Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, is an important (if not vital) part of any website. In fact it is one of those things you need to do before you design your website. If you already have a web site it is not too late to make use of SEO on your website and with a bit of hard work and consistency you will hopefully find your website better used and also able to be found in the major search engines.
So what is SEO and how can you make best use of it for your website…
Before I go further just a note… If you have read my ‘About page’ you may note I am all for open source and the sharing of information, unfortunately with SEO there are many out there charging a heck of a lot of money to do SEO for you. I am not saying it is not worth it as it can be, just be very selective with who you use – no I cannot recommend anyone.
I also believe for the smaller to mid size websites (even some larger ones) you can do much of the SEO yourself, but this can also come down to individual skill levels and knowing what to use.
First what is SEO?
Wikipedia defines SEO as ‘Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “natural” (“organic” or “algorithmic”) search results for targeted keywords. Usually, the earlier a site is presented in the search results or the higher it “ranks”, the more searchers will visit that site. SEO can also target different kinds of search, including image search, local search, and industry-specific vertical search engines.’
So what does that really mean, well you could visit Wikipedia and read through the history, its development and use. You could also do a Google for SEO or Search Engine Optimisation (or Optimization) and you will get a very long list of websites that discuss and even try and help you with SEO, I know I have read many of them ?.
The process of SEO is simply preparing or modifying your website for search engines to read and index your website, that’s it in a nutshell, no more no less. While that sounds simple the process of getting your site ready for SEO can be a lot of hard work and be rather time consuming as you make edits and modifications to best suit your site. So here is a list of what I consider you should think about when looking at SEO for your website.
1. Don’t overuse words or bury hidden keywords.
I recall a comment made by a fellow peer that said trying to cheat the search engines is like playing with fire in that if you think you can fool them into thinking your website is better than someone else’s by embedding repeated keywords, duplicating content, repetitive content and so on to try and cheat the system you better give up now as the major search engines have the knowhow in its systems and its people to outwit you and using any method to try and cheat the system could and most probably will result in your site being delisted and banned.
By cheating I mean where you try and over use keywords or key phrases in a non natural language sense and are only added to try and score ranking only. While use of your main keywords and the like are important don’t abuse them. As to what is the correct balance is really back to your content. If the pages content uses your keywords and key phrases in a logically and natural language way then all should be fine.
2. Don’t use competitors keywords (names)
I have lost count of how many times I have told people and clients of mine you cannot and should not use your competitors names in your content, keywords and the like unless of course you want to advertise for them.
I get the ‘ I did a search for “X” and these five web sites were first listed in Google so I want to use all their words in my keywords list’ – don’t do it…. Find and use keywords that related directly to you not your competitor.
3. Don’t assume you know what people want or are searching for
You know your product, you know your service, you know what you’re about, but do your customers? What you search for to find yourself may not be what the general public will use to find you. On a scrap piece of paper or a white board do a think-tank on words, words that describe what your site is about, what your products are and what you provide. Build yourself up a good list of terms and phrases and test them, do some Google or Yahoo searching for those keywords and key phrases and make notes about the results.
If you can ask an audience about keywords or key phrases about your product or service, get out there it is all networking and it also helps getting your name known.
4. Research your keywords and key phrases
Once you have a set of keywords and key-phrases you need to check for alternatives, do some more research (remember how I said this can be a lot of work). There are some great online resources for this to look at search engine statistics and to see how many people are searching for specific terms. The main two I use are Keyword Discovery and Word Tracker. If you have not yet used these before then you may like to take up their free trial and that might be just enough to get you started. While the monthly or annual costs for these services in my opinion are too high the value you can obtain from them can be invaluable.
5. Decide on your main keywords and key-phrases
Now that you have done all your research and identified all your keywords and key-phrases you will hopefully have noticed some core terms and phrases that are at the top of your lists. These are what I call ‘your main keywords’. It is these keywords you use most in your sites content to draw attention to them and to attract search engine indexing of your site for those keywords. Be careful to only use them in a natural sense, remember point 1 don’t over use them in an unnatural way. By ‘natural way’ I mean using them in titles, use them in sentences as part of site content and so on but do not repeatedly add them as hidden text or meta keywords over and over again.
6. Add good content with your keywords and key-phrases
Content is very important to the major search engines like Google and Yahoo, you may have even come across the phrase ‘Content is King’. This is not far from the truth as it is content that is indexed, especially if it is new and well structured. With your keywords and key-phrases write a series of content articles using those keywords and key-phrases in your titles and links. Remember to use headings correctly in your content and follow the most important first to least important last structure with your content.
