NOTE: If you do not understand the different search information systems (indexes, directories, sites) you may wish to read about them first. This article offers a brief overview of SEO (should more accurately be called Search Information System Optimisation - Ed). It's true that vast tomes have been published on the subject but most are overblown. Some highly technical books deal with the subject of optimising dynamic web sites, and this is an important subject that deserves diligence. We'll deal with basic good common sense SEO practice for HTML/CSS sites here. You'll find plenty more in-depth stuff elsewhere on the web and in print.
When someone enters phrases and keywords into a search box at a search site, an algorithm (computer program) finds related web pages in its index (or directory) and displays a list of them in what it thinks is the correct order of relevance on its search results page. Google calls this process page (or site) ranking (or weighting). Ranking is a measure of relevance, so higher ranked pages appear above lower ranked pages.
Approximately (depending on which statistics you read) 50% of first time visitors to a site, find it by using a search site, the other 50% know the URL (from recommendation or advertising or good guesswork etc) and type it straight into their browser address bar. Therefore, if a site builder/owner wants to generate the maximum traffic, they need their site to be ranked as high as possible by the Google's, Yahoos and MSN's of this world.
Search engine optimisation is the process whereby a web site builder will try to ensure that the web spiders, sent out by search index sites, feed information to their search site algorithm in such a way as to give the site builder's site a high ranking in search results for a given search phrase or collection of keywords.
It is the job of a site builder to try and understand what search terms potential visitors may use, how the search site algorithm works, what criteria it uses to rank sites, and to exploit this knowledge when planning and building the site. In addition they may also control a budget for buying a higher ranking in the "Pay Per Click" ads that accompany the search results at a Search Site.
It should be said that even the best SEO strategy will not always guarantee high rankings, so you should be wary of telling your clients it will.
There are many Search Sites on the web but most use one of the following Search Information System (indexes or directories) ...
Ensuring your site is indexed and understanding how these technologies rank pages for relevance to a given search phrase or keyword is a primary skill of the site builder and must be considered at the design stage of a new site. Search sites need their results to be relevant to users. If they are not, the users will search elsewhere. But search sites also need to keep the details of their ranking algorithms secret from the competition and to some extent site builders too. They want sites to be ranked on the quality of their content and relevance, not because of the skills of the SEO expert.
Some of these search sites are multi-million/billion dollar businesses. Their core business is returning relevant results fast. There are some very clever people working at them. Its probably fair to say that any idea you can come up with to out-smart them, they've already thought of and accounted for in their algorithms.
Therefore, the real skill is to understand how they work and build sites that will help the spiders and algorithms to do their jobs. Much of SEO is concerned with avoiding facets of site design that will hinder spiders and maximising facets that help them. But be in no doubt, the quality of your content and the esteem users and other sites hold you in are paramount to good ranking.
A search index uses a number of criteria to rank a page or sites relevance to a given search, such as ...
They look for these phrases in the visible text and html code of a sites pages. SEO is, of course, concerned with the exact technical methods you use to ensure your pages meet these criteria.
This is the practical part of this article, giving you good advice on which web technologies are SEO friendly, which you should avoid, and how to improve your site ranking.
To find out what pages are already in an index (this works for Google, MSN and Yahoo), type "site:domain.com" (eg "site:planetoftunes.com") into the search box. If your pages aren't there you can manually submit them. Remember, these are the only indexes that matter. Use these links ...
Alas, www.ask.com offers no way of manually submitting your site, you must wait for them to find you.
Do the same for ...
dir.yahoo.com ($300-$600 pa, urghhh!!!)
Many indexes accept Sitemap submissions to speed up their indexing processes. A Sitemap is usually in .txt or XML format and lists all the URLs/pages on your site. Creating and uploading a Sitemap is a useful option for intermediate to advanced web site builders.
You can find out more about sitemaps here ... http://www.sitemaps.org/
This is a website that helps you create a Sitemap ... http://www.xml-sitemaps.com/
You can find links to help you submit Sitemaps to Google and Yahoo here ...
www.google.com/webmasters/ (create a sitemap in xml format, upload it to the top level of your site and then tell Google where it is).
siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/submit Yahoo requires you to create, and upload to your site, a .txt file containing a list of all the URLs/pages at your site. Submit your URL (eg http://www.planetoftunes.com/urllist.txt) to Yahoo as a Site Feed on their regular Submit page.
