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SEO Search Engine Optimization, this section lists articles and tutorials on Search Engine Optimization for various Search Engines including Google, Yahoo & MSN. We provide SEO hints, tips and other free goodies to help you optimize your site and to start ranking well in the Search Engines.

Old 04-15-2007, 07:54 AM
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Default SEO - Search Engines and What's Inside Them

Search Engines

A search engine is quite simply a website that helps you search the web. From the surfer’s view, they have a search box and a click to make. But, behind the scenes, is an extremely complex piece of software that pattern matches your key phrase with its database and then sorts the results in order of rank. And, who decides all this? Well they are known as the “search engine corporations” – organizations such as Google, Yahoo and Ask Jeeves to name but a few.

How do they do it?

SEO iis about how search engines look for groups of characters in your search query. The search engine will look for, for example, the word “boston firm marketing” in “boston internet marketing” and include this in the terms of its search. The search engine cleans up your query by using “patterns” of text and interpreting what it thinks you mean. What we need to understand is how the search engine operators determine the rank. This is usually referred to as the “algorithm”. That is the key and what we are going to explore in this article. So, read on…
Fortunately, a web page only has so many elements so getting to grips with the underlying code isn’t too difficult. The challenges come when we try to understand how the search engines define what is important information and what isn’t. Search engine corporations never release their methods so analysis is done over a lengthy period, the data from the statistics is scrutinized over and over again and then eventually fine adjustments will be made to our websites until we maximize our performance.

What is Search Engine Optimization?

With over 50 million websites and around 400 million people searching the internet across the world, meticulous planning of the words and phrases on your website is critical for your website to be seen. Search engine optimization is the art of understanding the way search engines work what they look for and how best to serve the information they need while maintaining an informative and easy to read website.
Getting it right in every search engine is very difficult. The key is to keep it simple, stick to the fundamentals and avoid the scams and tricks that are so prevalent on the internet. Don’t get sucked into this - it will end in disaster for you as your sites’ rank is dropped, or even worse, blacklisted.

What defines a Search Engine Friendly Website?

This particular question has been a cause for concern for website developers over the years. The search engine corporations keep shifting the goalposts as to what’s hot and what’s not. However, there are fundamental aspects that haven’t changed and, although not always implemented, they are crucial to a great website

Look at it from another angle. A search engine provides a service and every one of thousands of search engines out there wants you to use them to search the internet. Why? Because the more traffic they have the more commercial sponsorship and advertising they can generate.

So how do they get you to use them?

Since search engines are free tools, customer or surfer loyalty is low. Speed and relevant results are what we, as surfers, want. That’s also what all the search engine corporations want – speed and relevance for their search engine customers. Fortunately, it’s us, as users of search engines that make judgments on both these key issues.
So, when building your website, think about it from a surfer’s perspective and follow some simple rules.
  • Navigation must be simple and use proper hyperlinks.
  • Be very informative and descriptive about your products and/or services.
  • Avoid scripts, Java, Flash, frames and animations (more about these later).
  • Try and build a website to the W3C web standards such as HTML4, XHTML and CSS.
  • Make your website accessible and usable.
  • Check your site with Disability Discrimination Act validators such as bobby.watchfire.com
  • Keep the images to a minimum and well optimised.
  • Use high contrast with text and backgrounds.
  • Keep the layout tidy and draw focus to the content, by using headers and structure.
  • Do not use images to convey information.
So, let’s now move on to looking at how you can build an online strategy for you website.
Creating your online marketing strategy
You may already have created a business plan for your business. But, you also need to create a plan for your online marketing strategy. Before you begin, you’ll have to accept that this is a long term process and your efforts may take months to deliver benefits to your business. This is because search engines have an incalculable number of websites to visit, of which, some are new, some need updating and some disappear. Getting as much as you can right the first time means less to do further down the line. However, a lot of search engine optimization and marketing work is forecasting your audiences’ web searching preferences and making assumptions about the key phrases they will seek, so it’s unlikely to be 100% effective the first time around.
Let’s look at some initial steps to take when planning your websites marketing campaign.
  • Research your potential market by searching online.
  • What region, country or countries are your products or services aimed at?
  • What is the majority age range for your market?
  • What is the majority gender for your market?
  • What other interests will the majority market have?
  • Use those phrases with the top search engines and look at the competition.
  • Analyze the competition with regards to key phrases.
  • Where are the key phrases placed?
  • How many key phrases are used?
  • How much rank do they have?
  • How many inbound links do they have?
  • How good is the quality of the inbound links?
  • Will they link to my website?
  • Are there any sponsored links next to the natural results?
  • What directories were seen while researching my competitors?
  • Is the competition excessively weak or strong?
  • How long did the relevance last in terms of results?
By determining the answers to these questions, you’ll start to have an understanding of how the key phrases will drive the results associated with your website. More importantly, you will identify a specific competitor that you can study and then you will be able to compare your optimization and marketing efforts, against those of your key competitor.
Bear in mind, whatever plans you make and strategies you implement, you are online and all your competitors have the same potential as you do. They too can analyze your website for keywords and inbound links. This works, as it keeps it honest, and the only way to gain better rank is by being persistent and taking your online marketing strategy as seriously as your offline marketing campaigns. This is repetitive and is hard work – there is no other way.

