Whereas many of the other advertising strategies are rather short lived and don’t benefit you beyond the handful of visitors you gain from them in the here and now, SEO is much more important. The goal of SEO is to implement a number of strategies that will help you rank higher in Search Engines naturally.
The most important thing here is that once you are able to rank well for those keywords, you can maintain that ranking and continue to gain what is called organic search traffic each and every month for no additional cost. That alone is the main reason that I’m going to harp so heavily on the value of your SEO efforts.
This article is going to focus intently on the search engines themselves and what they’re looking for. By getting a general understanding of what they want from you, it will be easier to point your efforts in the right direction and gain the benefits of that optimisation.
The Things Search Engines Look For
I’m not going to break down how a search engine works or what it’s many, many working parts do, but I can give you a general overview of what those search engines are looking for and what you should be doing to point your efforts in that direction. Here’s a list to get you started:
This is a very simplified list that generally covers what the major search engine spiders look for. Within those categories however, there may be dozens of different little details that those search engines will start to analyse.
And by “search engines”, I want to make sure you know I mean Google first and foremost. While the other two search engines of note – Yahoo! and Bing – are both highly regarded and have a lot of search traffic on their own, the majority of website owners focus their SEO efforts toward Google with its nearly 70% market share of online search. Also, if you rank well for Google, there is a good chance that you will also do well in the other two search engines.
Let’s start to break down a bit of what those three categories are going to mean for your website when you start optimising your content.
Keyword Rich Content
The first thing that everyone thinks of when they hear SEO is keywords. Ironically, keywords – while important – have been lower on the list than both linking and content for the better part of the last decade as Google has moved toward ranking methods that are harder to manipulate by spammers. That said, there is still quite a bit to be said for effective keyword optimisation in your content.
Your title tags are what will display text at the top of the browser. Most search engines place a high value on this because it basically describes what your website is and how it will be displayed in the search engines. It’s important to make all of your titles unique and to include a number of keywords in each of them.
On your page, there will be some text that holds more value than the rest. This text is usually in the headings that describe your content. You will have headings at the top of your page, as well as throughout the rest of your page as subheadings. There is a special HTML tag for these headings that will tell the search engines that the text is more important than the rest.
The ALT text is the little line of text in the white or yellow box that pops up when you put your mouse over an image. This text is considered a required part of HTML coding and helps the search engines to know what an image is of when it is scanning your page. This is especially helpful because images are so much harder to analyse than standard text on a page.
Your META tags are special tags at the top of the HTML code for your page that describe the content of your page in a 160 character description and provide a listing of keywords for search spidering. They are important, but not overly so and if you stuff your META tags with too much content, you can trigger a spam reaction, so you must be careful here.
Placement of Words
Word placement is important when keyword optimising. Because of special indexing methods that most search engines now use, you want to try and place related words near each other whenever possible. Additionally, while you may not be able to have keywords match up exactly, placing them on the same line is still helpful. For example, if you wanted to try and optimise for an extra phrase like “Apple MP3 Player iPod”, but find that it is a bit too unwieldy to just use outright (grammar is an issue these days), you could write it as “Apple has a new line of MP3 Player in its iPod series”. This sentence contains all of the words from your phrase and while it does not necessarily get the exact phrase in there, it does provide enough to be considered in the rankings.
The proximity of your keywords is another small thing that can be helpful to you when taken advantage of properly. However, it’s important to be careful when trying to tweak and move your keywords around. Having a couple of high value keywords atop your page can be very helpful, but it can also be seen as spam if you over do. This is where using your headers and title tags come in handy.
Anchor text is the text used to display a link. For example, if you were linking to www.google.com and your link looked like this: Google, then the word “Google” would be your anchor text. The search engines look at that anchor text and give it a bit more credence than any other text because it is attached to a link – something that those search engines downright love.
The importance of anchor text comes into play in a few different ways. First off, when you get links from other sites, having anchor text involved is a great way to help yourself out. We’ll discuss it some more when we talk about Article Marketing, which is a task that you can control the anchor text in, but you will also find that it is possible to ask your fellow site owners when you place links to use certain keyword specific anchor text.
Another use of anchor text is in your own navigation structure. Remember when I said not to use too many images for your links? This is why. When you link to your own pages, having anchor text there that will allow you to quickly and easily integrate keywords into internal links on your page can be tremendously useful for SEO purposes.
