It’s been a while since I last posted, but this bears note. Search engine optimization, commonly called SEO, is all about getting search engines to notice you and people to come to your site. The important thing about good SEO is that it will do more than simply get eyes on your site, but it will get the RIGHT eyes on your site. People typically misunderstand the value of optimizing their site or they think that it will radically alter the layout, message or other core elements they hold dear.
First, what SEO isn’t. I think it’s best to get this out of the way early so we can get into helping you do good stuff without a bunch of “but-but-buts.” So, SEO isn’t cramming a bunch of keywords into the bottom of your page. It also isn’t redesigning your entire site so it looks like garbage but Google can read it like a dream. SEO is not putting your site on every link farm in the world and it is not spamming people on social networking sites. SEO is also not spamming people on message boards. SEO is not about fads and fast grabs. It’s not about people coming to your site and then bouncing immediately. SEO isn’t about a bad web experience, plain and simple.
Now let’s look at what SEO is. SEO is about strategic placement of key concepts in your web site to encourage traffic that will be interested in your message, product or service. SEO is about making the best of what you have to offer and making your web presence work for you. SEO is about traffic analysis and evolution. SEO is about marketing in a smart way and encouraging your customers to think of you first. SEO is about becoming an industry leader and a recognized authority.
I don’t believe in mincing words or trying to sneak around and do back-room deals to become another SEO douchebag, so I felt it was only right to lay that all on the line first and foremost. Now that we have a picture of what SEO is and is not, we can benefit from looking at ways to improve your site today and give you tools to improve your site more over time.
Keywords are important for any search. Regardless of the way that the searching is done, eventually it comes down to what the customer is searching for and keywords are precisely this in a crystalline structure.
The thing to know about keywords is they are meant to be a focus. If you are planning on making a page about anything, it would behoove you to understand the essential idea you are trying to convey. Once you have this in mind, write down three to seven keywords. Use these as a guidepost and they will keep you on target. Moreover, if you are on target and your keywords were selected properly, they will appear naturally in the text. This is good. Don’t try to overdo it. If a keyword is important it will appear in the main copy a few times. The appearance of keywords in 400-1000 words of copy should live around fewer than 10 times.
Every document should have titles. These titles are going to range from the overarching document title down to sub-sub-subtitles. This hierarchy of titles is important in SEO because it tells both your reader and the search spider what is most and least important. If you have good titles, they will work for you. If you choose poor titles, or worse, your hierarchy is haphazard, then they may well work against you. Take care to pick the right title structure for what you are actually trying to say and you will do well.
Any site that is considered an authoritative source on anything is bound to have in-bound links. If people care about what you do or say, they are going to refer to you for citation. The people who created search algorithms know this and they take advantage of it. The more in-bound links your site has, the more likely it is to be an authority. Authoritative sources show up higher in search rankings than derivative sources. Keep this in mind and strive to be an authority. Pick something that you do which the rest of the world could do to know about. Push that and become a key player. This will boost your site rankings as well as being a generally good business practice.
While we are discussing links, let’s discuss directories. There are several directories on the web but, as far as I know, there is only one that is still completely human edited and maintained. That site is the Open Directory Project (http://dmoz.org). Since the Open Directory Project is human maintained, it is given more value by the search engines. It is the equivalent of having a single person, who is a noted authority, personally vouch for your site. This would be like having someone with a doctorate vouch for your research in their field. It’s mega bonus points and you should use it to your full advantage. It takes a while to get listed so don’t fret if, after you submit your site, it takes months to see a result.
