s measuring the inbound links. With a lot of links pointing to your site from trusted sites Google (and the others) will start showing you on better positions.

For example, My blog is an authority in Web Marketing and I link to you in my blogroll. If someone sees this he might think, well if this highly trusted blog links to that site maybe it’s a very good site. Google will think the same.
There are several ways of making this happen and a reasonable place to start is ODP. Submit your site to them and if they think it’s a good site that adds value they might add you to the directory. This is of course a slow method because ODP-submissions take quite a while. There are other trusted directories out there, Yahoo has one for example.
If your site is good and informative there is always the possibility to get links by telling people that write about your topic that you actually have a good site that might be interesting to them. If they really do find it interesting they might tell about it and link to you.

If a lot of people like your site and link to it, the search engines will find out and show your articles in the search result.

Getting good at SEO

One of the most important things you need to do if you want your SEO to become really successful is choosing the proper keywords. This can be a bit time consuming but it definitely worth the time.

Choosing keywords

The first thing you should do is get a list of the words you think are most relevant for your site. Don’t be afraid to use whole terms as “a knol for SEO” if you think it is necessary to describe your site. You should make a list with these most important words and phrases and take that list to Googles Keyword Tool. With help of the keyword tool you can find out not only the amount of traffic on the targeted keywords but also suggestions of more keywords. (Remember to set match type to Exact and chose the country you will be targeting).

Now that you know the search demand on all relevant keywords you will have to chose between them. There are two other factors besides the search demand that are important. The first is the keyword competition and the second is the relevance of the keyword. The lower the competition and the higher the relevance the better the keyword is. The relevance is the one requiring a bit more practice as it is how well the keyword or phrase relates to your product or website. A higher relevance will get more satisfied visitors and more convertions. The competition is something that can be measured. Do a search on the keyword and see what sites show up. There are a few parameters you can check to see if they are hard competitors or not (it is hard to get an exact estimate but it is fairly easy to get an estimate that is good enough). Check their PageRank to start with, this is not the most important factor but it is the easiest to check if you have Google Toolbar or any similar tool. Check their amount of inbound link, the best way today is by using Yahoos Siteexplorer. Just type: linkdomain:thedomain.com -domain:thedomain.com in Yahoos search window and you will see the links Yahoo have indexed pointing to that site without the links from the site itself. The link: commando in Google does not give you a clear picture for this. Next you need to check for the amount of indexed pages on the site. This is easiest done with the Site:thedomain.com commando in your Google search form.

The higher pagerank, more inbound links and more indexed pages the harder the competitor. There are of course a large amount of other factors but these are easily checked and they give a good enough picture of the search competition. If you want to do it more thoroughly you can do a basic on page check on them as well, see if they have the keyword in their title and H1 and so on.

When you have this data it’s up for choosing. Choose keywords that you believe you can get results in that are close enough to your product or service and still have a high enough search demand.

Perfect crawl and well defined pages

Once you have decided what keywords you want to target it’s time to make the site work perfectly for them. The first thing you have to do is making the site as easy as possible for search spiders. The easier it is for them to index your site the faster they will. The optimal is having all sub pages linked from the front page and this works well if you have say 5 – 10 pages. If you have thousands though this is not only impossible but also stupid. The most important part here is building a link structure where sites that are close in content link to each other. The better your internal linking manages to link related pages together the better results. One easy way of doing this is first building a standard hierarchy and then link together pages that belong together. One example of where this works perfectly is a WordPress blog, first you have the hierarchy in the categories or archives and with the tags you link related pages together (via a tag page but it’s the same principle).

When the structure is working well you need to define keywords for specific pages. You can’t expect to get results on hundreds of keywords on your front page, you need to spread them out on sub pages. If you have a vegetable site you might want to target the front page for vegetables and have sub pages for lettuce and cucumber. Cluster keywords based on the words themselves, even though complementary sandwiches are close to free snacks in meaning they shouldn’t be on the same page as the are far to different in syntax. Free snacks should actually go with free drinks as they are closer.
When you write the text for the pages keep in mind what keyword you are targeting. It’s not necessary to keep a certain percent of the keyword on the page but it should definitely be there. It should be visible in the titles, headlines and even in the meta data (description being the most important).

To further increase the definition of the pages make sure that the targeted keyword is in the internal links pointing to the page. Why would search engines consider the page to be about lettuce if the button that takes you there has carrots written all over it.

If you want help with your on page we have created this simple SEO Tool that can give you the pointers you need to target a page for a keyword.

Link Building

SEO doesn’t work without a method to get inbound links to the site. The link building is extremely important and also the most debated part of SEO. There are lots of different ways to get links and some of them are impopular. The one kind of link building there are no complaints about is working with quality of the content. The idea is that high quality content will attract links (and this is also the fundamental idea behind Google). There are actually several ways you can work with it for SEO. The most obvious way is using a technique called Link Bait. A link bait is a function, article, film or similar that is made to attract links. It is hard to know in advance how successful a link bait will be but there are a few things to think about that can improve the results. It is more about knowing the social web than actual technology.

