BY KEVIN MANAHAN
“If you’re not doing it, your competition is, and you’re going to be left in the dust." When someone tells you that, you'd better sit up and take notes.
That was among the parting bits of advice from Colleen Wright, an expert in SEO and owner of the Search Engine Academy of Oregon. About 30 people – mostly self-employed – settled into the air-conditioned comfort of the MacForce training center in southeast Portland this week for a workshop with Wright. The issue at hand: How to effectively use SEO for your website to market your business.
While the workshop was free, implementing SEO methods into a website operation usually isn’t. Yet Wright said that people are still increasing their budgets for SEO, according to research from Forrester, and about 73% of merchants are making optimization a top priority.
Wright covered many of the basics of effectively using SEO, and for someone as unversed as I am in the technicalities of the web, learning the amount of content that needs to be considered was eye opening. On-page factors (e.g. domain names, page names, title tags) need to be meticulously crafted in order to get your website ranked higher in search results; meanwhile, other off-page factors (e.g. getting your site linked from authority sites, online press releases and directories) play a big role in making your site look popular.
The biggest SEO pitfall? Wright said she constantly sees people duplicating title tags (the name of a page which appears at the top of the browser and as a link in search results) on every page of their website. Title tags can make or break you depending on how you use them, so don’t be lazy. “I always tell people that if you’re not going to do anything else, make sure you have unique title tags that describe the page on every single page,” Wright said. “It’s like your advertisement in search engine results.” Particularly if you're a small business, sites like Search Engine Guide are a great resource for learning about other SEO do's and don'ts.
And to avoid getting flagged as spam, don’t stuff keywords into your tags in the hopes of getting higher hits, Wright said. Spend time researching effective keywords with tools like Wordtracker, webconfs.com and SEO Chat and use them throughout the page text instead, at a rate of 1% to 2% of the total text. Any more than that might also be considered spam.
It’s a lot to think about. But SEO can do wonders for your company’s website and business, if you use it strategically. And here’s an added bonus: job security. Companies want people with SEO skills. “If you can get your company onto page one for search terms, you’re going to be the hero,” Wright said.
Kevin Manahan is the online editor for Oregon Business.