Week 2: SEO Bootcamp – Good Housekeeping
Wow, what a great response to Week 1 of SEO Bootcamp. You might want to have a read through before you carry on with this post. If you took the time to read it, followed the instructions and left top tips or feedback – thank you! In fact, I’m a bit overwhelmed by the number of comments, messages and emails I’ve had on the subject so far. If I haven’t been able to find the answer to your specific question, I hope it will be covered in the coming weeks.
I would also like to say that I am not an SEO expert and will be learning along with the rest of you, but I am enjoying reading widely on the subject. I’ll start each post with a round-up from the previous week, which will answer the most asked questions and pass on any particularly juicy tips.
WEEK 1 ROUNDUP
Q: Is page rank important?
A: Well, it is and it isn’t.
Thanks to Guy Levine who passed on that there are two types of page rank.
“Pagerank can be a really bad metric to measure your site, especially considering that there are 2 versions of page rank, and that Google are looking to phase it out. Its name is also not representative of its meaning, it’s named after Larry Page from Google and not so much as in web page.”
Apparently, this is a hot debate and it’s still raging. I read quite a few articles to try to get to the bottom of it and the general conclusion is that whilst page rank is still significant in terms of how your website is rated by Google, it is nowhere near as important as it used to be. According to Vasilis Vryniotis at Web SEO Analytics, who seems to know what he’s talking about, in a much longer article he concludes the following:
“PageRank is an important factor. It is one out of 200 signals but still it is an important one for a large number of queries. We must not get obsessed with it but we must neither ignore it. It can give us a clue on whether our link building campaign is working. If I had to keep a single rank to evaluate how successful is the online presence of my business, then PageRank would certainly NOT be the one that I would choose. I would focus more on the actual sales, the conversion rates or the relevant traffic that I receive.”
You can read the longer article here. Ultimately, if you are achieving the search results you want, or you’re on your way to doing that, then page rank is just another number. Many well-known websites don’t achieve particularly high page rank, but do brilliantly in search results because they know their customers very well and the terms that they will use when googling. Which brings us to the next thorny issue from last week.
Q: Is it better to have individual key words or a whole phrase?
A: You will need both. It is important to know which individual key words you need for insertion into the titles and body text of your site when you are writing copy, but you should also know the key phrases that your potential clients are likely to put into Google so that you can craft page titles and blog post titles around them. We’ll be tackling this very shortly, so bear with me.
Q: Does Google return the search results I want to see?
A: Yes and yes! Aaah, Google is clever. If you are logged into your Google account when you google your chosen search terms, Google will return the results you want to see, based on how often you visit the site in question. You visit your own site a lot and it may give you an artificially high result. Even if you are not logged in, via cookies and browsing history, Google’s personalised results function will still skew results.
I’ve just discovered a free online results checker which you can try at http://www.sitemapdoc.com/serp-rank.aspx and Clare West also passed on the top tip that CTRL-SHIFT-N in Chrome opens a new window in ‘incognito’ mode that doesn’t refer to any earlier use and gives you a true representation of where your site comes. Very handy. Thanks Clare.
WEEK 2: GOOD HOUSEKEEPING
Rightio. On to the tasks for Week Two. (Sidenote: this post has turned out much longer than anticipated, but stick with it people. There is only about 30 mins of actual work involved here once you’ve read it).
We now know how our sites are performing, so this week we’re going to move onto the basics, the little finishing touches which all help to push your site or blog in the right direction.
1. Adding meta tags & descriptions
2. Adding page titles & descriptions
3. Generating & submitting your sitemap to Google
1. ADDING META TAGS AND DESCRIPTIONS
I thought I’d start off with another controversial one. Firstly, what are meta tags? Meta tags are HTML codes that are inserted into the header on a web page, after the title tag. When people refer to meta tags, they are usually mean the meta description tag and the meta keywords tag. The meta description tag and the meta keywords tag are not seen by users. Instead, these tags’ main purpose is providing information to search engines.
If you do not have easy access to the back end of your site, then you can check if you have these by using the Page Source tool in your web browser. In Firefox, for example, you can go to Tools > Web Developer > Page Source and a pop-up window will display the code behind your site. You will see your tags, if you have any, in the first few lines of code.
Now, whilst it is true that Google can read and index meta tags, it’s important to know that it no longer uses them to rank search results. Here is Google’s own explanation.
So, if you don’t have any key word tags in your website, don’t worry about it. However, you should worry about the meta description. Google does index this short description of your business and does use it to evaluate relevance because it is the description that is displayed in search results when people Google you. Here is a quick slide showing where the description shows up in the code, how it is displayed in Google and the control panel behind my website where I inputted it.
Many people have the facility to change these tags easily, without having to edit the code, but never actually do it. At best, Google will index your description and at worst, Google will at least display a neat phrase which sums up your business when people Google you. This is one of the most important things you can do to encourage people to click through to your site. If your site description is clear, concise and easy to understand, then visitors are more likely to choose to visit your site.
And whilst you’re adding a snappy meta description, you might as well add some key words and phrases for the site, because Google’s policy on keyword tags might change in future and other search engines, like Yahoo, do use them.
1. ADDING PAGE TITLES AND DESCRIPTIONS
Once again, Google doesn’t take into account page titles and page descriptions to determine ranking, but it does index and display the page title in search results and the page description just below it. Again, snappy and relevant titles and page descriptions for each page will help encourage click through.
