SEO Guidelines for Website Owners
This is part two of my SEO tutorial. If you have not read the previous parts then please read those first.
Table of Contents
The role of the client in SEO is often the most misunderstood role. There are so many clients (website owners) out there that believe it is the developer's responsibility to perform SEO on his/her site and get them up to the top of search engines. This is a myth that should be busted right now because that is so far from the truth it's not even in the same country.
Obviously as the client you don't know how to generate friendly URLs or how to ensure your site does not employ AJAX or Flash dependent techniques that prevent your content from being searchable. That stuff is most definitely the developer's job. You shouldn't have to worry about what Progressive Enhancement is or what a meta tag is. What you DO need to worry about is providing relevant content on a regular basis. This sounds simple but it is no small task.
As we already know from the first parts of this tutorial, it's useless to fight the system and try to game the search engines. So what we need to do is aim for the same things that the search engines are aiming for. You have to provide relevant content and lots of it! So how do we do this? What should we tell our developer that we need him to build?
Start A Blog
Starting a blog is still one of the most effective ways to drive traffic to your site. The inherent nature of a successful blog pretty much guarantees that you will be noticed by search engines. Blogs usually contain loads of content that is usually relevant to somebody or some group and they are updated as often as every day. There are some caveats though.
Blogging is not easy. It sounds easy, but trust me it's not. I sometimes go for a few weeks before I can think of something I want to write a blog about. If I could post something new here on CodeTunnel every single day, I'd probably be swimming in website traffic. The fact is though, that it is very hard to maintain a blog by yourself and if you're not dedicated to it then give up now. It requires passion to run a successful blog. Your passion for what you are talking about must show through in your blog posts. You cannot simply churn out monotonous garbage and expect it to mean something to someone. You have to truly be passionate about your topic.
Ideally you should post once a week, more if possible. Blogs that don't get updated regularly will lose out on the potential for regular visitors. A problem that arises with many new bloggers is that they immediately turn their blog into a giant ad campaign. Treating your blog like a scrolling billboard is just about the worst thing you can do to a blog. You destroy your readers' trust when they can no longer be sure that your posts are genuine. Your blog is NOT a place to advertise your business or whatever it is you are pedaling. If you want to flush your traffic down the toilet then go ahead and write blog posts in that fake salesman tone. If however, you want to build truly organic traffic and a reader-base that visits regularly to see what you have to say, then put time and effort into each and every post you make.
Some people have a hard time wondering how they are suppose to grow their business if they aren't supposed to advertise on their blog. To them I would say, "Stop thinking so one dimensionally!" Have you ever idolized anyone? Was there ever a magazine or book article, television show, or game you played that you loved so much you had to find out more about who wrote/created it? Did you want more from that author/artist? The goal of a blog is to give yourself a platform from which you can share your passion. A happy side-effect of that is getting genuinely interested readers that will navigate to the rest of your site from the blog area. At that point your blog has essentially become a library of potential landing pages! What more could you ask for?
The Truth About Landing Pages
Landing pages are a buzz phrase that gets thrown around in SEO quite often. The concept of a landing page is extremely simple, but it often gets made out to be more complicated. The phrase "landing page" is simply a way to describe the first page a visitor sees when they come to your site. For instance, let's say that you wrote a blog about how to retrieve lost items that fall down the sink drain. Now let's say that someone searches Google for "my wife dropped her ring down the sink drain" and comes across your blog post as a result. That's a landing page!
Our fictitious visitor had never been to your site before and he was not a regular reader of your blog, yet he still found his way straight to one of your blog posts. That is an organic hit on your site, plain and simple. You provided content that was relevant to your visitor, the visitor's search turned up your post, and he was able to retrieve his wife's ring from the Trap under the sink. There was no trickery here. You did not game the system to get Google to turn up that post.
