by Liz "Apassionata" Tiller Let’s do a quick exercise. Open your search engine of choice (mine is Google) and type in “bellydance” followed by your city. Take a look at the results. Are you in there? Well done! You’ve mastered the art of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). If you aren’t there, try searching for your name and city. Are you there now? Great, you’re doing pretty good, but wouldn’t you prefer to be in that first search? If you aren’t, don’t worry I’m here to help you. With a few tweaks we can set you on your way to rising in the search results.
What does Search Engine Optimization mean?
When we talk about Search Engine Optimization (SEO), we are talking about where your website appears in the search results on Google (or Bing, or any other search engine). When you search for something online, you may get hundreds or millions of search results, but how often do you go past that first page? Unless you’re looking for something very specific… not often. That means, everyone is trying to find the best way to “hack” the algorithm. You might be able to pay for some links to your site and temporarily bump you up in the results, but Google has taken to punishing people for artificially raising their search results. NEVER BUY LINKS! Doing things the organic way might take time, but it’s definitely worth it.
What can I do about it right now?
First, let’s work on the metadata. In Wordpress, Wix and SquareSpace there should be a location where you can edit your site’s title and description. Your title and description are important because they will display when your site appears in search results, and they are ways to incorporate keywords that Google will associate with your site.
Take some time and think of words that describe you as an artist. Focus on the dances you prefer and what sets you apart from other dancers? Do you also teach? Are you a fusion dancer? Don’t forget your location. Do you have a nice list of keywords? Great! Now we need to craft a description that’s less than 50 words using as many of those keywords organically. Yes, I know, this is the hard part. You might not use all those keywords in the description but hold on to that list, we will use it later. Remember, you can change all of this later, so don’t get too hung up on it. If you start using one of the many tools out there you will inevitably adjust your description to better target search terms.
Next, we need to look at your images. When uploading your image into a website builder, they provide you with the ability to give each image a title and description. If you’ve made sure each image has both, you are way better than half the developers out there. If not, don’t worry, people who get paid to do this for a living forget about it all the time. The image description and title are important for three reasons. First, if the image breaks the description will display, which is better than just a broken image. Second, if someone is using a screen reader or other assistive technologies it will provide a description to the visitor. Third, it helps with your search results!
You can think of every image description or title as an extra set of search keywords, so take out that keyword list and start incorporating them. Also, use this as a way to pick out what pictures you should include. Of course, you should pick the ones that you like, but also choose ones that fit those keywords. Keep in mind a description should be more than “Photo of Apassionata dancing” but something like “Apassionata performing with a veil, to a baladi version of “Whatever Lola Wants”. That description is way more interesting and works in the keyword ”Baladi”. If you have a photo in a traditional costume, make sure to include the traditional pieces of that costume in the description.
For our next step, make sure you have an XML sitemap for your page. Some website builders might already provide them. Others you might have to opt in. Whatever your builder of choice is, make sure you enable the XML sitemap. The sitemap is how search engines know what pages within your site it should “crawl.” Crawling means it starts looking for links to that page from others and makes each page actually searchable. This way, if you post on Instagram about the classes you teach, you can link directly to the page with the class schedule. The more links to specific pages the more popular you will become in search results.
Finally, we need some sites to link to your website and for your website to link to others. This is where your social media accounts come in handy. Make sure you are linking to them via your website and linking from your accounts to the website. If you are featured on a blog or online article, make sure you link to it from your website and kindly ask that site’s owner to link to yours. Are you involved with a specific studio? Ask them to link to your website and in turn you’ll link to theirs. This quid pro quo of providing links will help both you and the other person, so keep spreading that love and linking to people.
Don’t expect a miracle overnight
Unfortunately, doing this won’t immediately put you in the top page of search results. It takes time to grow in the search results. Also, you might find that certain pages are more popular than others. One time, I was doing SEO for an electric bike, and the first link that appeared was to the login page! It took a while and some experimenting, but I finally crafted the correct metadata so that it linked to the homepage. It also took a month, because Google purposely makes their algorithm reward you for organic growth. Don’t give up! It’s all worth it in the end.
This is just a short rundown of things you can do right now to help improve your online presence. Next time, we will dig in on some more web basics and the Google Search Console!
Liz Tiller is a developer, educator and belly dance student. You can find more information about her at www.elizabethtiller.com. She lives in Tampa with her husband and 5 cats. She occasionally performs under the name Apassionata.