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.