Meet Sal, the Search Engine Optimization Expert

Meet Sal. When it comes to search engine expertise, she’s one of the most influential people I know! Sal has an “insider’s view” to exactly how search engines work, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with her firsthand for several years now. Sal has a knack for knowing exactly what makes a website appealing from a search engine’s perspective from the moment she first visits a website.

Today, I’ll share some of Sal’s top suggestions on what you can do to keep your website in tip-top shape for search engines.

Act Like a Human

Sal is quick to point out that websites are, first and foremost, used by people. Because websites are used by people, search engines give preference to websites that are written to focus on a human audience.

Contrast that with the earlier days of the internet. Search engines were very functional in their approach to the websites they visited, and search engines gave preference to websites that functioned well. Functionality is still important, of course; all of your links need to work, and your pages need to load without errors. But search engines are much smarter now. Search engines prefer websites that are not only friendly to web browsers (functional) but also friendly to humans. “Human-friendly” now appears high on the list of criteria that is evaluated when ranking websites for search engine listings.

Sal’s suggestion for you: Write your website content with the expectation that real, live people—not search engines—are your primary target audience. If search engines know that your website is friendly to humans, then search engines will see your website as friendly, also.

Be Impatient

Search engines have learned how to be impatient, just like us humans. People have the attention span of a gnat these days and aren’t willing to wait for web pages to load. Search engines know that and penalize websites that consistently load slowly.

Sal’s suggestion for you: Use tools like Google’s PageSpeed Insights to identify items that are slowing down your page(s), and make adjustments as needed.

Sal suggests that printers pay special attention to the images listed in the report. Those of us in the printing world usually want “high quality, high image resolution,” and high image resolution is the opposite of what search engines like to see. Make sure your website images are at the web-friendly 72 pixels per inch measurement, and not the 300 pixels per inch images found in the world of printing. Also, pay attention to Photoshop’s “Quality” slider when saving images for the web. Often, nudging the quality of an image just a bit in the “lower quality” direction will trim the size of the image down without making any noticeable visual difference at all. You may not notice the change in quality, but search engines will appreciate the smaller file sizes that result.

Read a Book

Sal prefers to approach websites in the same way she approaches a good book. Think of your last trip to the bookshelf. Did a particular book title catch your attention? That’s how search engines see your website.

Sal’s suggestion for you: The website’s title (the words that appear on your home page’s tab or window bar) is just like the title of a book. The website title is one of the first things to catch the attention of search engines, so make sure your high-value search terms (the keywords by which you wish to be found) appear there. But, just like people will gloss over a very long book title, search engines will potentially view really long website titles as having questionable value.

After visiting with Sal, it’s apparent that the book metaphor can also be applied to content found in the deeper layers of your website. The titles of interior pages on a website are like chapters in a book, giving search engines and readers a pretty good idea about what will be found in that section. Headlines on a page are like headings and subheadings in a book, drilling down deeper into the content.

Sal is also a big fan of alt attributes (sometimes people call these alt tags). This is a small piece of code hooked to an image on your website, and it’s used to describe the image, just like captions describe pictures in a book. Alt attributes are (usually) invisible to humans, but Sal is quick to point out that search engines pick up on them right away, using these attributes to learn more details and context about the image the alt attribute is describing. The process of managing alt attributes is beyond the scope of this article, but your website provider should be able to help you get pointed in the right direction.

All parts of a good book work together to support the book’s topic. It’s the same with your website. Make sure your website has a clear title, chapters, headings, and captions, all supporting your effort to present yourself as a print professional with a well-organized website.

Don’t Get Tricky

Have you ever made a purchase and then brought your new, prized possession home only to feel that you were tricked into making a purchase you didn’t need? Search engines can feel that way sometimes. Sal points out that web pages trying to trick search engines into providing artificially rosy rankings really don’t get anywhere anymore.

The days of sprinkling your favorite SEO keywords everywhere throughout your website are over. Those keywords will catch the attention of search engines, but in a bad way. Search engines caught on to that trick a long time ago. Websites may experience a short-term success with SEO “tricks” like keyword stuffing, but search engines catch on, and the long-term results will greatly diminish the short-term success you experience.

Sal’s suggestion for you: Lots of repeating keywords look silly to human eyes, and they look silly to search engines, too. Legitimate businesspeople (that’s you!) don’t use that trick anymore. Now, apply that lesson to any other SEO tricks that you’re tempted to consider. If it doesn’t feel right to you, it probably won’t feel right to search engines, either. It’s just another sign of code becoming as smart as (or smarter than!) us humans.

Who is Sal?

So, exactly who is this mysterious “Sal” person? “Sal” is an abbreviation of Search engine ALgorithm, and search engines get their marching orders from Sal. The reason you were subjected to these “Stories with Sal” is to emphasize the fact that the trend is for search engines to more closely mimic human behavior, so your goal should be to create your website in a way that draws in humans. You’ll find that if you do what’s right for humans, then search engines will naturally follow.

Sal the Search Engine Algorithm

I’ve given you four “Stories with Sal” to consider. Skim over them again, this time with the knowledge that Sal is a search engine algorithm directing search engines how to behave when they start taking a look at your website. When you humanize the search engine algorithm and call “her” Sal, your SEO efforts will become a lot more productive!

Here are a few more quick tips from Sal:

  • Make sure your website offers a great user experience that engages visitors and encourages them to stay on the website. Sal says if people engage with websites, search engines will as well. (Search engines measure the duration of human website visits as one of their ranking criteria.)
  • Provide links to authoritative websites, and make sure those links are presented within a context that matches the content on your website. (In other words, if you have a page about brochure templates and on that page you publish a link to a website about car shows, Sal’s friends will think that’s just silly and not give it much attention.) Sal says if people trust your links, search engines will, too … and they will reward you for that trust!
  • When you’re adding content to your website (“chapters” if you use the book metaphor previously mentioned), make the content easy to consume. Search engines like pages with about 2,000 words the best (but don’t let that number dictate your content), and a readability score that indicates your content can be easily understood by your target audience. If it makes sense to your target audience, it will also make sense to your search engine visitors! (The website provides a tool that can help you assess your website’s readability score.)

Sal changes the search engine rules whenever she wants. Some of these tips for today could be totally irrelevant tomorrow. Just remember this: SEO isn’t about optimizing for search engines, it’s about optimizing for people who use search engines. As long as you approach your search engine strategy with a focus on people, search engines will follow the lead and everything will fall into place for you.