Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization – An Introduction

Once you do a website, and are happy with it, you want that people actually visit your site. There starts the challenge of bringing traffic to your website. Many people think that by simply doing a website sales will boost, everybody on the internet will come to their website, and loads more. Well, that’s not the real life situation. Once you do a website, without any promotion potential visitors will not even know that it exists.

So the first thing that you would want is the search engines to index your website. Focus on three – Google, Yahoo and MSN. The others will index alone as your website grows and starts to get incoming links.

However, even before submitting your site to any directory and search engine, there are some things that need to be done.

  1. The most important thing for a successful website is content. Quality content, related to the subject of your website, and lots of it. Focus on providing your visitors with valuable information. Forget any fancy graphics, as websites trends are going, the era of nice, bulky graphics is slowly diminishing in favour of plain, easy to navigate, websites, which provide the information needed fast. Also, remember that search engine crawlers cannot read what is written on graphics – what they want is text.
  2. Generate a list of keywords and key phrases related to your website (a good tool is located at http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com/ and another at http://freekeywords.wordtracker.com/. Do searches for those keywords, and see what websites rank in the first 10 places. Those are your competitors. Analyze those websites, and see why they rank good. (a good tool to do this is at www.zippy.co.uk)You have to do better to get your website to rank on top of them. A good place to check if your keywords are good is https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal. This is a free tool by Google, which allows you to see if people actually search for your keywords, and also suggest other possible keywords that you can use.
  3. With your list of keywords in hand, go to the most popular search engines (Google, MSN and Yahoo), and do a search for them. See what websites are in the top 10 positions for each keyword in each search engine. Analyze them, and see why they rank this good. To check how many back-links each website has, select ‘advanced search’ available on every search engines and you will find an option to see how many back-links a website has. A good free tool to help you with this is Webceo, available from www.webceo.com. This company offers a free version that offers some very interesting features available in commercial versions.

So for now you have your list of keywords that you want your website to rank good for, and a list of competitors websites.

Search Engine Optimization

Next come the website optimization. You need to include your keywords as often as possible in your website, however, do not exaggerate. Keep in mind that you must first optimize your website for normal people, not search engines. However, try include some of your keywords in the page <title> tag, and meta description and keywords. H1 to H6 tags are to be used as often as possible, and when you have a chance do include some of your keywords inside these tags as well. Last but not least, you need to include your keywords in the website content. The easy way is to add content relevant to your keywords/website topic. This will provide you with natural content, that includes your keywords, and should be interesting for your website visitors. I do suggest the use of free tools to help you in this task. Webceo, the same tool I mentioned above, will automate most of this work for you and provide you with the analysis results. Commercial tools such as Addweb also help in this task, and are normally worth the small initial investment.

Yahoo and MSN consider website updates as very important, so, take care to update your website regularly and add fresh content at least one time a week (ideally daily). Using a blog or a forum will help you in offering updated content.

Google also gives importance to updates and new content, however, it mostly depends it’s rankings based on how many websites link to your page.

Now this needs to be explained a bit better. When Google finds a link to your website, it notes:

  1. the importance of the page (it’s PR)
  2. if the theme of the site linking to your is related
  3. if the site is a link farm
  4. how many links there are on the page

These factors influence mostly how much Google will give importance to that link found which is pointing to your website. For example, a link on slashdot.org pointing to an IT website will be of great benefit to the IT Website. However, a link from a small website with no PR will not be of too much benefit to your website.

PR, or Page Rank, is a sort of ‘grade’ of how much important a website is. The more relevant links are pointing to a website, the higher it’s PR rating is. The PR rating is between 0 (unranked) to 10 (top websites).

The problems start here, because you will need many websites to link to your. And here is where most people struggle.

There are several ways of getting websites linking to your, however, keep in mind that the most important rule is always to provide quality content. People will actually link to websites that have good content, so provide that and links will start coming alone.

However, you can help a little bit. Link Trading is the process where two websites link to each other, or exchange a link Do not exaggerate with link trading, and only trade links with websites that are important (have a good PR) and are relevant to the subject of your website. A good tool to always know the PR of websites you are surfing is through the use of Google Toolbar, available for free from Google.com.

