In this post I will discuss the basics of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), focusing on What is SEO and some simple strategies you can implement on your blog to improve its performance in Search Engine rankings. I have learned over the past year or so regarding SEO while running my blog. When I initially started this blog, I knew very little about SEO, other than I potentially needed to do it on my blog and apparently it was an expensive exercise to undergo.
Through a bit of research, I discovered that there are a lot of charlatans and downright dirty criminals operating in this specific area of the internet. I figured out that if I didn’t want to get ripped off by these snake oil salesman, I best get familiar with this area and attempt to learn the basics. I thought I would share my experience and knowledge I have gained over the past year to help anyone who is embarking an any new internet project.
What is SEO?
To put it quite simply SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the name given to an activity that attempts to improve search engine rankings. We are all pretty familiar with Internet Search engines these days, be it Google, Yahoo, Bing or my personal favourite Duck Duck Go, and the concept behind these tools is pretty simple, In search results they display links to pages they consider relevant and authoritative to the topic you have searched for.
Authority is mostly measured by analysing the number and quality of links to webpages from other web pages and providing them with some sort of weighting.In simple terms your web pages have the potential to rank in a search engine provided that other web pages link to them.
How search engines work
In order to truly understand SEO, its really important to consider how Search Engines work and to remember search engines are not humans. While this may seem to be an obvious statement, but it is really important to realise that humans and search engines view web pages entirely differently. Search engines are almost entirely text-based whereas humans can be stimulated by a number of senses, i.e. Touch, Smell, Sound and Vision.
Although technology advances rapidly, search engines are far from intelligent creatures that can feel the beauty of a cool design or enjoy the sounds and movement in movies. Instead, search engines are essentially virtual spiders that crawl the Web, looking at particular site items mostly analysing it’s text to get an idea what a site is about. Spiders follow links from one page to another and index everything they find on their way.
Typically after a search engine crawler has analysed your site and indexed it, the secondary processes are initialized and these are processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving. Conceptually what happens is that all your sites relevant data, is essentially captured into a huge database, consider something like 40 Billion records. Each page on a website is indexed, not just your homepage. The key points to remember here is that there are a number key attributes to include in your sites mark up which is vital for search engines.
What is not SEO ?
Probably the easiest way to understand what SEO , is to understand what it isn’t. SEO is not some wonder bit of programming genius, you can perform on your one page website and it will all of a sudden start gaining millions of hits and make millions of sales. Seo is definitely not some black magic programming art that tricks people into thinking your website is amazing and that they need buy whatever it is trying to sell.
All SEO is, a way of constructing your webpage and the data contained in your webpage in a manner that enables search engines to easily crawl your website and index its data accordingly. There literally is no need for any technical wizardry to implement good SEO attributes on your site.
SEO doesn’t have to be expensive
The truth is, if like myself you have chosen WordPress as your platform for your blog, there are literally hundreds of free plugins available to help you improve your SEO. I have compiled a list of the top 4 wordpress SEO plugins and all of them a free and very easy to implement. A lot of SEO consultancy’s promote the benefit of outsourcing your SEO work, to enable you to concentrate on your business. Although that might be true for the bigger organisations, I think for the smaller ones that is not entirely true. My personal view is that SEO is part of your marketing campaign, and today your company’s website or blog is a significant component of that campaign therefore you should be intimately involved with it.
I spend 30 – 45 minutes a day on my blog. It is time well spent, when I compare it to the results achieved. I have to admit that in the beginning I did spend a lot more time, but that was by virtue of the fact that I was learning a whole heap of new skills and broadening my understanding of this new field. I have to admit that I am increasingly happy that I made that investment, because all the dividends from that exercise are now paying off.
