SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a term that gets thrown around a lot in the webmaster world. Basically, SEO is a process by which you make your website more easily searchable by the big searchy types (Google, Yahoo, MSN) and get a better rank on those search results pages. SEO experts will have you believe that you need said experts to optimize your site for you or you are DOOMED to a crappy page rank and no search engine hits ever, so help them God.
That is not necessarily true. I know I’m going to have angry SEO experts sending me nasty emails for this, but I think Search Engine Optimization is largely a racket. You do not need an entire company to make your site searchable. You just don’t.
There are many things you can do on your own to make your site searchable, and, at the same time, make it a better site for your visitors.
So here’s Sonja’s SEO Guide for the Rest of Us:
Get someone to link to your homepage. A lot of times, that’s your publisher. If you have a profile on your publisher’s site, make sure it links back to your site. Once you are linked from another site, the search engines can automatically find you. This goes for all your other places on the web too. Have a MySpace page? Make sure you link back to your homepage. A blog? Same thing. A word of caution though: beware of big sites whose main purpose is a “link exchange.” If you are linked from a page a search engine has classified as a bad apple, it may actually hurt your page rank.
Put titles on your pages. Look at the top of your browser window right now and you will see a title in the bar at the very top that says Promo-Ho.com or Promo-Ho.com: SEO Guide for the Rest of Us. That is your title and it is very important. If you are using a blog platform, this is likely the blog title you submitted when you set yourself up for the first time. If you are designing a website, your editing program should have a title input space. Never leave that space blank! Be sure your title is concise and appropriate. For example, the title on my author page is Sonja Foust, Romance Author. If you have a particular genre you write in, you might use that instead: Jane Doe, Historical Romance Author, for example. Why are titles so important? This is the first thing people will see when they search for your site as the big, bold, linked piece of text. In addition, search engines look at titles first to judge the contents of your site.
Use as much text as you can. Some web designers love Flash (fancy animations) and graphics and lots of other fancy stuff, and that’s fine to an extent, but search engine “crawlers” (the little robots who circulate around the internet and read every website ever created) can’t read Flash and graphics. If you can make it work, your navigation menu should be text rather than graphics, or at least have an “alt” tag that matches the text of your graphic. (Your web designer will know what that means.) Use as much text as you can in the content of your pages too, rather than pictures, and when you do have pictures, don’t forget to descriptively “alt” tag them.
Have a clear navigation design. This will involve a menu running across the top or along the side of your page, most likely. Every page should be reachable from at least one static (unchanging) text link. Usually, that means the menu on each page should look exactly like the menus on all the other pages. If you have graphics in use for your menu bar, you may choose to do a duplication of your menu bar along the bottom as text, as I’ve done on my site.
Make your content good. Google says, “Think about the words users would type to find your pages, and make sure that your site actually includes those words within it” (Webmaster Guidelines). Your bio is a good place to do this. “My name is Jane Doe and I write historical romances with mysterious twists,” will do better than, “My name is Jane Doe and I’m a mother of three,” when someone searches for a historical mystery, for example.
Use meta tags. If you’re not a web designer and you have no idea what meta tags are, don’t run screaming yet. They’re pretty easy. Meta tags go in the head section of your document. You’ll have to look at the HTML code of your site, and then insert appropriate tags as explained at Google Help. Don’t fret, though. If this is something you don’t feel like tackling, it’s not the most important thing in the world, despite what some SEO experts will tell you.
If you can follow some or most of those simple guidelines, you’re well on your way to being searchable on the web. Good luck! As always, leave suggestions or other comments in the comments.