Okay, what do I really do for SEO “best practice,” when I’m worrying about SEO and not just slapping stuff up on the web?
After a year or so of exploring search engine optimization practices, here’s the procedure I use for search engine optimization.
Step One: Research and Choose Keywords
- Brainstorm relevant keywords for my page.
- Use keyword tools to find out how often people actually search for those keywords [Tools: Wordtracker, Google AdWords, SEOBook]
- Examine my competition: how many pages have those keywords in their page titles, URL, and anchor text? I do this with Google searches: intitle:"[keyword]" inurl"[keyword]" inanchor"[keyword]"
- I may check to see how many backlinks the competition has using Squidaholic. However, I do not put the same emphasis on backlink-building that many SEO-advocates do; this is simply to get a feel for the niche.
- I weave my keywords into my URL, page title, a few links (anchor text), some module titles (H2 tags), and filenames and alt-tags of a few images. If it’s not too intrusive and makes sense to the human reader, I’ll emphasize the keyword’s first appearance with boldface or italics.
- On Squidoo, I’ll add my keyword phrase to my Squidoo tags, but use a more general (not long-tail) version of the keyword for my primary tag. I will mostly use general Squidoo tags (e.g. “volcanoes” not “how hot are volcanoes”), but include a few of the most popular long-tail searches in my Squidoo tags (e.g. “volcano videos” and “Mt Redoubt”).
While I do check keywords for popularity of search (#2) versus competition’s optimization (#3), and avoid keywords for which the competition is high or the actual number of searches is low, I do not practice methodical Keyword Efficiency Analysis… yet. (I’m thinking about adding this vital SEO step to my routine, but I’m laaaaazy.)
Step Two: Get Page Indexed by Search Engines and Start Traffic Flow
- On my own websites, I make sure I have a properly-constructed sitemap (There’s a plugin for this on WordPress).
- For Squidoo lenses, I take advantage of Squidoo resources:
- I make sure the Discovery Tool is turned on and that my Squidoo tags are common enough for my page to start showing up in the “Explore related” box on other people’s lenses.
- I add the lens to a few closely-related groups, preferably those with the same keywords.
- I add the lens to the “what’s Greekgeek up to now?” part of my signature in SquidU and/or announce it in “Lenses we Like.”
- I may submit it to lensroll.com or a few other widely-used Squidoo lens directories like Squoogle, Isle of Squid.
- I may add the lens to appropriate Plexos on good lenses that are related to my topic. (Not “add your lens here!” lenses.)
- I Twitter it, Tagfoot it, and occasionally submit it to one or two social bookmarking sites (I don’t often do this, since I’m mindful that self-promotion is discouraged on many of these services).
- I link to it from my related lenses, posts, or webpages.
- Occasionally, I’ll add links to my lenses from my very old, now-disused homepages from the early 90s, which are still out there and might as well give the spiders one more way to find my new pages.
Step Three: Monitor and Tweak
- I watch to see that I’m getting incoming traffic from Google and other search engines. If I don’t start getting them in a week or so, I may improve or redo my SEO (Step One and Two above).
- I check my SERPs.
- I monitor and respond to the keywords and searches actually bringing me visitors.
- I monitor and respond to which links on my page are getting clicked.
I use visitor data to help me refine my page’s optimization and target visitors more accurately.
If I see many visitors searching for a keyword phrase that my webpage doesn’t address, I will either adjust my page to address it, make and link to a new page addressing it, or at least send them to a good webpage answering their question. In this way I establish trust and value for my pages even when I don’t have all the answers. Plus, on Squidoo, clickthroughs boost lensrank.
If some folks are coming in via a repeat “long tail” search, I may do keyword research (Step One) on that “long tail” phrase and adjust my page to include it in the body text and/or add it to Squidoo tags.
If I’m really having trouble getting Google traffic, I may go back and read up on how Yahoo, MSN, and other search engines differ from Google and try to capture their traffic. I may also do more social promotion, but that is basically (in my opinion) giving up on search engine optimization (getting search engines to send you traffic automatically) and switching to a personal outreach strategy where you drum up traffic manually. Personal outreach can be highly effective, but it’s not SEO.
I don’t obsess about backlinks and social promotion, although I engage in some of both. I don’t have the time, and I’ve become overly cynical of backlink-building (even strategic, SEO-worthy, keyword-focused backlink-building) because of all the people who trumpet social networking and scattering random backlinks across the net as the way to do SEO. I don’t obsess about Pagerank or rel=nofollow, because Michael Martinez (a scholar I know from other circles, so I happen to trust his research) has written several convincing posts on why “Pagerank sculpting” doesn’t work. I don’t obsess about keyword density, because it takes a LOT of keyword stuffing to trip Google’s penalty.
I do obsess about keyword research and optimization, the long tail, and trying to capture search results from other search engines than Google (but not at the expense of Google traffic). Above all, I care about content (and, to some extent, organization and presentation of content), because visitors will not stay on or recommend a webpage which they do not find useful, interesting, informative or fun!
The advantage of the keywords-and-content method is that they’re self-maintaining: once you’ve established them, you can move onto the next project while they’re drawing traffic, whereas a ton of backlink building and promotion means you never have time to create more content. I use content to drive traffic to content. It won’t work for everyone, but it works for me.
The Limitations of Basic “Rule of Thumb” SEO
I’d like to close with a case study which demonstrates both the effectiveness of my method and its limits.
Created on 02/09/2009
Rated by: 47 people
Favorited by: 41 people
7-day traffic: 110
Created on: August 18, 2008
Rated by: 134 people
Favorited by: 111 people
7-day traffic: 55
(Most data, including inlinks, from Squidaholic.com. Age of competiting lens is an estimate based on date of first comment on that lens).
I created my lens right before I learned how to check for other webpages using the same keywords in the URL. It turned out there was another Squidoo lens with my keywords in its title, in reversed order!
My competitor’s lens has over a thousand backlinks. Does this mean that my attention to keyword optimization is beating out his backlink building strategy?
Not necessarily. On this particular lens— which happens to be a very Squidoo-related topic —I’m getting most of my traffic from other parts of Squidoo. No search engine involved!
I have no idea where my competitor’s visitors are coming from. But I’ve seen enough examples like this to convince me that backlink building is not the magic wand to traffic many people seem to think. It is one tool in the SEO toolbox, and that’s all.
What, exactly, is giving my lens the traffic boost over its twin’s? In this case, it’s probably nothing to do with SEO, although in many other cases, my search engine traffic shows that I do have some basic grasp of SEO. Possibly it’s my activity and presence in SquidU, but that’s a tough call: the other lensmaster is almost as active. Is it my content? Not necessarily. He covers the same topic well, in a different way. Maybe my lens is just getting more love because I’ve updated it more recently, and it’s still pretty new, so it’s getting a freshness boost from Google. Mabe it’s due to the tides, or astrology, or because I’m left-handed.
The point is, I can’t be sure. Nobody is really an SEO expert unless you do controlled statistical analysis. I can’t “prove” my keyword-optimizing strategy is better than his backlink-building strategy, because I haven’t got a good way to test every factor on each of our pages and see which things are helping, which hurting our traffic and search engine results.
That said, since most of the web doesn’t know a THING about SEO, I usually get pretty good results with my “beginner’s SEO” method even though I don’t have the expertise of SEO industry experts.