Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization

How do people find your website if they have never heard of you? The online answer is: via the search engines. Examples are: Google, Yahoo, AltaVista, MSN search, AOL search, Teoma. (It is also important to remember not to neglect traditional non-internet marketing techniques. Examples are: advertising, speaking engagements, direct mailings, tradeshows, etc.)

Every client says: “make me #1 for for all my search terms on all the search engines.” An admirable goal that it almost impossible to achieve unless you have unlimited money. But, a lot can be done for small amounts.

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. This is the process of structuring a web page so that it is found, read, and indexed by search engines in the most effective manner possible, making your web site and its content attractive, relevant and visible to search engines and web searchers.

“Web pages must primarily meet the needs of their intended audience. The target audience should be able to find a page's content quickly and easily via search engines and Web directories. Achieving these goals involves creative copywriting and site design skills (art) and effective coding, programming, and analysis skills (science).” Source: Shari Thurow, writing at http://www.clickz.com/experts/search/results/article.php/3499701

“The field of search engine optimization is in constant flux. Each change in the search engine algorithms or changes in the business structure bring a reshuffling of the results. Whether it's Google tweaking their algorithm, like the infamous “Florida” update or Yahoo kicking out Google's search results in favor of its own spiders, change is a constant.” Source: http://www.geekbooks.com/blog/archives/000095.html

Popular Search Engines

And what are the most popular search engines?

Search Engine Hours

The chart above shows the share of searches received by particular search engines.:

Well, the chart was true in July 2008. But who knows what it will look next month.

Actions to take

  1. It all begins with something we call the Keyword Exercise—download this Word document and complete it for your services and products.
  2. Next is using the Keywords, key phrases and descriptive paragraphs are placed in hidden META tags on the pages of your website. These tags are used by spider-type search engines (e.g., Google, Yahoo) to index your website. This is done by your webmaster whenever a page is created.
  3. Write the best pages that you can. Remember, Content is King. When you write you should always have all your keywords in the back of your brain and use them “early and often” in your paragraphs. Don’t obsess about the ranking of these pages. These will most often be read by visitors during their normal path through the website
  4. Create a few gateway pages for your most important terms. Overload these pages with writing that, while it can be read and understood by humans who arrive, is really written to appeal to the search engine spider and indexing algorithms. These are the pages that you trying to get up to a #1 ranking.

You may ask: does this work? Well, yes. Content is important because it is important to the indexing algorithms and you also have to get human readers to take action. The meta tags are important as some are considered by the indexing algorithms today and who knows how the algorithms will change in the future.

Some Questions

What about links?

It is known that Google ranks pages higher that have higher numbers of other websites pointing to them. The problem is that people are abusing the system and so Google is reducing the weight given to links. Another problem is that B2B sites will never have “thousands of pages linked to them”. You can, however, do one thing that will increase links into your website: publish more press releases.

“What is your opinion about using Flash in a website? How does it affect search engines? Is it an effective technique to use when creating a website that is supposed to sell a company's products and services?”

“Macromedia [Adobe] Flash is a wonderful auxiliary tool to add animation and visual interest to a site. However, as the main tool with which to build a site it is a poor choice. As you suspected, search engine spiders can't read Flash commands and can't properly follow Flash navigation and links. That goes for Flash "splash" pages, too, that a few sites place at the entry to their entire websites. Some spiders can't get beyond the splash page to spider the rest of your site.

It is unfortunate, but true, that many creative website designers don't have a clue about search engine optimization (SEO) and marketing concerns. Before hiring a design firm, insist on a written statement or contract provision detailing how the design firm will construct the webpages and navigation system to be friendly to search engines. This will alert them to your requirements for building up-to-date SEO principles into effective website design and will save you pain (and perhaps lawsuits) later.

I recommend using HTML (and its variants) for the basis of a website, with Flash for occasional headings and other features.” Source = Dr. Ralph F. Wilson, Wilson Internet, Rocklin, CA, May 3, 2006, http://www.wilsonweb.com/art/design/flash-sites.htm

What about hiring a company that specializes in SEO?