When studying the competition you may ask yourself “how do they do it?” over and over again. The answer is that they are working hard, too. They are also following fundamental search engine optimization and marketing strategies, just as you are, with your website. Write a plan and stick to it. Get as many “quality and relevant” inbound links as you can. Get those key phrases embedded in your website at every opportunity. And remember, keep working at it!
Defining your market

Ask yourself the following questions,
  • What regions/country/countries am I aiming my products or services at?
  • What is the gender of the majority of my market?
  • What is the age range of the majority of my market?
  • What other products or services would my market be interested in?
  • Are my potential customers aware of product or service specifications?
  • Am I promoting my product or service on price or quality, or both?
  • Do I ask my existing clients how they found my website and what made them choose me?
Answers to these questions will certainly help you form the key phrases for your site in the relevant sections. The market constantly ebbs and flows so don’t stop asking these questions.
Key phrases for your audience

Once you have defined your market, you can start to investigate how they would think when trying to find products or services which you offer. Everyone has a different approach to searching the internet. In the case of having an international market, you may have to refer to the UK as Great Britain or England. Particularly the United States, they would look for products or services in Great Britain. Many places in Europe refer to us as England. People in Australia, Japan and here in the UK, tend to search for products or services in the UK, using “UK”. These variations will mean you will have to form the right phrases and use them carefully on your website. Remember, if the text isn’t on the site, you won’t get listed. It’s that simple.

It is also about how the audiences define your product or service. If they have knowledge of the specifications, then that may be the way they search. If they know the functions, but not how things work, then searches may be specified in simple terms.
The problem with trying to catch everyone in an audience, by using every possible key phrase, is that your website pages start to become vague and confusing instead of focussed. You’ll be listed but your rank will be low. A high rank results from a relevant and focussed page. Aim to catch the majority of your target audience and use statistics, such as the “key word relevant” section. This will allow you to measure the effectiveness of each page. Ideally, you want your product or service pages to get the greatest volume of hits, rather than the Home Page or the “Contact Us” page for example.

Text, text and text

It’s what people want; it’s what search engines want. When you plan your website, you need to be descriptive and informative. The more information your website has the more text the search engines can index and the more opportunities for you to get valuable key phrases in. This is where your creativity and your marketing skills need to blend.
With regards to optimizing your website, you have to take a page by page approach. Every page has a purpose, a message. If two pages carry the same key phrases or messages, then one page has to go. The idea is that every web page on your website must be uniquely optimized - unique title, unique headings and unique text.
Of late, it appears that some, more notably Google, are ignoring META tags. These are signposts to the key information contained on your website and used to be used by the search engines. Not just the keywords either. Descriptions are also being ignored and the text that search engines are using comes straight off the web page. You should use the key words and the content on the page to sell the web page to surfers, when the search engine returns your results, rather than giving them a sales pitch within the META description tag. We shall be looking at this in depth in the Webpage nuts and bolts section.
Webpage nuts and bolts

To get a website effectively optimized we have to roll up our sleeves and get to the code that drives the web pages. Certain editor programs such as Macromedia Dream weaver, Microsoft FrontPage and Mozilla Composer will assist in this process and amend the code for you. This is especially useful as looking at web page code for the first time can be quite daunting.

Different programs will have different options in different places. For those of you who use editors (such as those listed above), use the associated help files to locate the options.

META Tags – Their importance of late has been diminishing. META tags were used to assist a search engine in its ranking algorithm. However, search engines are so advanced now that they can now really start to understand the content of the page and judge accordingly. However, META Tags are not to be dismissed completely because, some search engines still use them and since they won’t harm your ranking it’s best to keep them in.

META Description – This is commonly used to write a descriptive paragraph about the content of the web page. Search engines use this text to display a short note below the links in their results. However, lately it has been determined by research completed at the Broadband Centre in Hastings, that text from the actual page is being used instead. This may be due to the fact that META descriptions and web page content vary wildly and can potentially misrepresent the page. The best plan is to write an accurate and informative short paragraph that best describes the page.