Frequency on All Pages
While keyword optimising your homepage is important, something that many search engines will keep in mind is how often those keywords are used on the other pages of your site as well.
This is important because it shows how much information and authority on that subject you have to offer. For example, with William’s MP3 player site, he is going to rank better for general terms like MP3 Player or iPod because they will appear on multiple pages on his site, whereas very specific terms like “video transfer cable” will probably only appear on one or two pages and likely within a very specific context.
If you have keywords that you would like to be highly optimised on your site, keep in mind that they need to appear many times throughout the site.
This is another place where your navigation structure and anchor text can help you out as well. By having links to multiple other pages on each page, you will be able to integrate the anchor text that we discussed above, highlighting those keywords without spamming them.
Keywords in URLs
The URLs and filenames of your website can have an impact on SEO as well. If you’ve ever seen the file structure for a blog, you will notice that it is broken down multiple times through to include a number of extra keywords in the URL. For example, a single post about an iPod might look like this:
That link includes multiple keywords stretched across it, and it gets away with it because it’s a sound file structure. I recommend never going more than two slashes deep. You never want any pages on your website more than two directories below the main URL.
If you can do this properly however, you’ll find that everything works like a charm. Do the same for your image files as well as it is one of the few ways to get credit for them in terms of your SEO efforts.
These are just a few of the many factors that will directly affect how your website is seen by search engines. Because services like Google will never reveal their exact algorithms, we must guess at how much of an impact these factors have on your rankings. Take them seriously, but don’t overdo it. You should never over optimise for anything on your page, as you’ll soon see.
Navigation and Good Linking
The next thing your website needs to incorporate as a strategy in ranking for search engines is linking and navigation. This is what made Google such a major force in search technology back in the late 1990s when the engine was first launched. Up to that time, many search engines were META and content search engines. They looked for keywords and content on the page of a website to decide where it ranked. That resulted in very hard to distinguish results with a whole lot of spam.
So, Google’s founders thought it would be better to have a search engine that used a ranking system for its listings. In the Google algorithm, sites would be given a sort of internal ranking based on how many inbound links they received from other sites. What’s more, the higher ranked the pages that linked to a page, the more value those links had. Basically, the more friends (links) in high places (other sites with good ranks) you had, the better you ranked.
This method of measuring the value of a website is still in effect today and is used by most of the major search technologies as a primary tool of search engine ranking. What this means is that you cannot just stuff your page full of keywords. You need to go out and earn links from highly regarded sites to your site. In turn, you will rise in the rankings based on those links.
Of course, it’s not as simple as being linked to by a lot of outside sites. You need to make sure those links are keyword rich and that they are on sites with related content. You also need to be sure that your own website is well linked, both internally out externally.
This is the navigation aspect of your website. If you don’t provide an easy navigation structure that cross links well within the architecture of your website, the search engines may penalise you for having a site that’s hard to get around.
Here are some of the factors that Google will consider when ranking the links and navigation of your website:
How Many Links Point to You?
Are they related sites? Are they valuable resources?
There are a number of specific details that are involved in determining how valuable any one link that points to you is. To start with, how many links do you have pointing to you? Next, are those sites related in any way to your content? Finally, do those sites provide valuable resources?
Essentially, what Google thinks of another website will determine what they think of your website. Thankfully, this rarely harms you if you have links coming in from low grade sites. After all, you cannot control who links to you. You can, however try to get better links from authority sites that are related to yours in content.
Email Addresses on the Page
If you have any email addresses on your website, make sure that they use the same domain name as your web site. Not all search engines, but some of them, consider it a spam signal if your email addresses are off-domain, meaning they don’t match up. Also, it reiterates the keywords you’ve used in your domain and ensures easier spidering.
Anchor Text of Inbound Links
We already mentioned this before, but I’ll do it again because it’s so important. When you get a link from an outside website, having anchor text that matches your keywords can be a huge boon. It’s hard to do most of the time because you’ll need to somehow convince the other site owners to change how they link to you. But, if you have any control over your anchor text, make sure it is a valuable keyword phrase.
Don’t fret though if you cannot get anchor text that you like. Any link is a good link, even if just says “cool site”.
