6 Great [ Free ] Resources for SEO Beginners

Organic search engine optimization (SEO) is the most effective means of generating quality, lasting internet traffic to a website. Now that SEO has made its way into the mainstream and is no longer a set of practices known only to the professionals, many small business owners are getting involved in the SEO strategies that will help their websites rank higher in the search engine results pages (SERPs).

There is no shortage of SEO documentation, tips, tricks and off-site techniques to be discovered online, but we suggest starting with some high quality foundational material and SEO tools that focus on your website first. As always, you should start with the basics.

 

For those SEO newcomers looking to dive right in, the 6 SEO resources below are a great place to start:

 

  • Google Webmaster Tools ~ Google Basics: Understanding how a search engine works is at the root of search engine optimization (SEO). This page from Google explains the basics of their search engine, in simple terms.

 

  • SEOmoz ~ The Beginners Guide to SEO: New to SEO? Need to polish up your knowledge? The Beginner’s Guide to SEO has been read over 1 million times and provides comprehensive information you need to get on the road to professional quality SEO.

 

 

 

  • Google Keyword Tool: Type in any word, phrase or website name. Google gives a list of keyword ideas plus data showing how often words are searched…

 

 

Setting Goals For Your SEO Campaign

 

As an adder, I’ve included the following few lines from one of my previous articles, “Understanding SEO”. Setting SEO goals does not get the online attention it deserves, but should be given plenty of emphasis prior to your next (or first) SEO campaign:

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Setting SEO goals should be an essential precursor to the launch of any SEO campaign. These goals should be discussed, evaluated, and determined by everyone involved in the SEO process.

 

In order to develop a cost-effective SEO Campaign it is fundamental to set goals that target business needs and take into consideration the digital market, website behavior, restrictions, available resources and time.

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As you delve deeper into search engine optimization (SEO), keep in mind that SEO techniques and best practices are continually evolving. Stay current on the latest SEO news and keep up with the search engine changes and algorithm updates. The best SEO professionals are those that continually learn and increase their knowledge of SEO as well as constantly working to improve their SEO abilities, techniques and strategies. Happy SEOing!

Maximizing SEO with Minimalist Website Design

Okay, before we get too involved, we should give some definition to ‘minimalist web design’ as the term can mean different things to different people. For us here at Shimmer, a minimalist web design refers to a website that is created to achieve maximum effectiveness with just the fundamental essentials. Also, it should be easy on the eyes and specific in content. The Shimmer website that you are currently visiting is our example of minimalism.

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Common features of a minimalist website design:
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  • High contrast text and background for ease of read (black on white works best).
  • Simple, intuitive navigation (menu structure).
  • Limited number of icons and graphic elements.
  • Larger images only where they enhance user experience (of course, this is a bit subjective).
  • Limited number of advertisements.
  • Limited use of widgets (survey forms, social gadgets, games, etc.).
  • Consistent theme.
  • Focused content on each of the individual web pages.

The above list can get considerably larger, but for the sake of keeping this article short we’ll limit things to those eight features of minimalist design.

For those that follow SEO, you already know about the infamous Google algorithm updates — for the uninitiated, these are unannounced changes that affect the way Google ranks web-pages for search placement. For the SEO folk’ they can be a welcome change, but more often than not they require us to update our SEO techniques and practices so that they remain in-line with Google’s mission; Provide The Most Relevant Content To Its Users.

In February of 2011, Google launched the Panda Update. Panda was aimed at websites that provided a poor user experience as determined by Google’s quality rating logic. In January of 2012, Google released a page layout algorithm update that had a quick ‘down-ranking’ effect on many sites featuring little content above-the-fold. Simply, if you had to scroll down a website before you got to any relevant content, there is a good chance that the website received a less than favorable move in Google’s search results pages. This all means that a website’s usability, page layout and content placement are important factors for Google when determining the sit’s quality (and, by association, its search results placement).

Now, with the Penguin update, Google is going after ‘spammy’ websites as well as those utilizing unethical SEO (black hat SEO) tactics, or websites that are trying to cheat their way to the top of the SERP’s.

Minimalism, it’s the way to go… for SEO: After reading the above, it should start to seem clear why a minimalist web design can have a positive impact on your SEO efforts. If your focus is geared towards climbing to the first page of the Google search results, then you can’t go wrong with a clean, content focused, uncluttered and ‘spam free’ web design. It’s what Google likes, and they will reward you for it :-)

SEO BASICS: Understanding Search Engine Optimization

SEO BASICS — So, what is SEO?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website in order to achieve high-ranking placement in the search engine results pages. The higher a website ranks, the greater the chance that a site will receive visitors from the search engines.

