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Basic SEO for Dummies
One of the hottest topics on the Internet is that of Search Engine Optimization (SEO). There is no question that optimizing your site to the extent possible is an important function. The operative phrase here, however, is "to the extent possible". You can burn a whole lot of time and energy trying to follow every last "tip" you get for SEO (nevermind the fact that some of these tips turn out to be contradictory). You can also spend big bucks on those who will claim to increase your PR. Or you can do most of it yourself. In this article. I will explain some of the fundamentals of SEO.
The actual programs that go out and look at all the sites on the web to collect, classify, and rank them for the search engines are called "spiders". They are also know as "bots", "crawlers", and a number of other names. Basically speaking, the spiders look through your site to see what you have. The keys to successfully convincing the bots that your site is "worthy" are simple and straightforward.
First and foremost, it's all about content. We are talking about text content here; relevant content. Search engines love content rich sites. Flash intro screens may be all the rage, but they tend to be a problem for search engines. They can't pick up any discernible content from Flash intro screens. Same thing applies to sites that have more graphics than content. Pleasing to look at, but they don't do anything to help your page ranking. As it relates to SEO, you can actually wind up shooting yourself in the foot by making your site too flashy.
So when you design your site, make sure it includes lots of text-based information. You also want to make sure that the keywords you believe people will search for are used within that text. If at all possible, you also want to have more than just a few pages. A minimum of 20 pages would be my recommendation. Spiders just love to crawl around interconnected pages. A one or two "sales page" might do great in the Traffic Exchanges, but the spiderbots will be left feeling unfulfilled. A great technique is to use the Google or Yahoo keyword selector tools to determine what people are actually searching for. DON'T guess when it comes to this! Use the tool. Most of the time, what you think people are searching for is not reflected in the actual statistics.
Most spiders don't really pay that much attention to meta tags, but even so, you want to use them. Your Title tag should be short and concise; no more than 60 characters or so. Same thing for the description tag: short, concise, and containing some of your keywords. Maximum length shouldn't be more than around 160 characters.
We all put our keywords in the keyword meta tags, even though we know that most modern spiders don't care. But there are things you can do that will hurt more than help. Spiders really don't like seeing the same keyword over and over. No word should be used as a keyword more than three times. Using "dog grooming" as an example, having your keyword list contain dog, dogs, dog grooming, grooming dogs, dog salon, and so forth is NOT a good idea. This is keyword spamming, which tends to irritate the spiderbots. If you can't think of a more varied list of words or phrases, then just keep it to a few relevant words. You also want to keep the total character count for keywords to no more than 120 or so.
With the sites that I manage, my experience is that if you use Keyword Meta Tags, each of those keywords should be included in the actual text on your homepage. For example, if your keyword meta tags include "dog grooming", "dogs", "pets", and "pet grooming", the text content on your homepage should include the same words or phrases. Doing this gives the spiderbots a "warm and fuzzy" feeling that your site is what you claim it to be. It does matter. On the other hand, including numerous words in your meta tags that aren't in your content is counterproductive. From the standpoint of the bots, it tends to bring into question what your site is really about. Bots like consistency. I saw this recently on a site I used to be associated with. They had 15-20 meta tag keywords that weren't reflected in the content. Their PR was 2 points below what it should be. I emailed them a few months ago about this and they started to take the advice. Their PR has gone up one point and I expect it will go up another.
Keywords are the relevant part of content. As pointed out in the previous paragraph, make SURE you have keywords relevant to your product or service in your content. Don't guess at this. Use the Google or Yahoo keyword selector tools. Find out what people are actually searching for and then include the words/phrases relevant to your site in your content.
While doing research for an ebook I recently published, I used the example of someone selling homemade candles online. Without using the tools, I came up with a list of what I THOUGHT the relevant keywords would be. I then used the tools to find out what people were actually searching for. Not to my surprise, my "best guess" list was wrong. The number one search in Yahoo related to candles was "yankee candles". I didn't even know what that was. Had I just used my own judgement I would have missed the number one search criteria. Use the tools.
If you offer something that some of your competitors don't, make use of that. For example, if you offer "discounts" for certain items, use that in your keywords. For instance, somewhere in your content you should have the phrase "discount yankee candles". You will still be in the Google/Yahoo results (somewhere) when someone searches for "yankee candles", but if you offer discounts, and they search for "discount yankee candles", your site will come up in the search results significantly. The same thing would apply to words such as "homemade", "decorative", "custom", and so forth. Try to find a competitive advantage that will help cull your site out from the rest.
The number of "referral" links you have (links to your site from other sites) is one of the factors considered when determining page ranking. Be aware however, link quality matters. Having people come to your site from cnn.com or ebay.com carries alot more weight than having them come from www.one-eyed-llamas.com. Of course, few of us can get links from CNN, ESPN or eBay, but there are other things you can do to mitigate this. One-way links (those that come to your site without a link to their site) are better than reciprical links (such as those provided by "link exchanges"). For the most part, reciprocal links are essentially worthless.
Submitting articles to high PR rated sites is one way to get the kind of links you want. Besides giving you one-way links, articles submission sites are a good way to generate free traffic to your site. And don't discount the effect of "classified ad" sites. Many of these sites allow you to post information about your particular product or service for free. As with articles sites, they give you both backlinks and traffic.
Another option you should consider is discussion forums. Whatever your business might me, it is almost guaranteed that there are forums devoted to that topic. Posting in these forums provides both backlinks and potential traffic to your site.
A site map is nothing more than a page that provides a "road map" to all the other pages on your site. The spiders seem to like this (although there is some debate) because if provides an easy means for them to access all the other pages you have. This can be particularly effective if you have a content-rich site. You can go one step further and generate an XML sitemap on your site for Google or Yahoo. Will they increase your PR?? Hard to say. But as a very smart person (my wife) once told me, it can't hurt.
I can't guarantee you a PR7 ranking. No one can. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fraud. There are those who will charge you 00 or more to increase your rankings. Many of these use non-SEO techniques such as AdWords advertising, which is NOT SEO. Or they will have you use non-relevant keywords. Sure, if you include "one eyed llamas" in your content, you are sure to come up on page one of Google when someone searches for that. I wonder how often that happens? But if you use the simple techniques I have listed here, it will most certainly help your ranking. And it won't cost you a dime.
About the Author: Ray has a 30+ career in the Computer Information Technology (IT) field. He has been a Systems Analyst, DB and Network Administrator, Website Development Manager, IT Architect and Director of IT. He has owned several successful online businesses. He is also the author of several books related to technology and business.