“Whomever you use, i would just caution against handing over the reins to the website in the name of search engine optimization. It is important, of course, but in my experience consultants who specialize in SEO will readily sacrifice usability, integrity of content and the site's design in order to achieve ever-higher search results. The consultant we used at Scalix wanted to add in all sorts of keywords throughout the site that didn't really make sense in context, or that made the text sound unnatural or forced. In addition, they wanted to replace all the image “alt” tags and page titles with search engine terms, which made the site much less usable for people with disabilities, less logical in navigation, bookmarks, etc. While some good came of the exercise (Scalix's ranking improved dramatically from those changes we chose to implement) we did say “no” to a lot of their recommendations, and frankly I wish we'd rejected even more.” Source: Jamie Wieferman in email dated 22AUG2006.

How can you tell if your site adheres to current SEO best practices?

  • Are the keywords you're targeting relevant to site content?
  • Are targeted keywords popular phrases used in search engine queries?
  • Do page titles start with your targeted keywords?
  • Does your site employ H1 header tags for prominent content titles?
  • Is your permanent body copy contextually sufficient and keyword-rich?
  • Do text links include targeted keywords that point users to pages within your site?
  • Do you use CSS image replacement in graphical navigation on the site?
  • Do graphics used in the site have descriptive, keyword-rich alternative attributes that are useful for visitors?
  • Does your Web site have a site map with text links?
  • Do the URLs of your dynamic, database-driven pages look simple and static?
  • Does your site have a flat directory structure?
  • Do your site's home page and other key category pages have PageRanks?
  • Is your site listed in Open Directory?
  • Do you routinely list your site in other trusted, human-reviewed online directories?
  • Do all the pages in your Web site have keyword-rich meta descriptions?
  • Does your site have a custom error page?
  • Do the site's filenames and directory names include targeted keywords?
  • Does your site avoid using pop-ups?
  • Is the exact same content visible to both users and search engine spiders?
  • Do you avoid free-for-all linking offers?

Source: PJ Fusco in ClickZ Today www.clickz.com/showPage.html?page=3624560

Appendices

Keyword Exercise

Directions for Completing the Keyword Exercise

Important! If you have multiple distinct product/service offerings, then you need to do the complete exercise for each. For example, if you sell jet engines, light bulbs and diesel locomotives, then you would need to do the exercise three times.

The purpose of the keyword exercise is two fold:

First, to come up with the words, phrases and descriptions that give the optimum result from the search engines on the web.

Second, to help a team think about important aspects of their business.

List all keywords and key phrases that pertain to your business.

In coming up with the list of keywords, put your head inside the brain of your prospects and come up with the words they would most likely type into a search engine if they were looking for information that you have. In other words, what word would they type if they were trying to solve a problem you can solve?

Mark the top 5-10 keywords and key phrases that are more important than the others. If you could only pick 5-10 keywords, which ones would you select.

Write the Title. This is what you want in the bar at the top of the visitor’s browser when they are on your first page.

Write the 75-word description.

Your goal is to write the paragraph with as many keywords and key phrases as possible. It is more important to have a high ratio of keywords than it is to have perfect English sentences. All articles and prepositions in the description are counted as word but do not gain anything on search engines.  The guideline for writing these are, make them comprehensible to humans and full of keywords for the search engines. So cut articles and prepositions and add keywords. However, since humans sometimes read this stuff, it needs to be comprehensible.

Use the Word Count feature under the Tools menu item in Microsoft Word.

Review your keywords.

Do you need to add or subtract any? Did you create an important keyword when you wrote the 75 words?

Search engines weight keywords by 2 methods:

Ordinal position in the list. First ranks higher than last.

The number of keywords. One of three gets a higher ranking than one of seven.

Write the 190-character description.

Spaces count as characters. You get 190 or fewer, not a single character more than 190.

Write the 25-word and 8-word descriptions.

Write the 40-character title. You get exactly 40 characters or fewer. Spaces count.

