Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a strategy to allow a site to rank in search engines (Google, Yahoo, Ask) for terms. Typically the goal is to rank in the top ten for terms relevant to the main focus of the site and within the top 1-2 pages (10-30 results typically) for secondary focus areas. Since most new sites are found via search engine results this becomes the main source of traffic for smaller sites like blogs and startups. However, even main web staples rely heavily on this referral traffic.
In order to SEO a site a dual strategy is needed.
Internally, a site must have good technical design and well-written content. This makes it more attractive to search engines and helps with “natural indexing” a search engine spider finding a single link to your site and being able to traverse the entire site tree to add it to it’s database.
Externally, a site must rely on strong inbound links in order to build the trust factor associated to its domain by search engines (mainly Google). Means of accomplishing this include using social book marking sites (Del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia), social news / technology sites (Digg, Reddit), popular blogs (TechCrunch), and niche link building (inbound links from other sites that rate for the same search terms).
Internal design should focus on semantic web design and well-written content. On the web, it’s said that “content is king.” Well-written content will trump any attempts at “keyword stuffing”, hidden keywords, or any other “black hat” SEO strategies (those frowned upon and/or banned by search engines). While black hat strategies might earn a short term gain inherently the search engines catch onto the strategy resulting in a long term loss either in reducing the site’s trust so they rank lower or simply banning them from the index altogether.
Semantic design is the process of writing HTML code so that content on the page is contained in semantic elements. This movement came about after the fiasco of 1990s web design including “table-itis” using tables and other semantic elements non-semantically in order to display the page the way the designer wanted. With the widespread acceptance of CSS and the (mostly) widespread implementation of it in browsers such as Firefox, Opera and IE 6+ the move to semantic design seriously began and started gaining a foothold in the web standards community.
At it’s heart, semantic design is basically wrapping content in elements that describe it semantically paragraphs in p tags, lists (many times navigation links) in ul (or if ordered ol) tags, tabular data (like graphs or excel documents) in tables, definition lists in dl tags, and headers in h1-6 tags. The use of non-semantic tags divs and spans mostly along with liberal use of classes, ids and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) then allow the designer to have semantic content in semantic tags but still display it in any manner that they wish.
The reason semantic design is important is because it tells search engines what the data means it outlines header hierarchies to allow for keyword sensing and allows it to sense how data is formed and related (paragraphs under a header being a “section” etc). Since search engine spiders can only parse and not actually read the data this allows them to parse the site more intelligently and results in better keyword matching for the site.
The final internal design facet is likely one of the most important the title tag. This is a tag that is only shows at the top of the browser window, above the address bar and is thought in the SEO community to be the most highly weighted element by spiders. Having unique, meaningful, concise, and useful titles on each of your pages is the first step to being indexed for the terms you want.
After the title tag is surmised that the header elements h1-h6 are the next most heavily weighted internal element because they perform a function like a “table of contents” for the page. These should be used intelligently and not abused though as this can be considered “black hat” as well.
External Link Building
Beyond good internal design, a well-executed inbound linking strategy is key to SEO. In the SEO community it is thought that this is actually the most important overall part of the process. Search results tend to sway towards this thinking as many times a site that has poor internal design but strong inbound linking for terms will rank higher (many times much higher) than well designed sites with poor inbound linking.
Google is the largest search engine and likely the one that values this most. Although it’s algorithm is unknown many hypothesizes have been put forth by the SEO community and results seem to provide validation.
The first hypothesis is that search engines (specifically Google) place an amount of “trust” on a domain and page (sometimes confused with PageRank). This trust for search terms shares a one-to-one relationship with how that page and domain rank for those same terms.
In order to build this trust, a site must be thought of as an expert for the terms. Typically this is show by inbound links that meet a combination of criteria. The most important is number of links combined with some sort of freshness multiplier. The more inbound links for a term the more trust. The freshness multiplier comes into effect when, for example, an older site might have more links for a term however has not had any recent links for those terms. A newer site with less overall links but many recent links for those terms might then have more trust. The logic is that data is timely so more new links earn more trust than many old links.
Beyond total number of links is links from other sites that have trust for the terms. So, for example, if a site wishes to rate for “dog breeding” having inbound links from other sites that rank well for “dog breeding” show to spiders than those trusted sites consider the linked to site a peer.
Finally, the terms in and around the anchor text of the referring link assign terms. So a link set with the text “dog breeding” in the previous example would pass on trust for that keyword phrase. This is thought to be the least heavily weighted method.