META Keywords – These represent the old way a search engine would determine how to rank a page. Keywords are now largely ignored but their omission isn’t totally necessary, because some search engines still look for them and may use them, if there is not much else present, to decide between one site and another. When you are adding keywords and phrases, make sure that any words that appear in this META tag also appear in the content of the page. Another point to make is that the META key words section could be useful for spelling mistakes and other language variants of certain terms referred to on the page.

TITLE Tags – This is the most important element of any web page and must be done correctly or the rest of the optimizing efforts within the page will be rendered useless.
The TITLE tag is the number one method for successful optimization but cannot do the whole job. The TITLE tag will write text to the browser window bar at the very top. All search engines use this title to determine content on the page and create a focus.
Every single page needs a unique title and this should be the exact key phrase you want to describe the page. People looking for your products or services should end up on the relevant pages so make sure the title of those pages accurately reflects the key phrase those pages represent. If people are looking to contact your business then the title of the contact page on your website should resemble “Contact [Your Business Name Goes Here]”.

Headings and Paragraphs – Beyond the web page title, the page content will now become the focus of any search engine, to determine the ranking results.
What search engines like in page content is structure. This means that a page should have a title, a paragraph of text and a sub-header that represents the paragraph. Headings and paragraphs should be placed in their respective tags. A heading tag is defined by the “H” tag. This could run from H3 to H6 with H3 being the most important. That doesn’t mean that every heading should be in the “H3″ tags because search engines like to see hierarchy. This will make a more readable and user friendly document, which search engines will reward with a higher rank.
Blocks of text should be placed in the correct paragraph “P” tags. The P tag will assist the search engines understand the structure of your document and make your pages more readable to them. Using important or informative text outside the P tags is bad news – it will have the same potential value as the copyright notice at the bottom of your page. This isn’t what you want, so pay attention to structure.
With one major search engine, Google, a very recent and important aspect of paragraphs is their replacement of the META description tags when viewing results in a search engine. A good tip is to make sure that your particular keyphrase starts your first paragraph. Then start to advertise your product or service, with a view to seeing that text appear in search result listings.

ALT Attributes – ALT attributes are alternative attributes of a single element of a web page, such as an advert, an image or animation. This is using text to represent an image. Every foreground image must use the ALT attribute within the code. There are many reasons for this.
If the image is clickable and part of a hyperlink:
The text within the ALT attribute will be indexed and assist in the optimization process.
If the image is not clickable and part of a link:
The text within the ALT attribute will help with the representation of that image.
If images are turned off:
The ALT attribute will replace where the image would have been.
If people have accessibility issues such as color blindness or partial sightedness:

Screen readers can speak out the text within the ALT attribute.
If text is contained within the image such as navigation buttons:
Again screen readers can speak out the ALT attribute text which should accurately describe the page it points to.
When writing ALT attributes, it is crucial to think about potential key phrases that you can put in but also you must accurately represent what that image is and if part of a link, where that link points to.

The importance of links!

Hyperlinks are what we use to click our way around the internet. Hyperlinks are what search engines follow to crawl their way around the internet. Links are the most important aspect of a website’s marketing campaign, when it comes to internal website navigation and inbound links from external websites. It’s not where they point that matters too much, it’s what the links say that’s vital to get right. This is called the “anchor” text. A hyperlink is represented by the A tag. The text within the tag needs to describe the page or resource that the link points to. It has to be very descriptive and also use the main key phrase that the page you are pointing to represents.

Now this is where things get confusing, because how link text gets indexed will change according to the search engine.
Working on the majority method (Google is the most popular used search engine website worldwide – source: www.searchenginewatch.com, we’ll look at Google for this. Google likes lots of links from other websites that point to yours. These may be one way inbound links, or links that are returned, commonly called reciprocal links. The more links point to your website, the more Google “assumes” your website is important and will raise the rank accordingly.

This sounds fairly straight forward. All you have to do is trawl the internet looking for websites that swap links, business directories that will accept my website as part of their database, and you’re done. Well, that’s only part of the story. You will need to do that because many websites do swap links but it’s the relevancy of the site, the rank of the site and the words contained within the link that determines how valuable the inbound link is to you.

Important – Never keep repeating the key phrase of the text within a link that points to your website as this will be filtered. Every time you submit or apply for an inbound link with a website, give them different information and a different keyphrase. Specifically with Google, the same text on inbound links can be filtered as spam and may scupper your efforts and devalue the link.

It’s also possible to use images for links. Instead of using anchor text, which isn’t possible with an image unless you add the text after the image, use the ALT attribute as this then becomes indexed and helps optimize the page it points to.

