I started out back in the Stone Age (1997) as a web designer and over the years frequently had clients come in who had designed their own site but weren’t getting any traffic and couldn’t figure out why. They’d come to me thinking that it had something to do with their design, which was partially true, but not completely. What they didn’t know was that it takes more than a “Build it and they will come” approach to a web site. To this day, most have never heard of search engine optimization, so here’s some of what I present to SEO newbies in my introductory training workshop.
Part One – On-Page & Design Factors
1. Title Tag : Among the first things the spiders will crawl on your page is the Title Tag at the very top of your HTML code. This is what you see in the blue bar at the top of your browser when you land on a page. Using unique text in this tag on each page is absolutely essential. I have seen huge sites with thousands of pages all using the same content in the Title Tag of each page, frequently the name of the company as the only text. Not only will you NOT rank for anything but what is in that tag for your entire site (Do you want every page on your site to rank for nothing but your company name? I don’t think so.), but you run the risk of most of your pages winding up in Google’s Supplemental Index, probably never to be seen again (Rumor has it that the Supplemental Index will be going away, but as I write this, it is still around). You must have a unique Title Tag related to the unique subject matter of each page throughout your website (10 to 15 words, 80 characters maximum).
3. Make Your Site Unique : They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but that’s a big no-no on the web. Do not copy someone else. Make your site as unique as possible with information that no one else has. In other words, don’t steal content off of someone else’s site. Not only can that be copyright infringement, it can put you and the site you copied from in hot water with the search engines for duplicate content (see Duplicate Content below). Creating a buzz about something unique is great link bait. Which leads us to:
4. Content : Content is King. Content is spider food. The search engines are looking for the foremost authority on a keyword or phrase. Make sure your site has plenty of keyword rich content high on the page that is useful to the visitor as well as digestible to the spiders. Make use of H1, H2 and H3 headlines that contain your keywords. Make sure your prose is natural and easy to read.
Don’t go overboard and make every other word on the page the keyword you want to rank the page for. Stuffing the page with keywords is considered a form of spam.
Focus on search phrases, not single keywords, and put your location in your text (“our Palm Springs showroom” not “our showroom”) to help you get found in local searches.
Having terrific content will not only be great for your visitors and spiders, but it’s wonderful link bait, too. A blog is a great way to create fresh, new content (for the spiders and visitors) and attract inbound links.
Also, use Flash animation and images sparingly. Spiders can read text, not Flash nor pictures. A sure way to kill any chance of ranking well is to create a site that is all Flash or mostly images.
5. Duplicate Content : Let’s say you have a site that sells a thousand different types of widgets and the pages are all built from the same template with the same text and the only difference is the model of widget on the page. What could happen is that the search engines will not see enough difference in the pages to consider them unique and will rank what it considers the best single page and dump the rest, in the case of Google, into Supplemental Index limbo.
Make sure all of your pages have unique Title Tags, Meta Tags and text, in this case probably in the form of product description text.
And, if you are writing articles for distribution to the various article sites for mass distribution (a great way to get back links), be sure to publish the article on your own site first and give the spiders a chance to crawl it. That identifies you as the originator of the content. Then push the article out for distribution across the web, making sure you have a link back to your site in the article content.
For example, you could put all 100 lines of your CSS on each and every one of your 300 site pages or you could call your CSS from an external file called style.css with one single line of code on each page like:
[link REL="StyleSheet" HREF="style/style.css" TYPE="text/css"]
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’ll need to ask your web developer or learn a bit about HTML.
7. Tweak and Test : Make one change at a time and evaluate. Changing too many things at once can confuse things to the point where you don’t know which change you made did what. For instance, let’s say you changed some content on a page as well as the linking structure and Meta Tags all at the same time and the page dropped in the rankings a few days later. How would you know which to point to as the problem? Try one tweak at a time and give the search engines time to digest it before moving on to the next.
8. Meta Tags : The only Meta Tag that carries any weight at all as far as SEO is the description, and it doesn’t have the influence it once had. Still, it’s a good idea to make it keyword rich and include what you want to show up in the SERPS (search engine result pages) as your description. Yes, this is what frequently comes up describing your site in the results, so be sure it says what you want it to say.
And, it is believed that having a unique TITLE and Meta description tag on each page will help keep pages out of Google’s Supplemental Index.
The keyword tag has very little influence on rankings anymore, practically none, but it can’t hurt to include it. Just don’t stuff if with a thousand words. Ten or so should be enough for any page.
This barely scratches the surface of beginning SEO and is intended to get the newbie started in the right direction. Follow these guidelines and you’ll have a better chance at the “they will come” part of that famous quote.
I go into more detail in my SEO 101 workshop, offered to web site owners and small businesses. Check my blog at http://www.weboptimist.com for more information or contact me to set up a custom workshop for your business group of five or more people in the Palm Springs area of Southern California. Travel is possible for large groups.
Richard V. Burckhardt, also known as The Web Optimist, is an SEO trainer based in Palm Springs, CA with over 10 years experience in search engine optimization, web development and marketing.