SEO – Search Engine Optimization
Ten Steps to Search Engine Optimization
1. Content Is King – Target Your Audience With Content
Content is key in search engine optimization. Content is the number one reason why visitors are looking for your site. If you make it difficult for the visitor to find you or your content, they will find someone else who will. Your content should fulfill a need for the visitor; whether this need is for information, merchandise or a service, and it should communicate it clearly.
For instance, on the above sample page, my site is supposed to be about cats. However, other than the background graphics, there’s nothing about cats that you can see quickly and clearly. There’s no content whatsoever that would draw searchers in. Plus, search engine spiders, since they are textually based, can’t see these images. I wouldn’t blame anyone for leaving this sample site and looking for another one. Targeting your audience with the content they are looking for is paramount in order for searchers and search engine spiders to find you; in addition, your keyword-rich content will determine how highly you are ranked in the search engines (along with other factors).
A good rule of thumb to follow when determining how much content to include is to insert between 200-250 words of rich search engine friendly content on each of your site pages. More words are fine; just be mindful of the fact that users typically don’t appreciate having to scroll down or read all the way across the screen. Break your content up in into columns, bulleted items, headlines, etc. (more on this in step 4).
2. Images and ALT Tags
On a 56K modem (yep, they’re still around), it would take forever to load this page. Plus, it kind of hurts my eyes. If you’ve got load-intensive graphics or other technology that takes a long time to load, you’ll have lost a good part of your audience. No one wants to wait around forever while a site is loading. Even if you’ve got a site with great content, if the graphics are dragging it down, you’ll have lost your audience. They’ll just be using the Back button to quickly find another site that won’t take forever to load.
A good rule of thumb is to only use graphics that are relevant to your site’s purpose, and aim for a file size that is 12 KB or smaller. If you must include an image that is larger than 12 KB, then use a thumbnail image. In the context of search engine optimization, load-intensive graphics will hinder search engine spiders, since spiders’ primary food is content. Use images sparingly, and instead, work on adding relevant content that will attract both users and search engine spiders.
3. Site Navigation
Make sure that every single page on your site has clear navigation, and users know exactly where they are and where they are going. Navigation buttons should not contain mystery meat terms like stuff, or about, or cool things. All of your navigation should be painfully clear as to what page it is describing.
In addition, make sure that all of your links actually work. It’s frustrating for users to click on something and encounter the dreaded 404 Error Page Not Found. Also, search engine spiders search your site for indexable content by traveling your links. If your site links are broken, guess what? You just missed a visit by a search engine spider, and they might not come back again. Search engine spiders can’t navigate a poorly designed site, and search engine users don’t have the patience to navigate a poorly designed site.
4. Make Your Text Easy To Read
Avoid busy backgrounds that obscure the text; if site visitors have to slow down to interpret your text, you’ve just lost an audience.
Make your text scannable: use bullets, headlines, and bold text so users can scan your content quickly.
5. Keywords and Phrases in Site Design
Keyword phrases are the bedrock of search engine optimization. Keyword phrases used appropriately in your site’s content will attract both search engine spiders and search engine users. The main thing with keyword phrases is that you need to come up with the keywords that are searched for most frequently and that are the most relevant to your site’s purpose.
Keep the goal of your site firmly at the forefront. If your site is about the Oregon Trail, then it makes sense to target keyword phrases that are relevant to this topic. It does NOT make sense to splash in a few keyword phrases that are searched for frequently, but have nothing to do with your site’s purpose.
You also need to target your audience. If you were searching for sites about the Oregon Trail, what would you look for? Make sure that your site is targeted at who you would like to come visit your site.
Quality users beat quantity users any day, because the users who find your site because of the site’s purpose, and not because they accidentally stumbled upon it, will be the ones who will be your best users/customers/repeat visitors.
6. Title Tags
The Title tag is extremely important to both search engine users and search engine spiders. Search engines put a lot of weight on the text found in the Title tag, and if it’s not optimized properly, than you’ve lost a vital source for high rankings.
