Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a widely discussed topic – just Google “SEO” and you can see how many companies exist that only deal in SEO. For those of you that don’t know, SEO if the process of improving your website so that it appears higher in search engines in order to improve visitors. See the following definition from Moz:
SEO is the practice of improving and promoting a web site in order to increase the number of visitors the site receives from search engines. There are many aspects to SEO, from the words on your page to the way other sites link to you on the web. Sometimes SEO is simply a matter of making sure your site is structured in a way that search engines understand. – Moz Beginners Guide to SEO
For this article I want to take a look at SEO from the perspective of a web developer. What can we do to increase our clients SEO optimization a little bit before they have to go and shell out the big bucks on some fancy SEO company? There is only one real programming example – but by the end of the article you should have a lot more knowledge about SEO and what you can do to encourage it. Let’s start by taking a look at what the Search Engines see when they visit a site.
Through the Eyes of a Search Engine
Search Engines use a technology called a “Web Crawler” (sometime also refereed to as “Web Spiders”, or just “Spiders”) to index your website and see whats on it. Search Engines then build up an index of all the content they can find, and you actually search that index. Google has a wonderful video that explains many of these concepts:
This video has also given us quite a few hints at how we can improve our SEO using things like our title and URL, but that will come later on in this article. For now it’s important to note that Google uses its own index to produce the results it gives. Therefore it’s extremely important to know what kind of things get indexed in order to know what we can improve on. If we do a bunch of work on improving SEO for something that doesn’t even get indexed, then we will be very sad pandas.
To Index or Not to Index
The majority of the content that gets indexed on a page is HTML text. Flash objects, Java Applets, other types of videos, and even images are often ignored by the Web Crawler when indexing your site.
The best way to ensure that pages are shown on Google when a phrase is searched is to include the phrase in the HTML text. Translated to WordPress, this means the person writing the content for the site should make sure the phrase is included in the Visual Editor and makes it to the page’s content.
There is also something to note about images. The
alt=”…” attribute of the image is often indexed and store by the Search Engine. This means you should always be sure to give descriptive
alt=”…”, and try to keep SEO in mind as you write it.
You can also add supplemental text to videos and other Flash objects to ensure the engine indexes the information given. Just add a little bit of text underneath the video that describes what its about. This is what YouTube does to increase their ranking (the fact that Google owns them probably helps a lot too…)
The first thing you probably want to know is if Google has even indexed your site or not (hint: it probably has!). You can do this quickly and easily by doing a Google Site Search. Simply go to Google and search like this:
site:<your url without “http://”>
This will show all the pages that Google has indexed on your site. It’s very cool (and important) to look at and you can also see how everything comes looks for other users who will be viewing these results on Google. If you don’t see your content yet, then Google hasn’t found it quite yet. If you want to speed up the process, you can submit your content to Google.
Let’s say we want to put on a pair of magical glasses that let us see what the Google Web Crawler sees when looking at our site (get it?! Google Glasses?!). Google is nice enough to provide a tool for that exact purpose, the Google Cache. You can access this using the following format:
http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:<your url without “http://”>
So, as an example, if I wanted to check out what Google sees when looking at my tutorial for Theme Development From Scratch with Underscores & Foundation, I would simply have to type:
Did you happen to notice the
&strip=1 part at the end of the URL? This means that its in text-only mode, which is what Google will actually use when looking at your site – so when you want to check out how your site looks to Google be sure to include this. You can also just click on the “Text-only version” link in the top right hand corner of the page to go to this mode.
There are a number of cool tips and tricks you can do right away that will encourage indexing of your website. Firstly, since the Google Web Crawler searches sites by following links (this is mentioned in the video earlier in this article) you should include links that can navigate through your website. This is most commonly and most effectively done by using a menu bar. Luckily for us, I’ve never really seen a WordPress theme without a menu bar (I’m sure there are some) so we don’t have to worry about that.
Another great way to do this is to link your own pages when you mention them in an article. You may have noticed that I actually used this technique in this article, when I mentioned my Theme Development From Scratch with Underscores & Foundation article (see I did it again!). This allows the Google Web Crawler to easily navigate all your content. A good rule of thumb to go by is you should be able to click your way to anything on your site using the links provided.
Now that we have taken a look at what Search Engines look for and how they find it, we can start to concentrate on what we can do to improve our SEO. We will start with the golden rule of SEO and then go into creating goals that we want to meet. From there I will go over some tips and tricks as to how we can better achieve those goals!
First and most importantly – your goal for you website should always be to provide interesting, original, and informative content to the user. If you just want to use SEO to get to the top of Google and then make some ad money, it just won’t work. Always concentrate first on making your site the best it can be – then look at SEO.
