Increasing Website Traffic with Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Post by Chris Tuttle - 5.11.2010 - Follow me on Twitter

Did you know that between 40-60% of your website visitors are getting to your website via search engines? Of those, not all are new visitors, either. People will often search for websites they’ve been to before because they forgot the URL or have become accustomed to it using Google (or maybe Bing?). There’s also the possibility that they’ve started using an integrated browser toolbar or features such as Google’s “I feel lucky.” No matter how they end up there search is the most powerful tool you’ve got to drive traffic to your website. How are you leveraging search as part of your website strategy?

SEO QuestionsLet us focus on those who are new visitors for a moment: unless you’re showing up on the first page of search results -- some experts believe even the first 6 results -- your website has less than a 20% chance of being clicked.

And then there are keywords. Keywords are the terms people type in to search sites like Google.com or Bing.com in order to find information. Do you know what keywords you should be using?  Do you know how to use them? Do you know what words people are searching for when they end up on your site? In this post we’ll review 5 things you can do -- starting today -- to better ensure your website is optimized for search engines.

 

Before we get started, however, a few warnings: 

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an ever-changing art, not an exact science. If it was the later, we would always find the exact website we were looking for within the first search, and we all know that’s not the case.

  • Although there are consultants and companies who specialize in SEO, you do not need to hire someone to get started today. Everything within this article you can start doing now, completely free.

  • Search engines use algorithms to determine the best possible results, and the details of those algorithms are as much a secret as Coca-Cola’s formula. The advice found here is gathered from industry experts and experience--however only by learning, testing and adapting, will you truly be successful with your own website.

  • Not all search engines are the same and all are competing to improve results with changing algorithms. As such, we’ll mostly be referencing Google within this document, as it maintains dominance of the search market with about 70% of searches. Yahoo and Bing follow with about XX% and XX%, respectively.

 

Site Tracking: You Can’t Fix What You Don’t Know is Broken

In order to know how people are finding and using our website, we need to first ensure we’re tracking such information. Most all website hosts provide some type of tracking software, often log-file based, but few compare to Google Analytics. Free and fairly easy to setup, tracking is a must in order to learn how people are finding your website (directly entering the URL, linked from another website or by search engine), what keywords they are using to find your website (if by search engine) and what they are doing once there (immediately leaving, reading & leaving or become engaged). Check out my last blog post on Google Analytics for more information on how to set this up.

 

Keywords:

When the internet first began to take flight MetaTags were introduced to help code webpages with hidden text that told Search Engines & Directories what the webpage was about. These Meta-tags included such things as a Page Title, Description and list of Keywords. While useful to an extent, there was little that would stop website creators from using inaccurate or misleading keywords in order to skew results. Enter Google; Forever changing the way Search Engines worked using a complex algorithm that mostly ignores Meta-tag Keywords and instead focuses on the usage of words (still called keywords) in Titles, Webpage URLs and the actual website Content--as well as a many other criteria, such as link popularity, up-to-date content, and outbound and inbound links to and from other trusted (high-ranking) websites.

So although Meta-tag Keywords have significantly decreased in SEO importance, the use of those very same keywords elsewhere has significantly increased. But how do you know what keywords to use? 

 

Here are 3 ways of determining keywords: Successful, Desired & Suggested. 

  • Successful - First, check your site statistics to see what people are currently searching and what pages they’re finding. How long are they staying and what is the page’s bounce-rate? From here we can start to get a since of the most successful keywords currently bringing traffic to the website.

  • Desired - These are the keywords that you want people to find you with. Be creative, be original, think local and organization-specific.  A small local organization working on Cancer Research is not likely going to be able to compete with the tens of thousands of others competing for keywords like “cancer.” But you can get local, use specific research terminology or use keywords that reflect the types of cancer your organization works on and the type of support you offer.