Complete: Categories, Markets and Industries.

Categories examples - automotive, computers, coupons, medical, publishing, sports

Target Markets are the types of people that you want to attract to your website. Examples are: managers, engineers, women, bankers

Industries examples - banking, finance, travel, manufacturers, HMOs

Complete: Magazines read by targets

List the magazines that your targets read or subscribe to.

Print and electronic.

Meta Tags

Using Meta Tags will increase your visibility in search engine results and will bring you added traffic from people searching for your specific product. This guide will help you become familiar with Meta Tags and will show you some little known tricks in order to make your meta tags more effective.

Why Do You Care About Meta Tags?

Because the search engines use them as shown below.

Google Search Results

Meta Tags Explained

META tags are HTML Tags that describe the contents of a web page. The primary purpose of Meta tags is to help catalog and categorize the contents of a web page. If your pages do not contain them then they may not get categorized well by the search engines.

Meta tags are used because they help web pages get better rankings on the search engines. They also allow the web site creator to write the description the search engines will show, specify keywords that search engines will use to find your site, and also a lot more information which helps search engines better find and rank your web site.

I recommend that you at least include the 'Description', 'Keyword' and 'Robots' tags. Also the 'Title' of your page plays an important role in helping search engines (and visitors) to determine the content of your site. Only 25% of sites use meta tags, but most search engines evaluate META tags when they rank your site.

Let's look at how meta tags are properly placed in your page, the example below uses the most commonly used attributes.

  • Description
  • Keywords

Meta Data Example. Insert your Meta data between your HEAD Tags as shown below:

<HTML>
<HEAD>
<TITLE>Home Audio Video, Theater Systems, Car Audio, Stereo Electronics, DVD Players, and more for less at AudioPro</TITLE>
<META name="description" content="AudioPro offers audio/video electronics for the home and car including Mp3 and DVD players, televisions, theater systems, car speakers, car amplifiers, XM radio, receivers and more.">
<META name="keywords" content="home receiver, car receiver, car speaker, television, dvd player, home audio, home video, theater systems, car audio,car video, stereo, amplifier">
</HEAD>

Title Tag

Example:
<TITLE>Home Audio/Video, Theater Systems, Car Audio, Stereo Electronics, DVD Players, and more for less at AudioPro</TITLE>

Although not an actual meta tag, the <TITLE> tag of your Web page is arguably the most important tag or element. Many search engines use the <TITLE> tag as the title of your page in the search results that appear to the user, and words used in your title tag are also determining your search engine ranking.

What this means to you is that this HTML tag must not only work to your advantage for keyword scoring, but also must be compelling to the reader. The title should be a maximum of 70 characters long and include the most relevant keywords of your web site.

Quick Tips:

  • Make your title interesting and "compelling" to the reader to convince them why they should click there.
  • Make sure every page on your site has a title representing the data on your page.
  • Try to be descriptive and use a title that lets people know what your site is about.
  • Don't use all CAPS in your title. Search engines hate it and it's difficult for users to read.
  • Make sure that title tag is grammatically correct

Description Meta Tag

Example:
<META name="description" content="AudioPro offers audio/video electronics for the home and car including Mp3 and DVD players, televisions, theater systems, car speakers, car amplifiers, XM radio, receivers and more.">

The description tag gives the search engine the description that you want for your web site. If you don't have description tag, the robots will simply choose the first couple hundred words on your page and create its own description.

Your main goal with the description is to make it appealing to a human. This text is what's going to convince them to click your listing, so think carefully about it. Also, make sure you have a different description for each page on your site.

Quick Tips:

  • An ideal description should be somewhere within 150 to 200 characters, which correctly describes the content of the page.
  • Keep the words consistent between your description and keyword tags.
  • Avoid sentences such as: The best site on the web…

Keyword Meta Tag

Example:
<META name="keywords" content="home receiver, car receiver, car speaker, television, dvd player, home audio, home video, theater systems, car audio,car video, stereo, amplifier">

Search engines will often use the keywords found on your pages as the primary source to categorize your website based on the search engines indexing algorithms (proprietary algorithms which index your website in search engine databases).