There are many other hypothesizes, however these seem to be the most prevalent and well trusted.
Inbound links are typically generated though networking in the niche community a site is looking to enter as well as using popular social networking sites (Digg, Reddit, StumpleUpon, Del.icio.us, Ma.gnolia) to increase the exposure of the site and, hopefully, gain inbound links from various sources. A campaign of using social networking sites intelligently to garner inbound links is typically referred to as “viral marketing.”
In conclusion, SEO relies on both internal and external methods. The most important is a strong campaign of collecting links from valuable sources preferably in the same niche. The second most important is strong internal design so when a spider reaches the site it has the highest chance of success to index it correctly and rank it for preferred terms.
Random Tidbit: Want to learn more about SEO? Try reading some of the 15 most popular SEO websites. If you use WordPress learn more about improving it’s SEO – I actually use a different plugin called Add Meta Tags. Finally, check my SEO page on Ma.gnolia for more interesting sites and tools I find.
This is something I drafted up for a discussion on our boards at work and figured I’d pilfer as content. If I’m going to do the work anyways, might as well get some content for my site.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a tricky subject but one of the most widely accepted processes is having numerous, quality links from outside sites builds trust in a page and domain, helping both page and domain to gain value in rankings for the keywords associated.
There are a few widely accepted facts (since there are no certainties in SEO) I’ve discovered and seen in action that follow in (relative) order of importance (and not comprehensive):
- Deep links are better. Using a blog example a link to a post is better than a link to category page. A link to a category page is better than a link to the blog’s homepage. Why? Because each link gives a little “link juice” (value that search engines associate with a page) from the referring site. Typically the more broad a page the stronger it’s natural link juice. Basically your home page naturally has more link juice than a new oist on “Why kittens are cute.” This is because of the way web page hierarchies are setup (it’s too long to go into detail here) so the “link juice” passed from the referring site will make a bigger impact on an post (which has very little “link juice”) than the home page (which already has a lot of “link juice” both from internal and external links). Think of it like this – you have an ounce of real juice to share. Your home page is a swimming pool, a category page is a kiddie pool, and an post is a cup. In which one would you see the biggest impact? The cup.
- Niche links are better. An article about “Why kittens are cute” will get more “link juice” from a site about (and recognized as being an expert – ranking in search engines – for) animals (good), cats (better) or kittens (best) rather than a site about golf. Why? Because search engines (SEs) give more value to links from perceived experts in the niche. If you were buying a computer and one friend you had was a computer programmer and the other was a ditch digger in whose opinion would you place more value? Probably the computer programmer – same thing with SEs.
- Links from sites with greater site age and trust are better. Trust is built through many ways, but basically it’s a catch 22: if other sites trust you (link to you) for keywords, you are trusted for those keywords (and can then pass on that trust). Site age refers to how long a site has been indexed in the search engine – the longer it’s been indexed the more trust. Google especially weights in site age and trust more than any other SE. Trust is also built in part (it seems) by how often your site is updated. Sites that have been stagnant for a long time (months, years) gradually lose trust to more recently updated sites under the impression that the information goes state and/or becomes dated on updated sites over time. This can be offset if others sites are regularly linking in to the site. Example: on a certain keyword a site that has been updated recently and regularly gets lots of incoming links is better than a stagnant site with lots of fresh incoming links or an updated site with few fresh incoming links which are both better than a stagnant site with few fresh incoming links.
- Links with keyword built text are better. This does not mean make a link that says “cats, kittens, animals, ….” etc. SEs can pick up on that and call it “keyword stuffing.” This does mean that a link to the kitten article is more valuable if the link text (the words between the opening <a href=”..”> and closing </a> tags) says something like “an article about why kittens are cute” than “kittens” or “cats”.
- Links with titles are better. The anchor tag (<a>) has an attribute called “title” in which you can put further keywords. This is especially good for links that are auto generated. A good example is “read more” links you see sometimes on blogs that link to the whole post. This can also be used to make a normal part of a sentence a link but still get the keyword effect. Example: … Check out this <a href=”site.com/kittens” title=”Why kittens are cute”>great article about cute kittens</a>.
Some of those are basic and more for beginners (my intended audience when I crafted it) but there is still some value for the intermediate SEO out there.
