SEO For Beginners
An introduction to the basics of Search Engine Optimisation
I've written this article because SEO is one of those things that everyone knows they need but often don't know where to start. Whilst running The Sewing Directory I've been reading as many articles as I can on SEO and picking up tips along the way as well as learning through trial and error so I thought I would summarise some of the basics to get your started.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation, which in brief means optimising your site to get it picked up by search engines so people can find your site. The higher your site ranks in the search engines the more visitors you will get from them. Search engines focus on keywords: the words that people type into a seach engine when looking for something. Your aim is to make sure that your site ranks well for the keywords relevant to your site.
Your first question should be 'what are my keywords?' Excercise - take a sheet of paper and write down the words that you think are important and relevant to your site.
Tip - Keywords don’t just have to be one word, they can be phrases too.
Example: If you run a sewing school in Cardiff called Stitched Up. You would be writing down words like: sewing, sewing school, learn to sew, sewing classes, Cardiff, Stitched Up etc.
These words are your starting point. Now you need to consider 2 further things to help refine your keyword list.
1) Firstly people tend to use different words when looking for the same thing. So let’s take ‘sewing classes’ some people might type sewing workshops, sewing lessons, sewing tuition, sewing school, sewing courses. If you only use the word sewing classes on your site you could potentially be missing all those people who are searching using the other terms.
So now go back to your list take a look at your keywords. See if you can think of alternative ways of saying them. It’s often a good idea to get other people involved in this as we all tend to use slightly different language so your friends and family might come up with variations you didn’t think of.
2) The second thing you need to think about with keywords is that the more specific you are the less competition there will be on the search engines. For instance, if you type in ‘sewing classes’ to Google you get almost 24 million results! If you make your search more specific and search for ‘sewing classes Cardiff’ you get under 300,000 results so you’ve already got a lot better odds of your site being seen. If you break it down further to a specific suburb of Cardiff eg. ‘sewing classes Roath’ you are then down to 68,000 results. If you break it down to a specific class eg. Beginners dressmaking classes Cardiff you are down to 24,000 results, beginner dressmaking classes Roath gives you just over 1,000 results.
So go back to your list again and break your keywords down into more specific keywords. You should now have a pretty long list with lots of keywords phrased in different ways, and broken right down to the specific terms you think your target customers will be using in search engines.
If you want more help on coming up with keywords for you site take a look at the Google Keywords Tool. It allows you to put in a keyword and it will then generate other similar keywords for you, or you can put in a website and it will generate keywords based upon the content of that site. The image to the left shows the keywords it suggests for my site.
Incorporating Keywords into your site
So now you have your keywords you need to start thinking of ways you can get them onto your site. The most obvious place is in the text on your website, the about us page, description of the items you sell, news posts etc. Try and make sure you use a few different variations rather than just the same words over and over again.
Example - Beginners dressmaking workshop – Come and join us on this easy sewing class to learn to sew, ideal for learner sewers.
Instead of just: Beginner dressmaking workshop – a workshop for beginner dressmaking.
See how we managed to get 4 different keywords into the first example instead of just the one keyword used twice in the second. Plus we used variations; class instead of workshop and learner instead of beginner.
Having a news section on your site is a really good idea. It gives you the opportunity to fit in lots of keywords and it means you are regularly updating your website (which the search engines look favourably on). Having a blog on your site is good for the same reasons; plus if you are focusing on specific keywords you can write a post around them. Just a note of caution though don’t overpopulate your posts with keywords it is very obvious to both your readers, and the search engines.
Other opportunities for including keywords are in your page titles, in your image names and image descriptions (this is really important as people can use search engines to search by image name rather than looking for keywords on a page) and meta tags and meta descriptions.
Google Analytics/Google Webmaster tools
If you haven’t already I highly recommend you sign up for both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster tools. Both of them are free, and provide a wealth of information about your website, who visits it and what keywords they are using which really helps when planning/assessing your SEO campaign.
I won’t go into both in detail or this will be a very long article but the key points are that Google Analytics can tell you exactly how many hits you’ve had per day, where they came from (including how many from search engines and which search engines they came from) and what keywords people used in searches when they found your site. Google Webmaster has a section on search queries which not only tells you the number of clicks you are getting for certain keywords but also tells you the number of impressions and what your average position is in Google for that keyword so you can see how you are ranking.
I will add an indepth guide to Analytics and Webmaster Tools soon.
A backlink is a link to your site from another site (more detailed definition here). The more people link to your site the more importance Google places upon it and therefore the higher you will rank in search engines. There are a lot of places where people will swap backlinks in a ‘if you link to my site I’ll link to yours’ kind of deal. Google is aware that this goes on and does not place high SEO value on this type of backlink so it’s really not worth doing.
What you are looking for ideally is for people to link to you of their own accord. People who like your products will often link back to your site, if you write interesting blog posts/news posts/articles people will link to them, if people recommend you to others on social networks they will often post a link. There are also ways to create more back links yourself, commenting on blogs and on forums which allow you to include a link to your site can help. Providing competitions prizes for bloggers or websites will usually ensure you get a mention and a link, having great content on your site will lead to backlinks too.
Google Webmaster is useful if you want to know how many back links you have and who from, it allows you to view links to your site from other sites, and shows you which pages of your site are linked to the most.
I hope that’s enough to get you started thinking about SEO. I’ve included some further reading below for when you are ready for more information.
The Moz guide to SEO - this is a brilliant place to start. Do check out their whiteboard Friday videos too.
Google's Guide to SEO - Click to download this useful pdf
A good infographic about why content is good for SEO