Today we were at Make Web Not War, a conference that was all about “interoperability” — i.e. blending open-source and Microsoft technologies. While there, our CEO, Guillaume Bouchard, delivered a presentation to developers about SEO for dynamic websites.
Guillaume started by reminding the crowd that organic traffic comprises, on average, half of all web traffic. It was no surprise, then, when he pointed out that Forbes recently released data that SEO was the most successful online marketing channel in terms of delivering results and ROI. SEO was also confirmed as the most successful in generating conversions.
3 Principles of SEO
Guillaume started off by giving the audience a overview of the 3 most basic principles of SEO. These were indexation, relevance, and popularity.
Indexation is about making sure that your back-end and front-end work to produce pages that search engines can index. This means opting for a technological solution that respects SEO best practices. Your site architecture should also be mapped based on what kind of keywords and semantic verticals you are trying to rank for. Finally, archiving is important because you want old content to remain indexed, and that all archived content is properly interlinked.
Relevance has to do with optimizing pages for targeted keywords. It also means having an interlinking strategy that helps search engines find other related content on your site.
Popularity, finally, is what determines your position in the search engine results for a specific keyword query. Here, you need a balance of link quantity, quality, and aged links. This mean many links, links from related sites, and links that have gained authority with age.
The Different Search Engines
Guillaume then went on to illustrate the differences between Google.com (US), Google.com (Intl), Google.ca in English, and Google.ca in French. His point was that you have to understand your target market and ensure that your SEO strategy fits with the version of Google that your users come from.
Next in line was Bing. This search engine still has few advertisers, but offers quality traffic. Finally, there is Yahoo; this engine has the least amount of traffic but offers a very good traffic/ROI rations.
So when preparing an SEO strategy, it’s important to have a long-term vision of what regions to target via what search engines, and in what order — i.e. Google US then Google International then Bing then Yahoo.
Why SEO is Good for Web Developers
Guillaume also illustrated why web developers can benefit from focusing on SEO. For starters, SEO people always recommend that new web portals are developed. This means regular work for web dev teams.
Second, SEO requires ongoing web development, such as (1) making sure that you’re always going back and adding features that enhance indexation, and (2) relaunching a website often harms SEO, so developers have to go back and re-add SEO friendly features.
Third, as you expand your SEO strategy to include additional search engines and geographic regions, more websites will be needed. Fourth, developers are integral to producing the best tools for ranking. So synergy between SEO and web developers is necessary, meaning that developers and SEOs are natural bed-fellows.
Just as your sitemap has a page hierarchy, so should your SEO strategy throughout that website. For instance, you have short-, medium-, and long-tail keywords. So while your top level pages will be optimized for short-tail keywords, your second-tier pages should be optimized for medium-tail keywords, and your deep pages should target long-tail keywords. And these keyword targets should be reflected both in the on-page SEO of these pages, as well as how they are interlinked.
Of course, the shorter-tail the keyword, the more competitive it is. So the lesson here for business is how to structure their SEO strategy. For example, if you’re a big company, then you probably have the budget to compete on the short-tail keywords. But if you’re an SMB, then you might get a more immediate ROI if you starter with medium- and long-tail keywords — they are less competitive, and you’ll actually be able to generate traffic and conversions off of them sooner.
Guillaume also went into some strategies that SEOs can use make sure that their most important pages rank instead of non-conversion focused pages.
His first tip pertaind to page indexation — i.e. how to use robots.txt files and meta info to influence how many of your pages are indexed, and how much linkjuice they pass to one another through their interlinks. For example, you might have 1,000,000 pages on your site, but only 10,000 are relevant to new users and your SEO strategy.
Well, you can use your robots.txt and meta info (meta name=”robots” content=”noindex”) to tell Google to keep a page out of the search results. But that page will still be able to build authority and pass juice to another page when it links to that other page. This allows you increase the likelihood of a top-level page ranking in search results for a keyword, and prevent an irrelevant (non-conversion focused) page from taking its place in the search results.
He also covered 301 redirects. These are ideal for when you want to kill a page, but not lose the juice it’s accumulated over the year. With a 301 redirect, we tell Google that this page is gone, but this other page over here now replaces it. Google then passes most of the juice from the dead page over to the new page.
Guillaume then went into canonicalization. This is a feature that allows sites to have pages with duplicate content, but letting the search engines know which of those duplicated pages is the original one. This prevents search engines from getting confused and exclusing the pages from search results altogether, as well as ensures that users land on the original, conversion-focused page, rather than some other page with duplicate content.