Search Engine Optimization isn't all that scary

Search Engine Optimization is important for any web project. From a technical standpoint, we at Kelly Creative Tech do everything right: we follow the most up-to-date reccomendations of the Search Engine companies and steer clear of any manipulative coding practices that could get your site banned.

That said, here's how we handle it in our New Project Contract:

We understand that Search Engine Optimization is important to any website project. We follow “best practices” that are set by the Search Engines in regard to our code and our content. However by the nature of the Search industry, we cannot claim to guarantee a particular ranking in a search engine. We have control over some of the metrics used (content relevancy and semantic coding). But there are some metrics that Search Engines use that we do not have control over (for example, age of the domain and popularity of your site). The best we can do is follow the guidelines that these companies have set. We will follow them well, but it is impossible to guarantee specific results.

So with my opinion framed in that context, we'll dig right in. This is a long post, but hopefully my handy subheadings will let you skip the parts that you either already know or don't really care about. Without further ado…

This is how Search Engines work
Here's what you can do to improve your rankings
Search Engine Advertising
What's a meta tag?
What we do.

This is how Search Engines work (and how they don't)

In the early days of the web, when you published a new site, you had to submit that site to search engines. That is no longer the case. All of the search engine companies have designed 'spiders' that crawl the web (I know, witty, right?) in search for new content on a continuous basis. When they find new material, they save it in a database. When a user types in a search term, these companies return results based on their saved version of your site. When their spiders recognize that there is new content on your site, they will scan it again and update their database so that their results are as accurate as possible.

Regarding how long that process takes: If a site is updated regularly, the search engine will look at that page more often. Google looks at sites like CNN.com multiple times per day, but probably looks at this website (which I update semi-regularly) on a weekly basis. If a site is not updated regularly, the spiders might only look at that site every month or so. The way to get your site out of that last category is to update your content on a regular basis. The search engines will thank you, and so will your customers.

So, all that to say, achieving success in Search Engine rankings is a process that takes time. When we build new sites, we do everything in our code that the Search Engines recommend (geeked-out details below for the adventurous), but when it comes down to it, I don't have any control over how Google, Yahoo, and Bing run their businesses.

But on to the good news. There are a couple things we can do to speed things along.

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Here's what you can do to improve your search engine rankings.

So that's how Search Engines find your site. Once they do find it, it's then their job to display the most relevant webpage when a person searches for a keyword. It's their goal to act like real people looking for real answers. There are several different factors that go into where they place your site on that list, and your results are going to vary for every keyword that is mentioned on your site.

Every site in your industry across the country is hoping to be at the top of the list on page one for the most broad search terms. However, the way the search engines decide what goes first is based on a combination of the following things. Some things, we have control over. Some, we don't:

All of these things are calculated to come up with your rank in the list. Since the Search Engines try to act like real people, these things make it more likely that the site is going to contain the useful, credible information that the searcher is looking for.

We have control over some of the metrics used, and this is where we can start to improve your results.

Content Relevancy. The first thing that people ask me about SEO is something along the lines of "We want to show up for [insert Awesome Keyword here]!" The best way to reach that goal is to talk about Awesome Keyword. A lot. Use it in your main headline on your homepage. Write a news post about it. Become the expert in your industry on Awesome Keyword. If you don't talk about these keywords in the actual text on your site, there is no way to associate your site with those words. If there are specific keywords that you want, that needs to be worked into your copy. If you want to attract people looking for Awesome Keyword, once they get to your site they should know that you truly are their buck-stops-here one-stop-shop for Awesome Keyword.

Popularity. The more people who show up to your site, the more important search engines will think it is. Send an e-mail out to all of your existing clients that says "I hope you're well – just wanted to let you know that we've updated our website with lots of great photos and news articles from our industry experts. Check out MyAwesomeSite.com to see what we've been up to, and tell all your friends to do the same if you truly like them and want them to be happy."

Just don't do that too often, because nobody wants to be that guy. (You just thought of somebody, didn't you? See?)

Timeliness. When you get a new product in, throw a picture of it up on your site. Flatter a new client – even if they're not all that big – with a feature on your homepage. The search engines will see that your site isn't dormant, and will stop treating it like it is. If you can publish something new once a month or even once per quarter, that would help.

Inbound Links. When other people link to you, that's usually a good indication that you have something meaningful to say, or at the very least that you're a legitimate business. Join your local chamber of commerce, or frequently answer questions on industry-specific forums and respond to other people's blog posts (with your website in the footer of your answer). The more you get links to your site out there, the better your rankings will be.

So if you're considering paying for SEO help and you're not doing everything on this list, put forth a concerted effort in these areas first. With all of these things and a bit of patience, you'll likely see some dramatic results.

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Search Engine Advertising

There is only one thing you can do to guarantee to be on page one of Google or Yahoo tomorrow. That is to buy advertising space on those sites. However, Issac and I have tried this method for a couple of different projects, and I don't recommend it. We have paid hundreds of dollars and have gotten a good bit of site traffic from it, but none of those people have turned into real sales. This isn't the case for everybody – it clearly works for some, or nobody would do it. From my experience though, you'll end up paying for a lot of people's eyes but not their checkbooks.

However, if you really want to be on the first page of these search engines as soon as possible, this is an option. Below is a price comparison that I put together for a client a few months ago:

Look at the sidebar here.

That person has purchased an ad for that particular keyword. You can buy ads for any locale you want, you set a monthly budget, and then you pay each time someone clicks on your link. The more popular keywords are more expensive. If you were to buy "Restoration Stone" in Google, it would cost about $1.50 each time somebody clicks on that. So if you set a budget at $10/month, they will turn your ad off after 6 people go to your site. When you get more specific, "Restoration Stone Ohio" only costs a nickel for each click. With that, $10/month will get you 200 clicks.

Consider though, that's a very niche search term that you should be able to capture pretty easily using the methods listed above. In fact, (as of 1-24-11, several months after my initial note to the client) their site happens to be sitting-pretty at spot number two for "restoration stone", linked above.

What's a meta tag?

We had a problem once with a client who managed to hire an "SEO Expert" who told her that she (we) were doing everything wrong. This guy was appalled that we didn't include Meta keywords in her site, and told the client that we were ripping her off. This was 2009. We replied with these facts, and it all worked out.

Regarding meta keywords and meta descriptions, the facts are clear and documented.

Until a few years ago, search engines only looked at meta tags to figure out what a page was about. Programmers figured this out, and would enter popular (though unrelated) terms in their meta fields to boost search engine rankings. If you put "Britney Spears" in your meta tags in 2002, your site would get a traffic boost from people looking for Britney Spears.

Now that Google and Yahoo are more sophisticated, they completely ignore those tags and go straight to your real content.

The description tag is used in the search result display by Yahoo if your page doesn't have sufficient content to display there. That may help marginally with your rankings in Yahoo. For this reason I'm not opposed to including the description tag, but I don't really feel it necessary if you've considered keywords in your content – It just doesn't hurt. Google, on the other hand, has said publicly that they don't use this at all in their search ranking algorithms.

The keyword tag, however, is antiquated and provides no benefit. Ever.

Here is the post where Google describes their use of the keywords and descriptions.

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What we do

We make all of your wildest dreams come true. At least, to the extent that a couple of small-town web geeks can. Truthfully, as much of my above rambling states, it's mostly up to you, Bearer of Business Messaging and Site Content.

Anyway, on to the wild dreams. Here's what we do:

Search Engine Optimization is complicated. But if you make a few simple changes to your site with these things in mind, you'll be surprised at how drastically your rankings will improve.

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