I have some friends who do wonderful work making medical trips to Central America. They have a great Web site, and I was recently asked for my advice on making it more visible to Google. Here are my recommendations.
1. Who are you trying to attract to your site, and what are they already searching for?
Donors, volunteers, journalists? The concepts are the same if you are selling shoes or teaching science. When optimizing a site for SEO, you should imagine your readers as searchers and write to match what they are searching for.
The Google Keyword Tool is the best way to identify the most frequently used phrases that people are using when they search. You may have to create an account to use it, but it is free. It is intended to help you purchase advertisements that target particular phrases. However, you should just use it to just to find the phrases.
For example, I plugged in the phrases below as a rough guess as to what people interested in CCMedicalTeams might be searching for. You can play with this for hours.
- volunteer doctors
- peru medical team
- ecuador medical team
- medical trip
- volunteer travel
- adopt a family
- donate peru
- donate ecuador
From this, you can see that about 100 people per day search for “medical trips” while only about 30 search for “volunteer work travel.” Playing with this will give you some good ideas of what words and phrases to use on your Web pages (more on that later). The more these phrases occur, the more that Google thinks your site is about these topics and thus recommends your site when people search.
- peru medical clinic
- Ecuador medical donation
- adopt a family central america
- donate to ecuador
- donate to peru
- medical supplies central america
- health peru
- ecuador health education
Now, once you get a good list of potential phrases, you can categorize them by how much competition there is (existing pages on the internet). Do this by searching for the phrase, in quotes.
These are both great. As a rough rule of thumb, any phrase with under 30K pages you should be able to rank for. In this case, the first one will probably be easier to fit into sentences, and the second one might make a good paragraph title.
2. What does your page say about you?
Going forward, the challengs is to make your site use more of the phrases we are targeting. Google loves it if you use fairly simple HTML, and use your important phrases in the title, header (H1, H2, etc.) tags. Don’t over-stuff your page. Just make it simple and easy to machines and humans read. The CCMedicalTeams site already looks great and has a very clean structure, we may just want to tweak the phrases that we use.
Lets check out how Google sees our site as it currently stands. Do a Google search for “site:www.ccmedicalteams.org” to see exactly what Google thinks our site is about.
Hmm. Aside from the home page, It looks like all the campaign pages all have the same title “Medical Campaign Success Stories”. This is giving Google the unintended impression that this is everything the site is about. Something like “Ecuador Medical Trip – 2008″ might be a better choice. Not that it is the best, writing for SEO is a careful balance of sneaking in key phrases while still sounding professional.
Here is the fun side of that “unintended consequence”. If any one does search for “medical campaign success stories” you can see that Google thinks CCMedicalTeams is the 3rd best place on the internet to find them!
For improving your site’s “on page” SEO, the Google SEO starter guide is the best resource. You can also get more details on how Google sees your site using Google Webmaster Tools. Lastly, be sure to track how your visitors are actually finding you, using Google Analytics or another stat tracking tool.
3. Who is vouching for you?
A very important part of SEO is “off page SEO”. Google ranks sites by how many pages link to them (this is called their “PageRank” algorithm). These “backlinks” are votes of confidence, the more backlinks you get, the more of authority Google thinks you have.
To see what links to your site Google is currently tracking, search for “link:www.ccmedicalteams.org“.
There are not many shortcuts to building backlinks. They come from hardwork, sharing, and building relationships. The most important tip I’ve learned, is to use one of your target phrases in the text of the link from outside sites (not just your business name). For example:
Here are my favorite ways to build backlinks:
- Ask friends with relevant sites to link to your site (.edu and .org sites are the most valuable)
- Write articles (with links to your site) on HubPages, eZineArticles, squidoo
- Start Twittering (see Twitter.com)
- Create a free Facebook Page
- Bookmark your site on “social bookmark sites” (StumbleUpon, Delicious)
- Include a link to your site in your email footer (also known as email signature)
- Visit blogs of people writing about related topics and leave a meaningful comment with a link to your site.
- Post videos on YouTube and Photos on Flickr and keep linking back to ccmedicalteams
Some of the links you will get from these sites count with Google, and some do not. Without getting into the details, the important thing is to get the word out and start telling people what you do.