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If you’re a business owner who has decided to get serious about your company’s online presence and marketing, you’ve almost certainly heard about search engine optimization. Unfortunately to the uninitiated, SEO can seem impenetrable with its endless technical jargon and conflicting opinions from experts about exactly how to get the best online visibility. It can feel a lot like jumping in the deep end without learning how to swim first.

Search Engine Optimization doesn’t have to seem so intimidating however. There may be a lot to learn before you are an expert, but with just a few basic ideas you can drastically improve your business’s online profile.

This infographic from SEOHalt will help guide you through the basics of SEO and give you the vocabulary you need to really get an understanding of what search engine optimization is and how it affects online marketing efforts. Once you’ve got these ideas under your wing, you’ll be ready to dive into the deeper waters of SEO without having to worry you’ll drown.

 SEOBasics

SEO has more than its fair share of myths, legends, and misconceptions. The search engines are in no hurry to give away the deep details of how they rank websites, as more than a few people would immediately try to take advantage of their methods, and there are countless “experts” weighing in and giving their opinion on every little event.

To combat all of these wild misunderstandings throughout the SEO field, Ranjana Jha fro SEO Best Practices attempted to refute the most common myths you’ll run into.

  1. Brands don’t need SEO – Many believe big brands don’t need optimization because they are going to automatically rank well, but those people misunderstand SEO. Optimization is a process that influences every aspect of a webpage from design, to content, and site construction. Not only that, but SEO plays a role in many off-site factors that increase visibility such as social media and creating a natural high-quality link profile. Even the biggest brands wouldn’t be doing as well online without all of these practices.
  2. Content generation is your ace – Content generation is the new trend in SEO as links are being more downplayed, but far too many people are missing the point. Google has been turning to content and site quality because they want to offer sites with real value to their users. Putting up new content all the time just for the sake of posting something doesn’t benefit anyone. Content can be a great tool, but if you aren’t offering something valuable, you’re wasting everyone’s time and you won’t maintain your rankings.
  3. Links are Golden – This myth is slowly fading out as Google gets more and more strict about their linking policies, but there are still some who believe links are the best way to get high in the rankings. Similar to content, links only matter if they have real value. Google can spot cheap or low-quality links from a mile away. If you aren’t fighting to earn real high quality links, you’re more likely hurting yourself.
  4. Keyword stuffing still works – This is an old practice which Google is well-versed in fighting. Filling any available space with excessive keyword usage or key phrases only makes you look desperate or fake, and Google isn’t going to do you any favors.
  5. Commenting on blogs with key anchor texts – This is another one that is fading out, but there are many who are still trying to exploit this strategy using random anchor texts and linking to unrelated content. However, most webmasters are using the “no follow” tag, so those links aren’t getting any benefits.
  6. Paid anchor links on popular sites will give you a boost – This one didn’t actually use to be a myth. But, Google has caught on and now buying link space for the singular purpose of inflating your page rank doesn’t accomplish anything (aside from wasting money).
  7. SEO means Meta tags, keywords, and content – Trying to break SEO down into just a couple of factors is a fools game. Many will list those aspects as the basic SEO elements, but optimization extends much further beyond those simple steps.

SEO IconNewcomers to SEO can often feel intimidated by the complex, lingo-filled field of optimization. There are countless articles explaining seemingly complicated concepts, constantly changing practices, and constant warnings about the cost of making mistakes. It all makes SEO seem very high-risk and altogether frightening.

But, SEO doesn’t have to be that way. While you can dive straight into the rabbit hole and try to make sense of it all if you want, there are also many resources available to break it all down in simple terms, if you know where to find them. Pan Galactic Digital is one of those resources, as they regularly publish “SEO 101” articles trying to educate consumers, beginners, and anyone else interested.

SEO can seem unwieldy because it has to pay attention to the countless ranking signals that Google and Bing use to rank sites, but in all actuality, it all can be collected into two categories: on-page and off-page SEO.

On-Page SEO

On-page SEO is exactly what it sounds like. It is made off all the areas you can optimize directly on each individual page of your site, especially Content, Code, and Site Architecture.

You are most likely familiar with content, because it is what you interact with most often. Specifically, content is everything you read and all the images you see directly on the page. Are they high quality? Does the text inform and engage? Is the content using keywords you would want to rank in a search engine, but not overusing them so that it feels unnatural? High quality content offers value to the viewer.

You can also optimize some of the HTML code on your page around chosen keywords. Titles, Image Alt tags, and Headers can all be potentially optimized to help search engines understand what your site is and what it offers. However, just as with content, overstuffing these areas with keywords isn’t advised.

Lastly, you have your site architecture, or how your site is laid out through proper URL management and loading speed of webpages. You want to make sure search engines can easily access your site once they’ve found you. You will want your keywords to incorporate important keywords that are relevant to your content.

Off-Page SEO

Off-page SEO is everything that happens outside your site, which can actually be fairly out of your control if done properly. The most well-talked about example is linking. Links to your site from other sites have historically been highly favored by Google as a sign of a quality site. They act roughly like votes in favor of your site. But, these have been partially demoted because numerous optimizers would attempt linking schemes such as buying links or syndicating content on other websites in inappropriate ways. Don’t ever buy links or try to take advantage of a loophole to get them. They must be earned.

