Building Your Site for SEO
Search engine optimization is a collection of strategies that improve the level at which your web site is ranked in the results returned when a user searches for a key word or phrase.By now, that’s a definition you should be pretty familiar with. What you probably don’t know (yet) is how to achieve SEO. You can’t do it all at once. Instead,SEO has to happen in stages. If you try to implement too many strategies at one time, two things are going to happen.
First, you won’t be able to tell which of your efforts are successful. Implementing one strategy at a time makes it possible for you to pinpoint which strategies are working and which are not.
Second, when you try to implement too many strategies at one time, your efforts — even the successful ones — could be lost in the shuffle. It’s like having too many children running around the house on the weekend. If you’re not paying complete attention to all of them (and that’s virtually impossible),at least one is bound to get into something.SEO is most successful when you concentrate on one effort at a time. A great place to start concentrating is on the way your site is built. One of the first things that attracts a search engine crawler is the actual design of your site.
Tags, links, navigational structure, and content are just a few of the elements that catch crawlers’ attention.
Before You Build Your Site
One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that it should be implemented after a web site has been built. It can be, but it’s much harder. A better option is to consider SEO even before you begin to build your web site, if that’s at all possible. It may not be. But if that’s the case, you can still implement SEO strategies in the design of your site; it will just require a lot more work than building it in at the beginning.
Know your target
Before you even start contemplating how to build your web site, you should know in what types of search engines it’s most important for your site to be ranked. Search engines are divided into several types, beyond the primary, secondary, and targeted search engines that you learned about in previous post. In addition, search engine types are determined by how information is entered into the index or catalog that’s used to return search results. The three types of search engines are:
* Crawler-based engines: To this point, the search engines discussed fall largely into this category. A crawler-based search engine (like Google) uses an automated software agent (called a crawler) to visit, read, and index web sites. All the information collected by the crawler is returned to a central repository. This is called indexing. It is from this index that search engine results are pulled. Crawler-based search engines revisit web pages periodically in a time frame determined by the search engine administrator.
* Human-powered engines: Human-powered search engines rely on people to submit the information that is indexed and later returned as search results. Sometimes, humanpowered search engines are called directories. Yahoo! is a good example of what, at one time, was a human-powered search engine. Yahoo! started as a favorites list belonging to two people who needed an easier way to share their favorite web site. Over time, Yahoo! took on a life of its own. It’s no longer completely human-controlled. A newer search engine called Mahalo (www.mahalo.com) is entirely human-powered, however, and it’s creating a buzz on the Web. *Hybrid engine: A hybrid search engine is not entirely populated by a web crawler, nor entirely by human submission. A hybrid is a combination of the two. In a hybrid engine,people can manually submit their web sites for inclusion in search results, but there is alsoa web crawler that monitors the Web for sites to include. Most search engines today fall into the hybrid category to at least some degree. Although many are mostly populated by crawlers, others have some method by which people can enter their web site information.It’s important to understand these distinctions, because how your site ends up indexed by a search engine may have some bearing on when it’s indexed. For example, fully automated search engines that use web crawlers might index your site weeks (or even months) before a human-powered search engine. The reason is simple. The web crawler is an automated application. The human-powered search engine may actually require that all entries be reviewed for accuracy before a site is included in search results.In all cases, the accuracy of search engine results will vary according to the search query that is used.For example, entries in a human-powered search engine might be more technically accurate, but the search query that is used will determine if the desired results are returned.
Another facet of SEO to consider before you build your web site is the elements needed to ensure that your site is properly indexed by a search engine. Each search engine places differing importance on different page elements. For example, Google is a very keyword-driven search engine; however, it also looks at site popularity and at the tags and links on any given page.
How well your site performs in a search engine is determined by how the elements of your page meet the engine’s search criteria. The main criteria that every search engine looks for are the site text (meaning keywords), tags — both HTML and meta tags — site links, and the site popularity.
Text is one of the most important elements of any web site. Of particular importance are the keywords within the text on a page, where those keywords appear, and how often they appear. This is why keyword marketing has become such a large industry in a relatively short time. Your keywords make all the difference when a search engine indexes your site and then serves it up in search results.
Keywords must match the words and phrases that potential visitors will use when searching for your site (or for the topic or product that’s listed on your site). To ensure that your keywords are effective, you’ll need to spend some time learning which keywords work best for your site. That means doing keyword research and testing the keywords that you do select to see how effective they really are.
In search engine optimization, two kinds of tags are important on your web site: meta tags and HTML tags. Technically, meta tags are HTML tags, they just appear in very specific places. The two most important meta tags are the keyword tag and the description tag.The keyword tag occurs at the point where you list the keywords that apply to your web site.The description tag gives a short description of your page.
Not all search engines take meta tags into consideration. For that reason, you site should use both meta tags and other HTML tags. Some of the other HTML tags that you should include on your web site are the title tag, the top (or H1) heading tags, and the anchor tags.
The title tag is the tag that’s used in the title of your web site.
Once you’ve tagged your site with a title tag, when a user pulls the site up, the title that you entered will appear at the very top of the page if the user is using an Internet Explorer browser (IE) earlier than IE7 and in the Firefox browser, the title will appear on the browser tab.
High-level headings (H1s) are also important when a crawler examines your web site. Your keywords should appear in your H1 headings, and in the HTML tags you use to create those headings.
Anchor tags are used to create links to other pages. An anchor tag can point users to another web page, a file on the Web, or even an image or sound file. You’re probably most familiar with the anchor tags used to create links to other web sites.
To be of value, the links on your web pages must be related to the content of the page, and they must be active links to real web sites. Broken links can lower your search engine ranking. Links have always been an important factor in how web sites rank on the Web, but the abuse of linking that we see so often today started just a few years ago, about the time that Google became the big name in search.
When links became a ranking criterion, many black-hat SEOs began building link farms, which are sites that are nothing more than pages full of links designed to gain high search engine rankings.It didn’t take long for search engine administrators to figure out this sneaky optimization trick, so they changed the criteria by which links are ranked. Now link farms are fairly ineffective, but links on your web site are still important. Links show an interactivity with the community (other sites on the Web), which points to the legitimacy of your web site. Links aren’t the only, or even the highest, ranking criteria, but they are important all the same.Popularity
One other consideration, even before you build your site, is the site’s popularity. Many search engines include a criterion for the number of times users click on web sites that are returned in search results.The more often the site is selected from the search results, the higher in the ranking it climbs.For you, that means you should begin building the popularity of your site, even before it is built.Begin building buzz about the site through advertisements, info-torials, and even newsletter or other e-mail announcements. Then redouble those efforts as soon as the site goes live to the public.It’s a riddle to which there is no easy answer. You optimize your web site for search engines in order to build popularity, but your ranking in the search engine can be determined by how popular your site is. There is no magic formula that helps you solve the riddle. It requires time and consistent effort to draw visitors to your site.Anchor tags appear as links to users.
Other criteria to consider
In addition to the four main elements you should plan to include on your site, there are a few others.For example, the body text on your web site will be examined by the crawler that indexes your site.Body text should contain enough keywords to gain the attention of the crawler, but not so many that it seems the site is being “stuffed’ with such words.
Alternative tags for pictures and links are also important. These are the tags that might appear as a brief description of a picture or graphic on a web site that fails to display properly. The alternative tags — called alt tags — display a text description of the graphic or picture, so that even if the actual image doesn’t appear, there’s some explanation of what should be there. Alt tags are a good place to include additional keywords.