7. Use headings correctly
Too often I see websites use heading tags too much, especially the <h1> tag. This tag is important yes but you need to limit its use, it should be reserved for the most important part of your site – know that that is? It is your websites name – or it should be.
The title of the page/article should be using a H2 tag, this is the next level, if you have a few segments on the one page that are of high importance then by all means use H2 in a few places but remember the rule, most important first least important last. Go further down to H3 and H4 tags where necessary, but only use them where necessary don’t use them unnecessarily, like overuse of keywords you can over use headings to your detriment too.
8. Using Images or other media for title names in the header
If you use an image, flash or anything else media rich for your websites name in the header add a H1 tag to it and set a CSS style class for that H1 Tag to display:none. This will assist the search engines to see what the title of your website is. Yes you have it in the title tag but more importantly you need it in a H1 tag. If you’re not sure how to do this then you may need to read up on CSS ?
9. Test your website design for the blind
Everyone that has good eyesight loves to see all the nice colours, flash, sounds and everything else that make a website stand out from the crowd but what does it look like as text only. You need to, and this is really a must, test your site for readability for the blind. Not just for those people that are vision impaired but because search engines are blind. While advances are being made by Google and Yahoo to index Flash and other media rich sites the pure text version is still at this stage the best for indexing.
If you use Firefox (if you don’t why not ) you can test this very easily using the Web Developer plug-in by turning off css, images and the rest just to see your site in text only.
You should see a good structure of your page(s) with the most important text at the top and the least important last with headings appropriately structured from H1 down to H4 (if needed).
10. Go with the flow
Following on from 9 above the flow of your content is important and cannot be stressed enough. Whether read by you or someone that is vision impaired or by a search engine your page structure should flow from top to bottom as it is meant to. There should be no difference in the flow of information if read in either method of media rich or text only.
11. Keep your code clean
Making your site easy to read is one thing, making your website code readable is another. Please remember to keep your html and CSS code clean and uncluttered. Use comments where needed but not unnecessarily. Make sure you use HTML tags appropriately. If you need a list use UL and LI, for paragraphs use P and so on. Tables should be used as tables not the design structure of your site, however do not over use DIV’s either. I’m not totally against using tables for some layout needs but a good design can (and should) use few DIV’s with good CSS to make a sites layout flexible and easy to follow.
12. Your Home page is your window to the world
Whether you are selling, buying, informing or anything else your home page is your front window to your audience and IS the most important part of your entire website so please don’t waste this opportunity to showcase yourself to the world.
I cringe when a client asks me for an entry page that does nothing more than try and be a showy entry page that adds no content value at all. Don’t get me wrong there are some out there that do this well with SEO built into that page but it is not an easy thing to do or get away with. I have lost count of how many websites I have gone to that starts with some flashy intro and I just go to the next website… ask yourself do you really need it.
Your home page should be about your site, easy to load, easy to read and summarise what your website is about. It should entice any visitor to WANT to visit other pages of your site not drive them away. Your use of your keywords and key-phrases here is important as it is most likely why you have a visitor as it is what they are looking for so use them,
Please don’t take this point as meaning the rest of your site is not important, it is but your home page should be well structured and summarise the rest of your sites content.
13. Give meaningful names to your links
Please do not use ‘Click Here’ or Click Now’ links on your website. Use descriptive content for your links. Give your links some meaning that then goes to the page that obviously is related to that link meaning. This is also a great way to use your keywords and key-phrases as links inside your content for additional indexing based on those keywords and key-phrases, but again don’t overdo it. Ensure your links are relevant to your content and are maintained, especially if the links are to an external site.
14. Link Checking
Having links on your site within your content is important for SEO, however having a series of dead links can be very detrimental. Unfortunately websites come and go on a daily basis and you’re not always informed about those changes, actually your probably never informed. There are a number of resources both free and commercial that allow you to do link checking. Run these at least monthly to check on links within your site and update where necessary.
Also pay close attention to your own internal links, if you remove a page from your site that is probably linked to or indexed have a forwarder as in a redirect to the new page or an alternative page.
15. 404’s are not good but are a necessary evil
We all have them and we need them, and that is a 404 page. A 404 page is a file not found page and these are VERY necessary in case of mistyped URL or heaven forbid you removed a page and forgot to add a redirect for it. The web server 404’s are very plain and not helpful to anyone. We are all use to 404’s but helpful 404’s can be very helpful to your SEO and website visitors. There are many good examples of 404’s on the web – do a Google and have a look at other sites 404’s for examples, some are quite unique, entertaining and funny.
16. Title for each and every page
Every page of your site needs a title and this title should be a title for that page not your entire site. Don’t use the same title on every page, by all means incorporate your website name in the title but don’t leave it at that. There is a 65 character limit (last I checked) for titles so use them all and best of all its free ?
