Getting started with SEO and search engines
It can be a whole lot of fun to create a website, but chances are you've decided to make a website for a reason. Whatever the kind of content your publishing on the web, and whatever your intended audience, it's important that your potential visitors can find your website easily. Once you've created your website, and have your very first page up and online, it's time to get started ensuring search engines can find it, and list it correctly, to help your visitors find you.
Get your site seen in search engines
To help others find your site on the web, you’ll need to start by letting search engines know your site exists. Although search engines routinely trawl the Internet to update their databases with new sites, pages and content, this process isn’t instantaneous; the fact that you have a website doesn’t mean you’ll instantly appear in search engine results, even if you search for it using the address (URL) of your website.
Google is by far the most-used search engine in most countries, but there are many others. Help people find your site by submitting it to as many different search engines as possible.
Build backlinks to your website
Backlinks are the way people navigate on the Internet: they’re the links (or hypertext links) that you click on a web page in order to get to another one. They're a very important part of the way search engines decide how to rank a page for a matching key word, and where to place a website on search engine results pages presented to people searching for a given word or group of words.
Adding backlinks from other sites that point to your website helps search engines and your visitors find your site. They also play a key role in ensuring your website figures prominently in the search engine results pages for the search terms (or key words) that are most relevant to your website: the more backlinks your site has, and the better the integration between those links and the key words for your website, the more likely search engines will make appropriate associations between your website and your chosen key word terms.
- You can begin building backlinks simply by asking for them - compile a list of websites whose content is similar to the content of your website, then contact the sites’ webmasters and offer to exchange links. Link exchanges simply involve adding a backlink on your website that points to another website, and in exchange, the other's site's webmaster will add a link to your site from theirs.
- Submit your site to online website directories, and target directories that specialize in your field of activity. Dmoz is a good place to start: it's one of the oldest (and most reputable) website directories around. To help you find the right directories for your website, do a little research, or use directory locator websites like DirectoryRoll, DirectoryCritic and BestWebDirectories.
- When building backlinks to your website, remember to use new, unique descriptions for each directory submission, as search engines prefer original and varied content. Use the link text of each backlink as a way to highlight the key words for your website - it helps search engines understand what your website is all about, and to make the right associations between your website, and search terms people will use to find it.
- See the emyspot blog for more on backlink building and keyword selection for your website.
Make your website content count
It's vital that your website be meaningful for your site visitors, and for search engines. People won't be interested in your website if it's content is dull, poorly written or irrelevant, and search engines won't know what to do with it if their algorithms can't analyze and classify it correctly.
Your website content should be:
- plentiful: the more content published on your site, the more it's likely to be matched to appropriate search terms, and to please your visitors
- meaningful: simply copying and pasting someone else's site content does nothing for your visitors, and search engine algorithms are designed to detect duplicated content, and lower sites in search engine results pages that simply republish content from other websites. Your site content needs to be qualitatively different, original, and sufficiently interesting to ensure both visitors and search engines alike find it interesting.
- up to date: search engines like to see websites updated constantly, and so will your visitors
- adapted to your audience: adopt a style of writing that matched the expectations of your audience, and using a spell checker goes a long way to ensuring your site will be read and appreciated
- See this article on ideas for how to go about making your website content get noticed, and this article on ways to add and update content to your website.
Optimizing site content for search engines: META tags
Each item of content you add to your website can be fine-tuned for ensuring great search engine results (so visitors can find it in Google, Bing and Yahoo etc.) and to ensure your on-site search engine provides visitors with the kind of content they're looking for.
The SEO (or search engine optimization) information at the bottom of the editor of each item of content you'll add to your website has 5 different types of information, that help ensure your website and its content it fine-tuned for search engines:
- META title is the title displayed in search engine results pades and at the top of a browser window. A well thought-out title should include key words and appeal to people when viewed on a page of search engine results.
- META description is the text that's (usually) displayed below the page title in search engine results pages. It should include key words and be well written; a succinct, accurate, and "catchy" description helps guide visitors to your website
- META keywords though rarely used by search engines, they'll help external websites, like site directories, to classify your website appropriately
- URL is the page address, and including keywords in your site URLs adapted to each page helps search engines understand the page content, and to link each one to relevant keywords
- Illustrative image is used by social networking sites like Facebook when posting or sharing a link, and should provide a visual reference to the content of the page
If you add a site search engine (widget) to your side menus or to a page of your website, it'll use the information contained in the meta title, description and keyword fields for each page, to provide results to visitors. Ensuring you spend a little time adding and personalizing the SEO information for your site pages means helping search engines and your visitors locate and understand your site content.
Things to avoid
- It's already been said but duplicated content (the same page text appearing on more than one page of your site, or text copied from another website) is a surefire way to ensure your site will disappear from the front pages of search engine results. There's no point in republishing the same thing elsewhere, and search engines and visitors alike won't appreciate it one bit.
- Images are great, and a well-illustrated website will appeal a lot more to visitors than a bland, text-only website. Always remember however that search engine algorithms can't understand images, and if your site has little or no text (or text that's embedded in Flash animations or images), search engines won't be able to analyze the site. It'll just "seem" empty, and they'll have no way (or desire!) to present it to people looking for a website via keyword searches.
- If you're just starting out, it can be useful to disable your site access (from the Settings > Global settings > Site info menu of the site manager), or - if you're a doombyPLUS user, to password-protect access to your site. Just bear in mind that disabling a website for more than a few days means search engines will likely remove it from their databases, and a password-protected or members-only website can't have it's content analyzed.