One of the quickest growing off-page SEO signals is social media. It isn’t entirely clear how much social media presence directly affects your rankings compared to how much it just brings you traffic, but its no argument that well managed social media is a great tool for your website and business presence.

Obviously, you can dig deeper into these two categories and find far more ways that Google and Bing decides where to rank your webpages, but those basic factors are by far the most important. If you can get a handle on everything above, you will be well suited for anything else you encounter moving forward.

More than a few web designers try to ignore it, but SEO is an incredibly important part of your website. Simply put, search engine optimization is the reason many people land on your site, and it can help you control who those people are to an extent. SEO should be an ever-present concern through your design process.

If you’ve managed to completely remain uninformed on SEO, it is the process of making your page as accessible and valuable to search engines as possible. It isn’t buying ads, which can attract traffic as well, but instead structuring your site in a way that reflects the preferred methods of the most popular search engines, so that they will see your website as being valuable enough to place higher up in their rankings.

If you read up on SEO much at all, it becomes clear that SEO is also constantly changing and updating, but there are basics that any website owner can do to make their page attractive to search engines and all optimization is boosted when you consider it from the beginning of your design. If you take a few steps when you first get started, you will find that every page you design performs better and more people actually lay eyes on your hard work.

Content and Text

Once you know the topic, theme, or goals for your current project, designers should brainstorm a few keywords that best describe the content that site will be used for. If you are doing a site for design, the obvious choices are “design”, “web design”, “typography”, “css” and maybe even “tutorial”.

Once you’ve chosen the proper phrases and keywords, be aware of using them throughout the site in ways that feel natural. You can fit keyword into headers, headlines, links, and meta data on every page of the site, but you should be careful about over-populating the page with these words to the point where it appears unnatural. Search engines will punish those who are obvious about “keyword stuffing”, so just don’t overdo it.

Images

First off, what search engines see and what users are shown are very different, especially concerning images. Search engines only see text, not images, so it is important they are aware of what your images show. That’s why it is smart to use alt tags on every image of your site that gives a description of what viewers are actually seeing.

For designers, another option for visual elements of the page such as banners and selected graphics is to design them using webfonts, HTML, and CSS when possible. Search engines can read those banners as regular text when created through this, which means you don’t have to worry about the markup.

Another aspect of image SEO is preparing the image properly before uploading them to your site. Huge pictures will slow down page loading time, which causes many potential viewers to leave before they even see the finished page.

Site Map

Site maps are xml files that outline the entire structure of your website, and they are like cheat-sheets to your site’s navigation. Create one, and make it live on every website you work on. Make sure it is submitted to Google so that the crawlers can use it even easier. Users also like access to sitemaps as well, though they’ll be less interested in it if your navigation is done properly.

Conclusion

There is even more a designer can do to optimize their site from the start of their workflow. However, be careful before diving too far into the SEO pool, because there are many “tips” and “tricks” offered out there that are either out of date or outright improper in Google’s eyes. SEO isn’t immediate, and any site telling you they can teach you how to get your site to the top of the results quickly is probably selling snake oil.

Design Shack offered some other credible suggestions for optimizing your site from the design stage, as well as tools that can get you started.

Source: Search Engine Watch

Source: Search Engine Watch

While there are always new, complicated, and exciting things happening in SEO to talk about, it is always good to get back to the basics occasionally and discuss what makes a great foundation for all of the more fancy aspects of SEO.

Carolyn Shelby, Director of SEO for the Chicago Tribune and 435 Digital, emphasized the need to not neglect the basics of SEO at the Introduction to SEO session at SES New York. She told the crowd, “skipping the basics and spending all your time and money on social and ‘fancy stuff’ is the same as skipping brushing your teeth and showering, but buying white strips and wearing expensive cologne.”

That session was aimed at newcomers, but her words are just as relevant to seasoned SEO experts. Just as your morning routine should always include brushing your teeth, your SEO strategy should always pa the proper attention to the basic SEO.

Getting back to the basics starts at the very top, with establishing exactly what SEO is. SEO aims to do two things: create an enjoyable user experience, and communicate with search engines so that they will view your site as valuable to users. Many forget those ideas in favor of trying to cheat the search engines, but those actions are to SEO what stealing is to shopping. You may get the end product you wanted, but if you use questionable or illegal means, you will just as likely be penalized.

Once you understand what you should be aiming to achieve through SEO, you have to understand what the search engines are actually looking for and not looking for.

Search engines judge websites based on a variety of different criteria but the most reliable factors all circle around user experience, reputation, and what content you give to user. Relevant content and seamless user experience establish value to your website, even if you’re just starting out. If you make sure those two elements are consistently worth the time of visitors, gradually you will build a reputation through authorship, and you will see your site getting closer to the top of rankings.

If you please users with your website and content, generally you will also please the search engines’ most basic wants. However, if you focus on the broad idea of what search engines are looking for and try to cheat your way to the top, you will instead be surprised to see the search engines penalizing you. Keyword stuffing and purchased links may have worked in the past, but Google knows how to spot them, and you will be cut from the SERPs before you know it.

Those guiding principles will get you a long ways in SEO, but there is always more to do. I only covered three of the eight topics Search Engine Watch talks about in their article about the basics of SEO, but their comment section shows there is even more that could be included in just the most basic elements of SEO. Start with making your website worthwhile to visitors, then expand your SEO repertoire, and you will see positive results.