17. Listing in the Major Search Engines is Free
Following on from 16 above and I think we all need to consider this is that listing in Google, Yahoo and the rest does not cost you. You are not charged for Google to index your site and you’re not charged to have your website appear in the search results. The cost however is the time in developing how you will be indexed and appear in the search results. I added this one as I have come across many sites trying to sell to you the number 1 spot on Google or elsewhere… don’t use them.
18. Use of meta tags
This one is really up to you, I use them and have always done so, probably due to my background in managing organisational records. There are many reports that say none of the search engines use them and likewise there are many that say that they are used. I believe point 6 is more important, remember ‘Content is King’, however it does not hurt to use meta tags moderately either. By moderate I mean again do not over use, don’t try and cheat the system and bury inappropriate keywords and key-phrases, only use what is part of and is most important to that pages content.
The basic meta tags I believe that you should include are;
<meta name="Description" content="A 150 character description of your website/page
– don’t abuse it" />
<meta name="Keywords" content="your main content keywords separated by commas, these
should relate to the pages content – don’t abuse it" />
<meta http-equiv="content-language" content="en">
<meta name="Revisit-after" content="XX Days" />
<meta name="Distribution" content="Global" />
19. Give meaning to your navigation menu
If you don’t use them yet then this single point here will improve your SEO very quickly. This is where you give your navigation menu items a descriptive title tag, for example <a href=”yourlink” title=”name of page being linked to”>. Do this for each and every menu item you have in your menu/navigation and very soon you will reap the rewards.
20. Alt tags matter as do title tags
Ensure for every image you use alt tags at least, even better is if you can use both alt and title tags to cover all browsers. This again ensures that your site is seen and readable by the vision impaired and again by the search engines, remember they see the text not the images.
21. File names should be meaningful
Whether your site is static or dynamically generated the file names of your images, directories and other files should be well named. While having any old name will still work having the file and image names with meaning adds value to the search engines, the visitors and most of all yourself. Don’t use spaces ever in your file names, and use a dash ‘-‘ instead of an underscore ‘_’ instead of spaces. Something like ‘my-file-name.ext’ is better than ‘myfilename.ext’ though both can be used.
22. Have a site-map
Each of your websites should have a site map, in fact I recommend two, one for humans and one for Google and the rest. There has been a fair amount of discussion on the worth of site maps and if they need to be easily accessible, my view is that it will not harm you but it will help you and your visitors be that human or others.
Your human readable site map should be just that made for humans to easily read and utilise for navigation, also remember to give your links titles.
Your Search engine site map should be in the format suitable for Google, this is usually xml and must be in the required and best format. There are several generators and software available to do this – the XML-Sitemaps.com Google site map generator is a good one you may find useful.
Oh by the way you can combine your human and Google style site maps into one and only have one sitemap if you wish ?
23. Keep your site fresh
I often have clients ask me why their website is not ranking well by Google and others and I ask them how up to date their website is. I commonly get the it was made for us X years ago and it is still not on Google, I again ask how up to date is it. They will often say it has not changed so why is it not on Google. I then obviously say well that is the problem, it is stale and needs to be updated.
A website is not a book, in that once written it is not set in stone, it needs to be updated, needs to be added to, needs to be freshened up often. Remember ‘Content is King’ but if your content no matter how much, if it is never added to or changed then it is going to get stale very quick. A website needs to remain current, by all means like many blogs have an archive and/or past content but keep adding to your site, let it grow but do it naturally and don’t repeat what everyone else has already got.
24. Design your site for humans as well as SEO
Please do not forget it is humans that will value your site more, while Search engines will help people find you it is humans that will decide if it is of ultimate value/use or not. So when your designing your site don’t place all your eggs in one basket, as much as all the above points are important the site much be well structured and usable by humans that keeps attracting them back to your site long after the search engines have come and gone, and remember keep it fresh.
I have been reading that Google and the other search engines are testing methods to index more media rich sites, and while that is a good thing I still believe you need to have your site accessible in a text only format.
26. Network, network network
If you have ever got into the property market you may have heard of the expression ‘location, location, location’. Well for the web my view is that networking, networking, networking, is the equivalent. By this I mean get out there on the web and join forums, blogs and other social networks where you can discuss matters related to your product, service or informational site. Many will allow you to have a link either in a profile, signature or even as part of your entry contents. This not only helps with back linking to your site but helps advertise it as well – so go on get out there
Well there you go, a long post I know and I probably could have broken it up into 3 or 4 parts but thought it looked better complete. I am sure you and others reading this post have some comments to add and I will value each and every one of them.