This is where things get a little more technical. Meta information, generally referred to as meta tags, provide spiders with direct information about your site. You can add things like a description and keywords. Both of these things will help people find your site more easily. The meta keywords typically aren’t given as much weight anymore, since people abused them in the past. Your meta description is the vital one. Google, for one, uses your meta description to tell people about your site in your own words. That’s a good thing since it gives you personal control over what people see before they hit your site. Below are the tags that should be included in the head of your page:
<meta name=”description” content=”your site description goes here” />
<meta name=”keywords” content=”your keywords go here” />
The underlying format of your document will tell spiders a lot about what they are looking at. This is one of those items that can be worked on over time. As long as spiders know you are out there, they will check back on pages from time to time to ensure they know about the latest changes. First, it is best to pull your site out of that table layout you are using. Spiders think tables mean that each piece of data is related to another in a certain way. If your entire format is a table then they will not correctly interpret the content you have on your page and you might lose brownie points.
Commonly, sites are created using page divisions, as God intended. This means that you tell the browser “this is a piece of this page and it stands on its own.” Spiders can read this much more easily and the whole site degrades much more gracefully if you do a good job. Graceful degradation makes your users happy, especially if you have users with limitations, using a special browser. Once your document is formatted properly, you can arrange your divisions into an aesthetically pleasing format using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). CSS is outside of the scope of this discussion, so I am going to let that dog lay.
I’m not talking about your run-of-the-mill sitemap for your visitors. I am talking about a carefully crafted and standards compliant XML sitemap. There is a standard used for creating a sitemap and, once you have one, it makes indexing your site a breeze. Search spiders commonly grab a sitemap so they can better understand what they should and should not index. Sitemaps also allow you to tell spiders how often certain pages are updated. This allows them to index pages that change all the time more often than pages that may not change for months at a time.
The robots.txt file is a simple text file that tells search spiders what to index and what to ignore on your site. It’s similar to a sitemap, but the parameters are limited. You can say “index this” and “don’t index that.” This is great if you have some pages that are currently in development, should not be seen by the public or other strangeness like that. This also allows you to have a copy-testing site that should be ignored. Duplicate copy on sites is looked down on by search engines, so anything you can do to avoid indexed duplicate copy is a good thing. I typically have a sparse robots.txt file as most of my site is viable content, but government agencies and Rupert Murdoch seem to like robots.txt quite a bit.
This is probably a book in its own right, but it is something that people should be aware of. The .htaccess file allows administrators to control site access and redirect people to new pages and away from missing pages. Correct use of the .htaccess file can limit the number of broken pages that spiders will encounter and keep your visitors happy. One of the best features of a good .htaccess file is the ability to redirect users and spiders alike to new pages and send a message back to them, letting them know the redirect is permanent. Spiders like knowing that a page has moved. It makes the whole process of reindexing faster and easier. This kind of redirect is generally called a 301 redirect for the code that is returned by the browser.
We live in a time where the blogosphere is king. What this means to the rest of the world is, blogs influence online life. Blogs change rapidly and bloggers tend to stay atop issues that are near and dear to them. Blogs are also a boon to your industry. If you have a blog that reflects knowledge and a profound understanding of your industry, you are more likely to be considered an authority. Blogs also give your site an opportunity to generate new content on a regular basis. Search spiders like new content and index sites, which are regularly updated, more frequently. This also provides an opportunity to share information about your industry in a non-business environment and generate in-bound links, you remember what I said about those, right?
This is closely tied to blogging, but it can impact your business and website in many ways. From forums to MySpace to Facebook to twitter and others like these, people will talk about what they do and don’t like. If you are a well liked provider, the word will get around and people will head to your site. These sites help people to find things that others have recommended and they are a great source of in-bound links. Search spiders check these sites often as content changes minute to minute. Also, if someone recommends your site on a social network, it is taken as a personal recommendation and spiders will take note.
There are so many ways to take advantage of social networking that it should probably be at least one, if not several, college courses. I did choose to list this one last, however. If you have not worked on everything else first, social networks can be your worst enemy. People will say negative things about their experience and spiders will touch your site more often only to pick up your poor SEO. Once this happens, it’s downgrade city, so watch out!
In the end, there are many facets to SEO, but most of them can be worked on and improved by anyone that helps build, update or administer your site. With this information I charge you, go forth and make the web a better place.