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Search Engine Optimisation Explained: Part 2

Aug 17, 2007
What vs who - clarify what it is your site offers, and ensure that this is clearly articulated throughout its content. Unless you are a "household name" brand, the focus should be on what you produce, sell or service, not on who you are.

Searchers usually refine a query with 2-4 words, e.g. "stainless steel spade" It is amazing how many sites waste vital opportunities with fatuous lines like "Welcome to my web site."

Define the key words or phrases that potential customers would use to find you. Ensure that those are prominent components of every title, description, heading and paragraph, and part of a coherent sales pitch. For example the Johnson spade manufacturer's site title ought not be "Welcome to the Johnson Agricultural Implements Web Site." Instead, a minimalist "Stainless steel spades by Johnson" would provide maximum keyword density.

Content is King
The goal of search engines is to deliver the most relevant content for each search
Your goal is to make sure your content is relevant to any search made for products or services you offer! The best way to ensure "free" prominence for your site is to provide valuable, in-depth, relevant content. A few lines of explanatory text buried inside a Flash animation do not do this. Product reviews, case studies, white papers, client testimonials, newsletters and manufacturers specifications are good content creation sources.

Make each page unique, and target a specific key word or phrase in meta-tags and body text.

Sites constructed entirely in Flash might look great, but they are destined for mediocrity in the "free" search engine traffic stakes.

No Page More Than Two Clicks Away
Wherever you are within a site, no page should be more than 2 clicks away from you. The search engines will usually only drill 3 layers deep. If you want all content indexed, this is a crucial issue, usually resolved via a Home page link to a site map page which in turn has text links to every internal page. A recent alternative is the Google Site Maps submission service which is well worth the effort of signing up to, not least for the excellent statistical information Google will provide you!

It is also important to provide hyperlinks to main internal pages from within Home Page body text. This elevates their importance, and reinforces keywords or phrases within the Home Page with relevant supporting content.

Mighty Meta-tags
There are many meta-tags. Most are ignored. Some, like the "keyword" tag are now less used by search engines due to persistent abuse. However, there are still two "Head" section elements crucial to your goal of a steady stream of qualified traffic. Both provide an opportunity to control exactly what viewers see by way of search engine results, and thus influence viewer's decision to select your site from that list. Both provide valuable information to the search engines as they try to determine the site's theme, category, type etc;

First is the Title, the content of which is displayed on the top line of the browser when viewing a site. The page title is also used as the "headline" displayed when/if it appears on a search engine's search results page. This is a crucial 1st impression, and again, "Welcome to My Web Site" does not cut the mustard. Summarise your offerings in less than 10 words, ensuring that the primary keywords or phrase is pre-eminent, thus ensuring maximum keyword density.

Second is the Description tag, often used verbatim in search engine's search results page. Again, this gives you an opportunity to influence a searcher's click-through decision, and should reinforce the message in the title in less than 25 words / 200 characters. Again, the primary keywords or phrase should occur at the start of the description to ensure emphasis, and total character count should be restricted to 200 in order to maintain maximum keyword density.

Dubious Practices
Necessity is the mother of invention, and the vital importance of Top 10 search engine rankings has spawned some seriously dodgy mechanisms to enable sites to climb to the top of the heap. These have ranged from the simple tricks of hidden text to the mysteries of doorway and hallway pages, link farms, and on to the intricacies of cloaking and redirection.

Basic rule of thumb should be - don't do anything which might be construed as spamming, or subverting the search engines indexes.

Once a site is banned from a search engine index, it's pretty much dead in the water. The search engines are always on the alert to newly discovered loopholes and close them quickly once discussion of new "trick" begins in search engine forums and list servers. Instead, rise to the top of the heap on merit, it's a better long-term strategy!

Site Submissions
Having rebuilt your site in a search engine friendly fashion, how do you ensure it's included within the indexes of the various search engines. This is another area which has changed dramatically. A few short years ago, listings were free. Not that long ago, you'd have to buy into a 48 hourly indexing process on Inktomi etc to ensure you stayed listed. Such a system delivered good value to the customer whilst generating good revenue for the search engines.

The state of flux seems to have eased. Indexing footpaths have been constructed between linked sites - to the point where if you have no good links TO your site, you may not be indexed at all, regardless of manual submissions.

The "Submission to 10,000 Search Engines for $99.95" was never good value, and is even less so today.

Summary
In terms of total traffic potential, the three main search engines are Google, Yahoo and MSN, each of which feed their results into sundry subsidiary search engines and portals. The Big Three account for around 90% of all searches performed on the Internet. They are all now "spider" type engines, which index the content of web sites in an automated manner, and are not hierarchical, human-edited directories. They all have supplementary "sponsored listings" derived from PPC advertising subscription systems.

For a site owner, search engine optimisation of your web site is now even more important than it ever was. Your goal of a steady stream of qualified traffic is best met by ensuring you have the best content, organised/optimised in the best manner, and supplemented by well designed and managed PPC campaigns.

If you are a web designer, you have an obligation to your clients to ensure their sites are built in a manner which facilitates search engine indexing, instead of impeding it. Establish the function first, and the form as a secondary issue.

If you are business planning a new web site (or contemplating reconstruction of an existing site), insist on making SEO the most important design criteria, it will save you money in the long term, and ensure the return on investment (ROI) timetable is substantially shortened.
About the Author
Ben Kemp is a free-lance IT consultant and one of NZ's longest serving SEO practitioners.

The SEO Guy (NZ)
Email: mailto:bjk@TheSeoGuy.co.nz
Web: http://www.comauth.co.nz
Phone: (+64) 09 9743553
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