Learning Search Engine Optimization

Over the past couple of months I’ve been hard at work researching as much as I can about Search Engine Optimization.  There’s a wealth of resources available to help a person learn this skill, many of which are free.

Based on my experience, the best places to start are with Google’s Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide and the Beginner’s Guide to SEO from SEOmoz.  The guide from SEOmoz in particular is very in depth and gives a lot of tips and tools, as well as references to resources for further research into the particulars.

Some of the initial tips I’ve learned are:

  • One of the most important tools for search engine optimization is an understanding of keyword quality.  Google’s Keyword Tool is extremely valuable for understanding what types of terms people are searching for in your industry and how competitive those terms are, so you can determine the best keywords to target and design your website accordingly.  SEOmoz also provides a Keyword Difficulty tool to help you identify the phrases likely to be too competitive to be worth trying to target for a smaller business.
  • Use your title and description meta tags well. Making sure the primary keywords you want to target are represented in your webpage’s title tags is one of the first steps to strengthening a page for SEO.  The meta description tag, while not playing a direct role in how likely your page is to rank high in search results, can play an important role in how likely users are to visit your page once they see it listed.
  • Avoid displaying important information within images, flash animation, java or videos. Often the flashier visual touches on a website are overlooked entirely by the search engine crawlers.
  • Make your website easy to navigate–this is important for human users and search engine crawlers. Make sure that none of your pages are hard to find and the most important ones are linked to from many, if not all, of your other pages.
  • For a small business, avoid targeting general search terms as you’re likely to be outranked by larger businesses with more resources and brand recognition.  Using geographic targeting or a focus on specific product offerings in your keyword choices can lead to better results.
  • Make sure that the copy on your website includes the most important keywords you want to target–but not to the point that the writing becomes awkward or stilted. The usability and consumer appeal of your website must not be lost in your efforts to get it noticed by search engines. In fact, having a well designed website with useful content that people like is one of the most important ways to encourage others to link to you, which is one of the main factors search engines look at in determining page rank.
  • Learn html, at least at a basic level. You can’t make the necessary changes to a webpage if you don’t know the basic structure of the language with which webpages are built.  I was completely intimidated by the idea of learning html until I started and found it’s really not all that difficult. This website’s been the main one I’ve turned to, but this one and this one were also recommended to me as good resources for beginners.

There’s much more to it than what I’ve included here, but these seem like some of the most important lessons for someone starting out.  There are lots of blogs and websites with regular pieces about tips and tools for good SEO, SEOmoz and Search Engine Land seem like two of the most established with regular updates.  Google also has their own blog with some information.

It seems that most SEO consultants regard each other as more of a community than competitors, which leads to many of those with experience offering up their expertise to anyone willing to seek it out.  This means there are ample resources for increasing your knowledge and expanding your skill set in this industry.

3 thoughts on “Learning Search Engine Optimization

  1. Austin,

    Great post! For anyone just getting into SEO, I think you've covered the basics: keywords, tags, and description. I appreciate that you shared the two resources in the beginning on Beginner Guides to SEO — haven't read those before. I did have a question on SEO — have you tried out other sites similar to Moz and what has been your experience? I love Moz, but I find that they aren't finding as many backlinks, even in comparison to some of the Google tools. What do you think?

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  2. Austin,

    I just came across this, and you've covered the important points that small businesses owners could apply to their own sites. Going further with your point on targeting general key terms, the best strategy is always to go for the long tail queries and build yourself up to the general keywords.

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  3. I'm honestly surprised how well this post has held up through the years. SEO is one of those disciplines that's in constant flux so having an article from 2011 still make sense in today's search world is pretty impressive. For those of you who want to read up a little more on why this type of search engine optimization works so well – you can read up a little more here if you're interested: Go For Gold SEO