If you are not taking advantage of some SEO basics to make the most of your web site, you are not alone. Some organizations are too wrapped up with the bells and whistles of their sites, and not concerned enough about the content foundation upon which their sites are built. We have learned that your site is only worth as much as the connections it makes, which is why we take SEO very seriously. Building a web site optimized for search engine friendliness and usefulness is not as complicated as you might think.
Pay to play
One way to employ SEO is through sponsored words, in which you pay the going rate for the keywords that support your marketing goals. The other is through pages that are "organically" found through search results: pages that are populated with just the right words, phrases and links that feed the world's most powerful search engines. Both strategies – whether paying for sponsorship or paying someone to create and maintain your SEO – require a financial commitment, but we've found the organic route to be an increasingly 'budget-friendly' alternative to Pay Per Click (PPC). You may be dealing with a site that is hard to work with for "organic SEO" and revert to the easy way by using Adwords which is the PPC internet advertising model. This $11 billion industry allows you to get results fast, but it can get to be quite expensive outbidding your competition for keywords.
Go organic and get your marketing budget healthy
We like to focus on organic rankings because they provide more of a long-term strategy, and you are not on the hook to be in an auction for keywords. In addition to having better quality visits – that is, users who stay on the site longer and get the information they need – organic rankings are perceived as a more legitimate sources as web surfers get more savvy and specific with their searches. Some people, frankly, put less faith in sponsored listings than compared to organic search results.
Fighting to get to the top in the organic search maze requires a lot of factors, but the most important is to have content that is focused on your keyword phrases. For example, Google loves sites that are updated frequently, and it gives you points for new content. By adding a news release, blog or some other fresh content once a month can help move you up in the ranking.
Rules of thumb for making sure you are making the most of your site content:
Use good page titles, headings and file names
Think of your content being in a hierarchy that starts from the page title (shows up in the browser bar) all the way to the bottom of the page. Keep your focus on the content from the top down, incorporating keyword phrases in the page title, heading (H1) in the copy that follows. If you have your key phrases in the page title and heading, you have the most important things where they belong. Always keep in mind, this needs to be readable, and making compelling copy with the keyword phrases sometimes requires compromise between creativity and searchability. Seek content specialists who can weave these functions artfully.
Example of a page optimized for "Fishing Worms"
Page Title: Fishing worms from Bobby's Bait & Tackle Shop
Heading: Fishing worms and other bait that help you catch the big one
Page name: Fishing-worms.html
First paragraph: Bobby has been delivering the best fishing worms this side of the Ohio RIver....
Meta-data: the red-headed stepchild of web development that does not get any attention until someone brings it up. We like to focus on "Description" and "Keywords" and try our best to make them unique and readable. Some say search engines do not pay attention to the them but there are two things keep in mind. First, when you look at the Google results page, the "Page Title" and "Meta-Description" are visible, so if you want someone to click your link, it is wise to write something interesting or inviting. Second, Google Webmaster Tools bark at you if you do not have good meta-data. So add good meta-data, and keep in mind, the "Description" copy is what shows up below the title, so make sure it complements the page title without repeating it.
This one is pretty simple and straightforward. As you look at the content on your site, use the keyword phrases as links. For example, instead of using the term "learn more" for a link, try using keywords like "learn more about fishing worms." If you can get anchor links on the home page, that adds even more points. Try to fit anchor links into the first or second paragraph of a new release or blog. That way, if the content is aggregated to other sites, you will gain points for an anchor back-link to your site.
Inbound links (aka backlinks)
Our SEO specialist friends at Purple Trout tell us how important it is to have links to your site to improve SEO rankings. When Google – the godfather of knowledge bases – recognizes when a legitimate site has a link to your site, it rewards you with better status. The more backlinks from outside sites, the better it is for your site indexing.
For starters, submit your site to DMOZ open directory project, ZoomInfo business directory and Yahoo! Directory Listings. Yahoo! is $300 annually but it is worth the money for the back-linking. If it is local business, make sure it gets back-linked on local chamber of commerce sites and other local directories. Next, see if there are any directories that show up on the keyword phrases you are focusing on, you may find some that are easy and free to submit your site.
Look at social networks as increasingly important places into which you can pump your links. The more networks you can share your site links to, the better. We focus on the popular ones: Twitter, Facebook,Delicious, Digg, Reddit, LinkedIn. If you really want to centralize your social networking, add all your sites through Ping.fm, which allows you to post information through one account.
As co-founder of Campus Suite, Steve believes behind every great school is great communication. His tech savvy and passion for design fuel his desire to help administrators understand, embrace and seize the power of web communications.