Traditional Search Engine Marketing and Optimization

Marketing October 27, 2011

Tatiana Morand

By Tatiana Morand

Let’s take a closer look at SEO and PPC, two of the most traditional aspects of search engine marketing.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is one of the least understood areas of online marketing, but one of the most important. Organic results - also called a natural or pure search - are the results that search engines display in their main content area. These results are displayed in the main window of the search engine (see picture below). The order of the results, or links, is compiled using each search engine’s own algorithms to distinguish which ones are more relevant than another.

SEO Example

The search engine determines which websites to rank the highest for this keyword query.

Ranking on the first page of a search engine’s results for a popular query allows your website to generate a stream of low cost, and more importantly, qualified traffic to your page. On the other hand, ranking on anything beyond the first page, or for a search query (keyword phrase) that few people search for, will result in virtually zero visitors.

The key to understanding and implementing a successful SEO strategy is to understand what the search engines value most: trust and relevance.

Search engines want to have strong signals for both in order to list your site for a particular phrase. It’s the value that the search engine provides to its customers. As a searcher, you want the most relevant site returned for your search – and you don’t want that site to be spamming or employing trickery. So your site has to be trustworthy (no tricks, cloaking, keyword spamming, links to bad neighborhoods, pop-ups, viruses, etc.) and it has to be relevant (more relevant than the other X million results) to the search.

Successful search engine optimization programs include three main components:

  • On-page optimization;
  • Site structure and internal link structure, and;
  • External (or inbound) links

On-page optimization: It is the manipulation of the visible content on the page, including the headline, sub heads, content, captions and links; and some invisible components, including the title tag, Meta description and alt-tags.  This was all anyone needed to know about SEO 15 years ago, but that time is long past. It’s still important because it helps with relevance, but it must be combined with internal and external links to be effective.

Example of On-Page Optimization

Example from shows where keywords should be placed on your website.

The keywords that generate qualified traffic at the lowest cost are the ones you want spread throughout your website. There are many different places these keywords should go, including:

  • HTML title tags – Displayed at the top of the browser bar, they summarize what the page is about. They also let visitors know they’re in the right place and most importantly have keywords (ideally) for SEO.
  • Navigational Links – Optimizing your hypertext link and anchor text brings keywords that users are specifically searching for into prominence.
  • H1, H2 & H3 tags – Used as titles and subtitles for web pages, it’s important to put keywords in these tags; search engines pay special attention to them.
  • Embedded URLs – When using hyperlinks in your content, it’s important to make sure the anchor text is relevant to the page being linked to. Avoid telling users to click here. The word “here” will mean nothing to a search engine and your optimization efforts will be wasted.
  • Content (keyword density/prominence) – Of course your site has to have the content that drives people to visit your page, but that content should also be optimized for search engines. It’s important to place relevant keywords on your page so when prospective customers search for terms, they get what they’re searching for.
  • Meta Descriptions – While not used by search engines as much as they once were for ranking, Meta descriptions play an important role; they’re often used by Google as the description of your site in SERPs. They should highlight searched keywords, give your page a suitable description and include a call to action.
  • Plain Text – Putting keywords inside of images is a faux pas, especially if the images are part of a site’s navigation. Search engines can’t detect if there is a keyword inside an image or not – to them, a keyword inside an image doesn’t even exist.

Site Structure: Defined as the internal linking of the site, this includes the site map, page file names, directory structure, navigation links, links in the content, anchor text of the links, etc.

Site structure is of critical importance because it:

  • Lets the search engines know what the site is about
  • With good content, site structure gives a sense of the theme, which pages are most important and what they are about.
  • Tells the search engine the relative importance and hierarchy of the information on the page

External Links: These are links from other pages and sites pointing back to yours. These are arguably the most important component of SEO. Google pioneered the use of external links as a key ranking factor because what other sites link to is an excellent measure of relevance and authority. External links on authoritative sites are also very difficult to manipulate, and therefore their presence can indicate that a site is trustworthy.

For example, if you have a link from a New York Times food article listing your site as the best Chinese food in Manhattan this provides two important signals, and the search engine can deduce both without even visiting your site:

  • Your site is trustworthy – the New York Times has trust – they wouldn’t link to just anybody, and;
  • Your site is about Chinese food in Manhattan – A person searching for “Chinese food” from a computer located in Manhattan might find this site relevant.

There are many ways to develop links to a website, but no matter how it’s done, it is a crucial part of SEO. In order to rank for popular and valuable phrases, you must know the “linkscape” in your query space. How many links do your competitors have and of what quality (trust level) are they? What do the links say and on what are the pages about on which they appear?

Search Engine Marketing Guide by Keith Holloway at Envoke

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