Beautiful White hat search engine optimization basics without fear
One of the major faults of most webmasters, both hobbyist and professionals, is the lack of regard for basic search engine optimization. Anybody can properly optimize many aspects of a webpage in a matter of minutes, and yet most webmasters have a total lack of understanding when it comes to this important area of development.
Some are even scared using these proper design techniques will get them banned from search engines. This is complete nonsense – no search engine will ever ban you for practicing good web design. The majority of search engine optimization is a simple matter of properly utilizing HTML tags, so let’s have a look at the biggest problem areas.
It should be noted that the word or words that make up a domain name can have a considerable impact on how your site gets indexed for those terms, but since a domain name is something you need to build on over the long run, you’ve got to acquire the best domain available at the time and go from there. If you’re thinking of starting a website and don’t yet have your own domain name, definently educate yourself on choosing a good domain name!
The effect of a proper title
Using a unique, relevant title on every page of your website is crucial. The title is a highly valued aspect of a website in the eyes of a search engine. The mass majority of websites give no heed to this very useful tag. Many dynamic sites or template based websites use the same title for every page, such as “Companyname.com – Some catchy slogan!” This is partly a negative effect of using a header/footer system on a website, however even with such a system unique titles are only a couple lines of programming away. It usually boils down to laziness and lack of understanding. Even many purely html websites don’t use unique page titles.
A good title is generally a 4 to 8 word description of the page contents. Try to include the relevant keywords or keyword combinations that occur within the pages subheadings and text. Using descriptive titles not only benefits search engines, but it also makes logical sense, gives the page a more complete feel, and is a huge benefit to users browsing the page using non-conventional browsers such as handicap audio readers (for the blind).
Utilizing the heading tag
Next on the list are heading tags. Heading tags hold particular importance for search engines, but also for logically dividing a page. Some unknown force keeps most designers away from these important tags. Use H1 and H2 tags on every page, even if the H1 tag is just a rephrased page title. This lets people (and search engines) know exactly what to expect on the page. Also, these two tags hold good weight with search engines, so don’t be afraid to put relevant keywords in the headings. Some simple CSS can redecorate your heading tag text to look however you want, so your last excuse for ignoring the heading tag has just been tossed out the window.
Some will argue that a header (a graphical banner displayed at the top of the website) is more catchy and therefore should be used in place of a textual H1 tag. This is the same dumb mentality that says design first, worry about content and substance later. Nothing says you cannot use a header graphic or log and still utilize the header tags to split up the text.
Directory structure and filenames
Now, this one isn’t something you’d necessarily think about, but directory names and filenames both add weight to the keywords of a webpage, as well as adding meaning to a file. Keep in mind search engine spiders don’t deep crawl every page on your site each time the bot visits. What would your best guess of the content of a website be if you could only look at directories, filenames, and anchor text of links? If the files were labeled 1.html, 2.html, 3.html, etc. it would be pretty hard to get a good feel for what the site was about without opening some files, wouldn’t it? If a search engine crawls only the index page of your website, and sees links to 1.html, 2.html, etc. even though the anchor text might be there a search engine may not accept that until it does the deep crawl of a page. Most search engines do not deep crawl a website often, perhaps once or twice a month if you’re lucky. This makes keeping relevant links, filenames, and directories much more important.
Dynamic URL’s, and how they affect search engines
The advent of dynamic pages and the Content Management System, or CMS, has only aided the laziness and poor directory structure webmasters often use these days. Granted, a content management system can greatly reduce the maintenance time of large websites and offers the option of posting information that otherwise non-savvy web users wouldn’t know how to post, and these systems can be a great thing. However, most websites that use a CMS do so out of sheer laziness, and not because a real need for a dynamic system. Check out my article on content management systems for more information on this particular topic.
Healthy internal linking
Sometimes webmasters get so caught up in trying to get inbound links from other websites they forget relevant links from one webpage on their domain to another will affect search engines being able to properly find all the content of their website, and can also positively affect those pages within search engines. If you’re writing on a topic you’ve also covered elsewhere in the site, link to it within the context of the writing. This is the foundation on which the web was built!
