Search engine optimization (SEO) may seem like some kind of magical voodoo, and it’s true that it can be very complicated. But there are things you can do, by yourself, today, that will have an impact on how your site gets ranked. There are no technical or programming skills required. It’s all about content and links.
1. Research Your Keywords
They are the pixie dust on your site that attracts the search engine robots. Create a list of words and phrases that people use in a search engine when they try to find somebody like you. For example, to find our website, people might search on “nonprofit branding”. To figure out what those words might be, you have a few options. You can try searching yourself and see if your site comes up or if competitor sites come up. If your site has Google Analytics or other statistical tracking software installed, you can see exactly what keywords are getting people to your site. You can ask other people what they would search on to try to find your organization. Or, you can use this handy tool from Google.
Write them all down, and then narrow the selection down to the ones that are the best fit for what you do.
Gauge the context of your chosen words carefully. If you’re a small, local organization that saves animals, “animal shelter” will probably not help you get listed in the top ten. Larger organizations with more webpages and better SEO are going to show up at the top of the list, making your site virtually invisible. A better choice might be “animal shelter, Dayton, Ohio.” This option is more relevant to your organization and better conveys your local context.
Once you have a list, sprinkle them generously, but not too heavily, throughout your website content.
2. Be Bold
Search engines give some weight to bolded text over non-bolded text. So at least once per page, bold important words (but make sure it makes sense to do so).
3. Don’t Overdo It
Use keywords throughout titles, text, image names, etc. wherever they can appear naturally. But don’t overdo it. If you use them too often, search engines will figure it out and your site may get blacklisted from search altogether. Instead, use them where they sound perfectly natural, about 3-5 times per page. For example, your news section might contain an article that says (if Dayton Animal Shelter is your name) “Last week, Dayton Animal Shelter was voted the best animal shelter in Dayton, Ohio.”
Page titles, as well as titles of articles, photo galleries, blog posts, etc are key. Titles should be concise, should provide accurate information about the content to follow, and should use one or two when possible, where it makes sense, and also sounds good. Let’s say you have a photo gallery of all the adorable animals you’ve rescued that are up for adoption. You could title the gallery “Furry Cuties Looking for Love.” But a better title would be one that uses better describes the content, such as “Adopt a Cat.” That phrase might very well be what someone uses to search for a place to adopt a pet.
4. Create Content that is Credible, Relevant, and of High Quality
Create your content in a way that provides valuable and useful information to your audience — information they will want to share by linking to it. People searching for you are doing so because they have a problem they think you can solve. Maybe they want to adopt a pet, or donate to your cause, or make their kid happy by getting him a new puppy. Think about why people come to your site, what they expect to get, and then deliver it in a compelling way. Creating content that has the power to go viral is great too: a funny video, a shocking fact, or something incredibly useful.
5. Keep Page Size Reasonable
What is a reasonable page size? A good guide is to stick to a topic per page. So, put one article on a page, not twelve. Keep the page focused on the topic including its images, videos, etc. Of course you can have sidebar items and navigation items, but the main page content should be focused.
6. Don’t Embed Content as Part of an Image
Search engines read text. Unlike people, they cannot “look” at an image and read text that may be within it. For example, your website might have an image of your company logo that contains the company name. It may look fantastic, but it will be invisible to a search engine, and that’s a shame because your name is one of your best keywords! So get that company name into the text of your document — as text.
7. Link to Meaningful Text
Many website contain links that say “click here.” As in “Click here to learn more about our new pet health check up service.” This is a bad idea because search engines rely heavily on the content of text links in determining rank, and “click here” tells nothing about the link. Text links should describe what you are linking to. So a better strategy would be to write, “Learn more about our new pet health check up service.” In this sentence, we link to the name of the service people can learn more about, creating a more search engine friendly link.
8. Grow a Network of Links
Like growing plants in a garden, growing a link network takes time and patience. What you need to know is that your rank improves when you have sites with content related to yours linking to your site. For example, if the Humane Society website is linking to your Dayton, Ohio animal shelter website, that’s helpful. If McDonald’s is linking to you for some reason, it doesn’t really help because their content isn’t relevant to an animal shelter. Also, the size of the site linking to you is a factor. Sites with more content and traffic (more popular) help more than smaller sites. But smaller sites help too, so don’t avoid them.
Identify sites that are relevant to what you do, and then decide if you should try to contact them and ask for a link, ask for them to write about you (and link to you), post your own comment on their (usually blog) content (and link to yourself), or a combination. Keep in mind that if you ask them for a link or an article, you should offer them something of value in return, such as … the same thing on your site for them, your everlasting gratitude, or maybe some cookies. Everybody likes cookies.
If you decide to post a comment on another website with a plan to link back to yourself, make sure you are not writing something that sounds self-serving. Your comment should be sincere, and your link should be relevant to the topic your comment is about. So don’t post things like “Hi, let me introduce you to our amazing organization … click here!” Instead, read what they wrote, and post a thoughtful reply that just happens to reference some useful content on your website, and link to that page.
The absolute best thing you do to get more links to your site though, is to re-read number 4 above.
It won’t happen overnight, but if you keep at it, you will grow a glorious tangle of links to your site.
9. Submit Your Site to DMOZ
DMOZ is the only 100% human-edited web directory. Getting listed on it is not exactly easy, but it is worth your time in ranking points. This is where you can see the DMOZ categories. When you submit your site for listing, follow the directions very carefully. If you don’t, your site may not get listed, and you will have to start over.
The reason you want to be listed here is because major search engines including Google, Yahoo, and AOL reference the data to help form their search results. Thus, being accepted to this listing gives your site credibility with the search engines.
Don’t be afraid to try new things. Explore different options or try alternative content strategies on different pages of your site and see what works best.
- SEO MOZ Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization
- Google’s Webmaster Central
- SEO MOZ Term Extractor: Learn how search engines are reading your content
- Help from Google in finding the right keywords