“If you build it, they will come.”
Building a website and making it work for you is not the Field of Dreams. If you want to succeed with a website, people have to be able to find you. This is done in several ways, but most importantly through Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
To understand SEO, you first have to understand how people find things on the Internet. This should be a no-brainer to anyone who has surfed the web before. Search engines like Google, Yahoo! and MSN/Bing (the Big Three) are the single most important source of new visitors for your website. Other search engines include Ask.com, Lycos, Netscape and Earthlink, to name a few.
The next step is for a user to type some type of search term into the search box on one of these engines. For example, if I am looking for an author website, I simply type in the author’s name. This is great if you are a well-known writer, but what about if you are not? The answer is that it gets a bit harder to find you.
Let’s take another example. If I am looking for a great new horror novel, as a viewer, I’m likely to get more complex with my search term. Some choices I might make include:
- Horror books about vampires
- Horror novels
- New horror novels
- Horror writers
- Horror novels January 2012
You can see very quickly how complex it can get trying to second guess your audience on how they might search for you. The first step in your process as a writer or author building a website is to sit down and come up with various terms people might type into that search box to find someone like you.
Now we come to the whole idea of “optimization.” There are billions of website pages. You are one website in a billion. How exactly do search engines find every website that is relevant to the search terms used? The short answer is that they use spiders or robots that crawl through the millions of sites and gather information about the websites and store it in an index for later retrieval.
The next step is more complicated – returning results to the user looking for the information and returning the results in a ranked order. For this, the major search engines use highly secret algorithms that analyze multiple factors about a website. These algorithms are not publicized and marketing specialists can only speculate about what they include and how certain factors are weighted. The rest of this article will be devoted to the two factors we know rank heavily in the formula: keywords and links.
Going back to our example, our visitor is looking for a horror writer with a good book to read. We’ve listed several potential search terms the visitor might use to find what he or she wants. In order for search engines to find you, your website must have the same keywords as the user’s search terms. In other words, your website should contain the words horror, writer, novelist, horror novel, etc.
However, optimizing your website is about gaining the most visitors – it’s about gaining the most visitors that are a) likely to be interested in what you do, and b) likely to buy what you have to sell or read the information you have to offer. That means it’s important not to try to cater to every single potential buyer in the world. You want to target your audience and decide who is your most likely buyer.
If you are a horror writer, it shouldn’t be difficult to come up with a likely set of solid keywords to build your website around. If you are a multi-genre writer or offer an overwhelming number of copywriting, ghostwriting or editorial services, it might be more difficult to target your audience and find the right search terms to optimize your site.
The next question is where exactly do these key words need to be and how many do you need. There are several important areas to target: the url of your website, page titles, article titles/headings, and page contents. For a horror writer, johnsmith-horrorwriter.com might be an excellent choice in domain names. This url choice incorporates both the author’s name and what he does. John should also have a sales or portfolio page entitled “Horror Novels” on his site. John could even share some of his short horror pieces on a blog page entitled “Horror Stories.”
Are you starting to see how this works? Placing key words in key places tells search engines you are a serious horror writer and are likely to match the needs of the user looking for a good horror novel. The tricky part now is placing key words in the content. In the old days, copywriters simply loaded the content chock full of relevant key words in order to get better results. Search engines, however, quickly caught on to this tactic. Now we talk about ‘keyword density’ in the marketing business. This is the ratio of key words to total words in the content. If you ‘stuff’ your content full of key words, search engines will penalize you for it. Most experts now agree that 1 to 3 percent keyword density is optimal.
Finally, we come to the subject of links. There are two types of links to consider: outbound links and inbound links. While outbound links are considered the most important of the two, let’s look at the latter first.
Web crawlers (spiders) follow all the links on your page (unless you tell them not to). If the link leads to another site with keywords relevant to your own, you score some points that rank you higher in search engine results. The key, however, is that your links are truly relevant. In the past, black hat marketers slapped random links on their sites that had little or nothing to do with what they were offering or who they were. Again, search engines caught on to this and the practice of link farming and started penalizing sites that did this, and even banned them altogether. You might want to consider linking to writers associations and professional groups to which you belong. For a copywriter, consider linking to well-trafficked sites like Grammar Girl, a favorite online dictionary or other tools you use yourself on the Internet.
Inbound links, experts agree, are even more important. The more sites out there pointing to your site, the higher your ranking. Experts feel this is a huge factor in website ranking algorithms. Just like with outbound links, relevancy matters. If you have a website selling horror books, it may not help much that your mom’s blog about celebrity stars has a link to your site. The more relevant the website linking to yours, the better you will perform.
Getting backlinks is not always easy. You can do some of this yourself. Links from social media sites, guest posts on blogs, ezines and even other sites you own that are relevant all help. Your association profile pages should always link back to your website.
Another good practice is reciprocal linking. This means that you agree to link to another person’s page if he or she provides a link to yours. As a horror writer, you could like with another horror writer and you both win. If you own a copywriting service, think about linking with a complementary service or someone who provides copywriting in areas different than yours.
While there is a lot more to learn and discuss about SEO, these are the absolute essentials you need to know before you start building the copy you need to fill out your website. If you start with a plan and list of solid keywords, you will find it easier to build a successful website that works for you.