Hints for bloggers, 4, What’s all this SEO stuff? Or, how do you get people to your site?

Let’s start with a confession.  When someone says “SEO” to me, I want to get out the Holy water and sprinkle them to see if they’ll disappear in a puff of greasy black smoke.  Then I want to go take a shower.  Still, as an old saying has it, “If a man has a thing to sell And simply hollers down a well He’ll never, never make the dollars As the man who climbs the tree and hollers.”

Somehow, we have to let people know our site is there, and  lure them to it.  How do search engines decide which sites are hot and which are not?  That is what falls under the purview of Search Engine Optimazation, or SEO.  There are a lot of things that come into play as a part of SEO.  And the search engines play with their methods as people learn to tweak them.  However, sourdoughhome.com has been on the first page of every search I could think to make at google, bing and duckduckgo for a number of years.  I haven’t killed myself doing SEO, I just used what SEO specialists call “organic” techniques.  In the long run, they work and they won’t suddenly stop working when an Einstein at Google rolls over in his sleep.

A quick note – you won’t be putting these hints in place in a day or two.  It will take time.  You might read the note, go to some of the sites I mention, and then think about what you want to do.

So, what works?  The first thing is longevity.  If you’ve been out there a while, that’s a sign you have credibility.  That’s not the whole enchilada, but it’s a big bite of the enchilada.  I’ve been online for about 12 years.  And we’re still going strong.

Next, you need to use key words that reflect the content of your site.  I use words like “sourdough” “starter” “recipe” “rye” “wheat” “whole wheat” “knead”.  And more words that bread people use.  I know of a site for a staffing agency that has poorer traffic than my site.  All I have is bread.  They have jobs.  However, what they don’t have is the word “job” anywhere in the site.  Actually, that’s not QUITE true.  It does appear once, but it is in a button as a graphic, and the search engines don’t notice text presented as graphics.  I analyzed the web site and found it looked more like a insurance site than a job site.

There are ways to find out what search terms people are using to find your site and sites like yours.  Google has their adwords program which offers keyword analysis tools.  You can look online for other keyword analysis tools.  You can also look at your site logs with tools like Google Analytics to find out what search terms were used by people to make it to your site.  However, if you look at what is working at your site and just do more of it, you probably won’t see improvements in your traffic.  You want the search terms that take people to your competitors.  Web Sites That Suck  is a treasure trovbe of great web design information.  The site has a great checklist to help you determine if your site sucks.  It also has information about some great tools in the checklists area that will help you suck the suckiness out of your site..

When you see what people are looking for, you might consider how much of that is consistent with what you want to do, with who you are.  Expanding your visitors horizons is the name of the game.  Can you put pictorials of how to….. in your site?  More, or less, detailed recipes?  How to videos?  There is an intersection between what you want to do, what you have time to do, and what people want to look at.  It’s not always easy to find that intersection.

In every page there are “meta tags” that tell search engines what the page is about.  Content Management Systems like WordPress, Drupal and Joomla as well as web editors like DreamWeaver, Arachnophilia,  Coffee Cup, Notepad++, HomeSite, Kompozer and many more let you put the meta tags into each page easily.  These tags are invisible to site visitors, but search engines still use them.  They help figure out what your site, and specific pages, are about.

The key thing is to not engage in “keyword stuffing”, that is, putting lots of unrelated keywords in the meta tags to bring people to your site.  “Sex” and “naked starlets” will get you noticed.  However, the search engines will downgrade you if your content does not include sex and naked starlets.  Also, people who went to your site looking for things you don’t deliver will never come back.

That’s a related item, you have to deliver on what you promise.  Don’t you have sites which the search engines tell you have a certain recipe, but when you get there you find an index page of hundreds of recipes, none of which are the one you wanted.  Or you find it, and you need to go through four more pages to get there?  Many of these sites are trying to get you to look at more ads.  Remember, if you’re not buying a product, you ARE the product and your attention is being sold.  However, in the long run these techniques don’t work.  I’m not going to an ad stuffed site that is hard to navigate, which has mediocre recipes that are filled with typos and errors.  Quality content keeps people coming back.

It is often said that search engines reward fresh and new content.  However, sourdough home is getting a bit long in the tooth.  I need to update it more often than I do.  Too much time goes into classes, newsletters and messing around at Facebook.  So, the new content thing isn’t absolute.  Still, people come back for fresh content, so good fresh content does help!

Before Google, search engines hired people to look at web sites, categorize them and rate them.  This was subjective and very, very expensive.  Google’s breakthrough was the realization that web sites are already rated by the people who link to them.  When a bread or food site links to your food site, that’s an affirmation.  It helps your ratings.  However, when an unrelated site, like a car repair shop, links to your food site that doesn’t help.  In fact, if you have links from unrelated sites, it hurts your ratings.  Yes, it helps if your friends link to you.  However, only if they are sites looking for the same eyeballs you’re trying to attract.  Still, there is enough traffic out there for everyone to get lots of traffic, so sharing related links is a good thing.

Once you have your site in better shape, you can submit it the web engines.  Many hosting services have functions on their dashboard to help you submit your site to the search engines.  If you search for “submit to search engines” you’ll find lots of ways to submit your site.

I think that’s enough for a post.  I think each paragraph here is enough to base a college class around if there were enough detail to be meaningful.  I’m not interested so much in giving answers as pointing towards directions and suggesting lines of thought.  Let me know what you think!

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