Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an efficient way to improve the 'findability' of your business website. Proper use of a few HTML elements and sensible formatting of content can raise your site's position in web search results.
There's no guarantee that your site will be shown on the first page of results (unless you pay), but SEO can make a big difference. This article is an introduction to the broad topic of SEO and includes some simple improvements that can have far-reaching effects.
How web search works
Some search directory companies hire people to read and categorize web pages, which are then added to an ever-increasing directory of listings. About.com is an excellent site that uses this approach.
The largest search engines, like Google, Yahoo and MSN, have sets of computers that constantly browse billions of web pages. These sets of computers are called 'spiders' or 'robots' and follow rules which determine the sites to visit, how many pages of each site are to be processed, and how frequently sites are to be visited.
Information collected during visits is stored in gigantic indexes and cataloged according to content and importance. When a web user visits a search engine and enters a specific phrase, the index is searched for matching results, with the most relevant results returned first. Let's look more closely at how Google handles web searches.
Google enables web searches with three main processes;
- Googlebot is a web 'spider' that retrieves web pages. Googlebot locates web pages by following links it encounters as it crawls the web, and by having URLs submitted directly. (Googlebot image above by Ben Rathbone).
- The Indexer receives web pages from Googlebot, sorts every word on every page, and assigns each URL a 'pagerank' based on more than 200 factors. The indexer then stores pagerank, key words and a copy of each page in an enormous, searchable index.
- The Query Processor accepts search terms from users and compares them to the index, returning the most relevant links first.
Google handles hundreds of millions of searches every day and has indexed billions of web pages. So how can your site be seen by potential customers? The answer is by rising high in the organic results set. Before we offer suggestions on how to raise your site's visibility, let's define a couple of terms.
Organic search results are non-paid search listings returned from queries. 'Organic' refers to the natural process of assigning page rank (topic relevance) to web pages, and then ordering those results based on that ranking.
Search engine optimization is the adjustment of web page content so that pages have higher ranking in organic search results. Most customers consider organic search results as more reliable than paid search (advertised) listings.
Paid search is a form of advertising where bidders jockey for position above or alongside the organic search results. The more you're willing to pay, the higher your ad will display. Paid search results are shown in lists separate from organic results, in sections typically labelled 'Sponsored Links'.
If your company produces baking pans, but your website isn't well known, it may make sense to pay for search terms like "baking pans", "baking supply" or "baking" for a while. Paid search can quickly become expensive, so if you pay for search terms, check your costs every day and calculate the return on your investment.
What You Can Do
Here are some things you can do to optimize your web pages for higher placement in organic search engine results.
Include and edit these HTML tags to reflect your content:
<meta name="description" content="">
<meta name="keywords" content="">
These meta-tags should clearly indicate overall site focus and page contents, respectively. Below are examples of description and keywords meta-tags from two well-known websites. Apply the same sort of treatment when describing your site.
- <meta name="Description" content="CNN.com delivers the latest breaking news and information on the latest top stories, weather, business, entertainment, politics, and more. For in-depth coverage, CNN.com provides special reports, video, audio, photo galleries, and interactive guides.">
- <meta name="Keywords" content="CNN, CNN news, CNN.com, CNN TV, news, news online, breaking news, U.S. news, world news, weather, business, CNN Money, sports, politics, law, technology, entertainment, education, travel, health, special reports, autos, developing story, news video, CNN Intl">
- <meta content="The official Southwest Airlines website with Ticketless Travel reservations, Southwest Airlines schedules and fares, and general information about Southwest Airlines." name="description">
- <meta content="Southwest Airlines, Southwest, Airlines, swa, iflyswa, ticketless, Ticketless Travel, Rapid Rewards, frequent flyer, Airlines, vacations, vacation, travel, traveling, travelling, trips, reservations, fares, schedules" name="keywords">
Highlight Your Search Terms
If you want those searching for "baking pans" to find your site, and "baking pans" is one of your key word phrases, then use the phrase "baking pans" in your page contents, title, headers, body text or all of the above. Headers are said to be given more importance than body text, for instance. Be literal and give seekers exactly what you want them to find.
And make sure to use text characters to display key phrases, not graphics. Search engines can't read text embedded in a graphic.
The <title> element
The <title> is an important element of an optimized web page. The page <title> should be text that accurately summarizes each page contents. Note that the page <title> will be shown in:
- search engine results
- browser title bars
Try to use a different, accurate title for each web page.
Get Other Sites to Link to Yours
Search engines track the number of incoming links to your site as a measure of your site's relevance and popularity within your industry or subject matter.
- Encourage those in your field to link to your site
- Encourage all others to link to your site
- Post your URL in topic-centric blogs.
- Let viral word-of-mouth take your message and run with it.
This is an important measure that will increase your site's rank, and efforts encouraging others to link to you should be concerted and consistent. A link from a high-visibility site like CNN or DIGG will be much more important than a link from a low-profile site.
There's no quick solution to this important measure of relevance, but the longterm benefits are well worth the attention and effort.
Start a Blog
Starting a blog on your site is an excellent way to get people interested in what you do and to get your word out.
Structure Your Content
Build anchor links with target text equal or similar to your key words. It also helps if file names reflect keyword phrases. Here are examples:
Not So Good:
<a href="/catalog/page2.html">Next Section</a>
<a href="/bakingpans/muffinPans.html/" >Muffin Pans</a>
Use <h1> for your top-level heading, and use smaller heading tags, like <h2>, <h3> in appropriate order on the page
Headings and section titles should also reflect subject content, like 'Glass Baking Trays', rather than 'Section 2', 'Subhead 3', etc. Consider using your key words as headings.
Use your listed keywords in the body copy of your pages. Sensible reiteration of keywords will lend strength to the page's relevance rating.
Don't overuse your key words. Rampant duplication and overuse of keywords was a trick that worked for a few months in the early days of web search. Overuse now has a negative effect; don't go there.
Use Alt Text for Images
Describe your images using the 'alt=' text. Your graphics may be great, but search engines can't read a picture. Using the alt text in the <img > tag will enable the text to be indexed and will also help those readers with text-only web browsers. Note that its also useful to give sensible names to the image files themselves. Here are examples:
Not So Good:
<img src="/ext_images/qv_IMG_8316-1.JPG" />
<img src="/baking/MuffinTin_SKU_2338.jpg" alt="Muffin Tin: SKU 2338" />
Manually Submit URLs to Search Engines
Don't use an automated service or software package to submit URLs to search engines; do it yourself. Here are links to URL submission forms at four search engines:
If your website has a sitemap, then consider using a sitemap submission tools to submit multiple pages at once. Here's information on sitemap submission at Wikipedia.
Keep your old domain name
Older, established domain names are considered to be more trusted than new ones, and so receive higher rankings.
Keep your page fresh
Fresh content will indicate that your site is active. Keep things fresh and lively.
Simple Search Engine Optimization discussed ways to get your web pages indexed by the large search engines. The next article in our technical series will focus on how to exclude certain pages from the search engines using a file called 'robots.txt'.