Important – Links need to be placed in proper hyperlink “A” tags. If a link is placed in a Java applet, Flash movie or JavaScript then a search engine will not follow it and the link will be useless from a search engine optimization point of view. Although these tools can create some outstanding effects, you’ll just have to design your navigation and links around “A” tags. This will reap dividends in the end and is well worth the effort. If design is a problem with hyperlinks then look up CSS or cascading style sheets on the internet as it can achieve some really good effects.

What is relevence?

Relevance is all about determining the reason for a website to link to another website. Search engines are well aware of the linking “handshake” that occurs these days and will carefully analyze the sites to see if there is a reason to link. If you sell gifts, gadgets and gizmos then a gearbox supplier’s website has no reason to link to yours. Inbound or reciprocal links need to be specific to the industry and sector you are in. You also need fairly similar key phrases on both sites to help with optimization of your site. Any sort of inbound linking must have value and be industry and sector specific.

Relevance isn’t only to do with key phrases and industry similarities. Some have claimed that links from outside your target country are not as valuable as local inbound links (see research studies completed by search engine researchers such as www.highrankings.com and www.searchenginewatch.com. This makes some sense. If you provide a service to the UK, then having links from Australia or Japan would only be for the purpose of boosting rank so that a search engine may classify it as a “marketing” link, not a “natural” link.

Spend some time looking around the internet for competing websites. The ones that are successful will have good key phrase placement, good rank and relevant inbound links. Try to understand why this is so.
To get a high rank you need good key phrase placement and a good rank from relevant inbound links. If either is weak in a competitor’s website, then you have an opportunity.
It helps to make a list of competitors in a “Favorites” folder and monitor them religiously in terms of marketing.
Effective use of statistics

Remember hit counters? Well they’ve evolved! The total numbers of hits your website receives is largely irrelevant but what is important is everything else a good statistic tool can offer you.
Things like,
  • The referring search engine.
  • The key phrase used to find you.
  • The exact page the visitor lands on.
  • The exact page the visitor exists on.
  • How long the visitor stayed for.
  • The most popular page on your website.
  • The country the visitor originates from.
This information can be used to maximize the effectiveness of the key phrase optimization process. If you see a page not performing well, i.e. people not landing on it or maybe exiting on it (use the statistics available through the statistical tool), then you know that page needs further work. This stops you working blindly and gives you a focus for your campaign. Good use of statistics is critical if you want to succeed and compete with other websites for given phrases.

When searching for free web statistics (www.statcounter.com for example), please make sure to opt for the hidden or discrete statistics. Hit counters on websites just aren’t cool anymore and their sole purpose is to structure and guide your keyphrase optimization techniques and monitor your marketing efforts.

Keeping your website up to date

Being found on the internet leads to attracting and holding onto new clients, so stay in touch by e-letters, newsletters and e-mail. Keep information up to date and offer incentives to keep them coming back to your site. Word of mouth is the best form of marketing and loyal customers bring new people in, so reward them, using discount themes, free shipping and so on.

Capitalize on any correspondence you have with them. Never miss an opportunity to advertise your products or services. When writing an email, sign off with a special offer or the latest deals too. Similarly, when writing a letter, add a leaflet with similar information about deals and savings.
If you have something positive to say about your products or services, write an article about it and publish it on a product review site or a discussion forum. An informative article is a link-worthy resource and will naturally draw people in. They make excellent methods of PR and as word spreads in the world of the internet, links start to pour in.
Common website mistakes

It can be very difficult to present a professionally optimized and designed site that will appeal to everyone and very easy to create a site and get it horribly wrong. There are elements of web page design that should be avoided. This could be from a usability point of view, and not always from the requirements of a search engine. First, we need to look at the page structure.

Frames - Frames are to be avoided, if possible. A framed page breaks the model of a web page. If you think about what a web page is, it’s literally a text document that’s had styles or templates applied to it. When using frames you are looking at two or more pages, in one containing page. It’s this containing page that gets viewed by the search engines and if your website has 30 pages, that’s a potential 30 pages of marketing that have been inhibited. Some of the top search engines can read frames and index their content however some do not. A framed page is also a problem for older browsers as they may receive an error when tying to view the website. Along with this, some browsers cannot handle frames well, in terms of printing. Bookmarking is also eliminated as your website only has one address which is the containing frame page. So if it can be done, avoid them.

Images are one of the main reasons for long delays in loading and accessibility problems. Take a look below at some of the issues to be aware of when using images. Remember, images should be used sparingly on any web page.

