Basic SEO: What Search Engines Love
By: Michael Lowry
This article will give you a beginner’s guide to optimizing your site for search engines. It will focus specifically on what the search engines will be looking for when reading and indexing your site. These are things you will definitely want to utilize, or at least consider. So if you are a novice web designer, or just want to refresh some of the basic concepts, come join us.
Before you even begin to design your website, I highly recommend reading this entire article, along with the second part, which deals with what search engines hate. Aside from this, the only other prerequisite is that you or your web designer know and understand basic HTML and Cascading Style Sheets. Feel free to rummage through the DevArticles archives for a wide variety of articles covering these two languages.
The first thing to consider is what hosting company to use. A good hosting company will put your site on their web server and register your domain name. Make sure you pick a company that allows you to upload web pages that you’ve created on your own; it is vital to have control over the HTML on your pages. The company should also let you use your own domain name. And finally, they should offer some log-analysis tool, which tells you the number of visitors you had and how they got there. WebHosters should have several articles in its archives that discuss how to choose a hosting company.
When choosing a domain name, make sure that it is short, easy to remember, and easy to spell. You should also always opt for the .com top-level-domain, because most people remember .com better than any other. If you are going to use a keyword, terms search engines perceive as capturing the essence of your site, in your domain, make sure you use dashes (-), periods, or slashes to separate words. This will help you find a unique domain name for a popular keyword, but keywords in domain names generally don’t help that much. It is also recommended not to use a domain forwarding service.
It’s important to remember that the searchbots (what search engines use to index pages) do not follow all the instructions placed in the page’s code when it loads a page in order to index it. This is because there are two types of instructions that allow the server and the browser to create the page: server-side instructions and client-side instructions. Server-side instructions are visible to searchbots because the web server follows the instructions before sending the information to the searchbots. Client-side instructions are not visible to searchbots because these are instructions sent to the browser after the server has completed its task. The searchbots get the page directly from the server.
I mentioned keywords briefly in the last section. It goes without saying that these are vital when it comes to SEO. However, there are a few basic concepts you should keep in mind when designing you site. For one, it is a good idea to make a list of keywords relevant to your site’s main focus. Be sure to rank them in terms of what is searched for the most. Each page in your site should be optimized for one or two keyword phrases.
The best place to put a keyword is right at the beginning of the TITLE tag (more on this later). As an example, let’s say I have a website dedicated to duck fashion. Obviously, my main keyword phrase will be “duck fashion,” but each page will be optimized for a different, yet related, keyword, such as duck hats, duck shirts, duck shoes, duck fashion shows, and so on. You should also try to incorporate other keyword phrases throughout each page, when appropriate. A site with many pages containing the keyword phrase will be ranked higher when it is searched for than one that only mentions it on a single page.
Whatever you keyword phrase is, make sure you give it prominence within a page component (TITLE tag, DESCRIPTION meta tag, body text, etc.). A word at the top of a page is more prominent than one at the bottom. The same goes for a word at the beginning of a tag compared to one at the end. Search engines look for prominence when determining what a particular page is about.
When a user searches for a keyword phrase, the search engine tries to determine the ratio of the search phrase to the total number of words in each page. This is called keyword density. It is important to create a balance because it is possible to overdo it. If the search phrase makes up 40-50% of the words in a page, the search engine will disregard it. But if the density is too low, the search engine might think it’s irrelevant.
SEO Guide to Creating Websites
The last two sections of this article will deal with how to create your site in terms of the structure of your pages and the text you put in them. Search engines obtain some information about your site from its directory structure. So it’s a good idea to name your files with keywords. Just make sure you don’t use too many dashes in your filenames. And be sure to avoid underscores ( _ ) all together. The directory structure itself should be as simple as possible. Create a new directory for each navigation tab and keep all files related to it in that directory. This will keep each page close to the root domain and save you from a complex, multilevel directory tree.
Few things are more important, as far as search engines are concerned, than the TITLE tag. On most search results pages, it is used as the link and main title of the site’s listing. And of course, search engines use them to determine what the site is about. Here’s how to use the TITLE tag most effectively:
1. Put the TITLE tags below the tag.
2. Use 40-60 characters (including spaces) between .
3. Put the keyword phrase at the very beginning. You can repeat them once, if you like. Make sure you limit the number of small, very common words (the, a, as, of, etc.).
The DESCRIPTION meta tag is also often shown in the search results page. Its text is often shown below the text from the TITLE tag. It’s main function is to describe the page to the search engine. Google doesn’t necessarily use the DESCRIPTION in its results page, unless it can’t find the keywords on the page, but they, along with other search engines, do index it. You should place the DESCRIPTION tag directly below the TITLE tag, using the same guidelines as for the TITLE tag, but this time you can use up to 250 characters. It should look like this:
You will most likely want to include some images on your site. A helpful way to boost your search engine ranking would be to include the ALT attribute, which means alternative text. Nowadays, ALT text appears when you hold the mouse over an image, or for programs that speak the page to blind people. They are also read by search engines and assuming you don’t overload them with keywords, they might help your ranking a little. Place keywords in the image ALT text like this:
You also need body text on each page. It doesn’t have to be that much, but it should equal a couple of paragraphs in length. Search engines are very biased toward content, so you should take this opportunity to really define what you site is about using keywords, of course. You may want to avoid embedding text in images, which would be useful for web designers who create all their pages in a graphic design program. However, apparently Google now claims they can index this type of text.