Be sure you choose keywords that are the most relevant to your site and avoid excessive repetition as many search engines will penalize your rankings for attempting to abuse their system. Similar to the Description META Tag, search engines give priority to the first few words in your description, so focus on your main keywords and then elaborate further by using synonyms or other related words.

Quick Tips:

  • Be specific. Usually, two-word and three-word phrases work better than single words.
  • When creating your keywords list, place the version of the keyword that your site visitors use the most at the beginning of your keyword list.
  • Since some keywords are commonly misspelled (such as the word "millennium"), you might want to put a misspelled keyword in your meta-tags. However, if that misspelled word does not appear in your main body text, this strategy is a waste of time. Search engines use both keyword frequency and keyword placement in their algorithms. If you are putting a misspelled keyword in only one place (i.e., your meta-tag keywords attribute), it's not helping your web page's relevancy because the keyword concentration for that one word is practically non-existent.

You’re Now ready for the Search Engines

Now that your site is all ready, you can submit it to all the major search engines, this is the final and most important part of all of your search engine optimization campaign. As a rule of thumb, you should always submit to major engines by hand.

The length of time to get listed varies depending on the search engine, here's the length of time it currently takes to get listed at each of the major search engines once you have submitted your web page.

MSN - Up to 2 months
Google - Up to 4 weeks
Yahoo - Up to 5 weeks

Take this time to learn and focus on other marketing techniques, the most successful websites use many different types of promotion techniques such as ezine marketing, offline advertising, pay per click campaigns, link exchanges, banner advertising, giveaways, and many more. An educated webmaster is a successful webmaster, take the time to continuously learn and grow.

Credits
Most of the above was wriiten by Alessandro DeBarros in July 2003. Modifications to his words occured over the last 4 years.

Content is King

To paraphrase Woody Allen: “80% of the success of a website is related to content”. And content is your responsibility.

The best way to think of the management of a website is to look at a magazine masthead. A masthead typically has:

  • Publisher (the person who worries about money)
  • Editor-in-Chief (the person who cares about content)
  • Editors (people who make sure the writing is accurate and consistent)
  • Writers (people who create content)
  • Art Director (the person who controls the stylistic look)
  • Graphic Artists (people who create illustrations)
  • Advertising Sales Reps (people who bring in ad revenue)
  • Circulation Manager (the person who brings in subscription revenue)
  • [Invisible] Printing Crew (the people who actually produce the magazine)
  • [Invisible] Distribution Organization (the people who deliver the magazine to you)

Your job is to:

  • be the Publisher (make the Attune Systems website meets its financial objectives)
  • be the Editor-in-Chief (make sure it has the content you need)
  • hire the Writers to work with the Subject-Matter Experts and create the content
  • hire the Artist to create illustrations that enhance your words

Our job is to do the rest. Many of our clients send us half-formed ideas that we convert into polished web pages.

Gateway Pages

“A typical gateway page is small, simple and highly optimized. Its primary goal is to attract visitors searching for relevant key words or phrases, and provide hyperlinks to pages within the website.” Source: Wikipedia

What are the essential elements of a gateway page?

  • It is optimized for one term for the search engine spiders. That is, when a person visits a search engine (e.g., Google) and searches for a term, your gateway page will appear high up in the organic results. The example page shown at the left is targeted for "hemorrhoids longmont". While it is similar to the standard page about hemorrhoids in the Gastroenterology of the Rockies website, this page talks about hemorrhoids. No mention of colon cancer or any other gastro problems. We then added information about their Longmont office. Only Longmont, nothing about offices in Boulder or anywhere else. Focus.
  • It is readable by humans. After all, this is the first page they will see after clicking on the search results.
  • It contains a “call to action”. You spent all this effort to get the visitor to this page and now you want them do something other than just read the words. For Gastro Rockies, the call to action is to make an appointment. Yes, the big red button is ugly. We don't care. It works.