Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the visibility of a web site or a web page in search engines via the "natural" or un-paid ("organic") search results. SEO is not normally a separate component of web development since it requires that sound development principles be utilized through the entire process beginning with software selection, template design and content creation. However, there are many tasks which are contained under the SEO umbrella that are not related to site development and content creation.
SEO is not a one-shot deal, it is an ongoing process. Links must be built over time and content added in an ongoing fashion to continue to build SE rankings. That said, there are several areas that can be addressed initially that will have a positive affect on SE rankings.
The top keyword phrases should be researched and prepared as a target for new content. Include in this analysis the monthly search volume, estimated supply (websites targeting those keywords either directly or indirectly) and a listing of those competitor pages that target those keyword phrases. This will aid in determine which keywords are best – those with high search volume and low competition.
Its important to realize that SEO has limitations. All the optimization in the world won't increase site traffic if you're optimizing for words or phrases that people aren't searching for. By using search volumes, you can decide what people are really searching for.
There are some very useful tools available online that can help with your keyword research, including SEO Book, Google Keyword Tool or Wordtracker (Also, Google Insights – formerly known as Google Trends – is good for determining trends in searches).
The content itself is analyzed by the SE’s to ascertain the topic of each page. Key information on the page aids in this identification process and includes:
- Keyword Meta tags – These non-visible HTML tags list the relevant topics of the particular page.
- Description Meta tags – The Description Meta tag is a non-displayed HTML tag that contains a brief description of the page and/or a call to action. Use no more than 155 characters. The description is commonly used by the SE’s to display below the site’s page title in the search results, but it is also additional information used in determining the topic of a page’s content.
- Titles – Make sure the Title of your page, and preferably the URL, contains the keywords you wish to target with your content.
- Alternate tags (ALT tags) – These tags are descriptions used for images on a page. They are intended to provide a description of the image they are attached to and are used by browsers to display when an image isn’t available, as well as by text readers used by the visually impaired. These tags should be used to create image description relevant to the keywords targeted by your content.
- Anchor text – Anchor text is the text used in a link to another page or site. It is the text that is underlined and which a user would click on to follow the link. [Avoid the common click here mistake, instead use your keywords to create meaning – find out more about the used 1979 Ford Escort]. SE’s use this text to determine:
- The topic of the destination page/site
- The topic of the page containing the link
- Headlines – Headlines are the typical H1, H2, H3 etc. tags that are used to creating headlines within the text. SE’s use this information to determine the important content points of a page.
- Content – Perhaps the most important, SE’s analyze the content to determine several factors:
- The topic of the page (based on word frequencies)
- The complexity or reading level of the page
- Repetition of the page content within the page or on other pages/sites, for which the page content may be penalized.
- The frequency of key words/phrases within the content. Typically, this frequency (called Keyword Frequency or Keyword Density) should be between 3-5% of the overall content. Excessive repetitions of key words or phrases are viewed unfavorably by SE’s.
- Cross-Linking – This typically refers to the links from one page to another on the site. SE’s look favorably on cross-linking since it shows structure within the content, increases visitor’s ability to find information, and aids in further refining the SE’s determination of a site’s topical information.
- In-bound links – These are used by SE’s to determine the value of the site’s content. It is basically used as a ‘vote’ for the content. The more links that point from other sites to the target site, the more votes. However, the SE’s also look at the value of the other sites that link to the target site. The better ‘valued’ the site that links into the target site, the more valuable the link is.
- Out-bound links – SE’s use these links to value the content of a site, as well as to aid in determining the topic of the content. The use of anchor text relevant to the page’s topic, as well as relevant to the target of the link will increase the SE’s view of the page’s content. SE’s also consider the ‘value’ of the target site to determine the overall value of the link and page content, giving higher value to better rated destination sites.
It is assumed that the need to optimize the system for SEO is associated with the requirement to increase visitor traffic as well as general visibility of both the site and the services offered by the site. As such, other aspects of ‘Search Engine Optimization’ become relevant despite not being directly related to search engines. These include such areas as social media (i.e. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter), Social Review Sites (such as Yelp.com) and Social Bookmarking sites.
Use of Sitemaps
Sitemaps are used by search engines as a ‘roadmap’ to indexable content of a site. Additionally, they can be submitted automatically to the major search engine providers when content is added or updated. This results in quicker indexing of new content.
The use of a special file call Robots.txt allows communication to the SE spiders (programs that visit and index website pages) as to which pages should or should not be indexed. The point here is to remove pages from the SE's consideration that are NOT relevant to the site content. This helps the SE's by basically eliminating distractions that could alter their view of the general topic of the site.
This file is added to your site to instruct the SE’s not to index ancillary pages that are not related to the general site content. By removing these unrelated pages, the SE’s will not penalize the site’s ranking for excessive unrelated content.
Examples of pages to be excluded are:
- Privacy Statements
- Login screens
You can create your own robots.txt file using the Google Webmaster Tools. Also, add your sitemap location to the robots.txt and you won’t have to submit it to the search engines manually. Just add sitemap: http://example.com/sitemap_location.xml to the robots.txt file.
- Create a Google Analytics account
- A Google Analytic code snippit is added to the site to activate the tracking
Additionally, setting up a Google Webmaster Tools profile for your site (and linking it to your Google Analytics account) will give even more information on your site, including crawling errors, search statistics, site issues/errors etc.
These are some of the basic areas that anyone can use it increase their SE visibility, and they represent a good starting point. As mentioned previously, SEO is an ongoing process, it isn't a one-time deal. However, by developing good SEO habits, it can become a natural part of your site maintenance.
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