Search Engine Optimization: Basic SEO Tips Every Author Website Needs
Ok, so you were convinced that you must have an author website, you now have one, or will have one soon, and now people start mentioning SEO and how important it is. And maybe you start getting emails telling you how you are missing out on website traffic, that you must purchase their services. Then they mention the dreaded meta tags. The stress level rises. All you wanted to do was write a book.
Relax. It is not as challenging and esoteric as anyone makes it out to be. And you do not need to hire someone on a monthly retainer for your search engine optimization.
What is a Search Engine?
The largest search engines are Google and Bing, and they pretty much work the same way. They index the web and use that index to deliver search results to users. They do this by sending out their bots or spiders (web analogy), automated search robots, scouring websites to find out what is on them, judge what they find, and then create their indexes. They do not do it in real-time—when you type in a search term, they do not go out and search the web. Instead, they look in their index that continually updates.
What is their goal? To deliver relevant and useful results so you will continue to use their search engine. Why? Because their business model is getting advertisers to pay to be on their site and show up in the results. The more people using Google, for example, the more money they can get in the advertising. Just like any media.
So how do they return useful results? As mentioned above, they scour the web, looking at almost all websites. They judge the Websites and their content. This judgment impacts where a website shows up in the rankings.
Two Primary Factors Influencing Search Results
Content matters. The search engines will go through your website, find all of the content, and create an index based on what they discovered. So you want to make sure all of the keywords and phrases relevant to your book(s) and topic occur throughout your site. For example, if your books contain information about vegan foods and cooking you want to make sure those words and phrases are well-represented throughout your author website. In general, the home page is most important, and also the tops of other pages. One mistake I often see is having a large graphic taking up most of the home page with little or no text. To a search engine, that page is blank—prime real estate wasted.
You will most likely never show up high in the search results for popular terms like cooking. The competition for common words like that is fierce. So try to be more specific, and always think about what words or phrases you would want to lead people to your site. What words and phrases would your ideal reader be searching for online? Maybe your subject matter focuses on paleo-vegan? Make sure the keywords like paleo vegan, paleo vegan cooking, paleo vegan recipes, are prominent on your home page and throughout your site. You will have a much better chance of appearing high in the rankings for those more specific terms.
Here is some good news: book and author websites usually score pretty well here by nature—your author website will contain book descriptions, excerpts, reviews, maybe interviews, a blog, and recipes, and more, all filled with relevant keywords and phrases. Author websites rarely want for words.
Meta tags are snippets of text that describe a page's content; the meta tags don't appear on the page itself, but only in the page's source code. Meta tags are essentially little content descriptors that help tell search engines what a web page is about. Meta tags are beyond the scope of this article, but worth a mention. These are text that goes in the head of your HTML pages (most site builders will have a way to do this). There are three meta tags you should pay attention to title, description, and keywords. The title tag is important because it can appear at the top of your browser window.
Read more about meta tags here.
2. Links to Your Site
I mentioned that search engines judge your site. Content is important, but why is it that the big Websites always appear at the top of the results? Because an important criterion is links—how many other sites link to yours and what quality are they? If a lot of other sites link to yours, and some popular sites do, your site is considered valuable. Therefore, you will rise in the rankings. So if the NY Times, bon appetit, or Cooking Light does an article on paleo-vegan and links to your site, you will rise in the rankings. It doesn't have to be so dramatic—it could be a bunch of popular vegan or paleo websites or blogs that link to you. The more traffic telling the search engine a particular site is a place they want to reference, the higher probability the search engine will want to reference your site as well.
Once youe website starts building traffic, that will be taken into account by the search engines also. Again, if a search engine sees that your site has a lot of traffic, it will rate you higher in the rankings.