You will see the Page Title, which is different to the actual name of the page, displayed at the very top of your browser window and the page description, if you have one, can be seen in the header code of each page of your site.
OK, I’m lazy with this, I admit it. I have changed the page titles and added page descriptions in my website, but I have just cut and pasted the same information into every page instead of carefully crafting them to summarise the content on each page. So when you Google me, all of the page results have the same title and description below them. They just don’t look that enticing to click on.
Google says: “Because the meta descriptions aren’t displayed in the pages the user sees, it’s easy to let this content slide. But high-quality descriptions can be displayed in Google’s search results, and can go a long way to improving the quality and quantity of your search traffic. Make sure that each page on your site has a useful and descriptive page title and description contained within the title tags. If a title tag is missing, or if the same title tag is used for many different pages, Google may use other text we find on the page. The HTML suggestions page in Webmaster Tools lists pages where Google has detected missing or problematic title tags.”
There are more great tips on this here at Google Webmaster Tools, which we are going to discover in the next section, but the most interesting thing to know is that if Google doesn’t find a page title or description, it will choose some random content from that page to display which may not be an accurate reflection of the actual content of the page. I think the benefits are clear. If you have a control panel for your site which you can easily edit, then get stuck in. If you don’t, then your website designer will be able to do it for you.
If you are optimising your blog rather than your website, or both, there is a brilliant free plugin for WordPress called All in One SEO Pack. The admin panel lets you change your page titles and post titles really easily as well as add your meta descriptions without bothering with code insertion. Most importantly, you can craft titles and meta descriptions for individual posts. I’ve done it for this very blog post, so I will let you know next week what Google has made of it.
3. GENERATING & SUBMITTING YOUR SITEMAP TO GOOGLE
Firstly, a sitemap isn’t just a list of links displayed at the foot of your page or a page on your website which lists your site’s pages in order. Yes, that’s a sitemap of sorts, but it’s really just a list of links which might be helpful to a visitor to your site. And it’s less and less common as people become more web savvy. I can’t remember the last time I saw a sitemap page, in fact.
A Sitemap, as Google knows it, is an xml file which lists all of the pages on your website, particularly those which it might not otherwise discover. When you submit your xml sitemap to Google, it lets Google’s little robots know that you have new content it should come and have a look at. You can find out if your site has a sitemap by adding /sitemap.xml to your domain name and putting it in your browser.
For example, if you go to http://www.melissalove.co.uk/sitemap.xml you will see a list of all of the pages in my website. I use Showit for my main website, and I know that Showit automatically generates a sitemap of the website and it also has a handy ‘Submit sitemap to Google’ which I can use whenever I have new content. To be on the safe side, I like to submit my sitemaps to Google manually as well using Google Webmaster Tools.
If your site doesn’t appear to have a sitemap, don’t panic. There are plenty of free programs available which allow you to generate a sitemap file which you can download and add to your website’s files. I use XMLSitemap.com, which is one of Google’s recommended Sitemap generators. Simply enter your domain name and it will produce a downloadable Sitemap xml file in just a few seconds.
If you are able to upload files to your website host via FTP, then simply place the xml file in the root directory (usually the top directory, often named ‘website’ or ‘public’). If you have had the site designed for you, and have never used your FTP access before then I would recommend asking your designer to do it for you.
Finally, if you have a hosted template site, you will need to contact them to see if their platform generates a sitemap automatically. If it doesn’t, then you won’t be able to complete the next step, I’m afraid.
So, you’ve got an automatically-generated sitemap or you’ve uploaded one to your website’s main directory. Now it’s time to get yourself a Google Webmaster Tools account. Webmaster Tools, like Analytics, is another excellent free service from Google. It tells you how Google sees your site and lets you diagnose any problems, it gives very detailed information on the internal and external links in your site and it allows you to submit you sitemap.
I’m not going to cover in detail how to register your site with Webmaster Tools. It’s fairly straightforward. You will need to prove you own the domain in question that you are submitting and there are several ways to do it. As with Analytics, you can either add a little bit of tracking code into the header of your site or, if you can’t do this because of the nature of your site’s hosting, then you can ask Webmaster Tools to detect your Google Analytics account instead. In addition, many hosted websites and blog plugins offer a tool or area to enter your Webmaster Tools code.
Once you’ve added and verified your site, you simply go to the Sitemaps section and add /sitemap.xml to the end of your domain name. If you are adding new content and pages, make sure you pop back and re-submit your sitemap from time to time. Here’s a quick snapshot of the Custom Header HTML box from my Showit website and the Submit your Sitemap areas in Webmaster Tools.
Again, if you are working on your blog’s SEO, then there is another handy plugin for WordPress that I like called XML Sitemap Generator. It creates and submits your sitemap to Google with one click (though I tend to do a manual submission too to get the ball rolling).
Phew! Still with me? Excellent work. Next week, we’ll be tackling the issue of adding the kind of fresh new content that Google loves and how to craft Google-friendly URLs using your keywords and phrases.
In the meantime, keep commenting and sharing below and if you have new or better information, or think I am just plain wrong about something, then please feel to add a comment. It’s all good.
Have a great week. See you next Monday. Melissa