Is your organization doing the basic “blocking and tackling” that makes it more likely Web searchers will find you?
Below are some key areas you should check in on. These are offered mainly with readers in mind who may not have hands on responsibility for their Web site or Web catalog, but who see value in having more knowledge about search engine optimization, or SEO, basics. For example, if you have bottom line responsibility for selling e-learning or other digital products, this is stuff you need to know. If you aren’t doing – or don’t know if you are doing – the following, you should check in with your Web master and may need to spend some time focusing on your search engine optimization strategy in the very near future.
These are the words – most typically phrases – that you might expect Web searchers to type in when seeking out the types of products and services you offer. For instance, “diabetes management online training” might be an appropriate keyword phrase for a page where an online course in diabetes management is sold. While there would, of course, be many other words and phrases on the page, you would want this particular phrase to be used a number of times – without the writing sounding unnatural – to make the focus of the page clear.
In your perfect world, a Web searcher would type in “diabetes management online training” or something close to it and your Web page -as opposed to a competitor’s, for instance – would show up at the top of the search results.
Volumes have been written about how to choose and implement keywords, but for the purposes of this quick check-in, the essential question is: Has your organization thought about and implemented keywords that make sense on each of its site or catalog pages? If not, this will need to be your first step on the path towards search engine optimization.
Titles, descriptions, and headings
Most of us don’t tend to pay a lot of attention to the bit of text that appears at the top of our browser window on each Web page we visit, but Google and other search engines do. They also care about the “headings” that can be used to provide a title on the body of the Web page itself or to distinguish between different areas of content on the page.
Ideally, these should reflect the keywords you have determined for the page. So, for example, Diabetes Management Online Training might actually appear as all or part of the bit of text at the top of your course catalog page, and some variation of it might serve for the title that appears within the body of the page.
Additionally, you should make sure that a good “meta” description is provided for each page. This description doesn’t actually appear on the page – it’s hidden behind the scenes in the HTML – but it does appear in the search results that a user sees. You want it to be brief (less than 160 characters) but still make clear the value that the page offers to a user. The goal, of course, is to entice the user to click through from the search results to your Web page.
Perhaps the most important factor for improving your search rankings and increasing your traffic is to get a lot of high quality links from other sites to pages in your site. There are various aspects to link quality, but in general, you want any links to a page in your site to come from Web pages with similar, related content.
It’s helpful also, if the text for the links -i.e., the actual words the user clicks on – contain some variation of your keywords. So, for example, a link from an article in a popular nursing journal to your diabetes management course text along the lines of convenient online course on diabetes management could be quite valuable. The more links you can get like this, the better.
Another important aspect of external linking is that, in general, your home page is probably not the best landing page for links to your site. Home page content usually covers a wide range of topical areas and it changes frequently (at least in theory;-). “Deep” links from other sites into relevant pages within your site are of more value.
A good tool for determining both number and quality of links to your site is Open Site Explorer at http://www.opensiteexplorer.org/. The basic version of Open Site Explorer is free, while more advanced options are available for a monthly subscription fee. (You can also search on link: www.yoursitename.com in Google, but I find the information provided by Open Site Explorer to be more useful and user friendly.)
The Open Site Explorer tools mentioned above will also show internal links on your site. These are also important from the perspective of Google and other search engines. Generally speaking, every page on your site should be linked to by at least one other page on your site, and make sure that the most important pages are linked to as many times as reasonable from other pages.
“Reasonable” means following rules similar to those discussed above for external links. You want to connect pages that are highly relevant to each other. For example, if you mention your diabetes course in a blog posting or a newsletter article about diabetes somewhere on your site, it makes perfect sense to make sure that some of the text in which the course is mentioned is hot-linked to the page in your catalog that contains the course. Your aim is to create sort of “Web of relevancy” throughout your site that helps the search engines find and value things appropriately.
Finally, all of the above will be of limited value if you do not keep track of basic statistics related to your Web traffic. With the free tools that Google now offers, starting with Google Analytics, there is really no reason for organizations not to be doing this. It’s as simple as setting up an account and getting whoever handles your Web site to insert the appropriate bit of code into your site template or individual pages in the site.
Once you have done that, you can easily track simple things like how many visitors your site or specific pages in your site are attracting on a daily, week, monthly, or yearly basis (or pretty much any other time period you want). You can also dig deeper and find out how people are getting to your site, what keywords they are using to find your site when search, how much time they spend on the site, and how they move around within your site. Once you really have the the hand of things, you can even start tracking whether site visitors perform an action you want them to perform. I’ll save that for another posting. In the meantime, check out the support that Google offers.
The list above is by no means exhaustive. It is only a slice of a good search engine optimization strategy, but it happens to be the slice that is most immediately in your control. If you are already on top of these, chances are pretty good that you are at least headed in the right direction with your search engine optimization strategy. If you are weak on any of them, consider calling in help, or at the very least, rallying the troops internally to focus on improvement.
One final note – SEO is only as effective as the “landing pages” to which it ultimately attracts searchers. If your landing pages aren’t designed to convert, all the traffic in the world won’t do you much good!