Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Class 13: June 1, 2017


Today you will get a brief intro to search engine optimization (SEO) and do a short assignment related to SEO.


What is SEO?

Search engine optimization is the process of making your site rank at or near the top in search results for relevant terms. If your site is about the Drake football team, ideally your site would rank high when someone searches the term "drake football" in Google.

There are three basic steps to ranking high in search:
  1. Create a great site with great content - Search engines want to send users to the best content, so they are not interested in mediocre sites.
  2. Find the right keywords and put them in the right places - What are the keywords and key phrases that should direct people to your site? Use those exact phrases on your site.
  3. Get other sites to link to you - When someone else links to your site, that tells the search engine that this must be good content. The idea is that people will only want to link to valuable content. Links are the currency of the web. When you link to another site, you are giving it an endorsement. As the way we use the web has changed, social sharing has become a big part of this as well - the more people share and comment about your site on social media, the higher you will rank in search.

Keyword research

How do you find the correct keywords for your site? One way is to do keyword research. Keyword research involves using the Google Adwords Keyword Planner (you need an Adwords account to use this). You can search for the keywords you think are ideal, and it will suggest others.

For many keywords, you just never are going to get to the top of search results (There are too many well-established sites that rank high for that term). In that case, you would use the Keyword Tool to find alternative keywords or phrases that could still send traffic to your site.

Below, we see a search for the phrase Chicago Cubs. Knowing we likely can't get to the top of search results for that phrase, we might instead target something like "cubs schedule," which fewer sites will be targeting.




The elements of SEO

The most important elements in improving your site's SEO ranking are the title, URL, headlines and text. You want to use your desired keywords and key phrases in those places. In Wordpress, your title comes from the headline, so if you use keywords in your headline you will be covered. Wordpress is a very SEO-friendly content management system.


Your meta keywords and description used to be important to search engines, but they don't make much of a difference now. The search engines are constantly updating the algorithm they use to decide how sites rank in search, and for now they mostly ignore these two areas.



At the very least, your meta description does show up when someone does a search, so it has some value in describing to searchers what content is on your site. By default, Wordpress uses the first paragraph of your post as the meta description.

A great tool for getting control over all of this information on your Wordpress site is the Yoast SEO plugin. I use it on all of my Wordpress sites to make sure each page is properly optimized. It's almost like playing a video game trying to get your SEO light to go from red to yellow to green.


SEO homework

Let's play that video game. Install the Yoast SEO plugin and activate it (if you haven't already).

Now go to your "about" page, or another page on your website in the Wordpress dashboard. If you scroll down on the page, you'll see a page that looks like this:


This the SEO dashboard. Where it says Focus Keyword, put in your name (if it's your about me page) or the topic of the page. Now follow the directions to get the overall grade (at the top) to be a green light.

Generally speaking, we don't write for search engines but for people. But this is an exercise in learning how search engines see content, so do what you can to get to green. You can change it back afterward.

Then email me a screenshot that shows your overall score is green. My email is chris.snider@drake.edu.

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