search engine optimization
For the most part, it’s exactly what it sounds like –yet so much more than most companies or individuals realize. Search engine optimization is the ongoing process of optimizing a web site in order to improve its overall page rank and search engine traffic. It’s a necessity that requires a great deal of vigilance, knowledge, maintenance, and thorough tracking –to the extent of it being a job or field of its own. It requires that you not only pay more attention to the varied workings of the web, but that you also change how you do business on it. Good SEO cannot be achieved by simply adding better keywords, what’s needed goes far beyond that, and in this guide we’ll go in to detail on just “how far”.
How search engines work
In order to better understand the information we’ve put together, it is necessary to first gain a better understanding of how search engines operate. What steps are taken by search engines to provide their users (those searching the web) with the most relevant results? And what do they really take into consideration? In this section, we’ll do our best to provide you with a solid understanding of, at the very least, the basic process of finding stuff on the web.
Note: One thing you should realize is that search engines have a responsibility to their customers just as you do to yours. They use techniques designed to ensure that when a search is performed on their engine, the resulting links are as relevant to the user as possible. That may seem obvious now, but you will hopefully see the bigger picture by the end of this section.
Crawling the web
Search engines use automated “spider” programs to browse the web looking for information, which they can then relay to their searchers. This happens all day every day, not just when a person performs a search, and the info is then indexed by the company running the program (Google, Yahoo, etc.). Having the information on your site properly arranged to promote this indexing, is crucial in order to be included in this step –many sites continue to fail at this, in fact, it is estimated that more than half of the information found on the web has yet to be indexed at all. It is imperative that these spider programs are able to find your site, and you can help them by utilizing effective SEO practices (discussed throughout this guide).
Throughout their search of the web, these spider programs will encounter a variety of issues, from complex navigation to repetitive content. These and many other issues can serve as road blocks, and damage your site’s overall SEO ranking. Below is a list of things to avoid while building your site (discussed in greater detail later on).
1. URLs with more than one dynamically generated parameter. Spider programs will avoid these due to the many errors encountered over time (They’ve been programmed for this, based on years of experience on the part of those who have developed them).
Example: http//wvw.mediabanana.oom/index,php?page=beyond/forms,php?id=17&pg=9 (Not a real page, errors added to prevent auto-hyperlinks)
2. Frames can cause some confusion for the programs by forcing them to decide which page to rank, and in some cases, none are. This does not necessarily mean that you can’t or shouldn’t use frames in your site, but care should be taken in to what goes in each frame –use relevant, related content (a metal band having frames on their site with info on cuddly bears).
3. Pages with excessive links are often not ranked or counted, as many of the major search engines out there have taken steps to prevent the indexing of link farming sites. With too much of this, you may even suffer a penalty in your overall score (again, back to search engines serving their customers and not you, they’ve taken steps to keep them away from sites like these. This also helps them locate companies that are “cheating” search engine ranking by spamming the web with link farms, link exchanges, etc.)
4. Spider programs only go so far into each site, so pages three or four clicks away from the home page are not likely to be indexed. Some of this can be helped with an accurate site map, but care should still be placed in no building your site too deep.
6. Accessibility can also be an issue –spider programs will not be able to get to pages that can only be accessed after a login. Similarly, if a page is only accessible after a search is performed or form filled out, it will not be found.
7. Redirecting to another page will not only cause a page to be ignored, but could possibly cause you a penalty in the process. This has become known as the “bait & switch” of the internet, you find a page with a specific title, go to that page, and are immediately taken to something else.
When a user goes online and searches the web, the search engines then browse the information that has already been indexed (not the web itself). For any typical search performed, there are usually in excess of 5 million results.
Ranking, sorting, and displaying those results
Now that the engine has all of these results at its disposal, all that’s left is to display them in the order it thinks is most relevant to the user.
Note: in its simplest form, SEO can be described by this process alone –actions taken to improve how search engines rate you during this process are in effect “search engine optimizations”
Understanding the inner workings of each major search engine is a key step in your quest for more effective SEO. During the ranking process, they measure several elements of your site and content to determine if your information is closest to what the searcher would want. It’s a very complex system for some of the larger Engines out there, like Google and Yahoo, and some of their criteria would even place less relevant info above yours if that site is deemed “more popular” (a more popular site must be so for a reason after all).
Matching the searcher and searchee
For the most part, this is accomplished by ranking your site in two main areas, relevance and popularity. Improving your sites SEO in terms of these two elements can be a difficult process, and will require you to rewrite your content, and rethink how you present your information.
In order for your site to be considered “relevant” to what the searcher wants, you must consider what a person might search for while looking for your site (or rather, looking for the service or product you provide). Consider your keywords, and not just what you have placed in your meta tags, but your real key words. Try to think of “keywords” (an internet created word, used to describe search terms) as “key words” (the true meaning of what’s intended here). These key words need to be used throughout your content, in your headers, etc. –not just in the meta tags of your site (actually, they should ideally be in both). These key words also need to be relevant to what your selling or doing, and should be similar to, or correlated with what your site is about.
Example: A car salesman wouldn’t use the keyword lawyer, just because he mentions selling a car to one once, in this instance, the keyword “lawyer” will most likely get you absolutely no results in a search (because it is not relevant to anything else on the page). Furthermore, too much of this “random keyword” usage, can get you penalized, search engines have found ways to weed out sites that spam popular keywords hoping to pull in unrelated searchers.
Then there’s popularity –although this does refer in some part to how many people come to your site and how many people talk about it on the web (aka. Popular), there are also other aspects of this element that you can control or optimize.
When a searcher looks for a keyword, the engine also looks at how popular that keyword is on each page in its index. For instance, a page about “dog hair” would likely have the word “dog” several times throughout its text –making the word dog “popular” for that page, while at the same time, a search for hair would be able to find a more appropriate target.
It’s also a positive for your site link to be found as often and on as many pages as possible. For this, it’s important to change how you interact with the internet and its people –you need to find ways of spreading the word. To put it simply, you need for these spider programs to find you everywhere it goes.
In addition to the number of links found, search engines also look at “where” links to your site are found. Take a popular and trusted site like about.com for instance –having a link to your site from there, would increase your “popularity”, but then take a site like random.com (made that up) –having a link to your site there would not (comparatively speaking, all links are actually a plus, with the exception of blacklisted sites).
To be honest, this information only scratches the surface of just how complicated search engines have become –but with at least this much knowledge, you should have an easier time understanding the rest of this guide.
Look for the “search engine” symbol throughout this guide for more detailed information.