Conclusion: there’s more to SEO than to simply have a lot of sites link to you. One good site (a trusted authority in your niche) is worth dozens, hundreds or even thousands of links from smaller sites, blogs and web directories.
Random Tidbits: Sticking with the SEO theme I found 2 great items on SEOmoz (view source for an example of title tag use on that link – not that SEOmoz is going to get a lot of link juice from the likes of me).
- Matt Cutts on Nofollow, Links-Per-Page and the Value of Directories – Matt spreads some knowledge on several hot button SEO topics including use of nofollow, which is sometimes misunderstood. Matt works for Google (SEOmoz calls him their “spam guru”) and is one of the best sources to understand Google.
- SEOmoz’s SEO Expert quiz – test your SEO mettle in 75 questions. See if you can beat my
horrible impressive 55%. Seriously, the best part is at the end it shows you the correct answers along with a brief description. Unfortunately, you can’t save that page to keep that information – unless you print it as a PDF to your computer.
April 21, 2007 at 7:51 pm
I’ve done a few SEO posts lately, but I got to thinking of another quasi beginner’s guide – similar to the one I posted awhile back. I think this is a little more clear as I have gained more information, insight and confidence with regards to the subject.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is comprised of 3 basic elements: good site design, site age and trust, and link popularity.
Good site design basically means two things: designing with web standards and utilizing good keywords and content in SEO important tags.
Designing with web standards means using semantic tags – p for content paragraphs, ul/ol for lists, h1-6 for headers and so on. It also means using the least amount of non-semantic tags like divs and spans to provide hooks in order to style your site with CSS. Ideally, you want to have the least amount of tags possible because a large amount of non-semantic tags makes it harder for search engines to “read” your site and find content, as well as the fact that they only index so much of a page, so if a page is too large and your content too far down it might not be seen at all. Many standard tags like headers, p and lists are block level elements anyways and can by styled with borders, padding, margins and background images eliminating the need for extra divs for all but the more complex designs like rounded corners.
Utilizing good keywords and content is a major part of SEO. First, you must decide what your site is about and what you are looking to provide to users. That will determine your content and what searches you should (and can) optimize for. Second, you must place those in SEO important tags. The highest level and most important is the page’s title tag which displays at the top of the browser. For example, in this article (at the time of this writing at least) the title tag of this page reads “The Basics of SEO.” Having relevant, clear, concise and individual title tags is one of the most important parts of SEO. Each page should ideally have a unique title – for example your home page might be “YourSite.com” and your about page might be “About YourSite.com”, etc. Second is a page’s h1 tag(s) which should be, ideally, similar to the title tag but not exactly the same. Some repetition is good but you don’t want to keyword stuff. Finally, at a much lower level, are h2-h3 elements and, on a much broader level, the actual content of the site. While the actual content is not in important tags, this allows search engines to figure out what your page is about, what keywords you really are targeting, and what should be displayed in search result snippets.
Site age and trust are harder to quantify. Site age refers not to how old the domain name is but how long it has been in the search engine’s index. This is why older, popular domains can fetch a decent price at sale and can unfortunately be, at least for a short time, abused to spam search engines for profit. Trust is typically related to Google and deals with link popularity as well. Most assumptions are that trust is derived from the trust of the site plus (or minus) the trust of sites that link to and from them. The biggest factor here is black hat strategies like link rings having a lot of links to you from sites that aren’t trusted can significantly lower your own trust.
Finally, we talk about link popularity. Besides the negative effects I mentioned before this can actually provide significant and quick returns for SEO. One of the simplest things is to institute social bookmarking/networking icons on your site – digg, del.icio.us, reddit, furl, ma.gnolia, blinklist, etc. These sites, especially del.icio.us, are becoming the new search engines of choice. They are gaining trust because actual humans build the indexes and the tags associated with sites as part of the Web 2.0 movement think of them as social search engines. Many of these sites have high level of trusts so links coming from them, especially if many people bookmark you, are highly valuable. Adding these buttons simplifies the process for your users to help you out and can expose you to new users who might be using those sites to search for tags relevant to you.
Providing high quality content in your niche can also boost SEO because search engines give additional value to links to your site from other sites in the same niche. If you are seen as an authority on that subject, you will naturally gain more trust and move up in the rankings.
