SEO for Makers: Part 1 – What IS SEO, Anyway?
SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is what helps your site get found on the vast desert of the internet. The principles of SEO are not aimed at people, but at spiders, or search robots – computer algorithms sent out by Google and other search engines that crawl and index your site, figuring out what it is you do so that when someone performs a search looking for what it is you specialize in, they can point you out. It’s how Google knows to show you “The Green Widget Company” when you put in a search request for “green widgets”.
Before we get deeper into what SEO is, there are a couple of things it is not. It is not the same thing as social media hashtags. Hashtags evolved a a sort of impromptu filing system on social media to make it easier to tag and categorize posts. You can of course use a hashtag in a blog post, to tie it into a social media campaign, but hashtags are not SEO for your website.
Hashtags are not SEO for your website
SEO is also not something where you can “buy the number one spot on Google”. There are multiple scams going around that promise you “top placement” for “only a few dollars a month”. The worst of these scams will lead you to believe that you are actually talking to and working with Google – Google does not sell placement. Google does sell a service called AdWords, which never guarantees any placement, not even that you’ll make the page at all – and AdWords is a sponsored listing above the SERPS (Search Engine Results Page), and those results are clearly marked as “sponsored”. Some people will automatically disregard these sponsored results, believing them inferior to the organic results.
Okay, so what IS SEO? SEO is the baked-in method that should permeate your website of making sure that all spiders and crawlers know exactly what your site, and each page within your site is about. It takes into account your “Authority”, or how important the rest of the internet thinks your site is, how long your site has been around, and a host of other factors as well. Some of these items you have fine control over, some you have only slight control – a few you have much less. Let’s start from the top.
Your domain name
Yes, this actually has huge SEO consequences. This is why you hear about domains like “pizza.com” and “business.com” selling for such outrageous amounts: over $35M for Insurance.com in 2010!1 When you perform a search, tremendous preference is given to a website that contains your search term within the URL. If you search for “pink widgets”, and there are 500 websites that indicate they sell or otherwise feature information about pink widgets – should one of them be “www.pinkwidgets.com”, you can bet that’s going to come up pretty dang high in the SERPS. Obviously this isn’t the only criteria, but it is a big one.
General Site Optimization
Huh? Yeah, I know… stay with me, it’s worth it, I promise. This is stuff like your Meta Description (it’s coming…), Backlinks Load Time, Mobile Responsiveness. The Meta Description of your site is the little snippet that Google displays when your site comes up on the SERPS. If you haven’t supplied one, Google will do its best to construct one from your homepage. This can end up being very funky, so make sure you write out what you want it to say. Most managed platforms (Shopify, BigCommerce, etc) give you the opportunity to insert this into the admin area, as do WordPress and all major CMSs.
Load Time is how fast your site’s front page pulls up when the browser calls it. Google penalizes slow load times, so this is actually more important than you might think. Un-optimized images and unnecessary scripts (especially anything that makes an external call, like an Instagram widget), can be a real strain here. For a good look at your load time, go to http://tools.pingdom.com/fpt/ and put in your site. Most of it will look like gibberish, just look at the load time up top – you want it as fast as possible, definitely under 4 seconds. Under 2 is more better.
We have a pretty healthy load time here, 1.9 seconds, loading faster than 73% of the ‘net. There’s lots more info down below, but these are the stats you need first. Your developer can dig into the rest if you come up short on theses numbers.
Back Links are how many other sites link to your site. This is the internet equivalent of being recommended. It does matter WHO is doing the recommending, so don’t pay for a link on a “link farm”, one of those very questionable sites that’s nothing but meaningless links to zillions of sites with no rhyme or reason – Googles penalizes you for that. You want real, sensible links from cogent, relatable sites that make sense. Links from sites with “Authority” (big cheese important sites) are the best of all. Get a media outlet or a university to link to you and it’s pure gold. It can be difficult to know how many backlinks you have for sure, but this tool: https://moz.com/researchtools/ose/ is a great tool for chasing down your backlinks. One thing – you might want to check both the “www.mysite.com” and the “mysite.com” addresses; they don’t always combine their data, and can have different info.
If your site is new, your backlinks are going to be very low, maybe even zero. This takes time, so don’t get freaked out. We’ll talk in a future post about how to go about getting some of these golden links.
Mobile Responsiveness is a biggie. Google recently changed their algorithms to sharply penalize sites that aren’t mobile friendly. Not sure? Here’s Google testing tool – just put your site into the field, and Google will render their verdict: https://var/web/site/public_html.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/
So much internet activity takes place on phone and tablets now, it’s important not to avoid this. If you’re running on an older theme or platform, it’s time to upgrade.
Keywords and Meta Descriptions
Now then, Keywords and Meta Descriptions. They’re a little bit different. A Meta Description is a “concise explanation of the contents of a web page”, that’s no longer than 160 characters. Yes, that is a challenge. But you can do it. Boil it down to what’s really important, no fluff. You can have a separate Meta Description for each page in your site, but you cannot use the same one twice – that’s VERY important. Each one has to be unique. But, you only need to do them for “important” pages.
Keywords. This one can entail some mental stretching. First of all, what you’re actually after is a “keyword phrase”, not a keyword. The internet has evolved long past a single word doing anyone any good. No way are any of us going to rank for “jewelry”. We have to chase what are called the “long tail keywords” – that’s just a fancy SEO term for getting more specific. Let’s say you have a pair of earrings. What’s special about them? Let’s start with their characteristics, their materials. Let’s say they’re Sterling Silver, and set with Malachite. Okay, so we have “Sterling Silver Malachite Earrings” That’s not bad, but that’s still kinda general. What else is unique about them? How about the fact that they’re hoops? And that the malachite is inlaid? And that they’re made in the USA? Now we’re talkin’:
Sterling Silver Malachite Inlay Hoop Earrings Made in the USA
This keyword phrase will also return a hit on parts of itself – “Sterling Silver” and “Hoop Earrings”, “Malachite”, etc
Note that a search for an exact phrase – a search enclosed with quotation marks – will only return a hit if that exact phrase if found within your keyword phrase in the same order. In our example, the search term “Sterling Silver Hoop Earrings” – enclosed in quotes – would NOT return our earrings, because the words “Malachite inlay” come in between the entire search string. This isn’t usually a biggie though, most people don’t search with quotes, just the anal among us. Hi, have we met?
It’s also important that each keyword phrase on your site – one for each page – is unique. You can’t re-use the same keyword phrase from one page to another. Google doesn’t like this. Don’t get your head tanged up over why, just go with it. If you have a collection of malachite hoop earrings, you’ll need to find the unique aspect of each one, and use it in your keywords.
If you’re feeling brave, and you want to dive into keyword research, a great tool is Google’s AdWords Keyword Planner. It’s meant to use with an AdWords campaign, but it’s free to play with, you’ll just need a Google account (we’ll need that in a bit anyway when we set up Google Analytics) You can find the Keyword Planner here: https://adwords.google.com/KeywordPlanner
Okay, let’s recap. Hashtags, no go for websites. Check. You’re going to check your Load Time, and your Mobile Responsiveness, then take a look at how your Backlinks are looking. Then it’s on to Meta Descriptions & Keyword Phrases. Get a kickass description written for your front page, and then try to add a few more for the five most important pages on your site, perhaps your main product collection pages, and maybe your about page. Fire up those Keyword Phrases for each individual product and start making notes. We’ll talk about what to do with them in SEO for Makers: Part 2
See you there!!