An Introduction To Search Engine Optimization

Search engine optimization does bring traffic, Yes, it is true, the search engines may bring in a lot of traffic, leading to a large increase in sales if you are using the Web to sell products and services or a larger number of returning visitors.

It is also true that you may influence your ratings in search engine results by using various search engine optimization (SEO) methods.

You can certainly hire an expert to do it for you -- after all search engine marketing is a time consuming affair -- but you can also get a long way on your own.

The importance of knowing SEO

In any case you should definitely learn the ins and outs of search engine positioning. If you want to do this on your own, you must learn to avoid all the pitfalls that might get your site banned by the search engines. If you want to hire an expert, you must know enough to be able to weed out the charlatans who know just enough search engine optimization (SEO) to be dangerous.

There are a lot of myths in the world of search engine optimization and marketing, myths that may throw a beginner off track and make him or her do costly mistakes.

In this section Pandia present a series of articles for beginners that debunk these myths and discuss what SEO should really be about.

More search engine optimization resources

As soon as you have read these articles, go on to read other guides to search engine optimization. Pandia has a separate page with links to articles on search engine positioning, articles that will teach you a lot about how to get higher search engine rankings.

If you are looking for SEO sites, tools, software and online information, you may use our Search Engine Optimization Gateway. It has links to most relevant SEO resources on the Net.

However, we strongly recommend that you at the same time get hold of a more comprehensive guide to search engine marketing. If you are new to optimization, they will give you a more systematic introduction to the trade. Secondly, you can use them as SEO reference works, which can get you over the first hurdle when you are facing a particular problem.

The earlier you start studying SEO, the better, as it will stop you from having to redesign your site and write your copy all over again.

Building a search engine optimized Website

No doubt about it, design a Website with search engines in mind right from the start and you will save future marketing time and money. The most likely scenario most of us encounter however are lofty initial objectives with scant follow through.

In this article, a broad search engine optimization (SEO) foundation will be described. Stay with me for the conclusion; as I blow aside some of the smoke and mirrors to reveal on-line resources for testing and fine tuning a Website's SEO potential.

1. Plan your site

Take time to map out your content before building your site.

Identify possible themes i.e. if your site is about clothing, you may have sub categories for men, women, boys, girls & further sub categories for mens casual wear, mens toiletries, mens shoes etc. Some top tier Search engines identify specific theme areas of Websites - let’s make it easier for them.

Your Website folders may look like this: mens-casual-wear, mens-toiletries etc. By placing one index.html (or landing page) in each of these directories, search engine’s can categorize these specific theme areas easier.

2. Content is king

Content has supposedly always been king; so what do we hail it now? More than ever, the emphasis is on unique, useful and keyword rich content.

Don’t forget to research how your market will search for your product. Look at various search scenarios. Anticipate & cover them.

To participate in the search engine’s (ahem, much coveted) top 10 position race requires preparation and technique. We need to understand the delicate balance between feeding the right information to both Website visitors and search engine spiders.

Define a content guideline before creating your Website content. Use on-line resources to help you ensure you have peppered or seasoned your content with a good mix of relevant keywords. The future of successful search engine results will weigh heavily on specialized Website copy.

3. Know your tags.

Meta tags can distract many web developers and if used incorrectly; can work against you. I believe three Meta tags are required at present namely: Title, Keywords & Description.

The Title tag is the most important criteria out of the three, not only will it help attract a potential search result (human) click through but can include relevant keywords & phrases for the search engines. There are other Meta tags for specific purposes i.e. to ensure a page does not get indexed or listed.

Personally I don’t add keywords, which do not exist on that particular page, and I keep the number of repeated keywords to a maximum of 3. This tag is fast becoming redundant and often SEO professionals will make use of it as a reminder of their areas of focus per page. Don’t expect too much from this tag.

Your Description tag however, is important, as several search engines will still refer to it. Again that balance between human click through fiber and search engine food is necessary.

4. Be careful with the use of some technologies

Friends don’t let friends use frames. Although a popular design choice by many, it’s important to design a site, which is search engine spider friendly. Can they get to your content easily?

In a similar manner the use of certain processing technologies (i.e. some Java Servlets) can result in one page of content seen to a human visitor and a blank page to the search engine spider.

Test your Website while it’s in development - rather allocate more time getting the structure correct than waste months of on-line time with lackluster results.

5. Make a site map

Create a site map to assist both human visitors & search engine spiders. Keep it simple.

