Friday, September 23, 2011

What is SEO and Do You Need it?

I recent received the following question from a student:

Question: "I've been told that my website need search engine optimization and there seem to be about a zillion companies in all different price ranges that do these services. What should I look for in a service? Can I do anything myself?"

Answer: Search engine optimization (SEO) is a huge subject and, while I’m not an expert, I do know a few things about it. First, the answer is yes, there are definitely things you can do yourself when you are creating your site or working on the text. There are also many things your web designer (if you have one) can and should do for you from the beginning. Here are a few tips for starters:

1. You should be conscious of placing appropriate keywords throughout every aspect of your site: your titles, content, URLs, and image names. Think about your keywords as search terms -- how would someone looking for information on this topic search for it? For example, they might search in the following ways:

- acupuncture in Chicago

- acupuncture services in Chicago

- acupuncture for hay fever in Chicago (or whatever disease you want to treat)

- acupuncture treats hay fever

So when you write text for the home page (and all the other pages), try to use as many words as possible that people might use to search for your services.

2. Have your web designer create a site map -- a page listing and linking to all the other major pages on your site -- makes it easier for search engine spiders to search your site. The fewer clicks necessary to get to any given page on your website, the better. People will often click on the site map first if they are not sure where to go on your site.

3. The name of your site should be a keyword itself if possible… and may be the most important one! So choose your URL name carefully. For example, www.backhealthacupuncture.com is better than www.crazyhorseacupuncture.com.

4. Flash designs look pretty, but are not “search-friendly.” Text created in Flash and similar programs is not searchable. Don’t use them in your title on your home page and only sparingly thoughout your site (they’re also slower to load, which your visitors don’t like).

5. Pictures may be worth 1000 words, but not to the search engines! Make sure there is keyword rich text near (above or below) all photos or videos. For example a picture of your clinic, inside or outside, should have the name of the clinic in a caption or title above it. If you are doing a treatment on someone, describe what you are doing in the caption suing words that someone might search, such as: “A patient at our clinic getting acupuncture for hay fever” (the last four words are key words that someone with hay fever might use in a search).

6. Update your content regularly. Every time you add or change something on your site, the search engines have to go and look at the site again. This is easy to do with a blog, which is also a way to reach out to your customer base, but you can also add video, photos, articles, or other elements.

7. Place links to any and all fresh content on your site in any appropriate social networking platforms. In other words, if you post a new blog, article, video, ebook, class announcement, special offer, photo, anything at all, announce it at whatever social media sites on which you participate (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Britekyte).

8. If you have friends and colleagues with websites, get them to link to yours and you do the same for them. Could you get 100 links from friends and classmates? Are there local businesses with whom you could reciprocate this favor? What this means is that there are lots of other websites pointing back to your website on the internet. This sends a message to the search engines that “this website is more important” and brings you up in the search standings…i.e., your site is more search-engine-optimized.

SOME OF THESE THINGS SHOULD BE DONE BY YOUR WEBISTE DESIGNER. Good ones should coach you about links, blogs, keywords, how to write optimized text, and other basics. Beyond that, if you hire out these services, here are the things I would look for in a good service.

  1. Make a list of the above items and then shop around to different services. Prices could be all over the map, but I would expect to pay around $1500-$2000 for really good service with the right kind of follow through for a web page of 6-10 pages.
  2. Ask for referrals from any company you are considering working with.
  3. Get a contract for the specific work to be done in what time frame.
  4. Consider making the final payment be contingent on demonstrable results that they have to show you on Google Analytics and compete.com or other websites that show you how you rank against competitors sites.
  5. Get a real person or two with actual phone numbers that you can call to check on progress. Ask for regular updates.
  6. Ask if they will teach you how to do some simple things on your own to keep yourself on the top pages of Search Engines!

That’s my advice and I hope it helps. There are lots of articles and resources about SEO all over the internet, so don't stop with my advice. But remember, if no one can see your website, why pay or do the work to have one in the first place?


27 comments:

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