Basics of Search Engine Optimization

Due to billions and billions of pages on the web it is quite hard for new websites to make a mark on the Internet and get ranked in search engines. So what exactly is search engine optimization or SEO and how can it help new websites to make an impact on the Internet. Read on to learn more..
| Monday, March 23, 2009
Definition - Search engine optimization is creating websites that are search engine friendly so as to obtain and reap the maximum benefits that search engines have to offer.

SEO has been alive as long as the search engines. During the early years, SEO was an adhoc process. Adhoc because many used to follow techniques which were deceptive and tricky to rank on search engine result pages (SERPS). However, there were also a selective few who used to abide by the rule book and follow only ethical seo techniques. But during the early days only the dark vaders would rule the rankings since it was quite easy to trick search engines into believing something that wasn't there or was more than what generically was supposed to be. Today, the scene has dramatically changed and search engines have become very powerful and smart and can sniff dark techniques (a.k.a black hat seo) from a long distance.

Today search engine algorithms are very complex and involve billions of complex mathematical calculations to crawl, index and rank content. This might be attributed to the fact that search engines today employ the best of the brains on earth today most of whom are highly talented phd level scientists. So how can one rank with such complex maths in picture" It is not that difficult as it may seem. To rank on search engines today one must have the basic qualities of patience, resilience, moral ethics and of course understanding of some core and basic techniques. If you wish to learn patience, resilience and moral ethics please see yellow pages and you will get a lot of businesses that would offer ways and services to help you with the same. However if you are the one who is looking for basic techniques that would help you rank on SERPS, read on..

Best Places to Get Started

Before even searching for the phrase seo on search engines, read what search engines have to say. Read them, listen to them, understand them and you would be eligible to take the next step.

Basic Principles of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

On Page Optimization

On page or on site optimization is optimizing the pages of your website so as to make them friendlier for search engines. This would ensure that search engines are able to crawl your content efficiently and effectively. The following are some parameters to look at while doing on-page optimization:

Page META Title

This is the title that search engines use while listing your pages on their result pages. So the importance of page META title cannot be avoided. This one part is the most basic things to begin with and maintain throughout the life of your website promotion efforts. Make sure your pages have unique META titles since having duplicate META titles are bound to create problems with search engines. Besides having a unique page title, ensure that the title is not made up of generic terms like untitled page or index page, instead be creative and choose titles that would stand a chance not only to getting ranked but also recieving click-thrus on the SERPS. Also see that your page title has 3-6 keywords related to the content of your page. Don't be greedy and include all keywords in the page title. Make sure you prepare titles for humans and not search engines. Finally keep the length of the title to a acceptable length, say 65 characters.

META Description Tag

This tag would include description relevant to your content and besides this, search engines pick this to show it as a snippet in the SERPS. So be careful and craft descriptions that would help you reap the most when you are ranked on search engines. Again, avoid using duplicate descriptions on different pages, ensure that descriptions are unique to unique pages.

The Page Content

  • Make sure your page content is made for readers and not search engines. Don't stuff your page content with too many keywords. Remember what I told you about maths and search engines?
  • Make use of proper text formatting. Using h1 tag three times is sure to throw you amongst the last positions of the result pages. Ensure our html tags are used correctly and only use them wherever absolutely necessary. For starters, subheadings can be written in bold face, content in normal and some important words (not keywords) in italics. It of course depends on how you want to present it before your website visitors.
  • Avoid deceptive techniques such as hidden text (using css or whatever) or hidden links or cloaking (showing different content to search engines and different content to visitor). 
  • Write your pages in proper language, punctuation and grammer. This is also one of the most important factors that search engines do consider while ranking your pages.  
  • Don't write just a few lines on the page and hope to get ranked. Make sure your page content is informative and descriptive and does justice to your page title and description. 
  • Don't duplicate content across multiple pages. This is a strict no-no. Content duplication would serve no purpose and infact search engines might penalize you for doing so. Make sure each page of your site talks about a unique topic or concept. Don't even think about copying paragraphs or lines be it from your own site or elsewhere.
URLs
Using PHP/ASP or whatever is good and many of us do that but having a URL like www.yoursite.com/products.asp?id=82 isn't going to help you with search engines. Ensure that your URLs are like www.yoursite.com/products.asp?id=82&product_name=halloween_masks&category=halloween or www.yoursite.com/products/halloween-masks.html. The most latter - the better. Many get confused on how can they use a .html extension when their asp/php page serves dynamic content and has a .asp/.php extension. This can be achieved with URL re-writing. URL re-writing processes your asp/php page in the background and makes believe the users and search engines that it is an actual static html page. While using this for fair and legitimate purpose is good, misusing this system can land you into deep trouble. Besides not everyone can do url re-writing properly. If you struggle with achieving it then it is best advisable to avoid it and try the url format as I mentioned in the second example (www.yoursite.com/products.asp?id=82&product_name=halloween_masks&category=halloween).

Having a good URL is your first step towards ensuring that your pages are properly indexed by the search engines and which in turn also ensures that the visitors which find you on the SERPs acknowledge your URL to be good looking and uncluttered which of course gains you more click thrus.


Link Structure
This is one of the most crucial areas where most webmasters struggle the most. It is very important that your website has a easy-go navigation system in place and that your website visitors don't suffer while moving through your site. Don't make links 4 levels deep, this is going to cause problems. Make sure that your website visitors can reach your home page and important pages within a distance of just a click. Make the navigation system just like a breeze and your website visitors would be happy to discover more pages of their interest. Also consider adding relevant internal links on your content pages which would serve as an added value for both search engines as well as your site visitors. Doing all this do keep in mind about the relevancy factor and ensure that your links have words that are related to the page content that they link to.

Off-Page Optimization

Off page website optimization involves optimizing your website from outside your domain or website. Off page optimization is another key factor (infact one of the most crucial factor) which ensures (if done properly) that you rank well in the SERPs.

Inbound Links

Search engines give your website a higher page rank if they believe many external websites link to yours. While inbound link building is not a rocket science but what matters is you do the link building exercise in a ethical and proper manner. If you are thinking about using web directories to get unlimited incoming links, forget it, you are lost then and there. While search engines take time to detect it but as and when they do, they will penalize your website and throw it out of the SERPs. So how does one obtain incoming links" Inbound links is not about obtaining but rather being patient. Build good content, get engaged into social forums and groups, talk about your website at the right places and natural incoming links would follow. Never spam, it hurts everyone!

Anchor Text

As and when you get the right places where you can put up your link, ensure that your link is surrounded by anchor text which would be your business targeted keyword phrase. Again, don't spam while doing this. Just be neat and cautious and abide by the search engine guidelines.

Writing Articles

Writing articles on article directories is another way you can achieve quality incoming links. Write informative and descriptive articles on article directories and just add up your link at the end. This way you provide good content to search engines and you get a link back with anchor text of your choice. Again, don't assume this to be fast and don't submit duplicate articles to article directories. Ensure your articles are orignal and serve value to the visitors who read them. Article submission has another advantage that it would offer you free targeted traffic from the article directories as well as many visitors who read the article can follow the link if they like the article.

Social Bookmarking

Bookmark the most important pages from your website on popular social bookmarking websites such as digg, delicious, etc. Make sure you don't submit each and every page to these website as this will raise a red flag. Only go for the important pages on your website.

Analytics

Finally, analyze your website traffic through a good analytics service and track every minute detail. Take a serious look at aspects such as where is the website traffic coming from, what are the keyword variations that bring you website traffic, which pages have a high bounce rate, etc. Make sure you learn and understand about what your website visitors are trying to say to you with those colorful analytics graphs.
   
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