Strategic link baiting

One of the groups on the net that links most is the blogging-community. If you can produce something that affects bloggers you can increase your chances of getting links. You can attract links both by having content that bloggers like or even with content they really dislike.

Humor tends to be something that people are happy to link to. It can be an extremely good way of building natural links. There are lots and lots of clips that have recieved a mssive amount of links in short time.

Handing out something for free can be a good way to attract links and if you manage to hand out something that webmasters or bloggers want then you can get lots and lots of links. A good example of this is WordPress. By handing out the engine for free they got insane amounts of inbound links. There are lots of people following them by handing out themes for free and get their share of the links too.

No matter what kind of link bait you chose to work with you need to make sure people find it so they can link to it. This might seem like a catch 22 but there are ways to do it. If you are active in social networks or if you have lots of friends on facebook or similar, you can get those first visitors that will link. Good places to start is Digg, Stumbleupon, Reddit or Propeller.

ROI and SEO

Estimating the ROI (Return Of Investment) when doing SEO is extremely important if you want to get really successful. We are not only talking about invesment as in money but in time, links and all  those things that can be seen as costs in SEO. By estimating the ROI on specific keywords we can make the site more profitable per spent hour/dollar/link.

How to estimate ROI 

If we accept that you can reach the number 1 position on any keyword with any site if you invest enough it’s a question of selecting the best keywords. There are several factors that we need to take in to consideration when deciding how good a keyword is and when we have set a value to the keyword we need to compare this to the investment.
Percent of clicks on the positions in the first page of a search result
Things you need to know to estimate the value of a keyword includes the Search Demand, Convertion Rate and Averege Value on a Convertion. The calculation is pretty straight forward if we have this data: Calculate the amount of visitors you will get on the top position by multiplying search demand with ~40% (This is the amount of the searchers that will click on the top position if nothing else interferes). Take the number of visitors and multiply it with the  convertion rate (if you have trouble estimating the convertion rate and the averege value per convertion you can measure it by doing an adwords campaign on the target keywords and get the data from Google Analytics). Multiply the number of convertions with the averege value on them.

Search Demand x 40% x Convertion Rate x Value of Convertions = Value of keyword

After this little procedure you know the value of the top position on the selected keyword. Now comes the tricky part, we have to estimate how much we have to invest to reach that position. This can be very tricky but the good part is that in most cases we don’t need any actual figures, we just need to be able to compare the competition on different keywords.

Start with trying to find out how tough the competition is, useful data here is their amount and strength of inbound links, number of pages on the site, PageRank, age of the site and quality of their On Page SEO. You can of course use a number of other measurements as you in a way try to backtrack Googles own algorithm. These are all pretty easy to find out though and they give a good enough picture as we don’t want to spend a lifetime measuring the competition.

How to find this data:

Number of inbound links
The best way is by using Yahoo’s siteexplorer, just write Linkdomain:thedomain.com in Yahoo’s search field. Yahoo doesn’t show everything but it shows more than Google’s Link: command.
Strength of inbound links
Visit a selection of the pages in the result from the Linkdomain and do a quick estimate of the pages, PR might be the best thing to see.
Number of indexed pages
Do a Site:thedomain.com in Googles search field.
Page Rank
Just visit the site with Google Toolbar installed and you will se the public snapshot of the PR in the bar.
Quality of On Page SEO
Try and estimate how good the On Page of the competitor by looking at it, see if it has unique titles on all pages and similar.
Compare the different competitors on these points, a good way can be to select a number of competitors from each search result (I usually take a look at the competitors on position 1, 3 and 10). Put a value to the competition, this is the tricky part. You have to weigh all factors and try to put a value to the competition. I usually put a value between 1 and 10 where 10 is the strongest. (With a few SEO-projects behind you it will get easier and easier to actually put a monetary value to these numbers, sadly the investment needed in time or money is not the same for everyone and you need to find it out yourself).

Note that PageRank is also a value similar to this estimate and if you want to do it faster you can actually look only at PageRank of main competitors and use that value (it’s less exact but a very fast measurement).

Putting a figure on the ROI

You can now divide the value of the keyword with the estimate of the competition and get a figure for the ROI. After this you just chose the keywords with the highest value per amount of work.

Value of Keyword / Estimate of competition = ROI

As you probably realize this is not the actual ROI until you are able to put a value on your time and your links and you can do a more exact estimate of how much you actually need to invest to overtake the competitors. The only advise here is that you will learn how as you work with it hor much effort you have to put in. At least we have an estimate that tells us what keywords are most profitable.

Using ROI to know when to stop

Another use of ROI is that by applying it to an ongoing SEO you can tell when it’s time to stop. As the averege click ratio on each position in the SERP (Search Engine Result Page) we know how much we will gain in profits from moving from position 3 to position 2 or 1. If you have reached position 4 on one of your target keywords and want to know if you should invest more in that keyword or start working with another one you simply do the ROI calculation for the new keyword and the one where you already have a position. Is there more to gain per invested hour or dollar in gaining a position in the old one or in the new one?

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