- We want to include our targeted keyword in the title, URL and content of the page.
- We want to include synonyms for the keywords people are searching for.
- We want to increase our Page Rank with incoming links.
Let’s take a look at some tips and tricks for how to accomplish these goals.
Tips & Tricks
This seems like a good time to remind everyone that I wanted to concentrate on WordPress developers for this article. With that being said, as I started to write it I realized the article was really universal. Only the first tip here really has to do with WordPress specifically – the rest can be used with any kind of site. If you are just a website administrator or someone less experienced with WordPress, then the first tip in this section might be confusing since it contains programming – but the rest of the tips are just general advice really.
1. We want to include our targeted keyword in the title, URL and content of the page.
The first step to accomplishing this goal is to let your client know that they need to include the keyword in the title and the content of the page (via the content editor). Once we have that we can take over with some code. In your
header.php file, you will want to set the
<title> HTML element using some WordPress built in functions. What I like to do is format my title to look something like “Page Title | Site Name”. You can achieve this using the following code:
wp_title(”) will output the page’s title with a blank space as the separator (I like to do my own separator just so its more readable, but you can put one in there if you want). This will of course be followed by the site name as set in the General Settings section of your WordPress install. I like to include this in case people are searching specifically for your site, which I feel is quite common (eg. “ign zelda review” is what I would search to get a review of a new Zelda game because I would want the IGN review).
2. We want to include synonyms for the keywords people are searching for.
There isn’t much we can programmatically do about this one. Pretty much you want to make sure that you’re client knows to use these and to use the built in dictionary on their computer (it will give them synonyms). Google has mentioned that they do indeed look for synonyms and its important to include them. Often, someone will use a different word than you would but mean the same thing. By using synonyms you reach a broader search audience.
3. We want to increase our Page Rank with incoming links.
The most important way to increase your Page Rank is to provide great content. If you do this, then Google will realize and they will increase your Page Rank. However, there are a few things we can do with links that will increase viewership on your site which can have an indirect effect on your Page Rank.
I have already touched on this, but if you can link back your own blog posts then you will increase the views on your pages. Including a related posts section will get a lot of people to click around your site. The links themself won’t necessarily increase your Page Rank since your linking your own site, but it will increase viewership which will in turn make Google realize you have quality content which will in turn increase your Page Rank.
One thing you do NOT want to do is artificially create links that then link to your website. There are a lot of sites out there that will do this for a fee, and almost 100% of the time Google knows they are bad links and this will actually result in your Page Rank going down.
Don’t Hurt My Rating
There are few things to watch out for that can actually hurt your ranking. Please make sure you and your clients are aware of these to ensure they don’t affect your SEO:
- Errors such as broken links or wrong information.
- Grammar or spelling mistakes.
- Excessive amount of ads.
- Spam such as comment or forum spam.
Google has listed all of these as affecting your Page Rank negatively. So watch out for them!
The SEO Plugin
There are a variety of plugins that offer SEO services on the WordPress repository, but none are as popular as WordPress SEO by Yoast. It is the second most popular plugin on the entire repository, and if you are looking to do some SEO with a plugin this is the one to use. One of the best parts of Yoast is the fact they have a very detailed guide to SEO that goes along with the plugin. This guide will help you along and teach you a lot about SEO and working with the plugin.
If you know of some other plugins, please let me know in the comments below! I would love to hear about them and I’m sure other readers would as well.
That’s pretty much all I really wanted to go over in this article. Hopefully you understand more about how Search Engines work and how your can do some SEO on your own. It really isn’t super complicated once you know the basics to setup your templates and your content to ensure they encourage SEO. This will impress your clients and create more business for minimal work.
For more information, your best resource is probably the Google Webmaster Tools. These will help you with any questions you might have and give very useful tips and tricks. I also really like moz.com for information and learning about SEO. They have a lot of free educational content that you can use… for FREE! I really like to use these two sites because they are extremely knowledgeable and also very realistic.
I think it’s also important to mention that there are a lot of articles and videos out there that promise quick SEO results in 10 minutes or to get you right to the top of Google using only SEO. Unfortunately, this is highly unlikely to happen. What really gets you to the top of Google is having original and informative content. SEO is there to help you get better rankings and if you have great content, then it may bring you to the top of the ranks.
As always thank you for reading and please share it around as much as you can! Please feel free to put any suggestions or ideas for future tutorials in the comments section below. I would really like to know if you like this type of informative article as opposed to the more programming heavy articles I usually do.