So you’ve finally got your website up and running! Chances are, you’ve heard the phrase “If you build it, they will come”, and had hoped this applies to your newly launched website. The unfortunate reality is that people can’t really see a website floating around in the depths of cyberspace, unless they run across a link to it. Of course it’s essential to tell people what you’re domain name is, but what about people who are looking for the particular services or products you offer, but don’t initially know the domain name of your site? Or even the name of your company for that matter? Well the good news is that they ARE looking for what you have to offer! According to internetlivestats.com, Google alone processes about 3.5 billion searches per day! And that’s just Google. Keep in mind people are searching using other search engines as well. Google just happens to be the largest.
So you’ve probably heard the buzzword SEO whenever people talk about increasing visitor traffic to your site. SEO is just an acronym that stands for Search Engine Optimization. All that means is that your site needs to implement a few techniques to get the highest ranking it possibly can in a search for certain specific keywords.
So we know people are searching for you, but how will they find you? Well there’s a simple answer, which I’ll get to in a moment… But that simple answer has to be translated into a few key guidelines for your site in order to help it get discovered. So, the simple answer is to:
Make your site as relevant to what it represents as possible and ensure that it’s content and structure reflects that relevance.
Sound a little confusing? Ok, I’ll explain… If people are searching for your site, they’re going to search using words or phrases that are relevant to what they’re hoping to find. So for example, if someone is searching the web for homeowner’s insurance, most likely they’ll use key terms like homeowners, insurance, coverage, etc. With that in mind, Google (as a search engine) is pretty intelligent! however it’s not clairvoyant… at least not yet. The search engine needs a way of knowing what your site is about–what it’s relevant to. In the olden days of the internet, declaring what your site was about was as simple as listing key words that were relevant to its content in the meta ‘keywords’ tag. So you’d have something like this in the html code of your site:
<meta name=”keywords” content=”homeowners, insurance, coverage“>
Well you know how us crafty humans are always trying find a way to ‘beat the system’ and in doing so, people would just load up on keywords with popular search terms in order to boost their rankings, even if those search terms were irrelevant to the content of their site. So just say your website was about basket weaving, but you decided to fill up the keywords tag with words related to a new box office hit movie that you just knew a lot of people were searching for, say Star Wars. This would have made your site come up for a lot of people’s searches and boosted it’s rankings… that is until Google caught on to the scheme. Of course, a search engine that doesn’t bring back relevant information doesn’t have much value to a user so Google had to switch up how they did things a bit. What criteria they use in ranking sites is somewhat of a proprietary secret sauce for the most part, but what we do know is this: The search engine doesn’t really look in the keywords tag anymore because that system is so easy to abuse. Instead, it looks in certain parts of your site, ‘reads’ that content, then deduces the relevancy of your site to a set of search terms based on what it read. In ‘reading’ the site, the web crawler as it is called, parses the text on your site and ‘clicks’ around on its links in a similar way that a human being would. Although it can’t really tell what the images and links are, it does read the alt and title tags that should appropriately label the images and links. In addition to that, it takes note of your site being linked to by other reputable sites and uses that information to increase search engine rankings as well. Say for example, a prominent blog that get’s a lot of traffic posts an article and places a link to your site within that article. A search engine looks at this link to your site as a sort of ‘co-sign’ from a reputable reference that your site has a high relevancy to your subject and that you ‘know what you’re talking about’, so to speak. So in summary, if your site is pertinent to what a human is searching for, and this human would refer your website to someone else looking for the same information, it is optimized for a search engine.
The search engine’s crawler is designed to mimic a human being searching the web. If humans like your site and find it informative, then so will the web crawler.
So now that we know what makes a site’s search engine position rise above the ranks, let’s look at how we can do this. First of all, luckily for you… if you have a virtual storefront through Health Partners America like this one hpaexchange.com, we’ve already taken care of the vast majority of these things for you. However these are still good tips to follow when adding custom content that extends your webpage beyond the default content, or when building your own site.
1. Have good html structure
Ensuring good html structure lets the crawler bot know exactly what part of the site it’s looking at when reading the site’s content. It’s especially easy when using html5 specs to build a site since the crawler will be able to easily know it’s looking at the site’s main navigation when reading a list of links located inside a <nav> tag. Make sure your site is up to date by using the latest version of html and that it’s structured semantically (which basically means that the tags properly describe their relation to the whole document).
