Search engine optimization and ranking can appear overwhelming at times. Business owners I talk to fall into two camps. The first are owners who grudgingly pay their web hosting bill each month because they believe they need to have a website. Their websites generate little or no business and is more or less "set it and forget it". These owners don't know how much traffic or business, they receive as a result of their website.
Reviewing traffic patterns including source and flow inside the site isn't performed, and the site is the equivalent to an online version of a business brochure that's handed out. Similar to the brochure, the site may aid in building creditability once a potential client is introduced to it, however, the site doesn't dominate search results and isn't an active marketing tool.
The second group of business owners are actively changing their site, adding new content at least once or twice every week, and using social media to drive traffic. This group has Google Analytics bookmarked on their web browser and can tell you off the top of their head if yesterday's traffic is above or below average.
Adding relevant good content is by far the best thing you can do to give your site the edge over your competition. The best part of adding content is that once it's there, it's there forever and will continue to drive traffic and keep your visitors there longer. Like most worthwhile endeavors, if it were easy, we would all be doing it. The good news is you don't have to write all the content yourself, and in fact, most business owners not only lack the time, but also lack the special skill set to create rich SEO copy. There are services such as elance.com, fiverr.com and others where you can hire writers to create content to place on your site, which in turn helps to boost your site's search ranking.
But, this article isn't about hiring writers; this is about easy and cheap ways to improve. One caveat before we begin, these aren't in any particular order. Mainly because the order is subject to change at any time, and no one other than the search engines know how much weight is given any factor in the puzzle. So the best thing, you can do, is have as many things going for your site as reasonably possible, and especially more than your competition. After all, you don't have to have the best site to win, you just need a site that's best in your market.
1. Change your entire site from HTTP to HTTPS. Instead of using port 80 as most websites use, switch your entire site, with all its content to port 443. It won't change your search term ranking from page 55 to the first page, but if you can move from page 5 to page 2, that's a big deal. If you can move from the top of page 2 to the bottom of page one, you're miles ahead of the game. Last year, Google announced that it would like to see websites become secure so as to protect information better. Usually having an SSL certificate was limited to e-commerce sites to protect credit card information, but now, every site will want to use a certificate if for no other reason than to keep up with the others. SEO was the catalyst for 1Reason Insurance to make the switch.
If port 80 and 443 are a foreign language to you. Don't worry, every website administrator worth their salt knows what it is and how to make it happen. The cost for a simple SSL certificate is less than $20 a year, so it's a no-brainer.
2. Make sure your relevant content is near the top of every post. Many sites (this included at times) will have a lot of content not relevant to the actual post we want Google and Bing to index near the top. Search engines are machines, and they're programmed to give more weight to content near the top, than near the bottom.
3. All your images and pictures need to have names that reflect what the picture is. For example, inside my article about divorce and social security benefits, I have a white piggy bank picture. What is the name of the picture? "PiggyBank"… It makes it easy for me to keep track of what picture is what, but more importantly, PiggyBank means something to search engine spiders while 65465545.jpg means nothing.
Next, if you inspect the picture further, you will notice the "ALT text", and that is key. Originally, "ALT" was helpful because if you're connecting to the world wide web at 15.5K per second on a dial up, you may not want to wait for every picture to load. If you turn off automatic downloading of pictures, the text in the ALT will display instead. Search engines use that information to know what the picture is about, but so many websites don't take advantage of it. In the PiggyBank example, the text is "picture of small child placing money into a white piggy bank".
The ALT text helps this site because it's content that wouldn't be here for any other reason. Maybe someone searching for "white piggy bank" will find my site for the first time. Based on Google analytics, I have learned from experience that some of the strangest things will drive a lot of traffic.
There's another good reason to always populate the ALT image tag. It's used by blind and disabled people to better understand what your website is about. So even without the SEO boost that you'll receive, you can feel good about helping someone living a richer life.
4. Lot of links and deep links. When other sites link to yours, you want as much as possible to have the links directed at content that's not on your home page. Deep links are believed to have a greater and more targeted influence on your site's importance. When linking one page to another page, try to ensure the words linking to the content match where the link points to. If the highlighted word is "car" and the link points to an article about boats, it's not as valuable as one with boats as the hyperlinked text. Remember to think like a machine with links, but rule number one is make it easy for your readers. Don't over use links, and when you link to other sites, you may want to use "nofollow" tags. "nofollow" tells the spiders that they shouldn't give value to the link (although it's hard to imagine that they don't at some level).
5. Speed. If you site takes longer than three seconds to load the home page, you're toast. Your site should load the homepage in under one second. Using flash and other bells and whistles is enjoyable for your web designer because it makes the site appear high tech and modern, but chances are, you're not helping yourself one bit. Search engines are focused on content. While Google can read flash files, including links embedded in flash files (ads come to mind), but as far as the internet has come, it's still a text centric universe. Plus, flash is often slower than other strategies, and lack of speed kills SEO. There's a reason why Google doesn't use a lot speed killing content on its search results pages. WordPress, Drupal, and other content management systems have site cache software available.
Caching your site generally means your site will take a snapshot picture of the content, and when subsequent visitors are on your site, they will see the cache version, or snapshot instead of a live version that's likely the same thing. For example, 1 Reason Insurance is powered by WordPress and without caching, the site has to pull information from the database to know what content to display. Accessing the database takes a considerable amount of computer resources. Instead, the rendered page is stored as a static HTML file, and when called on, it's delivered instead of tapping into the database. It can cut the waiting time for the visitor in less than half.
The downside is if you make changes to your site, they may not show up right away. At Stocksaints.com, a sister site, there's a delay of about five minutes after new content is approved for publication. For other pages (not including the homepage) on Stocksaints, the pages rendered can be days old. On 1Reason.com, the site's cache lasts 12 hours or until a new piece of content is published.
Going back full circle, if you're spending money on marketing, and what viable business isn't? You don't want to be the business owner that sets it and forgets it when it comes to your website. If nothing else, add blogging capabilities and write one or two articles a month. They don't have to be long, 300-500 words is plenty, but you will soon discover your site is making the phone ring more often, regardless if you sell online or not.
To supplement your articles, hire someone who will write up 400 words about various subjects your demographic is interested in. Don't make the mistake of thinking every or even most posts have to attempt to sell or market something. This post isn't trying to sell insurance, but is trying to help our commercial customers learn how to market more efficiently. The famous salesperson Zig Ziglar is often quoted as saying "if you help enough other people get what they want, you will get what you want". The internet and online engagement between customers and vendors don't diminish the value in helping others in any way.