The title tag can be found in the HEAD section of your web pages, and should be different for every page in your site, i.e., don’t just put the same title tag on every single page of your site. Make your Title tags unique for each page, and make them relevant to what information is on that specific page. Most search results will show sites that have the searched-for words in the title tag itself, so if you want to be found for the keyword phrase Widget Uses, then put that phrase in your title tag.
A vague title tag is pretty much useless, and can do more harm than good.
Search engine users typing in a search query will scan the search results looking at the titles of the websites listed, so if your title isn’t optimized, yours won’t be given a second look. In addition, when searchers bookmark a favorite site, the title is what shows up in the bookmarks. A vaguely titled site won’t get repeat visitors if the searcher can’t figure out from the title why they bookmarked it in the first place.
7. Meta Keywords and Description Tags
These tags are both found in the Head section of your web page code. Meta keyword and description tags are not a magic bullet that will rocket your site to high rankings, but they are an important factor in optimizing your web site for search engines and search engine users. The information in these tags can influence how search engines view your site, and optimally the description that you write will show up in search engine listings.
For the Meta description tag, write a short blurb with targeted keyword phrases that will entice users to click through when your site comes up in the search engine results.
For example: Ten steps to search engine friendly site design, free search engine optimization tutorial. I’ve got good keyword phrases, and it’s obvious what the site is about.
Meta keyword tags should be handled with caution. Don’t stuff your meta keyword tags with a hundred different spellings or tenses of the same three words, and don’t pack your keyword tags with irrelevant keywords that have nothing to do with your site’s purpose (this is called spamming and search engines don’t look too kindly on it). Be very stingy with how many times you repeat a word, and don’t repeat a keyword more than twice.
8. Doorway Pages and Splash Pages
Doorways are simple HTML pages that are customized to a few particular keywords or phrases, and they are programmed to be visible only by specific search engines and their spiders. These pages are designed for one purpose and one purpose only: to trick the search engines into giving them higher rankings. Doorway pages should be avoided, since search engines are pretty savvy when it comes to figuring out if these are being used or not.
Splash pages are intended to be entryways into your site. They usually consist of really neat Flash or other multimedia animation, and may (or may not) invite the user in to the rest of the site when the animation or other such cool stuff is over with. These pages look really neat, but for the most part, they have no significant text for spiders to crawl (and remember, content is king in search engine optimization). Not every Joe Browser is able to view the content the way it was designed to view. It’s best to stay away from splash pages and focus instead on optimizing your site’s content and site design.
9. Proofread Your Site
Scan your copy for errors, leave it, and scan it again. You’ll catch more mistakes if you take a break every so often. In addition, have someone else read your copy for you. They might be able to catch errors and make suggestions you wouldn’t come up with.
Check your grammar by using a word processing program as well. Microsoft Word allows you to do this by clicking on Tools, then Spelling and Grammar.
10. Site Design
Overall Appeal. How does your site appeal to visitors? What could be improved?
Loads Quickly. Images should be sized so they don’t bump up load time, and your site should be as clean as possible: meaning, that if you choose to use multimedia technology, use it sparingly.
Proofread for errors. A simple spelling error can drive away users. Proofread your site and fix any mistakes.
Logos or Brand Names. If your site has a logo or brand name, be sure to include this on every page so the user knows exactly where they are at all times.
Flash. Be careful when using Flash, since it deters search engine spiders and increases loading time. Instead, focus on keyword-rich content rather than bandwidth-hogging multimedia.
Sound. Most users find automatically generated sound on a web site extremely distracting and irritating.
Pop-ups. Pop-ups are annoying at best. Avoid using them for any reason.
Postscript from Patrick Dent:
SEO is a daunting and never ending process. It can easily consume all your evenings and weekends ad infinitum. You may want to skip the headaches and free your personal time. If so, we have included links to the leading reputable SEO companies.