Let’s face it, just the term SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, seems daunting or almost mystical. Follow along as we go through a 9 point SEO checklist.
Last week in Part 1: How to be number 1 on Google we talked about the power of content. As Mark O’Brian says in Websites that Work: “If you regularly add unique, expertise-based content to your site, then SEO will be easy.”
Remember this is how Google works: You publish your website and Google bots scan your site for content. The following week Google bots come back and check for new content. If there is no new content, they come back in a few weeks. If in a couple more weeks they check back and there is still no new content, Google bots make a note to not frequently check your website. Ok, you get it. You need to regularly update your content with at least 2,000 words per month. But what exactly is Google looking for?
1. Keyword Phrases
A lot of SEO is understanding who your brand is and what target market you are focusing on. What do they want to read? Wine & food pairings? The history of a wine varietal? It also relays to Google what you are all about. Are you a winery in Illinois that is next to a beautiful river? Or are you a winery in France steeped in a tradition of hundreds of years? Your job is to think like a searcher and figure out what keyword phrases best describe your brand. What describes only your winery and not the winery down the road? What will a searcher type in to look for you? Then, use those words through out your site. Do they need to be exact every time? No, but it should convey the same concept.
For example, if I want to appear at the top of search engines for local wineries, you might first think to use the keyword “winery” throughout your site. But now Google prefers phrases, instead of single keywords. Why? They are trying to make search engines mimic how we speak.
Think of keyword phrases like “Winery near St. Louis with gourmet lunch” or “Winery in Virginia with Norton and a beautiful view.” Make sure your keyword phrases are listed in the general copy on your website’s pages (About us, etc.) and insert them regularly in blog posts.
Not sure what phrase to put in your blog posts and page? Try two these two tips:
- Highlight your winery name, location, plus your unique differentiating benefit. I have every one of my clients fill out this statement to define how they stand out from other wineries: Only (XYZ winery) delivers (unique differentiating benefit) to (target audience).
- Use Google’s Keyword Planner tool to see what the most popular phrases people type into Google.
2. Title tags
Google shows the first 60 to 70 characters of your title, so make sure you are using your keywords and/or describing your key difference in the first part of your Title. Using the example above you might say “Illinois winery to host special wine pairing dinner.” Plus, as we talked about in Part 1 (link), headlines with “How To” and “7 tips” get more clicks. Here also is a great article on 10 sure-fire Headline formulas that work. Good titles make you want to find out more or evoke an emotional response.
Here’s a visual of where the title tags, URL/permalinks and H1 tags are located on your browser:
3. URL (permalinks)
It’s important that yourURL/permalinks show in the browser window (see above example) as text and not a number or session id.
This is the correct way:
Notice how the text describes what the page topic is about? This allows both the reader and Google to know more about the content of the page.
Below is an example of the wrong way for a URL/permalink to show, because it does not describe what is on your page or post:
If you are in WordPress, you can easily change this by going to Settings —> Permalinks —> Select Post Name, which will set your permalinks as:
4. H1 tags
H1 tags are also called Page Titles. See the illustration above on where Page Titles are located in your browser. There should only be one H1 tag on the page, so Google knows what this web page is about. Sub-headings should be set to size h2, h3 or h4. Again, the page title heading should contain words that describe your unique niche. The main reason Google holds this one with importance is because this will clearly tell visitors what this page is about and where they are on your site.
Also note, that your H1 tags and your Title tags can be different, which will give you more text to describe exactly what your niche is.
5. Meta description:
The Meta description (see below screenshot, the Meta description is the gray text) is the text that shows up in search engines when it displays the results of the person’s search. If no description is specified, Google will naturally take the first few lines from that page. Are your first two lines relevant to the topic? Do they use the keyword you are targeting? If not, create your own Meta description that will help your ideal client find you. Meta descriptions need to be 156 characters or less.
If you are in WordPress, install the WordPress SEO by Yoast. This plugin will help walk you through how you should set up each post or page.
For example, below is what the Google snippet preview originally looked like. Notice how if we are targeting “wine book club” we have those keywords in the heading, page title, page url and content. But we do NOT have it in our Meta description.
So, let’s change our Meta description so it also has the words “wine book club.” Now the WordPress SEO by Yoast tells you that you did indeed use the same keyword across all settings.
6. Make your photos have alt tags “alternate text”
Many people rely on photos to search for what they are looking for. For instance, I just did an image search to buy a laptop stand. I knew what I wanted the stand to look like, but wasn’t sure how to describe it with exact words. How does Google do this? You need to make sure when you upload a photo to your website, you put a descriptive Title and a description in the Alt tag. Or if you are using a content management system like WordPress, add a description to the photo. Think of it this way: search engines cannot see images, but rather read the text you type in for the photo title and description.
7. XML sitemaps
It’s important that every website submit a XML sitemap to Google and other search engines. This allows Google to better understand how your website is structured and the order of your most important content. If in WordPress, WordPress SEO by Yoast does this for you.
Part of what search engines use to rank you, is the amount of incoming links. I know some companies offer quick, let’s trade links, but really I believe you should only do this if it’s relevant to your company. Having a link on a winery association website to your winery is a no brainer. Having a winery listed on a website that sells bicycles doesn’t make much sense. Unless of course, it’s one of those cool wine bottle holders that you can strap onto your bike. The more websites that link to your page, the higher you will rank in Google and other search engines.
8. Have a Google+ Business page:
This simple step let’s Google know you are a business and you do exist. Plus, having a Google+ business page will help you show up high in local searches. Some clients say, “But I don’t have office hours, do I still need to have a Google Places page?” Yes, you do. You can simply state on your page, that you are by appointment only. The more info Google knows about you, the more it can promote you. Plus, if you have a Google+ biz page, your Google+ profile will pop in to the right of the search area. See the example of my own “Bauerhaus Design” listing, below:
Want to know more about how to make your business stand out online? Email me to set up a free 30 minute consultation.