10 Jun Baha’i SEO Basics Part 2
ONE of the key reasons you want to build a attractive website for your local Baha’i community is so that people will see it and want to get involved. In order for the website to have that effect, however, people have to find it. That’s where SEO comes in.
What is SEO?
SEO stands for “Search Engine Optimization”. Basically, the way that search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo! work is that when someone types something into them, they return a list of websites ranked by how useful they think they are to the user. The websites are ranked based on a few factors, some of which are under your control (on-site SEO) as the web designer, and some of which are not (off-site SEO). We talked about On-site SEO a few weeks back, so today we’re going to talk about the Off-site variety.
Off-page SEO is the term we use to describe things you can do to improve your search rankings that do not involve changing anything on your site.
The big story here is links. The reason the internet we use used to be commonly referred to as the “World Wide Web” is because almost all websites were connected to other websites using links. Bing and Google aren’t magicians, after all. They find you the same way almost everyone else does — by following one link to another until they can find and organize you. Generally, having more (and higher ranking) sites linking to your website signals to Google that your site is important and should be ranked higher. On the other hand, if no one links to your site, search engines won’t even know you exist unless you tell them directly using Google/Bing Webmaster Tools (which is a good first step after your local Baha’i website is up and running).
So how do you get links? Ah, there’s the challenge. Often it can be quite a hassle for a small business to convince other websites to link to theirs, and they resort to paying a third-party company to build hundreds or thousands of backlinks for them. This is a trap. In the industry, paying someone to provide you with links is considered “black-hat”, and extremely frowned upon by Google. While you might get a short-term boost in search engine rankings, Google/Bing will eventually find out and penalize your local Baha’i website, and possibly remove it from the rankings altogether. That’s the equivalent of being erased from the internet. If that happens, you might as well just build a new website on a different domain name. It’s that bad.
Instead, stay “white-hat” and do things the right way and you’ll be fine. Your Community’s website will increase in ranking (probably even rising to #1 or #2, since there probably isn’t much competition for Baha’i Communities in your city). Here are some tips:
- Get listed on find.bahai.us. The National Assembly has created a very useful subdirectory of the bahai.us website in the last couple of years where Baha’is and seekers can search and contact Local Baha’i Communities in every state. Where a Local Community has a website, it is often listed in the search results. I’ve noticed a few glitches recently, but all-in-all it’s an excellent resource. You can email National the address of your website and they will post a link to it next to the search results for your city. A link from find.bahai.us will dramatically help your local website’s ranking in Google/Bing, because it considers bahai.us the most authoritative website on the Faith.
- Get listed on the local directories for Google, Bing, and Facebook. When you register your Baha’i Community as a local entity through the search engines and Facebook, you will start showing up in the local search box in when people search for your Community. This is a major help in ranking higher so that seekers and out-of-town Baha’is can find you. First, you’ll need to prove to the above companies that you’re the official owner of the location (you can enter the address of your Baha’i Center or the home of a Baha’i who’s volunteered for this duty). Google/Bing/Facebook will send you a code via snail-mail that you’ll need to verify online later. For Google, you’ll need to go to Google Places. For Bing/Yahoo, you’ll need to go to Bing Places. The Facebook version is called Facebook for Business. Also, on Facebook you might try typing in the name of your local Baha’i Community and seeing what’s already there. Facebook has gone through public records in order to list the locations of as many businesses and churches as they can. Often, if you see that some information is incorrect, you can edit it immediately without any problem.
- Submit an XML sitemap of your new Local Baha’i website to Google and Bing. That probably sounds scary to many of you, and truthfully it can be a little complicated. A sitemap is pretty much what it sounds like: it’s a directory of your website that shows how it’s organized. Submitting a sitemap to the search engines serves a couple of functions: it helps them know your Local Baha’i website exists; it helps them see how it’s organized; and it will prompt them to scan your site every so often to make sure that any changes you make are reflected in their search results. Submitting a sitemap isn’t absolutely necessary if you do the above steps, but it will help you get ranked much faster. Here’s a Google guide to creating and submitting a sitemap to them (the process is very similar for Bing). If this all seems too complicated, we’ll be happy to help you get a sitemap up and running.