Sites that rank high typically do because a search engine can trust them. They have been around for awhile, have lots of links from other sites that are relevant to the terms being searched for, have lots of inbound links total, and have content that is designed to be easily understood by search engine spiders. A good analogy is to think of a search engine like word of mouth advertising. If someone asks you for the best pizza place in town you’re going to recommend places you trust. And if some place you usually recommend changes their recipe or gives you a bad experience, they will lose your trust and not be as highly recommended by you. The same with search engines – if you use black hat or spam techniques, you could hurt your trust for a long time and potentially even be banned. However, if you provide good content and are popular for that niche, then they will recommend you more and more.
Random Tidbit: A neat article on how to make a six figure income while blogging.
April 7, 2007 at 10:18 am
I pulled an article from my feeds the other day from SEOmoz that was very interesting. Basically, it’s a discussion and compilation of what is important SEO-wise for sites from 37 of the top people in the field. For those of us who can’t afford our own search engine marketers and/or don’t have a lot of experience separating the myths from the facts it was very eye opening. It confirmed a lot of what I had believed and implemented, as well as adding some new ideas to my head.
It is a rather long article, so I’ve compiled a sort of top 10 list of things that they found to be extremely important. These are not in order of importance. All factors are taken from the article and are attributed to SEOmoz. Summaries are provided for convenience by BogeyWebDesign.
- Page title tag – using keywords in your title tag not only shows up in results but is likely one of, if not the, highest ranking SEO element. Christine Churchill said it best: “
- Link popularity of site – incoming links, both in quality and quantity. It also talks about sub-categorizing this further as links inbound from high ranking sites in your niche also help.
- Age of site – not when registered but from the date of first index by search engines. Google especially factors this in with regards to trust.
- Anchor text of inbound links - the text around the links coming to your site. Has started to depreciate though according to their experts.
- Keyword use in body text – how much the search term appears in your actual content.
- Relationship of content to keyword – how much your content actually matches those keywords. This could also hurt you if you pull in for a keyword but don’t support it – in the case of spammers putting high use keywords to pull in for say selling ED medicine.
- Keyword Use in H1 Tag – the trick is to avoid too much repetition of keywords. Perhaps a broader one in your title, with more meaty relevant content around the keyword in the H1 tag.
- Topical Relevance of Inbound Links – do inbound links to your site focus on a similar topic. Again, building link popularity in your niche.
- Link Popularity of Site in Topical Community – another factor they rated high that relates to being popular and relevant in your niche.
- Rate of New Inbound Links to Site – how often do people link to your site. The more popular you are, the more relevant you likely are to the subject.
So it seems that not only should you build a key site, but by becoming a player in your niche/topic – through white hat tactics – you will gain more credibility. It makes sense. For example, when you google “css” one of the top links is the CSS Zen Garden. What is that site known for? Revolutionizing the use of CSS on the web. And most sites that have content on CSS likely link to them one or more times. I probably have a dozen if not more links to that one site on mine.
The bottom line? Design a clean, relevant site with keywords prominently displayed in the right places – title tag, H1′s – and work to become a resource to other sites in your niche as well as people who might be searching the web for that content.
Random Tidbit: Also on SEOmoz is a nice tool to help you see the page strength of your site SEO-wise. I used it on my site and between that and the article have already taken steps to strengthen my site including changing my homepage title tag and trying to get my site re-indexed – especially considering I’ve added dozens of pages of new content. I think I might delete my old blog since repetition issues might be the case.
April 5, 2007 at 10:09 pm
I’ve finally started to get my site up and running and have been actively searching for various plugins to enhance my site. So far, I’ve come up with a short list that anyone should start with in order to have the basic functionality – for yourself or a client – without paying a lot from a hosting company or anyone else to have them.
- Akismet – because of the good code, SEO-wise, that WordPress generates you get a lot of traffic. Unfortunately, that means you get a lot of bad traffic too – including comment spam. A must have.
- Google Analytics – a simple google account and you have access to all the advanced stats you could ever want or need – does any more really need to be said?
- Google Sitemap Generator – with the same google account you can generate an XML sitemap – that will dynamically re-create itself and notify Google everytime you add a post – that will allow the 3 major search engines to index your entire site easier.
- Share This – nearly every social bookmarking site known to man is included, as well as a feature for people to e-mail your site/post/page to friends. Easily allow your users to index your site for you with popular sites like del.icio.us and get traffic from sites like digg and reddit.
- Add Meta Tags – although less important for SEO, this plugin lets you dynamically generate keyword and description metatags based upon your categories and the content of your post.
Random Tidbit: Excellent article on five principles to design by.