Search engine optimization can be an esoteric, mysterious subject for the average website owner, but the fundamentals of SEO are not wizardry. On the contrary, it’s easy to learn the basics or even learn to make site improvements on your own. While reputable SEO companies are certainly capable of delivering results, the industry is also home to snake oil salesmen that use ‘black hat’ SEO methods or exploit the public’s naïveté on the subject. That’s why demystifying SEO in layman’s terms can be the first step towards empowering you – and causing an upwards spike in your number of daily visitors.
Search engine optimization is the process of improving the way your site interacts with search engines in the hopes of ultimately advancing its ranking in organic (unpaid) search results. Optimization efforts often include keyword research and revision of a site’s page titles, meta tags, URL structure, and more.
The foundation of SEO is a website built on well-written, standards-compliant (X)HTML. That’s why the smartest SEO choice you can make is your first one – the choice of which web design firm you hire to build your site. A site that’s coded with best practices in mind will facilitate the communication that occurs between your web site and the various search engines that crawl, index, and rank your content. Struggling to decide which designer to hire? We’ve got you covered there, too.
SEO fundamentals aren’t just for web developers. Many of the best resources and information are available for free online. There’s no reason that the average website owner shouldn’t take matters into his or her own hands – either to make site improvements or simply to become an educated consumer before hiring an SEO consultant. Our number one recommendation is Google’s superb (and free) Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide PDF. This document was originally developed for internal use by Google staff, so you know it’s good. After all, most of our SEO efforts are intended to affect our rank in Google, and we will likely use their Analytics products to track our successes – so who better to trust on the subject? According to the Starter Guide, “search engine optimization is often about making small modifications to parts of your website. When viewed individually, these changes might seem like incremental improvements, but when combined with other optimizations, they could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” It’s important to emphasize that SEO is not just about search results, but also about improving the structure and layout of your content – and therefore, the user’s experience. That’s a huge added benefit. For another user-friendly and thorough read on the basics, try The Beginner’s Guide to SEO by SEOmoz.
If your site runs on WordPress (we certainly recommend it), there are several popular plugins to enhance your search results – namely All in One SEO Pack andWordPress SEO by Yoast. Joost de Valk, author of the latter plugin, says in his exhaustive article, “WordPress is one of the best, if not the best content management systems when it comes to SEO.” These plugins aim to support and enhance the platform’s existing SEO strengths. Rule number one: enable your pretty permalinks! Search engines like to read and interpret descriptive words in your URLs.
These resources and basic tips should help shed some light on a topic that is not as daunting as it seems. If you do decide to hire an SEO firm or consultant, safeguard yourself by learning what questions you should be asking them. Now go forth and optimize!