2. Choose an awesome title for your webpage
The <title> tag of a webpage is very important for many reasons. It’s like the title of the chapter of a book. When a search engine fetches a page from your website in a group of search results, it will list its title and meta description on the results page. You’ll want to make sure that page’s title is a good representation of your site’s content and would attract someone to visit your site. Having an attractive and descriptive title means it can improve your site’s CTR (click through rate) when it does appear in searches, which will improve it’s search engine ranking.
3. Write an accurate and attractive meta description for your site.
Although the search engine probably won’t use the content of this particular meta tag to determine your site’s relevancy, the meta description serves as a sort of ‘advertisement’ of the content of your webpage that shows under that page’s title in the search results. If you don’t write one, the search engine will just pull some text from the content that it thinks is a good representation of the webpage. It’s best to go ahead and decide what you want potential visitors to see. The meta description could mean the difference between your site being clicked on or passed over once it does show up in the search results. Like number 2 above, this is crucial for your site’s click through rate.
4. Use the alt attribute appropriately for images
Sometimes images fail to load for whatever reason. It’s pretty frustrating for an image that contains key information about the site to be missing and the visitor to have no clue what should be there. Using the alt, (alternate text) attribute on an image would display that text (usually on mousover) so that the visitor knows what the image represents. The alt tags also tell the search engine what the image represents so it can better catalogue the information on each webpage.
5. Use the title attributes appropriately for links
Similar to images, links many times need an attribute to briefly describe what they’re representing or linking to. For example, the link’s url may be a long string of characters and parameters but a simple, title=”Blog Posts”, would let the search engine know how the link relates to the rest of the site as well as the content it links to.
6. Use <h> tags for section headings (not just for size and style)
<h1> tags should only be using once (or minimally) on a webpage and should describe what the page’s content is about. For sub headings, you can use <h2> and <h3> tags respectively. Proper use of heading tags help the search engine (as well as human visitors) easily find out what the subsequent lump of text should be all about.
7. Use descriptive words and phrases in your site’s content
For example, if your site is about insurance, you’ll want to make sure words and phrases that are relevant to someone looking for insurance are sprinkled liberally throughout your site’s content. So in this case, if someone searches ‘get lower premiums’, it would be beneficial for you to have that phrase somewhere in your site. As mentioned earlier in this article, it wouldn’t be any good to just stick those keywords somewhere in the site (also known as keyword-stuffing, which can penalize your site’s ranking status so don’t do it!). Keywords need to be naturally used in your site’s content. If you were to have a section with a sentence that says “Here are a few tips to get lower premiums when doing upgrades to your home…” you’d be increasing your chances of popping up in a search for those terms.
8. Post links to your site on social media (When appropriate!)
You definitely don’t want to go overboard with this one; Too many links posted can come off as spam to your followers. This tip works best when you have specific content that you want people to see, like blog posts, site updates, etc. If the content is relative to what people are looking for, it’ll get clicks, shares, etc. which will increase traffic to your site. More traffic to your site tells the search engines that its content is valuable and will increase its ranking in the search results.
9. Have someone blog about your site
This tip is similar to number 8 in that getting a co-sign from another popular site in the form of a link can increase your search engine ranking. In addition, it can be a very powerful way to drive human traffic to your site as well. Since people tend to read blogs (like this one!) for up to date information on specific topics, a blog post is the perfect place for people already interested in what you have to offer to find you.
10. Choose a good domain name
The domain of your site doesn’t necessarily have to have words in it that pertain to your site’s content–or even be a real word for that matter. When choosing a domain name, it’s most important to go with something that will represent your brand. However, if appropriate, adding keywords in your domain name can increase the click through rate on your site when a potential visitor happens to run across it. For example, if your domain is buyhealthinsurance.com, it may seem authoritative on the subject of health insurance and get more people to actually click.
I hope this article was helpful in explaining a little bit on how search engines work and why you want to focus mainly on having a good ‘people friendly’ website in order to make it ‘search engine friendly’. There are tons of online articles with various tips and tricks to boost your rankings, but the mechanics of search engines change over time rendering some of those tips and tricks obsolete very quickly. By keeping the role of a search engine and how it accomplishes its goals in mind , you can always stay ahead of the curve and hopefully at the top of the rankings.