Because the term "landing page" is thrown around a lot it has become a common misconception that landing pages are somehow magic tools of SEO and if you create one then it will suddenly get tons of traffic. In the most basic sense, a landing page is anywhere that you are providing searchable content. As long as you are providing lots of content on your site and you have some intuitive navigation that allows them to explore the rest of your site when they finish reading, then you are all set.
That said, there are different uses for landing pages. Organic search results are great but sometimes a little paid advertising doesn't hurt. If you decide to create some ads to promote your site it is never a good idea to just promote the entirety of your site in one ad. It is far better to target some specific niche with a single ad. For instance, instead of creating an ad titled "Best plumbers in the business!" and linking directly to your site's home page, it would be better to create a targeted ad. An example of a targeted ad would be "Running out of hot water too fast? We got you covered." that links to a landing page that has been specifically tailored to talk about water heaters.
In the above example the landing page was created explicitly for the purpose of serving as the entry point for visitors coming from a specific ad you created. It would have been just as appropriate (if not more-so) to write a blog post about water heaters and use the blog post as the landing page. It is essentially the same thing and often far easier than having your developer create a specific page for you that is only used when someone clicks on the ad. At least in the case of the blog post, the content might prove valuable to readers of your blog, rather than just visitors from your ad.
In my opinion, the day of the static landing page is pretty much dead. They are usually just continuations of the ad the visitor clicked on anyway. It's not necessarily a horrible thing to advertise to the visitors of your site but if it's at all possible to convert that ad into a genuine piece of usable content, DO IT! Rather than talk about how great your plumbers are, give your visitors valuable information about how to perform some tasks on their own. Trust me, educating your customers does NOT NOT NOT hurt your business. In fact, it gives them confidence that you know what you're doing and you'll be the first plumber they call when they need something done. If you tell a visitor how to clean all the hair out of their plugged bathtub drain and they fix the problem themselves, you just earned that person's trust and they WILL be back. If you see that as lost business, then give up on truly organic SEO right now.
If you read the SEO Guidelines for Developers then you are aware about the importance of clean URLs that are easily readable. I want to bring this up here a little bit because I want to stress the importance of organic content over URLs. If your developer has the ability to generate clean URLs for you then make sure he does that. However, many great developers still have not caught up with more modern web development technologies and you may be stuck with ugly URLs. Encourage your developer to expand his web development toolbox to include some newer technology that allows easy customization of the URLs that are used when accessing their websites. However, do not fret too much if your developer tells you it is not possible to change the way the URLs look. URLs are a tiny fraction of a page's searchability and exposure.
A good clean URL makes it easier for visitors of your site to share links with their friends but a search engine ultimately does not care. It will index a long nasty URL just the same as it would a shorter friendly one. The most important part is the content on the page. While I would suggest pursuing clean URLs I would also suggest not wasting too much time worrying about it if it is not possible.
Your developer could easily add buttons for making it easy for visitors to share content with their friends. Have a look at the left-hand side of this very blog and you will see a simple bar enabling you to share this post with friends if you so choose. This is a very simple tool and is very helpful to your visitors. Tell your developer to include share buttons for at least the main sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus. Try not to list too many social media sites though as too many options sometimes frustrate visitors.
While your developer is responsible for adding these easy sharing buttons, it is not all his/her responsibility to mange your social media. I highly recommend you get involved in all the popular social media sites and post up-to-date relevant content on there as well. For instance, every time I post to this blog I share it with my Facebook and Twitter friends. I use my Twitter account to share relevant links to things related to the software industry. I follow other big names in the industry so that I can stay up to date with them as well.
As you can already see, good SEO takes a lot of work. You have to eat, sleep, and breathe your passion and do everything you can to share it. There are so many opportunities for you to provide good content for your visitors. Take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way and be genuine about it. If you put on a fake salesman persona you can bet that your visitors will spot it straight away. We are all advertised and sold to every day of our lives, another advertisement will go completely unnoticed, I can guarantee it. Have a genuine passion for what you're doing and share it with the world. That is the ultimate recipe for success on the web.