Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the art of building and promoting a website to ensure the highest possible rankings in the major search engines. The aim is to make a website appear in first position in the results when people search for specific words or phrases (keywords).
When looking for information on the internet people head straight for the search engines to find it. Your website will be competing with millions of others to try and get people to visit. It is therefore crucial to optimize your site so that you will be found and your competitors will be pushed further down the ladder.
Remember Camelot! There are a number of tried and tested methods that are proven to work for optimizing your site for the search engines, each will be explained in more detail:
- C - Content is King
- A - Age of a website
- M - Meta Tags
- E - Easy to read URLs
- L - Link Building
- O - Optimized Coding Practices
- T - Text Formatting
C – Content is King
A website is similar to a magazine or newspaper. Imagine you were given a newspaper that had all the text removed and you were only left with the images. You wouldn’t be able to make heads or tales of what you were seeing and the same is true when the search engines browse your site (spider your site). Search engines have selective vision, and only choose to see text when gathering information about your website. It is therefore important to provide content which is descriptive and informative. This will not only benefit the SEO for your site but also your visitors. The content should be unique and keyword rich – include phrases and words that people may search for to find your site.
Websites which rely on "flashy" animations or are heavily dependent on graphical elements and little else will suffer in the search engines as a result. There are exceptions to this rule when other methods of SEO are made the primary focus, such as Link Building.
A – Age of a website
The longer a website has been online, the greater its reputation will be in the eyes of the search engines. It shows that a site is stable and will not disappear overnight and as a result will aid in pushing the site higher up in the search engine results.
Obviously if your website is sitting on a brand new domain name the only way to boost its age reputation is patience. If you know you are going to be building a website at some point in the future, it is a good idea to buy the domain name as early as possible and put up a simple holding page. Use Link Building to let the search engines know your new domain name exists. When the site is launched, whether it be 1 month or 2 years from now, you will already have started to build your age reputation with the search engines.It can also be useful to employ a similar method on existing websites. Try to create placeholder web pages in advance if you know you will need them. The search engines will then spider these pages and get them ready for the search results. Once the new content is added to these placeholder pages, the search engines will quickly gather the information and see that the page has been around for a while and will boost the page in its rankings as a result.
M – Meta Tags
Meta tags are pieces of Information placed in a web page not intended for users to see but are instead used by search engine crawlers. There are three main meta tags that are very important for search engine optimization:
This tag is used by the search engines as the title of a search result listing. It is important to be as descriptive as possible using between 5 and 10 keywords. The example below shows the best way to use a title tag:
A webpage for a shop selling mobile phones in London:
Bad Example: “Phones”
Good Example: “Mobile Phone Shop – buy new handsets in London, UK”
The search engines place a lot of importance on the words used in the Title tag – a good title tag can make a huge difference with the search engine listings. Title tags should be descriptive about the pages content they relate to.
DescriptionThe description tag is a brief summary about the content on a web page. It will be shown in a search engine result underneath the title. It should be between 200 and 250 characters in length (including spaces) and contain keywords that people may search for.
Using the phone shop example:
Bad Example: “Mobile Phone Shop web page”
Good Example: “The Mobile Phone Shop in London, UK sells cheap and discounted handsets by Nokia, Motorola and Samsung. Great deals on our new phones and tariffs. Popular mobiles for 2006 will be dispatched from our London depot with free delivery.”
Keywords used: mobile, phone, shop, London, UK, cheap, discounted, handsets, nokia, Motorola, Samsung, deals, new, phones, tariffs, popular, mobiles, free, delivery, 2006
There is a lot of debate over the value of using the keywords tag. Some search engines completely disregard the keywords tag and instead rely on the title, description and content in the page to create a list of the most used keywords for the search engine listings.
It is always better to be on the safe side and include the keywords meta tag. The keywords tag contains words or phrases separated by commas. It is a difficult task to get to the top of the search engines for popular keywords such as “phones” so it is often better to target specific searches such as “phones in London”. The keywords tag should contain between 15-30 words or phrases.
