Beginner’s Guide to SEO

(Hi! I created this guide to be a resource to you do-it-yourselfers out there or for those who just want to know a bit more about the Santa Barbara SEO world until they get their hands dirty or hire someone to do it for them. I hope you find it a quick & easy read with some links that you can come back to. I plan on updating this post frequently as new information arises, so let me know what you think and what could be improved, eh? Thanks for looking!)

 Web & Development and SEO

Beginner’s Guide to SEO

Undoubtedly, if you’re a business owner and you’ve looked into (as you should) establishing your web presence, you’ve given some attention to Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Getting your website to rank higher in search engines like Bing and Google mean that you’re more competitive in the marketplace, and who wouldn’t want that?

Every Santa Barbara business does better by incorporating a web presence into their business plan. I don’t know of one contemporary business plan out there today that doesn’t at least mention an online presence. Suffice it to say that you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t already know that SEO is important, so let’s get down to brass tacks: there’s a lot of information out there, what’s good and what’s bad?

Get it from the Source

Don’t take somebody’s opinion on it, talk to Google directly: Google’s beginner’s guide to SEO is a great place to start, but although eminently readable, the problem is that once you start you’re ankle-deep in html tag guidelines and meta and micro data. Questions abound: You’re using a WordPress or Joomla template. Don’t they optimize this sort of thing for you? (Yes, they do, but there is still much to be improved upon.)

Don’t fret. Though some of it might be over your head, there’s a lot of great info here for beginners who just want the gnitty gritty as straight as they can get it.

Just Starting Out

If you’re just starting out, the biggest tip I can offer you is to do all your reading ahead of time. Some great resources are Google’s own SEO Starter Guide. This will give you a good idea of how Google uses its bots to crawl the internet and index your site. It will also let you in on how you should go about organizing your site.

Another great Google site is Google’s SEO site itself which will tell you what SEOs do, what they don’t do, and how to spot a phony one.

Still, this leaves oceans to be desired as to how you’re to go about actually optimizing your content, so once you’ve learned the basic ropes, consider getting a little deeper.

Understanding

It’s best to understand what SEO is before you get involved in building your site because your site will undoubtedly involve a lot of linking to other pages, both your own and others. Do this sort of linking and page building incorrectly, and you’ll be going back to do it all again in the future. Some quick advice here:

  • Use a pen and paper to first make a list of categories(pages) that you’d like to list on your homepage
  • These Categories will become pages and should be named the keywords you’ll be trying to target. (Example: You sell vintage automobiles, perhaps a page name should be ‘European Vintage’) In this way, your page and homepage will contain the correct structure to enhance how search engines index your site. It will be more obvious to these bots that your website is about European Vintage Automobiles.
  • Try to include your keywords into your page URLs and make them as clear as possible.
  • Add some metacontent – tags, categories, meta-descriptions and microdata all add valuable information to your site. Each has its own role to play in how your site gets indexed, but each is eminently valuable.

Learn How to Use Webmaster Tools

This is a basic, but it’s important. If you’re going to be attempting to optimize your site, you’ve got to know what works and what doesn’t, and, more precisely how well it works. Use metrics. Google’s Webmaster Tools is Google’s way of telling you how their search engine is interacting with your site. Learn the ropes here and it will pay off in spades. If you’re having trouble with what each tool means, here is a good guide from SEOMOZ.

Learning how to write your meta-descriptions is another great way to spend some of your time. Though meta-descriptions won’t help Google index your site, you can look at it as potentially free marketing (free marketing!).

Use Heading Tags Correctly

This came as a bit of a surprise to me, but if you’re out there searching for templates to throw your website online, be careful. Many website templates tout themselves as being “SEO friendly” and pay no attention to Alt tags or Heading hierarchy. Ideally, have only one h1 tag per page and have it first thing on the page. From there, an h2 etc. on down the line, just make sure that their sequential and don’t skip around (h1 -> h5, etc.). Also, make sure that the heading tags are concise and accurately reflect the information contained within the page. Seems simple, no? You’d be surprised how easily this gets abused and out of hand.

Plugins

If you’re doing the site building yourself, you can take great leaps and strides by utilizing SEO plugins that will help optimize your site. One great plugin that will help you along you way is the SEO plugin by Yoast. It’s not comprehensive, but it’ll generate a sitemap for you and guide you along the way when building your site. Lots of good information there and you don’t have to be a technorati to figure it out.

 

Go Advanced

The more you know, the better off you’ll be. Hopefully the above will get you started, but when in doubt, remember the old adage that ‘content is king.’ Make your content clear, accessible, and easily found, and you’ll be off to a good start.

Before You Launch

Make sure you’re good before you launch. Once you’re live, people will be linking to your site and referencing it, and you don’t want to be creating bad links for people to use. Optimize you site further by ramping up its loading speed. You can check this using free online tools like Wave, which gives you a visual interpretation of what exactly is wrong with your site.

Links

Check out these links in order to help you get up and running.

  • Pingdom – Helps you gauge your website loading speed and gives available resources for correction. Easy to understand and… it’s free.
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