Optimization has become a multi-million dollar industry. You’ve seen the
SPAM emails guaranteeing you top search results, haven’t you? It’s not
uncommon to find established web designers climbing on the bandwagon and
becoming experts on the subject, because they finally realize that’s what
their clients need. What good is an expensive website if there’s nobody
finding it online?
There are nearly as
many experts as there are different theories about what works. Most of
those different theories have been considered correct at one time or
another. The landscape of the Search Engine world is constantly changing,
and many people are spending countless hours trying to figure out what’s
working and what’s not in any given month. Doing this is called “chasing
the search engine algorithms”.
chasers” (of which I confess to be one) have seen some wild successes and
miserable failures. We’ve seen our sites ranked in the top 10 one month,
and drop completely out of sight the next month, only to return buried in
the middle of the pack. Fortunately for me, I’ve learned from my mistakes,
and those fluctuations are not nearly as drastic as they once were.
over 2004 has been the trend for unscrupulous “web optimizers” to
literally “spam” the search engines. This fools the search engine into
bringing up certain pages that may not even be related what the user was
actually searching for.
To keep their results
clean for their users, search engines like Google CAN and DO ban domain
names completely for these unscrupulous tactics, leaving the hapless
business owner banned from Google, and unable to get help from their
“optimizing company”. (If you’ve been banned, email me)
Through all these
changes in the search engines, one thing has remained constant, and should
not come as a surprise to anyone. That is that a good foundation for your
website is the key to achieving successful results search rankings.
It is my hope that by
giving you the foundation below, you can get an idea of how your website
should be designed to be more easily found in the search engines. Whether
you’ve designed your site yourself, or you’ve hired an outside firm, this
information will be helpful. Armed with these facts, you can better
critique your own site, or pass this information along to your staff or
web designer. If you check your own site, you might be surprised at what
you’ll find was done by your designer.
Bringing up your own
website in Internet Explorer, and then going to View > Source will allow
you to see the HTML or code that your site was written in. That code is
cryptic, but not impossible to read. HTML is made up of “Tags” and of
text. Listed below are the top ten most important (in my opinion) issues
to consider when designing your website with respect to your “search
The title tag is what
displays in the top blue band of Internet Explorer, and what the first
line of the SERP’s (Search Engine Results Pages) will show when your site
is found. Your title tag of your website should be easy to read and
designed to bring in traffic. Your main keyword phrase should be used
toward the beginning of the tag. Do NOT make the mistake of putting your
company name first, unless you believe people are searching for it that
way. Your title tag should always be written with a capital letter
starting the tag, and followed by all lower-case letters, (unless you’re
using proper nouns). A proper title tag looks like this:
search term first | Company name if you must</title>
Description Meta Tag
The description tag is
the paragraph that people will see when your page comes up in the search
results. Your description tag should be captivating and designed to
attract business. It should be easy to read, and compel the reader to act
right now and follow your link. Without a description tag, search engines
will frequently display the first text on your page. Is yours appropriate
as a description of the page?
A proper description
tag looks like this:
name="description" content="This is what people will see…">
The importance of Meta
keyword tags fluctuates from month to month among different search
engines. There is a debate in the SEO community as to whether or not they
help at all on certain search engines. In fact, in the summer of 2004 it
appeared as if they were losing importance altogether. However, you'll
NEVER be penalized on any search engines for using relevant targeted
keywords in moderation, and they can only help you with most, especially
Yahoo. However, avoid "stuffing" your keyword metatags with too many
keywords. Just use relevant tags that apply directly to the content of
that particular page, and don’t overdo it.
A proper keyword tag
looks like this:
content="Keywords here, separated by commas,">
The small yellow box
that comes up when your mouse cursor is placed over an image is called the
ALT tag. Every relevant image should have an alt tag with your key words
or phrases mentioned in the tag. For example, the ALT description might be
"Oregon Widget company logo" instead of "companynamelogo.jpg".
A proper ALT tag goes
after the file name, and before the Align indicator like this: (I’ve
bolded it for visibility in the entire image tag)
text phrase here" ALIGN=right HEIGHT="92" WIDTH="140"BORDER="0" HSPACE="2"
The text of each page
is given more weight by the search engines if you make use of header tags
and then use descriptive body text below those headers. Bullet points work
well too. It is not enough to merely BOLD or enlarge your text headlines.
A proper header tag
looks like this:
<h1> align="center -
right etc" </h1>
Search engine spiders
cannot follow image links. In addition to having image links or buttons on
your web pages, you should have text links at the bottom or elsewhere. The
text that the user sees when looking at the link is called the "link
text". A link that displays "products" does not carry as much weight to
the search engines as a link called "oregon widgets". Link text is very
important, and is actually one of the most frequently overlooked aspects
of web design that I’ve seen.
Using a site map not
only makes it easy for your users to see the entire structure of your
website, but it also makes it easier for the search engines to “spider”
your site. When the search engine spiders come to visit, they will follow
all of the text links from your main index page. If one of those links is
to a site map, then the spiders will go right to the sitemap, and
consequently visit every page you have text linked to from that site map.
On the site map page, try to have a sentence or two describing each page,
and not just a page of links.
Relevant Inbound Links
By relevant, I mean
similar industry or subject related sites. Right now, no single
strategy can get your site ranked higher faster than being linked to by
dozens of other relevant websites. It used to be that the quantity of
incoming links mattered most, but today, in November 2004, it's much
better to have three highly relevant links to you from other popular
related websites than 30 links from unrelated low ranked sites. If there
are other businesses in your industry that you can trade links with, it
will help your site enormously. Link to others, and have them link to you.
It’s proven, and it works. To see who’s linking to you, in Google type the
Not to be forgotten of
course, is the actual content of your webpage. It must be relevant helpful
information that people want to read. These days, each webpage should be
laser focused on one specific product or subject, in order to rank highly
for that search phrase. The days of writing one webpage to appeal to
dozens of search terms are long gone.
Ideally, each page
should have between 400 to 650 words on it. Too few, and the search
engines won't consider it to be relevant enough. Too many words and the
search engine spiders may have a hard time determining the actual subject
or focus of the page.
Use your keywords or
phrases often, and use them at the beginning of your paragraphs wherever
possible. Don’t overuse them and make the page sound phony, but don’t
write a page about a certain subject, and not mention that subject
repeatedly either. Reading it out loud to yourself is a great way to judge
how natural your text sounds.
Concentrate on writing
quality pages that actually appeal to the human reader. Write pages that
provide the reader with exactly what they are looking for; that is,
information about the exact search phrase they’ve entered.
With all of these
tidbits of information, it's tempting to think that you can stuff 100
keywords into your title, or create a page with the phrase "oregon widget
company" being used 100 times in headers, text links, ALT tags, bullet
points etc. but that cannot help you. In fact, it can penalize you, and
get your website banned from certain search engines.
As search engine
robots continue to utilize better types of AI (Artificial Intelligence)
they will in effect, get smarter. They are already starting to look for
things the same way you and I do; with the highest relevance given to
pages that directly relate to information about their exact search phrase.