A logical layout with HTML links which include keyword rich descriptions i.e. mens casual wear - dinner jackets, will assist both audiences. Your site map should be linked throughout your site.

6. Keep your pages lean & mean.

Secondary pages or those linking off your home page (products etc.) are best optimized for search engines if they contain between 350 - 550 words.

Wherever possible break your pages up, retain the same layout; look & feel but set a reasonable page limit throughout your site.

Some search engines may exclude a page if it is above 100 KB. An ideal size? The smaller the better, keep any scripts in external files to minimize page size & to assist spider digestion.

7. Keep it consistent.

Create user-friendly navigation, which spiders can access. Certain Dynamic HTML drop-down menus can be problematic. The common denominator to both human & search engine spider visitors are standard HTML links.

Use image Alt tags to accurately describe your site’s images and to subtly reinforce your keyword focus per page.

Keep your SEO goal consistent through out your site - treat each page as a potential entry (via a search engine).

8. Study the competition

Use the Web to see what your competitors are doing. Too often we reinvent the wheel instead of watching to see who is successful and then decipher how they possibly got there.

Create a competitive landscape spreadsheet - list the top competitors for several keyword phrases specific to your market i.e. mens wear london, women's shoes london etc.

Develop a keen eye for detail - see why these sites do well in particular - is it their domain name, page title, content, directory listing etc? The only way you can participate in the SEO race is by knowing who the top contenders are and what they’re doing.

9. Build, measure, fine tune

Be prepared to make some changes and adjustments if you are serious about your search engine position results. Realize it is going to take time; possibly up to six months to see your careful work bear fruit.

We need to develop Websites with the objective of feeding both human & search engine spider visitors. How certain are you that they will be adequately fed by your data? Is it better than that of your competitors?

10. Avoid the snake oil

Be wary of those offering to submit your site to 3000 search engines. Successful SEO is about careful planning, focused strategies resulting in improved HTML code / data and certainly not mass submission. Your best options are to research SEO for yourself or to consult with search engine optimization professionals.

Learn how to read your Web site's log files in order to become familiar with your visitors click stream analysis or typical site walk through pattern.

Be able to identify your typical monthly site traffic pattern; which search engines are sending you visits and for which terms etc.

Work closely with your Website developers; you know your market and specifically your competitors & potential new markets.

To sum up

In summary I would like to reflect on the intricacies of search engine optimization.

There are no magic formulas. Similar to the Olympic Games there are few Gold medals to take home. I view the top 10 positions as Gold, the following 5 as Silver and the following 5 as Bronze. Anything less is a also ran scenario.

Expect tactics and techniques to vary and change. A successful SEO strategy this July may well be surpassed and less effective within 6 to 12 months.

Base your Web development on consistent, visitor & spider friendly principles.

I believe we’re entering the age of the search engine; the next killer app following e-mail. For years we’ve learnt how to design sites with little consideration to this sleeping giant. I will see you at the finish line.

May ye search engine Gods smile favorably as we pore over top 10 search engine results...

3: Top Meta Tag Myths

It's Saturday night and I'm explaining to my new acquaintance that I am a search engine optimization consultant.

"Oh... So you add meta tags to Websites" concludes my acquaintance.

I breathe out slowly. "Yes, that a part of what I do..." I offer, wondering how on earth did search engine optimization earn such a humble job description.

Today Meta tags are possibly the most misapplied aspect of search engine optimization. In this article, I'm going to dispense with some current Top meta tag myths.

These very myths separate professionally optimized sites from the amateurs. They can make the difference between being treated favorably by search engines or not.

Myth 1: "Add all the meta tags you can find."

Take a look under the surface of a few Websites out there (view their HTML source in your browser's View>Source option). Numerous sites have some incredible tags.

It's as if the Website developer wanted to cover all possible bases with as many tags as possible. They will have copyright, author, region and distribution tags alongside the more common ones.

Remember the old maxim; kiss? Keep it simple stupid. I have to remind myself of this often. Unless you are absolutely confident of individual tags, don't add them. Worse yet, some Website authors make up their own tags. Quaint it is, pretty it ain't.

Myth 2: "Have lots & lots of keywords."

I mentioned the correct use of keywords in my article on Building a search engine optimized Website.

Personally I avoid placing too much faith and dependence upon the ubiquitous Keyword tag. Yes it has merit and place but is also very likely to become near redundant before the year is out.

Google ignores this tag. If you consider the amount of spamdexing (stuffing of Keywords shamelessly into Keyword Tags) it's not hard to figure out that the search engines have to treat this tag with caution.