Aaron Howey has submitted this advice on submitting to MSN (thanks Aaron) ...
On your SEO page you were wondering about submitting sitemaps to MSN. While not possible directly (from many sites I searched) there is a backdoor way of doing it with www.moreover.com (apparently), there is a mini -artcile here detailing how to do this. http://www.seo-expert-services.co.uk/blog/posts/submit-sitemap-to-msn,-google-and-yahoo.html
|Technology||SEO pros||SEO cons|
|Text in images||Spiders can't read them, don't use them without the Alt tage configured|
|Short text links||Spiders prefer unambiguous longer link text|
|Long text links||Say what they are|
|Dynamic pages||Spiders have trouble indexing them, may not index them at all, requires expert SEO skills to work around problems|
|Image maps||Spiders can't read them, don't use them without full text link alternatives|
|Frames||Spiders have problems with them, don't use them if your are concerned with SEO|
|(Page) Title tag||Well written descriptive tags are important to search indexes. Try putting the page description before the site name|
|Flash intros||Spiders can't read text in them, avoid like the plague|
|Flash navigation||No no no no!|
|Flash elements||Use them for appropriate non text information parts of your site, they should not be a substitute for text||Remember spiders can't read text in them so be cautious|
|Text||Indexes love well written relevant html text content|
|<h1>, <h2> etc tags||Important to indexes, use them in a logical manner to indicated hierachy of importance of content (not for styling) and make them straightforward and descriptive|
|External CSS||Leaves the markup uncluttered and semantic, use them|
|Inline CSS||Clutters up the <head> tag unnecessarily, use external CSS|
|Meta tags||Consider the use the <meta name="description" content= ...> and <meta name="keywords" content= ...> tags in the <head> tags of each page||Not as important as some thing they are|
|Java applet navigation||Be careful, they can create index problems|
|Alt tag||Short concise human readable URLs, descriptive like the page title are best|
|URLs||Make them as descriptive as possible|
|Dynamically produced URLs||Avoid if possible|
|Text styling (bold, italic, case, lists etc)||Spiders rank a words importance partly on its styling, so take advantage of this fact|
There are various well documented underhand methods for artificially achieving a higher ranking (search the web for link farms, page jacking, cloaking, keyword stuffing, alt text spamming etc) but I would suggest you avoid them. As already mentioned you may possibly be able to out-smart the indexes (if they don't remove your site from their indexes completely!) but you won't out-smart your visitors and if your site doesn't contain content that is useful to them they won't re-visit or recommend you.
You need to include keywords in your content that reflect the keywords people are likely to type into search boxes. This means thinking about how they will describe what they are searching for rather than how you might. You may have invented clever phrases to describe processes or products but will other people be searching with those phrases? Probably not. If you site sells door mats then use the phrase "door mat" not "footwear cleaning utility"(am I going to fast for you!) Obvious stuff, but many site builders forget this simple principal. Here are a few other tips ...
There is a lot to say about keyword analysis and implementation in a site, so search the web and print for more comprehensive advice.
Arguably the best way to get a site ranked highly is to fill it with well written, relevant and concise content (text). Many business sites selling a small range of products have learnt this lesson. For example, you will often find technical help articles and tutorials accompanying sound recording equipment manufacturer sites.
Writing good content is a skill and an art, so make sure whoever is doing it is either capable or is happy to have their words re-written by someone who is. A friend (who shall remain nameless) has the job of re-writing the almost un-intelligible writings of her boss. Her boss is great at ideas, she is great at grammar. The arrangement works.
Don't write content just for the sake of it, it must be useful to your visitors.
Put content first in your html structure. If you are using CSS and <div> tags to position elements this is easy to do.
It is well known that page ranking takes account of the number of other sites which are linking to yours, and if these sites have high rankings and content that relates, so much the better. Here are a few ideas ...
Why go through the pain of SEO when you can buy your way to a high ranking position with money(!) Essentially, you compose an ad/page link with a description and then bid on related keywords and phrases to have your ad appear high in the list of ads that appear to the right of the search results at a search site. Whenever someone clicks on your link you pay the piper (Google, yahoo etc) the amount that you bid. All the popular search sites offer this facility. Here's a couple of useful links ...
There is quite a lot to say on this subject and I'll leave it to the many other help sites out there to enlighten you!