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Link Disco
The SEO Must Go On

Getting Started With SEO

By linkdan • Apr 11th, 2008 • Category: 2 - Help Fans Find You with SEO

Before getting into SEO, you might ask: why do I need to optimise my site anyway? If I write content, won’t the search engines spider it automatically?

Well, perhaps – but there’s a huge difference between being indexed and being found.

For example, when someone enters a phrase in a search engine, it’s unlikely that they will go beyond the first page of results (on standard settings, this means 10 organic results) – and only 8% of searchers make it as far as the third page of results.

This means that you really need to be in the top ten results for a phrase if you want to get a significant slice of its traffic. In fact, you really want to be in the top three results – position one typically gets around four times the clicks of position two, and the numbers decline sharply from there (see AOL stats on Jim Boykin’s blog).

It All Begins With Keywords

As it happens, all words are not created equal. If you set up a blog on wordpress.com, write a few posts about ‘intercontinental rabbit silo discernment facilities‘ and wait a while, you will probably end up ranking in position one for the search phrase ‘intercontinental rabbit silo discernment facilities‘.

(Actually, chances are that a scraper site will take your posts and rank above you for this phrase first, but that’s a topic for another day).

This achievement may make you feel good – however, the only reason you will rank for phrases like this is because there’s no competition (which is fantastic). On the other hand, there is also no traffic; nobody is searching for ‘intercontinental rabbit silo discernment facilities‘ – not so fantastic.

I’m not going to get into the ‘long tail‘ here; for the moment, it’s enough to know that a bit of research on what keywords are valuable to you will pay off in the long run. It takes a lot of work to rank for competitive terms; it’s often best to find some less competitive terms that still deliver decent traffic.

One Page, One Phrase

Even moderately competitive terms require significant effort to achieve a good rank; this is why you need to optimise your site from the beginning, and develop it with care and attention. It’s not a case of finding a list of keywords and trying to get your entire website to rank for all of them; what you need to do is optimise each individual page for a particular keyword.

How you structure your site and how you link between internal pages is important too, but for the moment the key point is this: optimising your entire site for a particular keyword doesn’t necessarily make your entire site rank higher for that keyword, it just means the search engines won’t be sure which page is the most relevant to that keyword.

Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz created a useful diagram that illustrates how search engine spiders (such as Googlebot or Yahoo! Slurp) figure out what each page on your site is about. If you have an internal linking structure that makes sense, and a correspondingly sensible arrangement of title tags on your pages, then the engines can clearly see what’s going on here.

Now, if you were going to only learn two things about SEO, it should probably be these:

  1. the importance of title tags (content is king!)
  2. the importance of anchor text (links are the web’s arteries and signposts)

In reality, you will need to know much more, of course, but this is a good start.

Essential Introductory Reading

There are many places that offer beginner’s guides to SEO, some more up-to-date than others. SEO is a remarkably dynamic sector; techniques that are valid now may not be effective in three months’ time. This is why it’s important to keep an eye on the blogs of prominent SEO experts. However, it’s still vital to lay a solid foundation of SEO principles; here are a few recommended reads for those interested in learning a bit more…

SEOmoz Beginner’s Guide

Beginner’s Checklist to Learning SEO

Aaron Wall’s SEOBOOK

Dan Thies’ SEO Fast Start

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linkdan is a Search Marketing Consultant, Musician, Producer and Author.
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