Healthy external linking
Sometimes a directory listing of websites is warranted, however a directory with links all over the place to lots of unrelated sites is not healthy for your website. If you must keep a directory listing, link only to websites that have closely related material. When I run a games website, I don’t link to four gardening websites, a site on vintage auto’s, and a flower sales shop. All this would tell a search engine (and my users) is that I’ve got no focus, and my website probably doesn’t have much of value pertaining to games.
Again out of laziness, most webmasters don’t even separate their directory into general catagories. The general rule of thumb is that a webpage should never have more than 20 to 25 outgoing links (links to other domains) on one page. There are exceptions to this, and it’s not going to kill your page to have more, but in general when building a directory keep it to 10 or 15 related links per page.
Meta tags shouldn’t be ignored
Many websites will tell you to ignore meta tags, skip them, or they’ll scare you into believing using meta tags could damage your rankings. I’ll let you in on a little secret. Using any underhanded tricks on a search engine will likely damage your rankings. However, using meta tags properly will only help, and many search engines use the meta description tag as a description for the web page when listing it in their search results. When you get done writing a page, read through it and use some of the keywords in the meta keywords tag. I usually aim for 3-10 keywords or combinations. Write a good catchy, but objective description of the page content. Try to include at least the major keyword(s) in this description, and use 5-20 words for the description. Keep it short and to the point.
Writing relevant text content
Unbelievably, the most overlooked aspect of search engine optimization is also the most overlooked aspect of building traffic: good content! It seems ridiculously simple, and it is! Google, Yahoo, MSN, and all the other search engines out there still only know how to read one thing well from a website: text. They aren’t yet able to understand graphics or images, and they are still a ways off from properly understanding proprietary technologies such as Flash or Shockwave.
Text is the golden key to search engine optimization. Of course, you won’t be able to push the door wide open without the weight of these other techniques on your side, but without text you’re effectively trying to knock down that door with your head – and that’s a painful way to get the job done.
Though copywriting text to emphasize certain keywords can greatly improve a webpage’s rankings for those terms, simply writing lots of relevant content is the most important part. If you’re writing useful, quality information on a subject optimization of certain terms is going to occur naturally.
Some extraneous things you can do to benefit a page
Those are the basics, though there are other small things you can do to help as well. Use the alt text property to write descriptions for images. Use the strong (or em) tag to emphasize important phrases or keywords a few times through your page. Use cascading style sheets to apply style to your pages, keeping the html as simple and semantic based as possible. Using many nested tables can confuse a search engine and diminish the importance of text within those tables. Remember, tables are meant for tabular data – use paragraph tags for text and learn design with CSS. You’ll be so glad you did you might feel an uncontrollable urge to send me lots of money. Go ahead, don’t fight the urge. Frames and iFrames can also cause problems for search engines, though for the most part the big engines have frames figured out these days. Frames are hardly ever best option though, so try to avoid them unless absolutely necessary.
Basic SEO in review
Let’s review the important aspects of page design as seen by search engines:
Lots of related text content
A short, unique, and descriptive title on each page
Use of H1 and H2 tags to separate and catagorize paragraphs
Descriptive directory structure and filenames
Avoid dynamic URL’s when possible
Don’t neglect interal linking
Use common sense with external linking
Use meta tags, but don’t abuse them
That’s it! Basic search engine optimization on a webpage is pretty simple, huh? Many people pay ‘professional’ search engine optimizers in excess of $100 an hour to do this kind of stuff. Granted, the good ones do copywriting, keyword analysis, link building, and other things not covered here – which can be well worth the investment. However, what I covered here are the most important aspects of building the proper webpage. You will get you great rankings, assuming you have some relevant, useful content users want and some quality inbound links. Search engine optimization efforts usually take a couple months to really start kicking in, because a given search engine will only complete a full crawl of the web and reindex every few months.