[In September also AltaVista abandoned the keyword meta tag. This means that Inktomi is the only major search engine supporting this tag. The Editor.]

Keep the number of repeated keywords to a maximum of three. Use Keywords, which are relevant to your page and target market.

Myth 3: "Keyword lists must have a formula."

This includes: "it's better to add Keywords with or without commas."

A moot point in the SEO world, there appears to be numerous options. Keywords followed by a comma with no space or keywords followed with a comma and then one space and finally, keywords separated with a space and no comma.

One theory exists that the last option is better; it allows the search engine to mix and match combinations of your presented keywords into possible phrases. Ultimately one has to be careful not to get too distracted by this tag - don't misuse it and definately don't expect miracles from it.

Myth 4: "The Title tag doesn't really do much."

Out of all the tags, this is definitely the most important when used correctly. Similar to writing your site content; write your Title tag for your audience first and the search engines second.

It is a delicate balance between tweaking the ratio to favor the search engines but always consider whether or not the Title tag would motivate a click through.

Create a standard or guide for your site's tags. The various search engines have their own limits so its nest to aim for some middle ground. You may wish to set an outer limit or maximum of 90 characters with spaces (cws).

Consider your site branding and navigation issues (where exactly am I?) as you create your Title tags.

Myth 5: "If I copy my competitor's tags I will do just as well."

It's not about the number of tags or number of keywords etc. It's about understanding tags and the intricacies of search engine optimization in general.

I personally recommend a minimal set of meta tags, namely, Title, Description & Keywords.

What may work on a competitor's site is still subject to a wide array of other factors including; the URL, link popularity, page content, site structure, keywords & phrases, image alt tags, alongside numerous spider or index factors. Search engine algorithms notoriously cycle through a variety of changes. Know your tags but also get to know your broader search engine optimization requirements.

Myth 6: "If I repeat my Keywords and Descriptions in a comment tag I will rank better."

There was a time when this technique was in vogue for search engines, which may have read and indexed comment tags. Today we know that it's safer to refrain from code, which may be misconstrued as spam.

There is no need to repeat your tags.

Myth 7: "We have to have as many different Keywords as possible throughout our site."

This becomes a search engine optimizer's headache. The client clinging to this notion regardless. The marketer spending hours looking for extra keywords to add. Often the keywords they want to include are not even mentioned in the page content.

Identify a theme or focus for each particular page. If it can be covered in 10 - 20 Keywords or key phrases which are actually found on that page, all the better. Yes, there can be a place for synonyms (words with similar or related meanings).

Keep page content to tag content relevance in mind. Some search engines will permit misspelled Keywords, which are not actually found on the page.

Myth 8: "Anyone can write the tags for a Website."

Search engine optimization calls upon a new range of skills. Ensure that the person writing your tags is passionate about results. What you put in is what you will get out.

A certain amount of copywriting flair combined with focused marketing objective is required. Writing tags to entice both discerning humans and search engine spiders is no trivial task.
Myth 9. "The Description tag isn't important - since Google doesn't use it."

Google generates a page snippet or a 'ransom note' comprising of parts of actual page content. Should this not be available, a relevant DMOZ Description is used. There are instances when Google will make use of a supplied Website Description tag.

Don't forget that a lot of search engines do still make use of your Description tag. If it's compelling and succinctly describes your Website's unique sales proposition, this may in conjunction with your Title tag be the pull that draws your visitor to click through.

Essential Tags Summary:

These are general recommendations; always determine the optimum guideline for your site based on your search engine target.

  • Title tag: 5 - 10 words, including the company name and relevant keywords, 90 characters with spaces (90 cws).
  • Description tag: Concise summary of the page, an upper limit of perhaps, 170 characters with spaces (170 cws).
  • Keyword tag: An upper limit of 900 characters with spaces - keep it simple and relevant. 10 - 20 Keywords per page (900 cws).

In some instances (Title/Description tag) the search engines may produce a truncated result. Your Title tag or Description may therefore be abbreviated or cut short if it exceeds a particular search engines limit. Bear this in mind when writing your tags.

Use unique tags per page - i.e. each page should have its own Title tag etc.

I'm holding out until the day arrives, when search engine optimization is recognized as the new digital economy skill, that it truly is. Until then, smile politely and explain the subtle challenges we now face should a new acquaintance loudly summarize your job description.

Note: This is an archived version of original article. The article was written by Jono Craig and Published by Per and Susanne Koch. The article was first published on July 2002.