Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization or SEO ranges from the gentle technique of translating your content so that it can be read and indexed correctly by search engines, to aggressive link building techniques to rank for specific search terms.

This is another major topic that requires a book to cover it but it is important for website makers and owners to understand the basic concepts.

Search Engines

In an earlier step, I asked you to think about how you find a website. You either type an url into the address box or you type a keyword into a search engine. The biggest search engine as in having the most users is Google, which is why it has entered the dictionaries as an alternative word for search. No-one says “Yahoo it” or “MSN it”, they say “Google it”.

Google’s success has been achieved because of it’s strong commitment to keeping it’s search engine result pages (SERP) as relevant to the searchers terms and location as it’s currently possible to do. They constantly try out new algorithms (mathematical sets of instructions) to sort their index so it’s most useful to the searcher. To do so they check your IP so they know where in the world you are before presenting a SERP, so that local business results are presented before international ones, unless the search term itself suggests that a very popular website is more appropriate.

For every search term there are a limited number of spots on page 1, generally its 10 but recently Google have found alternative ways to present links that mean more results can be displayed, such as the map boxes you sometimes see, that may have 10 links to local tradesmen but take up only 2-3 spots on the page.

If you are content to only get traffic from people you refer to your website by giving them the url, SEO is unimportant. For people who would like their website to get visits from people searching for information you provide, it’s essential.

Search Engine Indexing & Sitemaps

There is no ultimate index of websites that is created automatically by the web. That is why search engines exist. Simply uploading a website is not enough. To appear in an index you need to let the major search engines know there is a page you want to be found and included in their index.

The three fastest ways to do this is ping your website, to link your site from a site that is already indexed, or to submit an xml sitemap to the main search engines. These techniques tell a search engine to send a bot or spider to visit your website and index what is there.

Well that’s a start. You made it to the index, but what are you indexed for and on what page of the SERP are you on? What if you have a thousand web pages, are you going to research each one to see what terms you come up for and on what page? Who has the time?

To some degree it’s all pot luck anyway. Searchers all use different combinations of terms to search with, and Google also seem to use a form of sharing the love that means on a day to day, month to month basis, your indexed pages can shift in position.

So how do you optimize a web site or web page for search engines.

Be Careful What You Ask For With SEO!

When I wrote about picking good keywords, this is what they are for. Onsite SEO consists of making sure that your main content is obvious (to bots) about what topic it is on and what terms it would like to be ranked for.

You will often be advised to “go for” low competition or long tail keywords. The risk of following this advice is to get ranked for only this, because you give up. Don’t be afraid to compete for high search terms. It’s harder and will take more time, but the traffic rewards are sweet if you win. If it’s important, it’s worth doing, so don’t quit.

The main ways to make keywords obvious are

Use keywords in domain name
Use keywords in website title and subtitles
Use keywords in article titles and sub titles
Repeat keywords and words related to your topic in the article
Use keywords and related topics in categories and tags
Use keywords in image and other media titles

More specific SEO ways to make keywords obvious are

Use permalinks (aka search engine friendly links)
Use keywords in meta information – title, description, keywords
Use keywords in anchor text to link between site articles
Use keywords in anchor text for incoming links (off site optimization)

Sometimes it’s a trade off between SEO and readability. SEO is time consuming. Create what is often called a pillar article, as in something structural that holds up the architecture. Optimize this article strongly for a keyword phrase while ensuring it gives up some great information. If you do this well people will link to this article, its keywords are obvious and you will rank for it.

Then update your site with content especially for your readers. Don’t worry about keywords in titles, make the title something that makes people really curious to read it. Then you pass both tests and save time. If you try too hard to stuff keywords into every article, it’s regarded as cheating. You can be penalized for it by being dropped down the index, like landing on a snake in snakes and ladders.

Moving Up The SEO Ranking Ladder

If you have written a really useful pillar article that is optimized for the keywords you want to rank for and got it indexed – great! Well done.

You do a search with your search phrase and you find it, but it’s on page 8.

Moving up the ranking ladder may take time. The best way to do so is to get more and more external incoming links from highly ranked sites. The more incoming links you have, the more popular your site appears to be, and the closer to page 1 you get.

This aspect of SEO comes under website promotion, and is far too big a topic to cover here, but it is important to get many incoming links, especially if possible, with anchor text that has your best keyword phrases in it.

Which SEO hat will you wear?

You have a choice of white hat, grey hat or black hat. These are terms people have used to describe using SEO techniques that contravene rules that search engines have for inclusion in their index. White hat is compliant, grey hat (or blue) crosses the line and black hat is dodgy.

How can you move up the ranking ladder safely? First and foremost go to Google and read what not to do. Don’t do any of these things. I’ll say it again… Don’t do any of these things!

You will be tempted, especially as you get more confident. You’ll be like a P platerĀ  who has been driving for a few months and decides to risk something they have been told not to do. You’ll see black hat techniques and automated strategies and want to try them out.

Don’t take risks with your main site. Or any other site you have worked hard to create.

If you want to try these new techniques – start a new test site, perhaps with a related keyword. You will not be penalized if you link this site to your main site. Use any new risky techniques on this new site. If they work the ‘link love” will be passed on to your main site and if they bomb out your main site remains safe and innocent but far more importantly – indexed.

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