Search engine optimization for dive centers & other websites

13
May

search-engineAlthough this post is written for dive centers and resorts, the same principles apply to any small business interested in learning more about the basics of search engine optimization and improving search rankings. I’m concentrating on the basics because that’s where we all need to start, and many dive centers are not familiar with them at all.

What I won’t discuss in this post, is spending money on advertising with Bing, Google, Yahoo or any other search engine, or paying someone for “search engine optimization” services. Again, this post covers the basic foundation of what you need to do when creating post and pages, costing you nothing except a little bit of thought and time on your part.

What is search engine optimization?
In short, it’s taking the steps to get your website “ranked higher” in search engine results. Preferably, you want to be on the first page of results and the closer to the top the better. That said, you’ll need to be reasonable with your expectations. If you have a new site or are taking steps to improve your site, you can not expect to be near the top of the results for the phrase ‘scuba lessons’. That’s what I refer to as a “wide net” search where you’ll find it difficult to crack into the top page.

Most people searching the Web will be more specific with their word choices when searching. As an example, instead of searching for ‘scuba lessons’ they may search for ‘scuba lessons connecticut’ (without the quotes). That takes a wide net search and immediately makes it more local and provides better results for the user. And that leads us to the most important lesson … writing for the Web.

ny-post-welcome-homerWriting for the Web
Some of your visitors access your site directly, but most of your Internet traffic will come via search results determined by complex computer algorithms that crawl through your content and determine relevance as compared to keywords. In other words a computer, not a person, is reading your website and determining where your pages should show up within search results.

When selling a newspaper, large catchy headlines –without one word relevant to the content of the article – can be effective at a news stand, but catchy headlines can destroy search engine rankings. As an example of the difference, take a look at this afternoon’s headline at the Post’s website … WELCOME HOMER.

If you’re wondering how Andy Pettitte did yesterday when he returned to the Yankee’s pitching rotation, would you search for either of the words welcome or homer? Absolutely not, and that’s why the Post uses the big graphics with text to catch your eye, while the actual headline of the story includes the words PettitteYankees and return. They are writing for the Web along with writing to catch your eye.

nassau-search-resultsFor a scuba-related example, let’s say you’re promoting a group trip to the Bahamas. The headline Warm, clear water awaits you this May certainly peaks your interest when you read it, but it tells the computer analyzing your content nothing about what you are promoting.

Instead, the headline Spider Creations wrote for Scuba Shack in Connecticut was “Annual Bahamas Memorial Day Weekend group dive trip set for May.” This headline includes keywords scuba divers might type in if they were looking to join a group dive trip to the Bahamas. As an example, you might think the words ‘group dive trip bahamas’ casts a wide net, but since we included those words in the headline of the article, Scuba Shack’s Memorial Day Weekend trip to Nassau comes up as the second result excluding paid advertising.

Looking back at the headline we wrote, it turns out it was a bit long and Google – in this example – cut off the last nine characters which is something you want to avoid. In hind-sight, we should have removed the word ‘annual’ since it would not be one of the keywords someone would enter. (That said, if they did add ‘annual’ to the search, the result would move from number two to number one.)

So, when it comes to your headlines, take some time to think about what keywords potential customers will enter into search engines and include those words in your headline. But as we mentioned, catching the visitors eye is also important, so it’s always a good idea to do both, as we did when promoting Scuba Shack’s Nassau trip on the home page.

catchy-headline-eyeWhat about the text on the page?
Along with headlines, I’ve found the first two paragraphs of the article is important. You should include the same keywords used in the headline, but add keywords visitors may use. In our example, we included the words scubaNassauStuart Cove, and even the real name of the island … New Providence.

Along with including keywords, ensure the content you post in the first paragraph or two is original content. If you copy and paste content from another site, your search rank may suffer because the search computer knows you’re not providing original content.

Implementing these suggestions … and more
Depending on the website platform you are using, implementing the foundation of a solid search engine optimization strategy can either be very easy or kind of hard.

Spider Creations uses the WordPress platform exclusively for our websites in part, because search engine optimization is built in to the application, and free plugins are available to enhance the system.

WordPress allows you to easily create and edit headlines and the content of a post, but it also allows you to create and edit permalinks which are also read by search engines. Permalinks are also know as the URL or slug of a page. The permalink we’re using for the Scuba Shack trip is …

http://scubashackct.com/travel/memorial-day-weekend-nassau-bahamas-group-dive-trip-stuart-cove-2012/

Note that we’ve got some important keywords in there including the post category (travel) and some other words, even the year, we wanted to highlight.

As compared to http://scubashackct.com/?p=2380 – which takes you to the exact same place – the enhanced permalink tells the search engine something about your post and will get your article more exposure in search engines.

Some other basic foundation search engine optimization tips – all included with the WordPress platform – include:

  • Publish an RSS feed, subscribe to the feed, and access posts from the feed. Encourage your staff and customers to do the same
  • Use images in your posts, and use keywords within the Alternate Text of each image
  • Use a search engine optimization plugin like All in One SEO Pack or WordPress SEO by Yoast (configured properly)

For more information on the subject, contact me and I’ll provide you with more tips, or manage your website presence and take care of the basic foundation of search engine optimization for you.