1. Establish your search engine ranking baseline
The first key to improving the visibility of your website and increase its search engine ranking using search engine optimization (SEO) is to identify where you currently stand. A number of free tools are available to help you investigate the current status of your website from a major search engine’s perspective.
First, if you haven’t already, install Google Analytics. Google Analytics is a free and incredibly robust analytics reporting tool that will prove invaluable in this process. Once installed on your website, you’ll have access to thorough reports on things like which pages are most frequently accessed, the most common keywords and phrases that people use in search engines to find your site, what links they clicked from other websites to access your site, how many visits you are getting per day/week/month, what technologies are being used (e.g., desktop, tablet, or mobile device), screen resolution, type of browser, and more.
Next, do some keyword research. There are several free online tools that can help you identify which keywords or phrases to target to make sure that your website appears in the search results:
The Alexa website can also provide some valuable insights into your website in terms of ranking, reach, visitor demographics, and more.
2. Ensure your site is chock-full of relevant content and meta data
Once you’ve identified the keywords that represent your website, make sure that those keywords are used in your content and meta data. Meta data… what’s that? Within the <head> of an HTML document, you can add title, description, and keyword tags that will help search engines parse key components of each page on your website. It’s important that every page have a unique title, description and keywords to be most effective. Search Engine Watch provides a good overview of the title, description, and keywords meta tags for more information.
As far as content goes, here are few tips to get you started:
- Write relevant, focused content. By focused, I mean write individual pages or blog posts that focus on 1-2 competitive word phrases. Keep in mind that your content should be written for your readers, not for search engines. If your readers are looking for an article about “SEO Tips and Tricks” and those words appear at least once in your content and in your meta tags, search engines these days are smart enough to figure out if your content is relevant or not for a similarly-worded search. Sometimes overworking keywords into your content can work against you – so address your readers first with search engines in mind (not the other way around).
- Keep it concise and on point. Generally speaking, articles that are between 400-1,000 words long are good for keeping your readers engaged and long enough for search engines to parse the content. It has been said that many search engines tend to ignore pages with less than 200 words.
- Remember to link to other pages on your website within your content. The internal links on your website not only help your readers find more information on your website, it helps search engines, too.
- Regularly update your content. A great way to do this is to add a blog to your website and create an editorial calendar to keep you on track.
- Include links to reliable sources. Linking to reliable websites that have a strong search engine ranking can also affect how your website is ranked by search engines. Search engines focus on both incoming and outgoing links as an indicator of the quality of your website.
3. Make sure your site is technically sound.
Review your site to make sure that it is running optimally for search engines to access and index. Make sure your website is coded with W3C-validated code and is easily navigated by your website visitors and search engines alike. Ensure that each page has a URL that reflects a sound information architecture and contains the most important keywords from the page content.
Sign up for Google Webmaster Tools and Bing Webmaster Tools. With these free suites of tools, you’ll gain insights into the strengths and weaknesses of your website from Google and Bing’s perspectives. This is also a great way to make sure that these search engines are indexing your site on a regular basis and to be aware of any potential technical issues that may be negatively impacting how your website is being ranked or appearing in the search engine results.
4. Verify your website with the major search engines
Create an XML sitemap that is hosted with your website files and submit it to the major search engines: Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. If you have a website built on WordPress or Drupal, there are plug-ins and modules to help with this as well. Verifying your website with the major search engines ensures that they have a full listing of the pages on your website, understand your site architecture and are more likely to include the pages in their search engine results.
5. Build relationships and increase inbound links
The most effective way to improve your search engine ranking is to increase the number of inbound links from other websites. Search engines consider inbound links (and their quality) an endorsement of your website. The more quality websites that link to yours, the more your website is considered a reliable source and will likely receive an increased ranking.
Another way to increase inbound links and increase your organization’s visibility is to create online business profiles on popular directory sites like Google Local Business, Facebook, Google Plus, Yelp, and other websites relevant to your field of work. You can also submit articles, post training or informational videos on YouTube or Vimeo, and share PowerPoint presentations on SlideShare to establish yourself as an expert in your field.