Download times – Although not known, it is quite plausible that search engines will time how long it takes to download a webpage and mark for or against to determine its rank. If a website is fast to load then people will have a better browsing experience. Typically, a person surfing the internet wouldn’t wait more than 10 seconds for a web page to load. Make sure a search engine isn’t waiting too. Keep images small, colours few and file sizes light.

Conveying information – Images should be used to enhance the visual appearance of a website or perhaps assist in the description of a product or service. Embedding text inside an image should not be done, under any circumstances. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, a search engine cannot read information contained inside an image. Secondly, people with poor eyesight, maybe someone with dyslexia or even a person with poor literacy levels cannot screen read the text within the image easily or expand it to make it clearer. This is a major accessibility issue so use proper text and set the image as a background. From a design point of view, this may be more difficult but, the extra effort makes for a better, more usable website as well as one the search engines can read.

Image maps – These allow large images to be split into a series of links, but are best avoided because search engines tend not to index them and they can be confusing to use if not done correctly.

Objects – Not all browsers support the use of objects, so limit their use. Objects are things like Flash, Java applets, ActiveX controls and so on. Until recently, such objects were completely ignored by search engines and most browsers struggled to implement them, because most objects were designed to work with Internet Explorer. Normally, an object can offer a high level of sophisticated power and interactive capability. Flash files are now able to be indexed, specifically with Google. If you can avoid them, do so. Most objects are not indexed by search engines and are not very user-friendly.

Dynamic content – Dynamically generated websites (such as database powered websites) can offer huge flexibility and power but have to be handled carefully to avoid a poor indexing with search engines. The main concern is the way dynamic sites pass information in the address bar. Search engines need fixed addresses so they can navigate effectively and read the content. A dynamic page with many dynamic addresses can, potentially, be infinite. So search engines tend not to like them because of the lack of fixed addresses. However, many sites now require dynamic addressing and search engines can read a limited amount of content of this type. But, limit the amount of possible variations and don’t expect your entire database of products to be indexed.

Scripting – “Client-side” scripting (code within the web page) is another area that will not do anything positive for your site. Although from a users point of view scripting can certainly assist the experience, some older browsers do not support this and some antivirus software products will stop scripting in order to protect the machine from a possible virus infection. There is much good and bad this can do for your website. Things such as alerting the user that a text field has not been completed, rotating banners and real-time clocks are all achieved with scripting. The downside is scripting also creates things like popup windows, resizing and moving windows, flashes and changes to content and so on. Use scripting sparingly and make sure your website works in browsers not supporting scripts.

Trying to “out-smart” search engines will end in disaster. The corporations know about and have seen all the tricks in the book! So, don’t even begin to try. The worst thing you want is a search engine to turn its nose up at your website and not index you.
Do not hide text from users and use hundreds of keywords. White text on white background is the oldest trick out there.
Do not create gateway and doorway pages that redirect people to content other than what they are searching for.

Do not “client-sniff”. This is where you run script that detects the visitor. Your readers get one set of pages and search engines get a load of spam filled pages. Certain search engine can fake browsers and catch you out.
Do not add hundreds of keywords in comment tags in the sites code. It adds weight to a page and doesn’t assist in the rankings whatsoever.
Do not continuously register with the search engines. If you flood them they may blacklist your domain and not index you. As soon as you submit, they will find you.

A final note

To wrap up our guide to optimization, we need to return to website design and its priority. The major issue is not to try and optimize a beautifully styled website but, to beautifully style a well optimized site. A good looking website is a great asset to a business. It should reflect a professional image for your company and be welcoming.
The basic foundation should be what the search engines and your visitors need such as information and key phrases, then the layout and design should follow to present that information in a way that’s attractive and clear.

Website development has evolved. Gone are the days when flashing animations and popup windows would dazzle us. People want clear, fast loading and accessible information. A websites’ design is personal to a company and we all have our personal preferences. However, there are fundamentals that must be adhered to, for the sake of your audience.

A must for websites!
  • use clean HTML or XHTML and be validated as specified by the W3C.
  • use Cascading Stylesheets (CSS) to style the webpage.
  • be cross-browser compatible.
  • be simple to use, print from and bookmark.
  • be free from flashing objects, bright animations and considerable movement.
  • not contain irritations such as pop-ups, pop-unders and other intrusive advertisements.
  • be easy to read by using layman’s terms and good clear natural English.
  • be grammatically correct and spell-checked.
  • be quick to load by carefully degrading images to balance between file size and quality.
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Old 12-25-2009, 11:18 PM
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Join Date: Jun 2009
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Hey.. That is really very good & informative information regarding that.. Glad to read about that. . .
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Old 12-28-2009, 07:41 AM
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Good post I'm sure others find it useful as I did. Thanks!
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