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SEO Primer – Easy Improvements for Businesses

July 20 2009

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a set of methodologies for making web page content easily accessible to search engines and, by extension, people looking for information via search engines. Search engines like Google.com or Bing.com index information on web pages by sending out web crawlers, spiders, or bots (all automated tools to read web pages) to parse the information contained in the pages’ HTML (HyperText Markup Language – the main language constructing web pages). This information is then indexed in the search engine databases for easy access in response to web searches. When someone types in a search term like “physical therapy” the engines deliver results based on proprietary algorithms which parse keywords in the text of the pages, as well as some meta-information (information that describes the content) written into the HTML code, and other external factors (such as pages linking to that page) to determine a page relevancy (page rank) value for any given search. All SEO comes down to improving these factors so that a given web page appears at the top of related keyword searches.

Start With Good Content

At the base of successful SEO is having quality content that people will want to access. The content should be clear, rich with terms that a reader is seeking, and structured such that they can easily find the specific information they’re looking for. It is very important that content should be written for the reader, in language they can relate with, and not in jargony, industry-specific vocabulary that may not align with the terms the reader is using in their search. Someone seeking relief from back pain, for instance, may type “relief from back pain” into a search engine unless they’re specifically inclined to find relief by looking for “physical therapy.” A well optimized page will contain the terms a web visitor is searching for.

Writing for the web can be as involved as any other formal writing. Suffice it to say, once we have rich content, it can be formatted in its web page HTML to add further meta-information for use by the search engines. See “Writing for the Web” Resources listed below for more detailed information.

Getting Good Referrals

One other vital element to SEO is the quality of links which direct traffic to one’s site. Search engine algorithms give additional weight to the contents of a page based on the authority of referring pages. If a recognized sports medicine site links to a page with sports medicine content, that linked page benefits from the search-engine-vested authority of the referrer. So it’s beneficial to have quality links from recognized authorities. It’s also important to remember that authorities can include heavily trafficked blogs and other social media sites. The consensus of opinion at the conferences I’ve attended points towards the increasing influence of social media on SEO. Therefore, we should nurture any referrer links from outside our site and make sure that they point to relevant pages within our site (not necessarily our home page).

Get Known Locally

One additional factor that will help our clinic traffic is inclusion in local business directories. Search engines utilize these directories as information stores for localized business information. Many of these directories offer free listings along with the ability to include an email address, web site link, and business type categorization. All of this information, if listed, helps promote that business in search engine results related to localities. If someone searches for “Seattle physical therapy” on Google, one will often see results from Yahoo! or Yelp in the top 10 results. These type of results add referrer value to a page. It is in each clinic’s best interest to make sure they’re listed in local business directories online and that their information is up to date and categorized properly. Some no-cost, high benefit places to start:

Web Development Beyond The Fundamentals of SEO

The above elements; content, referrals, and directory listings, are the most powerful accessible factors that company employees can affect that will influence how internet users find the content they’re searching for through search engines. This is what SEO is all about. There are other, more technical factors that I haven’t covered that go on behind the scenes in how we design and maintain our web sites and the structure and meta information encoded in those pages. Ultimately, the web is a tool for communication between people and entities. Web sites and pages are the medium. Good SEO is analogous to the conversation you are able to start with clients.

Resources

Writing for the Web

More SEO Info

Google has some very good resources for helping webmasters optimize for search. For more detailed information about topics I address above you can refer to:

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