Same Game, Different Name
Here’s a quick break down of all the “jargon” said in SES conferences worldwide. That’s quite a bit of jargon! I will also explain words that some SEOs use to keep “non initiates” in the dark.
I picked up the lingo by subscribing to, and reading, an average of five industry newsletters (including SEO Chat’s) and also wading through hundreds of pages of SEO. I have not had the opportunity — yet — to trade banter with hundreds of fellow SEO practitioners (read: plain ad execs giving themselves a snazzy name). While I agree that SEO is for real and is here to stay as an important part of Internet marketing, I sometimes find myself giggling helplessly as a new buzz word leaps into use. Nonetheless, I also start using the word in my articles as soon as I get near a word processor.
These terms should have you nodding sagely as your in-house SEO, e-commerce director, or external consultant speaks. And like all good techno babble, understanding these terms should elevate you to the status of that geeky fellow who runs your server and who only speaks in PERL (or UNIX or Shell — aggravating, isn’t it?), while you retain your reasonable hair length and mainstream status.
The following list will not be in alphabetical order and I will probably skip anything I believe is boring or will simply give links to where to find SEO “dictionaries.” My sources for these terms include a page of definitions on Ajazi’s website.
Warning: A lot of this article is going to be in a “list” form with some space in between. I actually have aesthetic issues with copy that runs like this, but there is little I can do to help the format. Also, this article is a bit satirical. I am afraid I found it amusing to write.
Here are some of the basic terms you will hear.
SES: Search Engine Strategies conferences arranged by Incisive Media, of Clickz and Search Engine Watch fame. They are wildly popular and take place 8-9 times a year. The conferences are arranged all over the world and by the time you are a regular, you will know what it’s like to be James Bond. The only difference is instead of chasing baddies you will be discussing ways to promote websites. At the end of the day, it’s just another conference for executives.
- Requirements: Valid passport and heavy hitter expense account.
- Pros: You get to meet lots of people to network with. You get to ask Google insiders tricky questions and see if they will slip. You travel the world and learn new buzz words quickly.
- Cons: There are probably the same people at every conference, meaning it’s overpopulated by bloggers, writers, and ad execs (people like me perhaps, but I really shouldn’t flatter myself).
- Personal Note: I read the blogs of attendees and it keeps me up to speed on the rumors, buzz words, and controversies in the SEO world.
Google: A verb to a lot of people, but to most SEO practitioners it means a monopolistic search engine that we (SEO) strive to hack. All you need to use it are a web browser and the ability to read and type.
SEO Practitioner: Another name for a developer, programmer, or marketer who tries their hand at advertising or public relations online. Friedman, in his book The World Is Flat, called SEO practitioners Search Engine Optimizers. The term never did catch on. You need general marketing skills and of course, the ability to read and write.
Now let’s talk about some extremely well-used terms and their meanings.
SEM: Search Engine Marketing. It is the act of marketing a website via search engines. It can be either improving rank in organic listings, purchasing paid listings, or a combination of these and other search engine-related activities. It’s very similar to marketing in general.
SERP: Abbreviation for Search Engine Results Page/Positioning. This refers to the organic (excluding paid listings) search results for a given query.
PR aka PageRank: This refers to a top secret ranking algorithm invented by Google; it is the source of all their wealth). It determines a web site’s position on the SERP. As a strategist, it’s your job to hack this unknown algorithm. Page rank is actually patented, so it doesn’t have any real world corollary. Also, PR is a score from one to ten that Google assigns each page it indexes. A page’s visible PageRank, shown in the Google toolbar, is often several months out of date.
PPC: Abbreviation for Pay Per Click. An advertising model where advertisers pay only for the traffic generated by their ads. It was invented by Overture and mastered by Google, the monopolistic search engine we strive to hack.
301 Redirect: Method of redirecting an old web page to a new location. This method is used when you change a page and you want the search engine spiders to find it through the old page.
TLD: Top Level Domain. The three main domain extensions: .com, .net, .org. If you’re not using one of these extensions, well…let’s just say it’s better to have these extensions.
CTR: Click Through Rate. This is the standard method of measuring the success of an online advertising campaign. It’s calculated by dividing the number of users who clicked on an ad by the number of times the ad was shown (also known as an impression).This metric is used in PPC campaigns (see above).
JF aka Junk Food: This is what I eat as I do SEO work (very, very bad for you).
SEO aka Search Engine Optimization: Optimizing websites for search engines. Organic SEO means optimizing the site for search engines and getting a good position in the SERPs without paying any money for it.
