Easy Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Tips and Advice
As featured in The Search Engine News (www.searchengineguide.com) of December 6, 2002
Following is a short (okay, maybe not so short) list of things you can do right now and without paying someone hundreds of dollars to help your pages place higher in commonly used search engines such as Yahoo, Google, Altavista, and Lycos.
What I can't put in these tips is the experience and expertise that a trained search engine optimization specialist can bring to your project. Knowing how to define a set of achievable keywords, optimize (rewrite, if necessary) pages, network for links, and map out a strategic plan are things you can't put into a "how to" list. Having years of web design and site administration experience can help too, as can years of working on the web to provide valuable marketing solutions to clients.
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- Before you go any further, understand that you should not optimize any one page (including your home page) for more than five or six keyword phrases. Trying to optimize for more will only dilute the effectiveness of your pages. Instead, identify other pages on your site that can be optimized for different sets of keyword phrases.
- Don't expect to be able to score with single-word keyword phrases (such as, "travel" or "software") unless you are one of the most visited sites on the internet. It just won't happen. Conversely, the longer your phrases get, the easier it will be to get to the first page of search results. The trick is striking a balance somewhere in between so two and three-word phrases work for you.
- The most important technique you can use these days (especially for good placement in Google, the number-one search engine) is to provide your visitors with lots of good information on the subject(s) of your keywords. Use your keywords often without being too repetitive.
First things first:
- Go straight to Yahoo's paid submission page and submit your site. (Click here for my list of search engine submission links.) It will cost you $299 (as of Winter 2002). Be prepared with a great title for your site and a kicker description of no more than 25 words (a little less than 200 characters by Yahoo's standards). Get your most important keywords into your title and description (but be prepared for the Yahoo editors to remove most of them). It doesn't matter. You have to be in the Yahoo directory, if only so that the Google spiders find you and give you points for it.
- Go to the Open Directory Project (DMOZ), find the best category for your site and then submit it to their editors. Again, you have to be in this directory, but not just because Google will like it. Many, many sites now use the DMOZ directory as the basis for their own directories. Get into DMOZ and you get into all those others (eventually).
I recommend this one-two, Yahoo-DMOZ punch to anyone who is serious about achieving their best rankings in the Google index.
Optimizing the HEAD section of your HTML page:
- Use a TITLE tag (in the HEAD portion of your HTML file) that contains the keywords for your website. If it is the title of the home page, it should also contain your company name. Example:
<title>Captura Web-Based Automated Payment Processing Services</title>
- Use META tags for description and keywords. Keep the description short, a maximum of 200 characters (including the spaces). Keyword lists should be a maximum of 1000 characters (including the spaces and commas). In the old days, longer keyword meta lists would get you higher on the search results, but this is going out of favor with the search engines. Do use the meta keywords, though, to list the most important keywords on your page (once is enough) and any synonyms or common misspellings. Always include your company name in your keyword lists.
- Optimize the META description to include your company name, what you do, and your target keywords. Keep this description to 200 characters.
Optimizing the BODY section of your HTML page:
- Each page should begin with a heading that again uses your keywords. Code this as a first-level, <h1> heading. You can get creative. Notice how on my own home page, the list of services and cities below the main graphic is coded as an <h1>. Another example:
<h1>Captura Web-Based Automated Payment Processing Services</h1>
- Directly following the <h1> heading, include a short paragraph that spells out exactly the value you bring your visitors with this page, using your keywords frequently (though without getting too redundant). For example:
"CapturaŽ delivers Web-Based Automated Payment Processing Services powered by Captura's Payment Processing Engine reducing costs and processing time and providing better business decision intelligence for companies worldwide."
- The remainder of your page should also use your keywords frequently. This becomes a balancing act between putting in enough keywords and sounding repetitive. There is no upper limit to the number of times you can use your keywords on a page. The more, the better.
One IMPORTANT WARNING on keywords in your text: Avoid hiding strings of keywords in comment tags or in "hidden" text (eg, white text on a white background or black text on a black background) in order to up your rankings. This kind of search "spamming" is widely known and looked for by the search engines. They will ban your site if they catch you doing it.
- For your images on your page, especially your logo and any photographs, use the ALT and TITLE tags to describe the image (if necessary) and to use your keywords again. This is the code for the Captura logo:
<img src="/images/top_logo.gif" width="145" height="30" border="0" title="Captura Web-Based Automated Payment Processing Services" alt="Captura Web-Based Automated Payment Processing Services">
Additional optimizing secrets, or "links, links, links":
- All the links on your site should be descriptive. Avoid short "click here" links unless they are descriptive, such as, "click here to read more about payment processing." When linking to brand-name pages, include a keyword description of the product, such as "Captura Expense Automated Payment Processing".
- Put links on your site to other sites that have valuable content (though not to your competitors' sites). Some examples may be industry associations, pages that list free downloads, etc.
- Get other sites to link to YOU. This is the hard part and somewhat boring job and one you may want to outsource to a search engine professional. The more "bona fide" sites that link to yours, the more popular Google and other engines think you are, the higher you go in the results.
WARNING: DO NOT join a "link farm" system. These systems put links to your page on thousands of "links" pages in an attempt to get Google to rank your page higher because of many links. Google is wise to this practice, and if they catch you doing this, you're out.
- Submit your pages to the free submission search engines once a month. Most will accept the root page of your site (eg, http://www.captura.com/) and then follow the links on your site (called "spidering") to index the remaining pages. Do not submit multiple times in a single day or week, since that can also get you banned from the search index for spamming. Though they are a vanishing breed, some search engines still accept your submissions for free.
Click here for a list of free site URL submission sites (and some paid ones as well).
Don't waste your time with offers that say, "Submit your site to thousands of search engines at once!" Most of the sites they submit to are too small to matter (or worse, they are link farms). Do the free submitting yourself (or hire someone to do it).
Google has recently published advice to webmasters and others wishing to purchase search engine optimization services. I totally endorse their recommendations.
- Once a month, go to all of the search engines and input your keywords and see where you show up. I usually look about 5 pages/50 results in for the page, and give up after that. It is best to track your positioning this way. If you do get a good result (page one listing) and you see it starting to fall, resubmit it again right away.
WARNING: Be careful using automated position ranking reporting software such as WebPositionGold. In particular, DO NOT use any automated system to check your positioning in Google. If they catch you, you're out. A workaround is to automatically check the Yahoo web listings (not the directory) since Yahoo uses Google results.
- Don't expect to get all your keywords indexed just for your home page. You can also optimize product pages for specific keyword combinations and submit those pages singly to the search engines.
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