Building your own website offers lots of advantages – you have full control over how it looks, you can add a blog if you like, and you don’t need to worry about an online marketplace changing its policies unexpectedly.
However, it also means you have to tackle the tricky issue of SEO (search engine optimization) on your own to ensure that people can find your site on Google and Bing – there are no built-in tools to help. Don’t be put off, though – it’s not hard once you know how it works.
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When you search for something on Google or Bing, you receive two types of results – organic and paid. Paid results are labeled with the word ‘sponsored’, and as the name suggests, they appear prominently because the site’s owners have paid a fee.
We’re going to focus on organic listings, which appear underneath and are generally considered more trustworthy. Search engines use pieces of software called ‘web crawlers’, which follow links in web pages and index the resulting pages. When you type a word or phrase into a search engine, it uses the index it’s created to find the most relevant results.
The search engine uses complex equations, known as ranking algorithms, to decide the order in which the results will appear. These algorithms take into account hundreds of different factors, but there are steps you can take to ensure the crawlers can find your site, and that the algorithms rank it highly.
To get your site to appear on search engines, you can either wait for it to be found by crawlers or submit it manually. That’s the first step taken care of! Search engines aim to show people the most useful sites, so the most important part of SEO is having good quality content that’s updated regularly. However, the crawlers aren’t human, so there are some extra factors to consider.
The crawlers must be able to interpret your site, so there’s no point in having nothing but images or Flash content – you need to have actual text that the software can interpret. This is also important for your users; if they can’t see the images for any reason, they won’t be able to use your site if there’s no text. Your website’s sections should also be named in a logical way.
For example, a page showing scarves should be called scarves.html, while one showing hats should be hats.html – don’t call them page1.html and page2.html. Again, this is useful for your customers, because they can immediately see which part of your site they’re on. Try not to duplicate any pages or text on your site. Nobody wants to read the same thing twice.
One of the most important parts of your SEO strategy is your use of keywords. These are words and phrases that people who will be interested in your products are likely to be searching for.
You should aim to use these in your site’s text so these people will find you. It can be tricky to know which keywords you should use, but the best advice is to think like a customer. If you were looking for handmade bridal shoes, for example, possible search terms could include ‘bridal shoes USA’, ‘handmade bridal shoes’ and ‘bridal shoes ivory’.
There are also tools that are designed to help. One of the most useful is Google AdWords Keyword Planner. Despite its name, this isn’t just a tool for buying advertisements on Google – it can also help you find words and phrases that your customers might be searching for, and provides a guide to incorporating them into your site. Sign in using your Google account, click the ‘Tools’ tab and select ‘Keywords planner’ to get started.
SEO tricks to avoid
Keyword stuffing: Be careful with keywords – don’t just use as many as possible. Above all, your site needs to be useful to your customers. If your text sounds strange or stilted because there are too many keywords, visitors will be turned off.
Link farms: Links are important, but only if they’re relevant and natural. Don’t pay money for links from other sites, submit your site to big directories, or take part in lots of ‘link me and I’ll link you’ schemes. These are not only unhelpful to your customers, but Google can penalize you for it as well.
Comment spam: Don’t post comments on forums or blogs for the sole purpose of linking your site. This is annoying to other visitors who want to read opinions on the topic, and will only serve to earn you a bad reputation.
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