I recently returned from Bend WebCAM (Web + Creative and Marketing), attending various sessions from its three different tracks as I found value in each of the three. The first track, Right Brain or Chic track, focused on the creative, emotional, and imaginative messages of communication through advertising, design, copy, and brand development. The second track, Left Brain or Geek Track, dove into the technical, logical and cutting edge methods of communication through social media, SEO, and mobile marketing. And then the third was a Hybrid – “Super Freak” track which merged the two ways of thinking with two wonderful keynotes, the first by Tim Ash of SiteTuners and the afternoon keynote by Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz.
Sandwiched in between those keynotes and in the “Geek Track” was a topic near and dear to me – Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Andre Jensen, a seasoned vet in Online Marketing, pulled SEO fundamentals from his Search Engine Strategies classes he teaches at the local community college along with tactics he’s learned from his 13 years advising clients on how to get top rankings in the search engines.
Andre covered an overview of how search engines work (crawling and indexing content such as web pages, blog posts, images, video, etc) and how results are displayed (organic search, paid search, local listings, shopping results, etc). The goal of SEO is to build your content so that it will be discovered, crawled, and indexed properly so that your audience will find your products/services, according to Andre. He pointed out that because most people only look at the first few results, it’s important that your content ranks on the first page and more importantly in the first few results.
The first and most critical step in getting your content to rank, is determining the right keywords to target for those rankings. Choose relevant keywords and ones that you will have a chance at ranking for. READ: unless you are Nike or Zappos, it might be a challenge to rank for running shoes. In order to find out what your audience is searching for, a common tool from Google is a good first step. Andre covered Google’s Keyword tool, which gives you the search volume (popularity) of a term, along with listing related terms. Andre recommends using the “exact match” function within the tool in order to see exactly what searchers are searching on. This will give you a good initial list of keywords.
Now it’s time to build content around your chosen terms. Andre covered important areas on a web page and elements that are included in the search engine’s ranking algorithm (or how a search engine determines what to look at in order to rank a page and how much emphasis to put on those elements). He covered best practices for body, header tags, alt tags, link text, titles and meta descriptions. Optimizing your body copy, headers, alt tags, and link text are pretty straightforward – get those keywords in there! As for title and meta description tags, it can be a little tricky, so here are some best practices from Andre:
Title tags is one of the most important tags for search engine relevancy, should describe exactly what the document contains, should be readable, and unique per page – Tip: 70 characters or less, and not something like “Welcome to my site” or “This site contains frames”
Meta description tag – not used in the algorithm, but important for search engine result listings. It should read like an introductory lead in for the topic of the page
Finally, Andre covered blogging best practices in terms of SEO. Blogs can be a great way to give the engine fresh content, but it also should follow the same practices as listed above. Aside from SEO, blogs are a great way to update your audience on news and events, keeping them connected with you on a more personal level. My advice on this subject actually went against Andre’s however, and instead of building a blog on another domain, I recommend housing it within your main site. Andre felt that it would be beneficial as a dedicated domain in order to have more listings in the search results. However, with the search results recently changing to include more than 2 listings per domain, a site has more chances to rank now and this recommendation is a bit dated. Also, by splitting your content into two different domains, you have to now do even more work to build inbound links into those domains and pages (the quality and quantity of inbound links into a site is part of the ranking algorithm too!).
Andre closed by listing a few free tools which are helpful to garner stats on your site, however the main tool he focused on – Yahoo Site Explorer – is going away at the end of this year. So my free tool list would be: SEOmoz, Google Analytics, and Google Webmaster Tools. This is just a start, as there are many, many tools out there!
All-in-all, a great conference and one that will stretch both sides of your brain!