Search Engine Optimization
In this article I am summarizing my understanding of article for beginners guide to SEO from SEOmoz. For more detailed information, refer original article.
What is SEO?
SEO is the practice of optimizing a website by improving internal and external aspects in order to increase the traffic the site receives from search engines.
Typically, the earlier a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. This gives a web site web presence.
SEO techniques can be classified into two broad categories: techniques that search engines recommend as part of good design and those techniques of which search engines do not approve.
An SEO technique is considered white hat if it conforms to the search engines’ guidelines and involves no deception. White hat SEO is about ensuring that the content a search engine indexes and subsequently ranks is the same content a user will see. White hat advice is generally summed up as creating content for users, not for search engines, and then making that content easily accessible to the spiders, rather than attempting to trick the algorithm from its intended purpose. White hat SEO is in many ways similar to web development that promotes accessibility.
Black hat SEO attempts to improve rankings in ways that are disapproved of by the search engines, or involve deception. One black hat technique uses text that is hidden, either as text colored similar to the background, in an invisible div, or positioned off screen. Another method gives a different page depending on whether the page is being requested by a human visitor or a search engine.
How can you use it on your website?
Following are the basic guidelines which you can follow to increase traffic to your website.
An accessible site is one that ensures delivery of its content successfully as often as possible.
The biggest problems in accessibility that most sites encounter fit into the following categories. Addressing these issues satisfactorily will avoid problems getting search engines and visitors to and through your site.
Broken Links – If an HTML link is broken, the contents of the linked-to page may never be found. In addition, some surmise that search engines negatively degrade rankings on sites & pages with many broken links.
Valid HTML & CSS – Although arguments exist about the necessity for full validation of HTML and CSS in accordance with W3C guidelines, it is generally agreed that code must meet minimum requirements of functionality and successful display in order to be spidered and cached properly by the search engines.
File Size – With the exception of a select few documents that search engines consider to be of exceptional importance, web pages greater than 150K in size are typically not fully cached. This is done to reduce index size, bandwidth, and load on the servers, and is important to anyone building pages with exceptionally large amounts of content. If it’s important that every word and phrase be spidered and indexed, keeping file size under 150K is highly recommended. As with any online endeavor, smaller file size also means faster download speed for users – a worthy metric in its own right.
Downtime & Server Speed – The performance of your site’s server may have an adverse impact on search rankings and visitors if downtime and slow transfer speeds are common. Invest in high quality hosting to prevent this issue.
URLs, Title Tags & Meta Data
The URL of a document should ideally be as descriptive and brief as possible. Individual pages’ URLs should also be descriptive without being overly lengthy, so that a visitor who sees only the URL could have a good idea of what to expect on the page.
In addition to the issues of brevity and clarity, it’s also important to keep URLs limited to as few dynamic parameters as possible. Search engineer representatives have confirmed on numerous occasions that URLs with more than 2 dynamic parameters may not be spidered unless they are perceived as significantly important (i.e. have many, many links pointing to them).
Title tags, in addition to their invaluable use in targeting keyword terms for rankings, also help drive click-through-rates (CTRs) from the results pages. Most of the search engines will use a page’s title tag as the blue link text and headline for a result (see image below), and thus it is important to make them informative and compelling without being overly “salesy”. The best title tags will make the targeted keywords prominent, help brand the site, and be as clear and concise as possible.
The following are basic rules that apply to optimizing on-page text for search rankings:
Make the primary term/phrase prominent in the document – Measurements like keyword density are useless, but general frequency can help rankings.
Make the text on-topic and high quality – Search engines use sophisticated lexical analysis to help find quality pages, as well as teams of researchers identifying common elements in high quality writing. Thus, great writing can provide benefits to rankings, as well as visitors.
Use an optimized document structure – The best practice is generally to follow a journalistic format wherein the document starts with a description of the content, then flows from broad discussion of the subject to narrow. In addition to SEO value, they provide the most readable and engaging informational document.
Keep text together – It is recommended to use CSS rather than table layouts in order to keep the text flow of the document together and prevent the breaking up of text via coding. This can also be achieved with tables – simply make sure that text sections (content, ads, navigation, etc.) flow together inside a single table or row and don’t have too many “nested” tables that make for broken sentences and paragraphs.
The document and link structure of a website can provide benefits to search rankings when performed properly. The keys to effective architecture are to follow the rules that govern human usability of a site:
Make Use of a Sitemap – It’s wise to have the sitemap page linked to from every other page in the site, or at the least from important high-level category pages and the home page. The sitemap should, ideally, offer links to all of the site’s internal pages. However, if more than 100-150 pages exist on the site, a wiser system is to create a sitemap that will link to all of the category level pages, so that no page in a site is more than 2 clicks from the home page. For exceptionally large sites, this rule can be expanded to 3 clicks from the home page.
Use a Category Structure that Flows from Broad > Narrow – Start with the broadest topics as hierarchical category pages, then expand to deep pages with specific topics. Using the most on-topic structure tells search engines that your site is highly relevant and covers a topic in-depth.
Below are some initial ideas that can help you build the content you need to generate great links.
Free Tools – Automated tools that query data sources, combine information or conduct useful calculations are eminently link worthy. Think along the lines of mortgage calculators and site-checking tools, and then expand into your particular area of business/operation.
Collaborative Work Documents – Working in concert with others is a good way to produce content more quickly and with generally higher quality. If you can get high-profile insiders or several known persons in an industry to collaborate, your chances for developing “link-bait” substantially increase.
