They’re everywhere: “Like,” “Tweet,” “+1!” – ways to share content you’ve enjoyed with others – but how can a content creator guarantee people can find their work? A contributor to or an owner of a web site cannot rely entirely on “new media” like Facebook and Twitter for promotion; they need to learn about “search engine optimization,” or SEO.
Search engine optimization is the process used by sites like Google and Yahoo to index content, and is how the millions of results for a given term are ranked. Search engines are vital for new users to find material, but uncovering how to build a SEO-friendly website is easier said than done.
Google provides a 32 page “starter guide” to SEO as well as multiple pages of “webmaster guidelines,” and while they’re not as digestible as Google’s offerings, Bing and Yahoo each have their own sets of rules. Unfortunately, each engine also provides several links to “expert SEO analysis,” some of which are groups looking to use illegal methods of increasing site visibility.
While it seems complicated, smaller sites should not have to pay for SEO guidance. They will be accessible as long they follow some standard rules:
Keep It Clean!
The easiest way to make sure a search engine properly finds a site is to keep it tidy, simply by:
- Making sure your site is easily navigable, and has a distinct front page.
- Keeping your site’s addresses (URLs) simple.
- Using each page’s “title” and “meta” tags. These give a page a title within a browser and a short description within a search entry.
- Giving each image an “alt” tag. This attaches text to an image and helps search engines know what keywords should place that image in their results.
- Carefully writing your HTML. If a site is hard for a search engine to read, it will be hard to index, and will rank lower as a result.
Hyperlinks are the connective “roads” of the Internet, allowing users to jump from one site to another. It helps a site’s ranking to link to as much relevant content as possible, but search engines also know if a site is abusing hyperlinks.
Be mindful of linking to any sites that want to exchange links for other forms of exposure, or use attention-grabbing links (“click bait”) to generate traffic. Sites can be delisted for using misleading headlines or text to bring more users to their pages.
Remember: Content Is King!
Most people no longer “surf the web” randomly; they prefer to see content relevant to their interests. Users will keep coming back and are more likely to share content with others if it appeals to them. However, the Internet is constantly changing, and it is easy to get caught up in designing for mass appeal.
Ultimately, providing easy to read, organized and unique content is key to staying visible online. If your content draws in users and piques their interest, your site will increase it’s own visibility and rise through search engine rankings naturally.