Search Engine Optimization (or SEO for short), is something which many new web designers do not learn, but which is nonetheless important to the success of most web sites. SEO is really all about marketing your site. While you can market your site the old fashion way by using word-of-mouth campaigns and traditional advertising methods, the online marketing methods are all about search engines and the traffic that they can bring to your site. SEO can encompass many techniques and depending on your subject matter, the process can vary significantly. The first thing to understand is that SEO results can vary, because the search engines constantly tweak and change their algorithms and databases. It is pretty safe to say then that no one technique will work indefinitely. This is why SEO experts customize their methods so often.
It is best to think about the SEO process before you start your web site project, but this is not always possible. The following tips should help though, even if your site is already completed and active.
The most important SEO tip is also the most obvious, namely great content. People have to want to read your content to begin with, and so anything you can do to make your content more interesting, more accurate, more enjoyable do it!
Next you will want to extract the key words from your content. Your content is usually about something, try to narrow down (summarize) your content into one phrase, or pick out certain repeated words that best describe the paragraph or section of your content. You should then use this phrase (or keywords) as a heading for the section, or in the title tag for your html document. In HTML, there is a title tag that goes in the HEADING section, and then there are the heading tags H1, H2, H3,… . You want to make sure that you use these to accurately describe your content.
Once your content is nicely keyworded, you need to make sure that your site follows web standards as much as possible. Using valid XHTML matters because, the search engines will be able to read your site that much better. Having clean and valid code is easier to read for the search engine bot, and so if you can cut down the size of a web page by using CSS, then you should use CSS.
If your web site content is generated instead of static html pages, you will need to modify your script or program to generate the content with a search engine friendly url. In WordPress these urls are referred to as permalinks. Search engines like to have uncomplicated urls for indexing, so you have to accommodate them by using a shorter friendlier url scheme for your site.
If your site is Flash based, search engines cannot read the text in Flash animations, and so you must either have plain html text to describe your flash sections, or you must have an extensive linking campaign. Search engines can figure out what a site is about by reading the content, and secondly by seeing what websites point to your site. In the case of Flash sites, the links become more important since the content is not readable.
Regardless of whether you use Flash or not though, a link campaign should be part of your overall SEO strategy. The more sites you have linking to you the more prominent your site’s ranking becomes in the search engines database. You should though avoid link farms, (sites that automatically copy your link to hundreds, perhaps thousands of other sites). Google, Yahoo, and MSNSearch have all optimized their searches to no longer include these sites or worse, can penalize your site for using them. It is best to do a natural linking campaign where you manually submit your site or email a fellow webmaster requesting a link. Many directories allow free linking or reciprocal linking (where you must also link to their site in exchange). As you naturally build up links monthly, the search engines will calculate these new links pointing to your site. In the case of Google, your Pagerank will improve within a few months. A reasonable goal is to add 10 to 12 new links a month to your site.
Monitoring Search Engine Optimization Results
You will want to avoid using unethical seo techniques, but there are a few SEO shortcuts that you can use. One is Google’s Sitemap, which allows webmasters to submit an XML based sitemap to Google directly. This way the search engine knows all the relevant links to your site. You will need software to create the sitemap formatted file most likely, but you can build the file manually if you have the time. The other shortcut is to actually use an advertisement campaign to drive traffic to your site. This means paying for the traffic, but if your site is ecommerce based, then you might have to do an Adwords campaign anyway. However, you should still include a link campaign and other SEO strategies to help increase traffic.
Further SEO Information
To learn more about web standards check out any of the books in our WebKeyDesign Store.
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