Rating of Pages Linking to Your Site
The individual rating of any one page that links to you is also taken into consideration. For example, if a website has a Page Rank of 4 on its index.html page, but you get a link from a different page that has no Page Rank assigned, you will get a sort of half credit for your link. Ultimately, you want even the exact page that you are linked from to be well ranked by Google or the other search engines to receive the most possible credit toward your own ranking.
Directory Listings and Authority Sites
One thing that you can directly affect is whether you are listed in high quality directories that the search engines look at highly.
Authority sites are equally valuable for linking. It’s hard to discern what an authority site is to a search engine, but basically – if you type in your main keyword phrases, the pages that appear on the first page of Google are authority pages, providing a high bevy of information. This is not always true, especially with some very commercial keywords, but it holds mostly true for more queries.
If someone mentions your website but does not actively link to it, you will get a bit of credit for that mention. This is called URL quotation and most of the time it doesn’t necessarily provide that much of a boost, but the search engines do see that your website URL was mentioned and will take note of it.
Number of Links on a Linking Site
This is an important factor that has become more important in recent years as the search engines cracked down on things like link exchanges. Essentially, the more links someone places on their website, the less value those links have for their owners. If you get linked to on someone’s blog roll of 1,000 people, you’re not going to get much credit for that link.
However, if you are the only site linked to by a high authority site, you will get a tremendous amount of credit for being cited by them. Rarely are you punished for appearing on long link rolls, but try not to exchange links in them. If Google presumes that you are selling or buying links, they may hit you for it.
Freshness of Links to Your Site
If every link pointing to your site is on a blog from three years ago, those links are not nearly as valuable. This is an important ranking factor, not because those links were any harder to get or any less prescient, but because there are so many websites out there and if your site is so inactive that it hasn’t been linked to in three years, the search engines will assume another site is more worthy of their rankings. Having fresh content as well as fresh links will help to improve your rankings.
To a certain degree, reciprocal links between authority sites can be helpful. This needs to be used carefully though and can hurt you if done improperly. As a site trying to boost your SEO, make sure you only ever link to pages that contain similar content. Additionally, be sure that you don’t exchange links in large numbers or create a “links” page loaded down with meaningless outbound links.
However, if you get a link from a major blog or information site, link back to them in exchange and the reciprocation will do you both well in the eyes of the search engine spiders.
Linking between pages is extremely important for anyone trying to get a better position in the search engines. This will become markedly more evident the further along you get in your search engine efforts, especially if you have highly competitive keywords in your niche.
Good, Reader Friendly Content
The last thing I want to discuss in regards to what search engines look for is probably the most important these days and one that is directly related to the advent of technology that can more effectively analyse the content of a page rather than its technical components.
Whereas old technology was focused on counting up keywords, links, and code, the new technology that the search engines tend to be favouring works more intently on dissecting what you are writing and deciding whether or not it actually holds some value for your readers. This means it needs to be original, well written, and contain a wide array of different content. Here are the things that Google and the others are looking for when they consider the readability factor:
Original content is hugely important to the search engines. If you just copy and paste free information from sites like Wikipedia or the article directories, you may be offering “useful” information, but you’re not offering anything that cannot be found elsewhere. In addition to usefulness, the search engines want to be sure that you are providing value to your readers.
If you must use other content that is not original, spend some time rewriting parts of it to at least keep from it being duplicate content. For Google, it only needs to be 30% original to pass this test, which can be done by rewriting titles, headers, and a few sentences in each paragraph.
Frequently Added Content
The more often you add content to your website, the better it looks to the search engines. This is a vital aspect of search engine optimisation, especially for a new site. You want to remain fresh in the spiders as long as possible, so having new content on your site every 2-3 days will keep you there.
If you own a blog, this is the easiest way to provide fresh content regularly. Just post a new blog entry every 48 hours or so and you’ll be re-indexed with new content frequently. You’ll also get credit for additional keywords, have more links to you and provide more value to your readers by doing this.
If you have a static site such as William’s MP3 Player site, you may need to add articles every now and then and rotate your stock of available products once a month to maintain your fresh content.
There are some sites that will never be able to maintain fresh content – such as mini-sites or squeeze pages. These pages however are going to rely less on content optimisation for SEO and more on active marketing, which will be discussed later in the book.
