SEO stands for “search engine optimization,” but what does that even mean? It’s the act of optimizing your site for search engines, right?
Well, not exactly.
Google (the site with the fun doodles) encourages webmasters not to base decisions on SEO alone but to first think of their audience and to make the main goal of their SEO efforts to improve the overall user-experience.
While that might just be a recommendation by Google, I believe that it’s actually what SEO is all about: improving the overall user experience on a website while attempting to increase the number of incoming links on your site. Users are the main audience for websites, not search engines.
Focusing on the audience will provide better long-term benefits. Create positive experiences that make the user want to return, share, and even link to your site. Let’s look at the basics of SEO that you can use to help improve the user experience (and generate more traffic).
What are the basics of SEO?
There are many things that go into SEO, but the main areas of SEO are pretty easy to remember.
- Meta Data
- Site Structure
You may be asking yourself “What about design? Or development? Aren’t those things part of SEO?”
Don’t worry—I am getting to that. But first, let me talk about the basics of SEO.
Basics of SEO #1: Meta Data
Meta data is code on a site that the user doesn’t always see but exists to help search engines rank a page and provide relevant information on search results—as well as other websites.
Meta data includes specific tags such as rich snippets, title tags, meta description, open-graph, and TwitterCards. These help tell the user (and search engines) what the page is about before they ever click through to the site.
These tags are added to Web pages with the goal of drawing the user’s attention to a search result. This is accomplished by providing the user with instant information related to their query, which often results in higher click-through rates and lower bounce rates.
For example, if a user is searching for information about an album, he/she may see the tracks and the length of each track on the search result pages. Or if he/she is searching for information about a specific product, he/she may see the rating, price, and availability.
This inspires trust with the user before he/she even enters the site and entices him/her to click for more information.
Title Tags and Meta Descriptions
These are content pieces that are pulled from the code on a Web page and displayed on search engine result pages. These are also used to increase click-through rates and help the user understand what the page is about before actually visiting the website.
Facebook open-graph shows rich stories pulled onto Facebook when the page is shared. Basically, this allows webmasters to customize how information is moved from a non-Facebook-related website to Facebook with a link to a specific page. There are different types of meta tags that can be used on a site to recommend what information is shown on Facebook. This same idea is holds for Twitter with TwitterCards.
Basics of SEO #2: Site Structure
Site architecture (or information architecture) is the last major group of Search Engine Land’s Periodic Table of SEO Success Factors, but it is still a very important one. Having a good site structure is important because it allows users (and crawlers) to navigate a website easily. Adding simple-to-understand URLs that convey content information helps this. Key elements to remember when planning a site structure include:
- Use words in URLs
- Create a simple directory structure
- Provide one version of a URL to reach a document
- Site Speed
You can read more about site structure in the Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide from Google and in Search Engine Land’s post “Site Architecture & Search Success Factors.”
Basics of SEO #3: Well Written, High Quality and Unique Content
One rule to follow when creating content is to create value. Any piece of written content that doesn’t provide any value has no purpose. But how does one measure value? Value could be measured by traffic coming to the site and staying a long time. But more importantly, it can be measured by the responses of the users after they read the content on the page. This is why content strategy is very important.
Do they share the page? Comment on it? Share their point of view? These metrics are better ways to measure value.
Avoid duplicate content
Use only unique content that isn’t duplicated from other pages. This is important because search engines don’t want to rank two or three websites next to each other if they are providing the same information.
When search engines are looking for unique content, they tend to exclude content in the navigation, sidebar ads, and footer—only including content from the body of the page.
Ask yourself whether the value you bring to the topic is really unique. Rand Fishkin gives a great explanation of this in a unique content whiteboard Friday.
A few ways you can manually measure high-quality content is to check if the author is an expert in the field, if there are any errors on the page, or if it’s completely one-sided.
Basics of SEO #4: Links
Incoming links are still one of the strongest ranking factors for search engines, but this area of SEO shouldn’t be worked on too much and in fact should follow the 90/10 rule. 90% of your efforts should be on creating content (value), and only 10% of your efforts should be focused on link building.
The best way to build links is by building relationships with people in your industry. If you build real relationships, your content is more likely to be linked to from other sites or shared on social networks.
Building links should be an easy task when you follow the 90/10-rule. Otherwise, it’s going to be extremely difficult to get authentic, non-spammy links pointing to your site.
Do You Agree?
In my next post, I will be writing about where SEO fits in with the marketing team, but first, what are your opinions of SEO and the benefits for the user and search engines?