How to optimize your site for search engines

"SEO" can be a vague term, meaning anything from technical best-practices, to content creation, to marketing, to a buzzword used by predatory service providers and WordPress hustlers.

The bottom line about search engine optimization is this:

The bots are going to suggest the websites they think are the most helpful to whatever search query is made. You should make your site useful to actual people, first, and search engines will follow.

This may be painfully obvious, but there are many myths about being able to trick search engines into giving certain websites an unfair advantage. There are ways to temporarily fool search engines, but unless you keep the your finger on the pulse of the latest developments at Google, they inevitably lead to your website being blocked or penalized.

Showing up as the first result in Google is the effect of having a popular site, not the cause.

This page briefly outlines things you can do to your website to help search results the right way. Keep in mind, though, that results can take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple weeks, depending on how often search engines check your site.

Submit your website to Google

Go to the following link and enter your website in the blank. There's no guarantee Google will accept the site and there's not estimated turnaround time, but this is a simple way to at least get noticed:
https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/submit-url

Be conscious of keywords & phrases used on your site

Search engines gather keywords for your site from the actual content, site address, page titles, and from the words that other websites use when linking to your website, among other things.

If you'd like your site to show up in search results for the phrase "Los Angeles Photographer", it'd be great to use that phrase on your website somewhere, in the title of your website, maybe even the domain name of your site if it's not too awkward.

Google offers a tool that can help you choose the keywords you'd like to target with your site: https://adwords.google.com/o/Targeting/Explorer

Provide useful (text) content

Search engines need to be able to read text on your website to determine what your site is about. If you're a photographer and have only photos with no words on your pages, don't expect to show up in search results for phrases that can't be found anywhere on your site.

Create an "about" page

Create an "about" page that includes some details about what you do, and where you are. Many people search for things like "Portrait photographer in Los Angeles", so mentioning the area you service can be important.

Add introduction sections to different pages

Add text sections to different pages on your site. For example, a little intro can add some useful context to an image gallery.

Give your image files descriptive names

Adding descriptive words to your file names (like NYC New Years 324.jpg instead of IMG_0324.jpg) before uploading can have a positive effect on SEO, as search engines have a hard time determining the contents of an image without help from text in file names and adjacent text content.

Add some keywords to your site's SEO title

From your Settings section, click Search engine optimization, and add your SEO title there. This will be shown in bookmarks and page titles, but not on your actual website.

Add image captions

Adding captions to your images will associate the terms in the caption with the image, which is great for listings in image searches.

Get other websites to link to yours

Every time a website links to your website, search engines see that as a “vote” for your website being useful. The other website thought your site could help its visitors so much, that it decided to send them your way. The bigger and more popular the referring site, the more valuable the “vote”.

This is likely to be the most effective method of search engine optimization, since it's an implied endorsement and is very hard to fake.

The actual text that the referring websites use when linking to your website is important, too, because search engines will use that text to associate keywords to your site.

For example, a link like this: Cameron Rad | Los Angeles Photographer

…Would be better than a link like this: http://cameronrad.com

Also, getting other websites to link to yours will get your website to show up in search results much faster, since search engines will follow the link from existing sites to find yours. If you don't have any websites linking to yours, it's possible you could never show up in search engine results.

Create a Google Places profile

Go to http://google.com/placesforbusiness and create a profile for your business. This will allow your business to show up in the local search results at the top of the sidebar.

Creating this profile is actually the only thing some SEO marketing companies do for clients, yet the charge them hundred or thousands of dollars to do it.

Ask customers to leave (genuine) reviews in Google Places

It's beneficial to ask your customers to review your business on Google Places, but don't solicit fake reviews. Google's smart enough to tell the difference and will penalize you for fake reviews.

http://yelp.com can be useful, too.

Do some old-fashioned marketing

Get people to your website. Make flyers with your website, buy ads, run promotions, have a contest, make a Facebook page, Twitter page, LinkedIn page, anything to get people to visit your website.

The number of visitors a site has is important to search engine rankings. If there were two identical websites that wanted to show up when people search for “Los Angeles Photographer”, and one got 1,000 people per day while the other only got 2, the more popular website will win.

Use Google Analytics

It's not a proven fact, but many believe that if you use Google Analytics to track your visitors, it makes Google more aware of your site, possibly prompting Google's search bot to index your site more often. This is speculation though. http://www.google.com

Other notes about SEO

  • The keyword meta tag is no longer used by search engines. Keywords are now gathered from the actual content, url, page titles, and links that point to your site.
  • Your website's description has no impact on search results. It's strictly for people to read when viewing your site in search results and other listings.
  • Don't buy “back links”. Getting other sites to link to your site is extremely valuable, but if search engines find out that you've purchased these links in bulk, you're likely to be penalized.
  • Linking to your site from Facebook, Twitter, or internet message boards is not very valuable for increasing your search engine placement, though it can be useful for getting search engines to find and index your site initially. Links from articles in online magazines, advertisements, and people legitimately writing about your website are much more valuable as they're written by a neutral 3rd party.
  • Don't use “keyword clouds”, or jumbled up paragraphs of key words. Your content should be written for real visitors, not search engines.
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