When you hear “search engine optimization” — or, more commonly, SEO — you might feel like you’re swimming in alphabet soup. But have no fear: learning SEO basics is not nearly as technical as it may seem. SEO is less about filling your site with the right keywords (what people type into Google searches), and more about writing great content that your audience finds useful. You may be surprised to learn that Google is actually pretty savvy when it comes to figuring out whether or not a website is helpful.
Let’s explore the quality indicators Google uses when determining your site’s usefulness, and what you can do to increase your odds of showing up in a Google search.
Share what you know
Chances are you have a lot more knowledge about all things related to your business than the average person. If you own a lamp shop, you likely know what types of lamps work better in a dining room versus a bedroom, how to match a lamp to a person’s aesthetic, and which light bulbs to use. Instead of worrying about whether you should use the word “chandelier” or “overhead lighting,” focus on writing articles people will find useful and compelling when choosing lamps for their homes. Think about the questions people commonly ask you about your business and answer them with the content on your website.
Don’t try to cover topics you don’t know as much about — say, how to pick the perfect mattress — just because you want your business to show up in more searches. Stick to what you know best, and over time Google will come to recognize you as an authority because of the valuable information your site provides.
Make it accessible
Another quality indicator is how easily visitors can move around your website. Make sure all of your links go to a live, functioning page, and not one showing a 404 error, which appears when a web page can’t be found. Also, if you take down a page on your website, make sure you delete any links that lead to it (for more information on linking, check out this guide).
When you include images, it is important to use alt text to write descriptions of the image. Alt text refers to the words that describe your image for screen readers, or if the image doesn’t load. The default description for your image will be the file name, but you can change the alt text after you upload the photo. Say you sell artisanal teas and upload a photo of an orange rooibos tea whose file name is “orangetea3.jpg.” You’ll want to change the alt text to say something like “small-batch orange rooibos tea.”
Another way to make your website more SEO-friendly is to avoid using images in place of written content or links — it’s better to stick to text. Instead of having visitors click on an image of orange rooibos tea in a blog post to go to the sales page, you can include the image and link to the sales page separately, using the words “orange rooibos tea” in the body of the post.
You also want to check that your website appears correctly both on desktop and mobile devices, as well as across multiple browsers. If possible, visit your website on different devices (a phone or a tablet, for instance), and test it out on different browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer. While you’re at it, check how quickly your website loads with tools like PageSpeed Insights or WebPagetest.org. A fast-loading page makes for a happier Google. WordPress.com optimizes your site for faster loading, but keep in mind additions like large images or other media can still potentially slow things down.
Keep Google in the loop
Do you want people to Google your business? Then the most important thing is to make sure Google can access your site in the first place! Start by submitting your business to Google. Simply type in your website’s URL and hit “Submit Request.” Next, make sure every page on your website can be accessed by a link from another page on your website. Let’s say you have a contact page with a form that visitors can fill out to learn more about ordering a custom lamp. Try linking to that contact page from your homepage, and then link to it from the sales pages for your other lamps. Use language that’s relevant to the page you’re linking to — instead of using “Send me an email” to link to the contact page, write “Learn more about ordering a custom lamp” and use the entire sentence as a link.
Now, this is where things get a bit more technical — but we promise even the technical aspects of SEO basics aren’t that scary. To help Google find all those pages on your website, you should provide a sitemap file, which is formatted specifically for search engines. You should also include a site index, which is the version of a sitemap geared toward people instead of search engines. Think of it as your website’s “table of contents,” an outline of all major topics and subtopics covered on your website with links to the corresponding pages. Once you’ve created a sitemap, you can easily submit it to Google.
Learning SEO basics, ensuring your website meets all three of Google’s quality indicators, and increasing the odds that your website shows up naturally in searches should be a fairly straightforward matter. And it should also be a chance for you to share your passion with others — including potential supporters.