By Aliza Earnshaw on March 29, 2011
Cover the basics, rank higher in search
You've got a great business, and a great new website. You keep checking Google every day - okay, multiple times per day - to see where you rank. But you're still on page 3 or 4 - or maybe not even ranking that high. What's wrong?
What you need is a little search engine optimization, or SEO. Yes, it's true that SEO is a complex field, rife with conflicting opinions. Nonetheless, taking a few simple steps can help your site rank better in search engine results, and attract more visitors.
Note: If you aren’t the person who built your website, you’ll need help to make some of these changes. "Simple" is a relative term.
1. Do keyword research.
If you want to attract new customers to your website through search engine results, you'll need to use the same words on your site that people use to search for what you sell.
This may sound obvious. But many people are so accustomed to using insider jargon with their colleagues, they forget that other people don't understand it. For example, you might feel you’re offering “performance-enhancing stabilizers for overpronators” – but your potential customers are searching for “running shoes.”
You can use Google’s keyword research tool to help you find the right keywords for your audience and your website. To learn more about doing effective keyword research, read Keyword Research Is Key to Online Success.
2. Write a unique, accurate title for every important page on your site.
The title of a web page is one of the most important elements for helping it rank well in search results.
The title of a web page appears in search results as the underlined blue link to the page, and it appears at the top of a web browser window. Google often uses the meta description of a web page - which is otherwise not seen by visitors to the page - as the descriptive text, or "snippet," that appears below the clickable link. Together, the title and meta description are like an ad for your web page.
A web page title should tell people – and search engines – exactly what that page is about. Include one or two important keywords to attract search engines and the eyes of people looking for what you sell.
If the title is longer than 70 characters, search engines will truncate it, possibly cutting off an important word. For that reason, you should put your keywords as far to the beginning of the title as possible. If your title is so enticing that people click immediately to your page, you've done a great job.
To learn more about creating a good title for every important page on your site, read Increase Site Traffic with Title Tags.
3. Write a unique, accurate meta description for every important page on your site.
In contrast to the page title, search engines don't actually use the meta description to determine what your web page is about. Nor will people see the meta description on the page itself.
Nonetheless, the meta description is important. It helps people decide whether they want to click your link in search results. As described in No. 2 above, the meta description is often used as the descriptive text, or "snippet," that appears below the clickable link on a search results page. Search engines normally use the title of a web page as the clickable links. So together, the title and meta description are like an ad for your web page.
Do include important keywords in your meta description. Even though search engines won't care, people do. Their eyes quickly scan a page of search results, and your use of keywords will help them zero in on your page description. Google helps you here by rendering searched keywords in bold font, both in the title and description snippet for a web page.
If you don’t include a meta description in the code for each page you care about, search engines will grab some text off the page, and it may not be the best choice for your purposes. Make sure you're putting your best foot forward in search results - write a compelling, accurate meta description for each important page on your site.
Learn more about creating a meta description that will get people clicking to your site: Read Good Meta Descriptions Bring More Site Traffic.
Last but not least: Make sure every page on your site gets its own unique title and meta description. Replicating titles and meta descriptions across two or more pages tells search engines your site is of lower quality, and could cause your pages to rank lower in search results. For more information on why duplicate titles are a problem, read Shared Page Titles: Classic SEO Mistake.
To check the title and meta description on your home page, go to the free Home Page Analysis on the AboutUs page for your website. To check the title and meta description for every page on your site - and more SEO elements on your site - use the AboutUs Site Report.
4. Make sure search engines index your site.
If your site isn’t indexed, it can’t be found in search results.
By the way, getting links from other websites to your pages is the surest way of getting them indexed AND helping them rank higher in search results.
Links from reputable websites tell search engines that your site offers valuable information. These links - called inbound links - are probably the single most important factor outside of your site that can help it rank well in search results.
For more suggestions on getting valuable inbound links, read Get Good Backlinks. If your business is dependent on local customers, you can get some great ideas for inbound links by reading 35 Local Link Opportunities.
6. Don’t duplicate content.
When search engines see the same content on two or more web pages – whether they’re on different sites or the same site – they decide that one page is the original, and regard the other as a duplicate, and of lesser quality. Low-quality pages won’t rank well in search results, and duplicate content doesn’t help the people you want to reach, either.
There's another big problem with duplicate content - splitting link juice. If you have two pages on your site that are virtually identical, people could link to either one. If both get links, you're diluting the power of those links to raise one of those pages higher in search results. If you've already done this, and you do have two pages with good inbound links, redirect one page to the other using a permanent redirect, so at least you concentrate the link goodness on just one page.
You can use Google Webmaster Tools to discover whether you’ve got duplicate pages on your site. Sign yourself up, go to the Diagnostics section, and then find the “HTML Suggestions” tab. From there, you can check the “Duplicate Title Tags” section to identify duplicate content.