The next few terms were given by this thread, here. I tweaked the wording a bit. For the original wording, you can check the above link.
Anchor Text: The anchor text is very important in SEO. It means the specific text for a hyperlink. It is the word (or phrase) that the link is put in. Anchor text is taken into consideration by certain search engine algorithms as a factor in a web site’s relevance. For example, if site A links to a page in site B with the anchor text “blue widgets,” a search engine spider crawling that page would see that and think the page in site B is relevant to “blue widgets” — so when someone searches for “blue widgets,” site B’s page is more likely to come up. This also depends upon factors on site A (is site A an authority site on blue widgets?), and of course what the spiders turn up when they index site B, among other items.
Ethical SEO: You can think about ethical SEO as the opposite of unethical SEO. It is SEO made without using any activities that might get your site banned in the most important search engines. It’s also known as white hat SEO.
Inbound links: These are links that point to your site. You can think of them like votes in your site’s favor from the search engine’s point of view. The more of these, the better, obviously for traffic reasons, but also because they help build link popularity (defined below).
Key phrase: This is a group of keywords that you optimize for on the search engines — hopefully, one you can rank high with.
Keyword: A word that is very important for your site. You keywords and key phrases are the search terms that you want to rank high with.
Keyword Analysis: To perform keyword analysis means to examine all the keywords that are related to your site and see which of them have more searches on search engines. You should optimize your site for related keywords that have the highest search rates. A complete keyword analysis, however, will also take into consideration how much competition there is to score high with particular keywords (i.e. how many other sites are trying to rank with the same keywords). You might find it easier to get a good spot in the SERPs with “divorce lawyer” than simply “lawyer,” for example. This is extremely important and really is the most essential part of SEO.
Link popularity - Another important thing when it comes to SEO. Link popularity refers to the amount of links that point to your site. Link popularity will raise your site in the eyes of the search engines, depending on the quality and quantity of the links.
META tags - These are special tags included at the top of an HTML page. Their purpose is to provide extra information about the web page. At one time, the most influential tags for search engine ranking were the keywords tag and the description tag. It is widely believed that Google no longer pays attention to the keywords tag, though other search engines might. It has been confirmed by a Google Webmaster blog entrythat a well-written meta description may show up as a snippet in the search results for that page, though it probably won’t affect your position in the SERPs.
Natural Links: SEO can happen naturally as well. This means that a webmaster on the net finds your site, likes it, decides that it’s quite useful for his visitors, and links to it. This kind of link is called a natural link and is one of the most powerful links.
Bot: A bot is a program written to scour the web automatically for various reasons. These are also referred to as web robots, web crawlers, Internet bots, or spiders. They may be sent by the search engines to index your site, or spammers to scrape content from your site, or possibly for other reasons as well.
Cloaking: The act of showing a different web page to a search engine spider than what is normally seen. This black hat SEO method is typically used by spammers.
Conversion: Web traffic that fulfills a pre-established goal, such as purchasing a specific product, filling out a registration form, signing up for a newsletter, etc.
CPA: Cost Per Acquisition. This is the fee paid to an affiliate marketer for driving a particular action or event on your site (either a sale or lead generation, etc.).
CPC: Cost Per Click. This is the typical metric for measuring the expense involved with acquiring web traffic.
CSS: Cascading Style Sheets. This is a language used to describe how a given page or web site will look. It is used to control font styles, graphical layouts, color, etc.
The next list was obtained from this hilarious blogger here and should not be taken seriously. The whole list is taken verbatim with little or no editing (I was afraid it may lose some of its effect). This is a list of the kind of language often used in SEO, which the writer reinterpreted to mean some pretty ridiculous things.
- We offer Search Engine Optimization/SEO = We assume you are the Google bot and want you to index this page for both keywords
- We offer Search Engine Optimisation = Our SEO company is based in the UK
- Guaranteed top positions = We place Google Adwords for you
- We do SEO, SEM, PPC to increase your ROI = We do not want you to know what we do
- We stick to the Google Webmaster Guidelines = We only break them in a way that we assume Google won’t notice
- We tell you how to make money online = We want you to click on our ads
- 10 ways of making money online = Those are our 10 affiliates, please click on the respective undisclosed ads
- We offer social media optimization = We got several accounts banned at Digg
- We offer link baiting services = We want to put these drunk naked ladies’ videos on your site
- Our network = Our link farm
- Authority sites = Sites that do no SEO
- Black hat SEO = We do anything to get rich quick, even if your site gets banned
- White hat SEO = We only cheat Google where we have to, others do it too, come on!
- We optimize for Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask = If we fail in Google you still have to pay
- Search Engine Submission = We need your mail address, those guys offered us $$$ for each 1000 verified addresses
- Partners = People we never heard of until we exchanged links
- PageRank optimization = Sorry, we just started doing SEO and do not have a clue
- SEO India = We offer 1000 links for 30$
- Alexa optimization = All of our employees have the Alexa Toolbar installed, it really works!