• Advice

How to master SEO (without having to hire an expert)

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Most people make SEO (search engine optimization) out to be complicated. But SEO only appears complicated because you haven’t been given the necessary information to fully understand it.

Once you have this information, you can make an informed decision about whether you want to handle building great SEO for yourself or hire someone. And, if you do choose to hire an expert, you can be smarter about selecting the right person or firm.

The truth about SEO

· If you want clients to find your website so they can hire you, you need good SEO.

· To get good SEO your website needs to be respected by the major search engines.

· To get respected by the major search engines, your site needs to be built with code and structural integrity.

· When your site "breaks the rules" of code and structural integrity, you get graded lower by the search engines.

· When your site follows the rules, SEO happens on its own; it's just that it takes at least six months to get that respect, short of buying your way there (which I don't recommend.)

Get the definitive SEO guide

The first place to go to is Google's SEO guide. Google is still the leading authority internet search engine, so use their guide. Really.

If you are not administering this on your own website, then please insist that the person who is uses Google's SEO guidelines. A shocking number of website designers either refuse to do this or assume that whatever they learned in a class is still valid. Not true. The rules change year-to-year, so someone has to stay on top of them. It's kind of like how the rules regarding taxes change every year, ya know?

Some website hosting platforms are consciously geared toward maintaining coding integrity (aka standards), so just choosing them to host your site is half the battle won. Wherever you decide to host your site, I strongly urge you or your developer to go with XHTML 1.0 Strict or whatever website document type is the latest and greatest.

This will help you not only maintain the latest standards, but also keep you abreast of them when you notice errors upon validation (something I show you how to do, further down). Another reason to keep current has nothing to do with SEO and everything to do with that feeling you get when you go to a website that loads slow and looks old: you just want to run, right?

A note about meta tags and keywords, because many people really get this wrong:

Most people overdo meta tags and keywords and it degrades their SEO. Again, the free Google SEO guidelines tell you how to do them correctly.

Update, update, update

Always, always, always update your website on a regular basis. There are times when the only thing I could change was the wording of a sentence or a date. But regular changes, at least once weekly, tell the search engines that somebody cares about the site and they will reward you for it by giving you more respect.

You do not need to know how to code to update a website! (If you do, you’ve made your life way too hard. See Weebly). At most, you may need to learn how to access it and upload your changes safely, but it is really not much different in a way than using MS Word.

The need for regular site updates is the reason that most people, wisely, put a blog on their business site. A blog is a place to add material that benefits your clients without mucking up your site. A blog will entice readers looking for something interesting, and if you add to your blog regularly, you automatically satisfy the "update your site consistently” requisite.

Don't post just anything to your blog; again, reading the Google SEO guide will remind you that quality of content matters and the guide will explain why.

The power of business directories

Getting listed in the business pages of the major browsers, directories, and networking sites and apps is an important side dish to SEO. It is tiresome, tedious work, but well worth it. The major search engines: Google, Yahoo, etc., have free business directories, so those should be the first ones you set up. Free app directories like Foursquare may also be useful. Staying on top of which directories are on top, is another annual project.

I suggest you do an Internet search on "most popular search engines with business directories" and read and select judiciously. Don't try to get on all of them. Be picky and tailor them the best you can to your own business and where you think you will find the clients who are looking for you. If you end up paying for a directory listing service, it would be much less costly than paying someone for your SEO rankings.

Join the nation's largest group representing the new workforce (it's free!)

Become a member

A note about directory listings

Make sure your business name and address are identical from listing to listing. Format your address like the post office and carriers like UPS and FEDEX expect you to.

How do you know where your site stands?

Numerous sites offer you free analysis with the hope that you'll sign up with them to get automatically pushed to the various directories. These are the directory listing services I mentioned above. An informative, no-cost, do-it-yourself site, originally named is now gone. Woorank is an option. Its competition, Moz, appears to have eaten Getlisted. See what I mean about how fast things change?

A note about CitySearch

CitySearch is a popular directory, and a difficult one to get on when you are a solo practitioner. However, your business can get included if you email them at and tell them that you are a sole proprietor, this is your website/business, and you would like to be listed. Weirdly, it works, and few people know about it. But, you do have to be patient.

The business version of a nanny cam

If you are smart, you are wondering how you can be sure your website developer is coding to meet the latest standards. It's easier than you can imagine. I won't put the exact how-to in here, but the steps are:

· Bring up your website.

· Use your browser's "tool" function to "view source." (Yes, you can look at any site's code!)

· Check the first line to see if the document type (!DOCTYPE) is XHTML 1.0 Strict (if you choose to go that way, and I hope you do.)

· Copy and paste your site's source code into the "markup" box of this W3C code checker and click "check".

· If your code has errors or non-compliant code, it'll show up in the report. Note: Warnings are usually okay.

· You now know how to check up on your developer!

My Confession

I haven’t run my new site, under Weebly, through the code analyzer yet. (Weebly is awesome, by the way.) But under my old platform, Squarespace version 5, it came out pretty okay (but would be a reminder that I was behind on following my own advice). However, over the years I have still managed to maintain respect of the search engines, especially after changing the name of my website.

So, I'm a little bit like the carpenter who hasn't finished his own house yet. Doesn't mean he's a bad carpenter. It’s also a reminder that you don’t have to be perfect to make SEO work for you; you just have to keep at it.

Looking Ahead

Here's a worthwhile article on what Google will be looking for within your site in 2015: What Google Wants In 2015. Each year, look for new, fresh articles like this, because changes are always happening in the online world, just like in life.

Which reminds me: Getting on the big directories means getting on their mailing list, which in turn gets you some pretty good information on current marketing strategies. I’ve posted two from Dex media in this blog, because they write some good stuff and it is both appropriate and helpful to the small businessperson. (By the way, at no time has anyone asked me to hype their products, nor would I if they did.)

Paula Moerland is a health sciences editor, researcher, writer, massage therapist and healer, slow learning student of life, and proud autistic. You can find her on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.