The SEO basics focus on several target categories and utilize an assortment of optimization techniques…

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SEO FOCUS
  • Content
  • Images
  • Videos
  • Industry Segment
  • Local | Community
  • Niche | Specialized
  • Site Blogs

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SEO | SEARCH OPTIMIZATION
  • Original Content
  • Keyword Density
  • Back-Linking
  • Meta Tagging
  • Link Structuring
  • Headers Optimization
  • Sitemap | Robots.txt

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In addition to knowing the targeting and optimization techniques above, it is important to understand the key, fundamental elements required for a successful SEO campaign:

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[tab title=”Establish SEO Goals”]Setting SEO goals should be an essential precursor to the launch of any SEO campaign. These goals should be discussed, evaluated, and determined by everyone involved in the SEO process.

In order to develop a cost-effective SEO Campaign it is fundamental to set goals that target business needs and take into consideration the digital market, website behavior, restrictions, available resources and time.

OBJECTIVE: Determining the purpose of your SEO campaign is step one. Typically, SEO campaigns are categorized within one or more of the following objectives: creating brand awareness, increasing website traffic, call-to-action (conversion), and generating sales leads. Optimally, a campaign that fulfills all of the mentioned objectives is most desirable, and objectives can be intertwined, but determining a main goal for your SEO campaign will help in tailoring your project with specific best practices and techniques.

SUCCESS METRIC(s): Tracking and analyzing statistics of your SEO campaign is core to furthering optimization and continued success. There is a mountain of data that can be tracked and analyzed for an SEO campaign (site traffic, search rankings, conversions, page views, duration on site, returning visitors, video views, etc.), more than enough to drive you crazy, so we suggest determining high-priority and low-priority metrics, with the high-priority list containing the two (2) metrics that you consider most important your goals, and everything else grouped into the low-priority list. Please note that the low-priority list should not be ignored. Ever. Just don’t exhaust yourself, or your team, trying to perform and in-depth analysis of every tracking metric at your disposal.

RETURN on INVESTMENT: Determining ROI goals for an SEO campaign can be a bit tricky, e.g., creating brand awareness versus getting conversions or online sales, but it is important to determine what level of measure for any given success metric is deemed profitable. Again, this may be tough to determine at first, but set a goal up front, then revise it over time, if necessary. Simply, a strong campaign centered on SEO basics will produce measurable results. Although, it is imperative to assign a value that helps measure success and determine profitability.[/tab]

[tab title=”Know How Search Engines Work”]Search Engines can be very complex, but it is important to understand the basics of a search engine to get the most out of your organic SEO campaign.

For SEO purposes, we focus on three aspects of a search engine: the crawler, index, and search interface. We’ll take look at each, individually, to get a better understanding of the roles they play in the process of making a search query, and its displayed results, possible.

CRAWLER: A web crawler (also known as a ‘spider’ or ‘bot’) is a program that browses, or crawls, the internet in an automated and methodical manner, following links and choosing up information for its database. Typically, crawlers visit frequently updated web pages more often, so it is important to remember that regular content updates will help assign the web page a certain level of importance in the search engine. Although, content updates are not the only determining factor for page importance. Also, crawlers will ignore some elements of your website (e.g., all but a few code elements, certain scripts, NoFollow tags, etc.). More important to the web crawler are your site’s content, page title, page description, and links (internal, outgoing, and backlinks).

INDEX: The information that the web crawlers collect is indexed and stored by the search engine. The purpose of storing an index is to optimize speed and performance in finding relevant documents and/or web pages for a particular search query (the words you type in the Google search box). In order for the search engine to provide the most relevant content to its users, each web page is assigned a rating of importance (this is where SEO comes in) which helps determine the web page’s positioning in the search results. In other words, more important websites receive higher rankings and more web traffic from the search engine.

INTERFACE: For search engine users, the interface is where the magic happens! The interface includes the search query page (where you type the search phrase) and the search engine results pages, or SERPs. Once a user types the word or phrase they’re searching for, the interface will launch an algorithm that finds the indexed pages relevant to the search query, then display the findings in the search results. Voila!

It is important to note that search engines continually change the way they collect, store, index, and rate data. Any given change is commonly referred to as an algorithm update. These changes represent the search engine’s ongoing mission to provide the most relevant content to its users, but it also affects best practices for search engine optimization. It is vital to be aware of algorithm updates, know how they impact search rankings, and to be ready to quickly implement strategic updates to your SEO campaign — whether to take advantage of, or to counter any particular change by the search engine.[/tab]

[tab title=”Use SEO Best Practices”]Some SEO best practices are tried and true. These elements are core to current and, most assuredly, future search engine optimization. We call these particular techniques the SEO BASICS — and there is little chance they will ever see much change, if any at all.