  • Suggested - Now that you know how people are already finding your website and the keywords you would like people to find you using, take a look at some online resources that can suggest additional keywords to consider. A great tool is Google’s Site Keyword Tool (http://google.com/sktool). Enter your website address and some of the top performing keywords you are currently using and/or desire to be found with, and Google will suggest additional keywords based monthly search volume and AdWords usage--although you do not need to use AdWords, this can be a fairly good representation of the number of websites you’ll be competing against for usage of said keywords. Remember, however, to only use suggested keywords that are accurate to the content in question. Part of search engine’s success has been to weed out webpages that try to inaccurately manipulate search results.
Call-Out Box: Bounce Rate is the % of website visits who leave after viewing only 1-page. If 1000 people found your “About” webpage based on searching certain keywords, but you have a 50% or greater bounce rate, then we can gather that the majority of these visitors are either a) not finding the content they expected or b) the content is not providing sufficient user engagement opportunities encouraging them to stay and do more. The webpage’s average Length of Visit, and actually viewing the webpage in question, can help determine which of the two is the likely cause--and testing!

 

Using Keywords Effectively

So now that you have a better sense of what keywords to use, how do you use them? 

  • Title - Likely the single most important thing you can do is to effectively use keywords in your Page Title (in BBNC this is called Page Display Name). The Title is also displayed by most browsers above the navigation bar and/or on tabs and is displayed by Search Engines as the 1st part of a result listing. Keep your titles short (under characters), unique, specific and action oriented.

Bad: “Homepage - Blackbaud”
Good: “Non-profit fundraising & accounting software, services and support - Blackbaud”

  • Description - Although the Meta-tag Description has likely lost importance since the internet’s early days, it is still a key to SEO. If the keyword that a user is searching is used within the Description, then it will be displayed second, under Title, in a search results listing. Otherwise, the first appearing content using said terms will be displayed.

Bad: Not using Descriptions or generic “About our organization” statements.
Good: “Blackbaud is the leading software and services company providing tools and support for your organization’s fundraising and accounting needs.”

  • URLs - Keyword usage within a URL can both help users easily access webpages beyond the homepage and also help search engines determine what type of content can be expected. In BBNC, you can use keywords in URLs by creating “Friendly URLs.” All landing pages and primary navigation pages should have a Friendly URL assigned and used within links.
  • Headers - Headers are HTML tags, such as <H1> thru <H6>, that help visually break-up and prioritize content into sections within a webpage. Usage of keywords within these headers will also tell search engines the importance of said content on a page.

  • Links - Use appropriate keywords within linked text to describe what is being linked. As with titles, these should be unique, specific and action oriented.

Bad: Click here to download
Good: Download our Search Engine Optimization White Paper

  • Content - Your titles, descriptions and headers may be great, but if your webpage content doesn’t reflect your keyword usage, it will be for naught. Use keywords appropriately throughout your webpage content, but especially within the first 50-100 words. This is a great place to use appropriate keywords you could not fit into the Title, Description or Headers, as they will display within a search result listing if the Description did not include the search term in question.

  • Photos - Search engines cannot tell what an image is about, so use keywords within Image Alt and Title Tags and directly before or after images in order to help search engines determine what the image is in reference to. Describe what is in the image, name places, events and people!

 

It’s All About Relationships

Many organizations fear linking to external websites for various reasons--often because they think it will encourage website visitors to leave their website. Sadly, these organizations underestimate the intelligence of their website visitors. If the user was able to find your website with a search engine, there is little stopping them from finding another organization’s website or referenced article.

Instead, think of outbound links to external websites as a method of building relationships. Search engines also take into consideration the websites you link to, and that link to you, in prioritizing search results. The more trusted websites that you link to, and that link to you, the better you will all perform.

 

Nobody Wants to Read Yesterday’s News

Providing updated content on your webpages on a weekly basis will help increase return visits from existing users and search engine bots. This is a key piece to your overall SEO strategy. Your your rankings in search engine results will improve if you focus on writing great content that’s targeted at your readers. Don’t let this one slide. 

 

Learn & Adapt

As was said in the beginning, SEO is not an exact science and the only way to truly win the results ratings is to learn and adapt accordingly--and continue to do so.

Part of learning is also understanding how your competition ranks in results, what keywords they use and how they are using them--particularly those who rank higher than you in search results.

And finally, committing to learn more about SEO best practices and methodologies. There are numerous resources available online, so set aside an hour or two each quarter to read a blog, a white paper, watch a video or take an online course.

 

Some of my favorite resources include:

  • Google SEO University
  • YouTube Videos
  • SEOMeo

 

What do you think? I would love to hear your thoughts, questions, tips and suggestions on improving search engine optimization. Are there additional resources that have helped you?

Photo by Horia Varlan

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