For example: mobile, phone, shop, London, cheap, handsets, Nokia, Motorola, Samsung, UK mobile phones, London phone shop, cheap new phones, buy mobile phone, cheap phone tariffs UK, discounted Motorola handsets.
It is important to only focus on keywords that relate to the content of the page – never include keywords because you think they may be popular (people sometimes add keywords such as “sex, celebrities, games”) as this will not help bring targeted traffic to your website.
The URL of a webpage (its address), if made correctly can greatly improve your search engine listings. The search engines look for any keywords or phrases in a URL and use this as further information to process your website.
The domain name should, where possible, contain the main keyword(s) that your site is about. For example: [link] contains two keywords relating to the content, whereas [link] will not mean anything to a search engine (unless of course wizzawong is a keyword you want to target!).
More technical readers should look into mod_rewrite for ways to provide easy to read URLs for both static and dynamic websites.
Link building is the process of getting other websites to link to your website and is an extremely important part of search engine optimization.
Each link to your website is seen as a vote by the search engines. This means that if a lot of people are linking to (or voting for) your website, it must be important and will be pushed up the search engine rankings as a result.
A mistake a lot of people make when link building is to think quantity is better than quality. Two hundred links from websites which contain content that doesn’t relate to yours will do little to improve your search engine rankings. A handful of links from relevant websites that have a high search engine ranking will do a huge amount to improve your listings.
It is important to mention Google’s PageRank system as this is a quick and easy way to gauge the popularity of a website and the value of a link from their website.
“PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves "important" weigh more heavily and help to make other pages "important.”
In other words, if you wanted people to judge you as a person, a positive testimonial from a high court judge would look better than a testimonial from your mate John down the road and it is the same with link building. Getting a link from a high ranking website to yours will give your site a lot more credibility. Try to target websites with a higher page rank than you currently have. The google toolbar includes a PageRank displayer.
There are two types of links; reciprocal and one way. Reciprocal is as simple as “if you link to my website, I will link to yours”. One way is when people link to your website without you having to link back to theirs. One way links are better for search engine optimization than reciprocal links as it shows that your website is a valuable resource.
The best way to start link building is to phone or e-mail websites asking for a one way or reciprocal link. This will start the process of enabling internet users to find out about your website. If you have followed the other rules in the guide and your website is well designed, you will find that people will start linking to your website of their own accord (creating those much sought after one way links). This can often start a snow ball effect – the more people who find out about your site, the more who will start linking to it.
To improve your search engine rankings CSS based layouts should be used rather than table based layouts. CSS based sites will help you gain the highest possible listings as they provide a simple and logical structure for the content which allows the search engines to make a more educated analysis of your websites content.
The code should be checked for mistakes and should follow the guidelines set out by the W3C to ensure that the search engines will read the content properly.
Images should be given descriptions using ALT tags in the same way that Title tags (see Meta Tags) are used.
Text formatting is an often overlooked aspect of SEO. Through a range of testing it has been found that text formatting is a hugely important part of improving a site’s listings in the search engines.
When writing a document in a program such as Microsoft Word you will no doubt make use of the Heading attributes and this should be no different from when you are preparing text for the web.
Search engines place a large emphasis on text which is contained within header tags (<h1>,<h2>,<h3> and so on) and it is therefore vital to ensure keywords are contained within these tags.
Use these tags only when appropriate – in other words, don’t put your entire sites content in an <h1> tag as your site will probably get blacklisted on the search engines, which will defeat the purpose of SEO!
If you follow the advice and guides laid out above, you will find that your website will quickly work its way up the search engine rankings. Search Engine Optimization is an ongoing process, in order to get to the top and stay there, a lot of work needs to be put in by continually optimizing and improving your site.
The algorithms used by the search engines change regularly to ensure the highest quality results for the people using them. This means that SEO changes all the time, but if you follow the Camelot guidelines, you can be sure you will be ready for any changes that may come along and be able to take them in your stride.
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