Outbound Links to Authority Sites
By linking out to sites like Wikipedia or Amazon, you are referring your readers to valuable information that will only help them. The search engines recognize this as being actively useful to your readers and will reward you for it accordingly. To take full advantage of the outbound linking process, be sure to provide context for every link you send. Blindly linking is still not very useful. Linking within the text of your page is much more useful and will garner you more credit for your rankings.
While advertisements by their very nature have very little, if any impact on SEO, they can have an impact if you overdo it. The reason is that the makeup of the page starts to become more focused on selling things than on providing valuable information for readers.
The key here is to find a good balance of advertisements to content. A few banner ads are not going to hurt, nor are AdSense modules. However, if you place ads within ever page on all four sides of the page and it is hard to find content, you may find that boosting your search engine rankings becomes slightly harder.
This is a big question mark for a lot of people, largely because no one really knows how the algorithms work in the first place. But, Google has striven hard in recent years to integrate LSI and natural language filters into its indexing methods so that it can tell when you’re trying to be manipulative.
Without getting too complicated, this means that Google can tell if you’re using keywords that don’t make sense, or if you are trying to over optimise a page rather than offer useful information. It also means there is a growing trend to discern whether content is “useful” or not. How much power
Google actually has to determine the meaning of your content is questionable, but many site owners have shown that offering useful, well researched content helps them a lot more than keyword stuffing and link harvesting.
Keyword Frequency and Integration
There are a number of tricks that people have tried to use in the past to boost their keyword integration and rank better. The search engines almost universally recognise these tricks now and make it so that if you’re not using keywords as an integrated part of the page, you’ll get in trouble for it. Here are some of the methods black hat SEOers were using that no longer work:
Very Small Text
Link Clouds on Every Page
The common thread in these methods is that they were trying to find places to hide their keywords in plain sight so that they got the SEO benefits without really getting in the way of the readability. Unfortunately, it is still a sneaky tactic and it doesn’t work anymore.
When writing your content, strive for effective integration of keywords into your text. They should fit naturally and make sense in context. They shouldn’t feel awkward or forced. You may get away with it, but you may also get tagged for spamming and the impact of that can be devastating for months.
For those with logic based brains, it is hard to wrap your head around exactly what a search engine is looking for when it wants “content”. But, think of it this way. What Google is essentially saying to you is “write for your readers not for us”.
They want websites that actually provide high quality content to be at the top of the listings. This makes good sense and if you look at their listings for many popular topics, this is exactly what happens. Wikipedia appears atop the listings for thousands upon thousands of nouns – because it is an authority site with information those searchers are probably looking for. It makes good sense.
To adjust your strategies to this, you will need to do three things.
Put a solid framework in place that supports SEO. Use keyword rich links, optimise your layout with lots of internal navigation and all the necessary META and title tags.
Build backlinks through article marketing, social bookmarking, and viral marketing. Build awareness and create a series of valuable backlinks through that awareness.
Forget about SEO and provide valuable content that matches what your readers are looking for. Produce original articles, buyer guides, blogs, and rotating product descriptions that are actually helpful for your readers.
If you follow this strategy and create an SEO strong foundation, then fill it in with the necessary content to make the search engines happy, you will find your efforts much more effective in the long term. It might take a bit longer than the blackhat methods that have you manipulating the rankings, but it will work better.
SEO vs. LSI
You may have heard some talk lately of LSI or Latent Semantic Indexing, a new search technology that many marketers are trying to get a jump start on. While SEO is a bit less complex than some other technical issues on the Internet, LSI gets complex. Its very name sounds complicated.
But, it really isn’t all that tough to understand what LSI means and what it can do for your website. Essentially, LSI comes back to the natural language issues we discussed when talking about the content on your pages. Whereas normal search routines will count up keywords and links, LSI works on comparing the relationship between words on your page. It analyses the paragraphs of your web pages and then decides what words and searches those word patterns are most like.
Essentially, it tries to discern what your site is about technologically and then match up the content with those searching for it. If you searched for “front canines” and got both dog and tooth related websites, it’s because a computer cannot discern between the two meanings naturally.
It is a logic based system – with either “yes” or “no”. LSI attempts to extend that system to look deeper than one or two immediate yeses or nos. It will analyse pages and determine, based on the words in your search phrase, what you are most likely searching for and then try to find web pages that match up.
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