SEO Tips: How Top Websites Increase Search Results

Writing a Web piece about search engine optimization is kind of like preparing dinner at a conference of 5-star chefs: You want to make sure not to make the mistakes they're all taking about how to avoid.

Thus I needed to take extra care on wording this write up of the Search Engine Strategies conference. For example, I debated whether to use "SEO" or "search engine optimization" in my headline. Which would likely do better on Google? (Answer: Check Google Trends, and you'll see that SEO is the more popular search choice.) And then, in the end, I went with "more effective Web sites," which seemed a bit more accurate -- and would hopefully appeal to the human reader, even if it's a less frequently used search term.

That's because one of the most interesting sessions I attended wasn't about optimizing for Google, et. al., but how to improve a Web site for human visitors. Or, more specifically, increasing "conversions" at your site, whether that means sales for e-commerce sites, subscriptions for sites like ours (you can sign up for e-mail newsletters here!) or getting visitors to write reviews for a site like TripAdvisor.

From UI consultant and author Bryan Eisenberg:

User content can help persuade site visitors to buy, as evidenced by Amazon.com's success. Or, publish information you glean from customer actions to help inform potential purchasers. For example, he said, one online shoe retailer includes a "return-o-meter" on each product page. This helps consumers understand which shoes are more likely to fit the first time.

Maintain the "scent" of a trail of information from the initial page through to where users take action, such as a similar look and feel on forms as the rest of a site.

"Point of action assurance" can help convince users to do what you want them to, he said, whether that's making a purchase or registering to access information. For example, if a "free shipping" offer is prominent on a Web site to help entice users to place an order, make sure customers get reassurance on every page as they order if they qualify for free shipping.

Although getting a Web site to show up high in search engine results sometimes seems as much a black art as a science, there were some principles most experts agreed can help.

Make it easy for search engine crawlers to understand your content. Before worrying about how well you rank, make sure you've covered the basics. Will search engines understand what your pages are about? If you've got a page on your site with Web developer jobs but you never use the phrase "Web developer jobs," will anyone searching for "Web developer jobs" be able to find it? Perhaps, but why leave it to chance?

Keywords are, well, key. While you don't want to write for search engine crawlers to the exclusion of humans, you do want to make sure humans searching for likely phrases will find your content.

Link text is important. If you use a specific phrase to describe a link to another page on your site, that's a good clue to a search engine of what the target page is about. Hint: "Click here" doesn't help.

And from Avinash Kaushik, Google analytics evangelist: Chances are that while your top few keywords produce an impressive amount of traffic, the "long tail" of thousands of "lesser" keywords drive much more traffic to your site in total than those top few. Paying attention to the long tail can bring large rewards, he advised.

Time to go look at some Web site analytics....

Sharon Machlis is online managing editor at Computerworld. Her e-mail address is smachlis@computerworld.com. You can follow her on Twitter

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