Exposes of Nefarious Deeds – Writing a journalistic-style exposé detailing the misdeeds of others (be they organizations, websites, individuals or companies) can generate a lot of links and traffic if done in a professional manner (and before anyone else). Make sure you’re very careful with these types of actions, however, as the backlash can be worse than the benefit if your actions provoke the wrong type of response.
Top 10 Lists – Numbered lists (of tips, links, resources, etc.), particularly those that rank items, can be a great way to generate buzz. These lists often promote discussion and thus, referencing.
Industry-Related Humor – Even the most serious of industries can use a bit of humor now and again. As with exposés, be cautious not to offend (although that too can merit mentions) – use your knowledge of stereotypes and history inside your market to get topical laughs and the links will be yours.
Reviews of Events – Industry gatherings, from pub crawls to conferences to speeches and seminars, can all garner great links with a well-done review. Write professionally, as a journalist, and attempt to use as many full names as possible. It’s also wise to link out to all the folks you mention, as they will see the links in their referral logs and come check you out.
Interviews with Well-Known Insiders – Anyone inside an industry whose name frequently appears in that industry’s internal press is a great candidate for an interview. Even if it’s a few short questions over email, a revealing interview can be a great source of links, and esteemed professionals are likely to answer requests even from smaller sources, as they can benefit from the attention, too.
Surveys or Collections of Data – Offering large collections of industry data culled from polling individuals, an online survey, or simply researching and aggregating data can provide a very link-worthy resource.
Film or Animation – Particularly in industries where video clips or animations are rare (i.e. Geology, not Movie reviews), a high quality, entertaining, or informative video or animation can get more than a few folks interested.
Charts, Graphs, or Spreadsheets – These standard business graphics should certainly include analysis and dissection, but can provide a good source of links if promoted and built properly.
High Profile Criticism – Similar to the exposé system, well-written critiques of popular products, companies, sites, or individuals in a sector have the ability to pull in quite a few links from folks who agree and disagree.
Contests, Giveaways, and Competitions – Giving away prizes or public awards (even if they’re just website graphics) can get a lot of online folks interested and linking.
Trend-Spotting – Identifying a story ahead of the crowd is commonly called “scooping” in journalism. Do this online, and all (or many) blog posts on the subject will reference your site as the first to “call it.”
Advice from Multiple Experts – If you’re creating an article that offers advice, pulling opinions from the well-known experts in the industry is a great way to make sure links flow your way. The experts themselves will often be inclined to link.
Growing a Site’s Popularity
Community Building – The idea is to develop frequently updated content in the form of a blog, forum, wiki, or other multi-user input system that can become a central reference and gathering point for a significant number of individuals in an industry.
Once a community is established, the input of individual members and coverage of events in these systems are natural sources for incoming links from bloggers and writers in the field, be they members or simply browsers. In addition, many members who run sites of their own will point to the community as their gathering place, creating even greater link value. Community building requires finesse and good online relationship skills, but the rewards are tremendous.
Press Releases and Public Relations – Influencing mainstream or niche press outlets to cover your company or its actions can be a highly effective way to drive attention to your site, which, if link worthy, can earn a fantastic number of links in short order. Optimizing press releases is a unique practice in and of itself – placement of text in the title and in visible headlines, compelling story writing, and proper content structure are all important elements.
Beyond releases, however, is influencing journalists to write editorial news stories about your subject and including a link or mention of your site. The trick is to have content and information so compelling and interesting that journalists would love to cover it. If you have the makings of a great story with a near-perfect fit for your site, email a few journalists whose work you’ve found to be on similar topics.
Link Building Based on Competitive Analysis – Looking at the links obtained by your top competitors and pursuing methods of your own to get listed on those sites/pages is an excellent way to stay competitive in the link building race.
The best source of linkage data is Yahoo! It currently shows the greatest accuracy in numbers of links, and also sorts well, typically placing more valuable links near the top of the results.
Competitive analysis also includes using the top search results themselves as sources for links. If a site or page ranks particularly well for many related searches, a link from that site can send a healthy number of interested surfers to you.
Building Personality & Reputation – The keys to this methodology are to provide honest, intelligent contributions to existing discussions while maintaining a connection between yourself and the communities.
Online forums are great places to start, and can frequently lead to additional venues for the engagement of your colleagues. In building a successful reputation in an online forum, honesty, integrity, and openness provide the best chances to be taken seriously and seen by others as an expert on your subject matter.
One last tip for forums is to use a single link to your site in your signature – ensuring that people identify you with one unique online property, rather than several.
SEO is also a long-term process, both in application and results – those who expect quick rankings after completing a few suggestions in this guide will be deeply disappointed. Search engines can often be frustratingly slow to respond to improvements that will eventually garner significant boosts in traffic.
The best sites adhere strictly to these guidelines:
- Unique Content – Something that has never before been offered on the web in terms of depth, quality, or presentation (i.e. a unique value proposition)
- Access to an Adoptive Community – Connections or alliances with people/websites in an existing online community that is ready to accept, visit, and promote your offering
- Link-Friendly Formatting – Even the best content may be unlikely to be linked to if it displays ads, particularly those that break up the page content or pop-up when a visitor comes to the site. Use discretion in presenting your material and remember that links are one of the most valuable commodities a site/page can get, and they’ll last far longer than a pop-up ad’s revenue.
- Monetization Plan – Intelligent systems for monetizing powerful content must exist, or bandwidth, hosting, and development costs will eventually overrun your budget.
- Market Awareness – If your site is targeting highly competitive terms, you should make available an online marketing budget, including funds for link buying, and hire or consult with someone experienced in bringing newer sites to the top of the SERPs.