There are also tools that help you in link trading. My favourite two are linkmarket.net and AddWeb Pro. Linkmarket.net is a website that offers you the chance to trade links with thousands of other websites, free of charge (although you have a limit of up to 5 trades / day). AddWeb is not free, however, considering the set of features that come with it, it’s worthed. It’s link exchange feature is great, automating almost all of the work for you, even create the pages containing links on them.

However, link trading in order to help get a better search engine ranking will not work for long. The main search engines (Google, MSN and Yahoo!) are now obeying the ‘nofollow’ link attribute. This is just a small attributed set inside the link HTML code on a website, that when set, the link on a website will have no importance for the search engines. It was developed in order for website owners to mark links that are not ‘natural’, and refer to third party pages. In order to see if a website is using the nofollow attribute for links to third party websites:

  1. in the actual link, check for <a href=”yourwebaddress” rel=”nofollow”>yourwebsite</a>
  2. in the header, check for nofollow in the meta tags

Those are two ways in which links on a page will not be followed & indexed by search engine spiders, thus, adding no importance to your website. More time goes, more webmasters are in fact using the nofollow attribute. This will result that in the future, link exchanging will be done only to have a link to your website that actual humans can see and utilise, and will not have any validity for search engine rankings.

Note that the website owner is not doing anything wrong, just following the guidelines issued by Google and the other search engines. The nofollow attribute should be used whenever a links is not natural. A natural link is a link, inside the text, that provides extra information relevant to the text inside that particular page. Those links should NOT have the nofollow attribute set.

Directory submission is also very important. Go on your favourite search engine, and search for website directories related to your website theme. Then, submit your website to the largest amount possible of directories. Take care from directories that will ask you money to include your site. For you to pay, a link in the directory should provide you with good traffic. A directory worth paying for is the Yahoo! directory. The most popular directory is the DMOZ.org directory, which is free. However, expect weeks or months to get your site listed, and before submitting, ensure that there is an editor taking care of the section you want to submit to, or else your website submission can stay there even for years before someone reviews it. If you want a list of other free directories, I suggest the free version of Webceo which will give you a list of them and assist you in signing up.

Other ways to get websites linking back to your site is by writing good articles and submitting them to articles directories (always include a link back to your site when you write an article). To find articles directories, simple go on any search engine and do a search for articles directories. You can find loads of them. The more you submit, the more chance you have your article is published and you start getting links back to your website. Naturally, you have to write good articles, so web masters publish them on their websites.

Offer free resources to your visitors in order to generate extra links. The more useful the resources you offer for free, the more links you will get.

Other things that you will have to do are:

  1. Creating an XML sitemap for your website will help search engines index all your pages. A good tool to create XML sitemaps is located at http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/. It will create sitemaps in different formats. Just download them and upload in the root folder of your website.
  2. Google Webmaster tools is a very powerful tool that allows you to submit your website, your sitemap and get a lot of useful information about how your website is indexed at Google.
  3. Yahoo! Offers a similar tool, the site explorer, located at https://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/
  4. Make sure that you have a robots.txt file located in the root directory of your website. A robots.txt contains instructions to search engine spiders aimed at which parts of your website should be indexed and which should be not. For more information regarding the creation of the robots.txt file, go to www.robotstxt.org
  5. Ensure that you have no duplicate content. Each page should provide unique and original content. Do not copy from other websites or sources.

Something that is also useful is to validate the HTML and CSS code of your website. A free tool to do this is available at http://validator.w3.org/

Reduce the size of the HTML file as possible, and avoid any unneccessary tags. Use your keywords as part of the URL (e.g. www.yoursite.com/keyword1.html)

Where possible, use static pages in favour of dynamically generated pages that may include several variables in the URL (e.g. www.yourname.com/page.1php?var1=20&var2=30&var3=40) which may confuse the search engine spider.

To keep informed regarding the latest tips and tricks, a good blog is http://www.mattcutts.com/blog/ Its taken care by Matt Cutts, who actually works for google. Very good and interesting information is given on this blog, and is always fresh.

Another good resource also Google related is http://groups.google.com/group/Google_Webmaster_Help which is a group set up by Google aimed at getting feedback from and helping webmasters.

The ‘bible’ for a good google ranking is the google website guidelines located at http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=35769