QUALITY CONTENT: Content is the biggie, folks. It is the cornerstone of any organic SEO campaign — No. 1 in the book of SEO Basics. That being said, the quality of a web page’s content must be high to gain considerable respect from the search engines.

So, what is quality content? Simply, quality content is anything that is relevant to the user’s interests, is helpful and improves the user’s overall experience. Some elements of content are: text the user is reading, images, documents, charts, videos, and other interactive portions of a web page. Additionally, fresh, new and updated content will contribute to the overall quality of a web page. While frequency can be a factor, it is best to stick with a few, regular and relevant updates rather than posting lots of useless updates that do not contribute to the user’s experience.

Enhancing content with KEYWORDS: Keywords are the words and phrases, in compact form, that best describe your business, products and services. They are the terms that search engine users will type to find resources such as yours. For this reason, keywords should be featured prominently throughout your website, but within context and always with a simple to read flow. Stuffing too many keywords into your content will make it hard to read and it will get your website penalized, or even banned, by the search engines.

CODE: Keep it simple! Clean and simple code is easier to parse and analyze. While flashy boxes, accordion widgets, and slick animations may add some creative elements to your web pages, too much of a good thing can add bloat and open the door that leads to a whole lot of ugly, e.g., spider crawling issues, slow load speeds, and browser compatibility issues, to name a few. Now, we’re not suggesting that you eliminate all those cool widgets from your web pages, we’re just suggesting that you use them sparingly, and where they really add value to the end user experience — keeping in mind that every widget or animation you place on a web page increases the amount of code a web crawler must wiggle through.

TRACKING & ANALYSIS: As mentioned in the SEO Goals tab, tracking and analysis is core to furthering optimization and continued SEO success. Far too many websites are roaming the internet without tracking code. How can you optimize a website if you don’t know it’s performance stats (number of visitors, page views, duration on site, keyword searches, popular landing pages, etc.)? All of these statistics (and more) are yours to view and analyze with the inclusion of a simple piece of tracking code.

SEO BASICS — THE BOTTOM LINE:  Analytics and Webmaster Tools ~ Know Them, Live Them, Love Them![/tab] [/tabs]

Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Surviving The Panda

Panda: SEO Tips and Best Practices

On February 24, 2011, Google implemented a major algorithm update, named Panda, that influences how Google ranks websites as well as your future SEO strategies. The Panda update was introduced to help combat and reduce the presence of low-quality content in their search results. That being said, Panda has left a sea of victims in the wake of its warpath and has affected some 12% of search results as well as halving many websites’ visits.

Okay, don’t panic! There is plenty of debate as to whether Google’s Panda was fair to all website owners — many feel they were unjustly penalized. At this point, we’re going skirt that issue and just focus on SEO and optimizing your website to the current standards. If it is important that your business’ website ranks well in the Google search results, then you need to make some changes to your SEO campaigns and strategies.

First, do your homework and study up on the Panda update and how it affects search. Second, get up to speed on Google’s guidelines for SEO friendly web development. Below is a good place to start, but by no means is this a complete guide to success. Again, do your homework — armed with some knowledge and a willingness to makes changes to your SEO practices, your website will do just fine in the wake of Panda. Remember, Google launches several algorithm updates per year — this one happens to be a biggie, but you have to be able (and willing) to roll with the punches:

  • Stop placing too much emphasis on Google search results. It’s time to start creating a quality, informative, and trusted online presence… once achieved, your search results will improve.
  • Get away from content farming — sites that have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics (with slightly different keyword variations) are a major target for Panda.
  • Cut back on your repeating keywords (stuffing). While it is extremely important to have relevant keywords, many webmasters are overdoing it and the search engines are penalizing your website.
  • Review your content placement — The location of your content is becoming a very real factor for Google. Note the instant previews in the search pages that outline where text is found. If content for your particular product or service is at the bottom of a web page, your search results may be bumped down a few notches.
  • Remove your website from low quality directories — Many directories got smacked by the Panda update, too little content and mountains of unrelated links are often viewed as link farming. If your site is listed on a directory that has been penalized by Google then your website is probably being penalized as well.
  • Lay off the ads — don’t place too many ads on a web page, it may be signaling ‘low quality’ to the SERPs (search engine results page).

Google wants site visitors to find what they’re looking for, so provide it! — As long as your SEO efforts are ethical, relevant, informative, and involve high-quality content then your website will do just fine in the SERPs.