You really need a strategy
The truth is the hardest part about coming up with effective SEO, is that what you really need to do is have a content strategy. The advice that is handed out time and again on the internet is that content is king, and this is undeniably true. Your content is what not only draws search engines to your site, but it is the primary reason why people will want to visit your site. The content on your site needs to consume you, in order for your site to be successful you need to spend everyday:
- Think about your content
- Devise a content strategy
- Implement your content strategy
- monitor your content
- tweak your content
- Evaluate your content
- Update your content
- Evolve your content
Set yourself clear objectives
In my opinion the biggest problem with defining a clear SEO strategy, is actually setting clear and manageable objectives. This might sound dull, but it is unbelievably hard to do this. It is pointless to say you want number 1 spot in google, if you don’t know what sector that number 1 spot is. The other problem is that whatever you think you’re “selling” it’s not what your customers are “buying”, and this is the most difficult aspect to get your head around.
In my case, it seems logical to me that due to the fact that I think of myself as a freelance software developer, that my customers would be searching the web for freelance software developers, and by that very nature the freelance software developer should be the keyword phrase I should target. It turns out that, that is not the case. The only people who seem to be searching for that specific keyword phrase are freelance software developers themselves looking for work.
There is also a lot of competition for the phrase, by the any number of “agencies” or hiring portals that have become available over the years. I have no interest in :
- Using those rip off schemes
- Competing with them
So with that in mind, I have had to explore different avenues for traffic generation and learn what it is my target customer base is searching for. There are a number of low hanging fruit keywords that I can target, which are surprisingly less competitive but have resulted in some interesting opportunities. You need to keep this in mind, that just because your competition has run off in one direction it doesn’t mean you should.
How to get links
Your life should revolve around your content, so you had better love your content in the first place. If you’re passionate about your content, then others will be too. This is essential if you want to improve the SEO of your site, because by a large people are responsible for creating links to your site on other websites and this is what really helps to improve your rankings. You need to create content that is engaging enough for people to want to link to it, tell other people about it or even use your content and refer to it.
The other key aspect is how your site links to its own content, this is what is defined as Information Architecture. A key point to remember is that People only appreciate what they can find, understand and use! So all the content on your site needs to have some sort of connectivity. Each page should at least be connected to several other pages on your site, preferably pages with related topics. This serves two purposes in that not only does it entice search engines to follow links to other pages in your site, but also it largely contributes to people staying longer on your site, reading more of your content, which will hopefully result in them coming back to your site or even better referring your site to others.
In order to receive you must give
On the web, the old saying what goes around comes around rings true. If you want links to your site, you need to create links to other sites on your blog. I’m not entirely sure what the exact recipe is for creating links on your site to other. However, the strategy I’ve been following is, that if I find content that has been useful to me on other websites or blogs, and I am writing an article with relevant content I usually add a link to that post within my post. I also usually contact that site, informing them that I have added a link to their site, ask them if they have any objections and usually thank them for their content. If the site has a comments thread I will also usually leave a comment.
The quickest and easiest way to create links to your blog, is to create links to it on all your social media profiles and post updates to those profiles as soon as you post a new blog. I don’t flood these channels with new updates everyday, but I do notify them as soon as I have made a new post.
Understand your readers
I must be honest, when I first started my blog I really had no idea what I was planning to achieve with it. I never really had any major objectives I was aiming at, I was mostly doing it as a little side project. Something fun to do in my spare time, while also hugely educational. I never thought it was going to be a huge money-making machine, and luckily so because it hasn’t been not directly anyway. However, what it has done, it has enabled me to increase my profile within the community of software developers and software development organisations. So much so, it has radically improved my chances of obtaining more freelance software development jobs. I now regularly receive calls from new customers who have found me due to my blog. All because I happened to write an article that addressed a particular issue they faced. It is by learning these facts that I now concentrate my efforts on writing more of those types of articles, because I know my readers and customers are interested in them.
All my efforts now are focused on learning about what my readers needs are and how best I can fulfil that need. My blog is not only a platform whereby I can show case my skills, but it is also a platform whereby I can improve on them and learn new skills.