As technical people in a field that is expanding daily, we all run into areas that we know poorly, or haven't been able to refresh our knowledge on this decade. For me, and I'm sure many of you, SEO is one of those topics that fell by the wayside. Sure, I remember circa-1998 tips on getting the search engines to rank your site more highly, such as making sure my meta tags are filled in, using terms frequently that you want to attach to your key search values, even trying to keep the content-to-crap ratio as high as possible. But no one is paying me high dollar to come improve their site rankings, so it is obvious I was missing a few steps.
The New Site, v1
Every few years I throw away my website and re-invent it. This time I had decided to create an extended professional profile with a secondary goal of bringing together my online handle (Tarwn) and my real name (Eli Weinstock-Herman). That link wasn't completely missing, but it was tenuous and this was the first time I purposefully set out to link the technical postings and articles under my handle to my real name. Eighteen hours gave me a site that I felt was a step better than my previous one..and the crushing realization that I had no idea how to capture my personal brand and be the number one search result for my own name(s). Google was listing me (Both of me) on the front page, but for older content that no longer existed and my profile on many other sites. Bing didn't even have links to an old version of my site for one of my names. Ask and Yahoo? Similar stores, there were links and many of them were me, but my site was not in a prominent position. Luckily both my names are unique enough that I was really only competing with myself, albeit myself on much higher dollar, professional sites.
Time to hit the books.
I won't lead you down all the blind alleys, scams, and occasionally clueless articles I ran into. Instead I'll leave you with a few key links that stood out during my beginners education.
- Search Ranking Factors
- A high level list of SEO factors, listed by importance with additional feedback from SEO experts on each answer.
- 15 Minute SEO
- I don't know how up to date this article is, but wow. Everything you need to know, nicely packaged in one humongous table. After reading through this table (and various articles when I googled common terms), I immediately started rethinking my content.
- Robots File Checker
- A little web form tool to test a potential robots file and make sure it is formatted correctly.
- WooRank is a tool that calculates a ranking for your site based on common SEO factors, performance, and existing links. Every red light gave me one more topic to learn about.
- Anchor Text Optimization
- As I continued to fine tune, I ran into an article that focused entirely on link text optimization. Many sites pointed out the importance of backlinks, but this was the first that went in depth on selecting appropriate text and content for those links.
- Traffic Travis
- Traffic Travis is a set of tools that allows you to analyze your website, keyword usage, search indices, and several more key indicators that hep you track whether changes you are making are improving or degrading your position. The tools have a free version, with more extensive abilities available with the premium version.
- Google Analytics
- In order to try and get a handle on outstanding issues, I added my site to Google Analytics and watched it daily. I tweaked my (until then missing) robots file to keep the search engines pointed at the pages I wanted them on, instead of the ones they had somehow found, and watched the traffic each day to see what was getting picked up.
The Results, so Far
After less than 10 hours invested in both learning from the links and tools above, and applying that knowledge to my site, I achieved the top position in Google for both "Tarwn" and "Eli Weinstock-Herman". I do have to admit I feel a little bad, though, as I have apparently also started edging into the results of someone named "Eli Page" by complete accident. Bing has me listed for 3 and 4 currently, which is great considering I started on page two with one of my names. Yahoo has gracefully given me top spots for both names, once again just barely nudging my LinkedIn profile down to second place.
Unfortunately there were no quick secrets to what I did (and continue to do). I read and re-read the articles I found from searching terms on the 15-minute article, use the tools above every few days to continue to tweak and change values, and read up on every suggestion I see mentioned in the WooRank results. Considering my low traffic rate (by design) and the purpose of my site (help people learn more about me), I would consider my result to be a success. I did not intend to become an expert in the magic of SEO, just a basic practitioner. I not only achieved the result I wanted, I also am continuing to practice those skills and have learned enough to speak intelligently (and filter out basic scams) the next time someone wants to sell me SEO services. I may not be an expert, but at least now I could listen to one and understand the language.