Most people think of search engine optimization to improve their search engine rankings as being such a skilled task that, without putting a great deal of time and effort into it, it is simply beyond their capabilities.Wrong! Yes, improving search engine rankings in competitive topic areas does require a good deal of knowledge and expertise and search engine optimization experts are needed, but most websites aren’t in very competitive areas. Many of them can achieve top rankings by applying just the search engine optimization basics – which can be learned in less than 30 minutes.
This article lays out the basics of search engine optimization. It can be well worthwhile trying them before paying an expert as, oftentimes, the basics are all that’s needed.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Search engine optimization is the process of achieving top rankings in the search engines for a website’s most relevant search terms. The most relevant search terms are the phrases that people are most likely to type into a search engine when looking for what the website has to offer. These are the search terms that it is essential to rank highly for, and these are the search terms that search engine optimization targets.
The first step is to choose the most suitable search terms for your site. Then allocate one or two of them to each suitable page within the site. One search term per page is preferable, but two per page is not so bad. Sometimes it is useful to split a largish page, that covers several closely related topics or several aspects of a topic, into two or more smaller pages so that a different search term can be targeted on each of them. Matching search terms to a page’s content is essential.
NOTE: smaller pages are better than larger ones because it is easier to target a search term when there is less text on the page to dilute the focus.
Search Engine Optimization – the basics
Link structure within the site
An obvious, but sometimes overlooked, aspect of search engine optimization is to make sure that search engine spiders can actually find (crawl) all of the site’s pages. If they can’t find them, they sure as hell won’t get spidered and indexed, and no amount of search engine optimization on them will help.
Some points to note
- Google won’t spider any URL that looks like it has a Session ID in it, so URLs with longish numbers in them must be avoided. These are usually dynamic URLs.
- Make sure that all pages link to at least one other page. Links to pages that don’t link out are called “dangling links”, and the reason to avoid them can be found here.
- It is good to structure the internal links so that targeted search terms are reinforced. E.g. organize the links so that a topic’s sub-topic pages link to the topic page with the right link text (see below), and vice-versa.
<a href="url">some link text</a>
This is one of the two most important elements for good rankings. The link text can be on pages within the site or on other sites’ pages. Either way, it is important. The target page’s main search term should be included in the link text. When possible, don’t use identical link text for every link that links to a page, but do include the target page’s main search term in the link text.
Google attributes link text to the target page – as actually being on the target page, and it treats it’s pseudo-presence as being an important element of the target page. Links carry even more weight if the text around them is concerned with the target page’s topic and search term(s).
The Title tag
<title>some title words</title>
This is second of the two most important elements for good rankings. Make sure that the page’s search term is contained in this tag, and place it as near to the front as is reasonable, whilst ensuring that it reads well. There’s nothing wrong with placing the search term up front on its own, followed by a period; e.g. “Pagerank. Google’s PageRank and how to make the most of it”. The target search term is, of course, “PageRank”. Obviously each page’s Title tag should be different to the Title tags on the site’s other pages.
The Description tag
<meta name="description" content="a nice description">
Some search engines, such as Google, don’t display the Description like they used to do but, even so, it should still be included in each page for those engines that do, and for the odd times when even Google displays it. Write an appealing description for the page and incorporate the page’s search term into it at least once and, preferably, twice. Place one instance of it at the start or as near to the start as is reasonably possible.
The Keywords tag
<meta name="keywords" content="some keywords">
The words in the Keywords tag were never treated as keywords by the search engines; they were treated as text on the page. The tag isn’t as effective as it used to be but there is no reason to leave it out. So put plenty of relevant keywords into the tag and include the search term once at the front, and a second time further along the line. There is no need to seperate keywords and keyphrases with commas, as is often done, since the engines ignore commas.
The H tag
<Hn>some heading words</Hn>
“n” is a number from 1 to 6; the biggest heading size being 1. H tags are given more weight than ordinary text and, the bigger the H size, the more weight it receives. So include the target search term in H tags at least once on the page, and two or three times if possible. Also, place the first H tag as near to the top of the page as possible.
Bold text is given more weight than ordinary text but not as much as H tags. As much as is reasonable, enclose the search term in bold tags when it appears on the page.
Use the search term as often as you can on the page whilst not detracting from the page’s readability. Make sure that you use the term once or twice very early in the page’s body text and as often as possible throughout. Reword small parts, and even add sentences, to make sure that the search term is well represented in the text.
In all probability, each word in the search term will be found on the page seperate from the search term itself. This is good. In fact, if they are not there on their own, add a few of them through the page.
<img src="url" alt="some alt text which is displayed on mouseover">
Include the search term in the alt text of all images on the page. Keep in mind that some systems such as Braille readers and speach synthesisers use the alt text, so you might want to make them usable whilst including the search term.
- Select your main search terms.
- Allocate each search term to a suitable existing page. Split some pages if necessary.
- Organize the internal linkages and link text to suit the target search terms and their pages.
- If possible, organize links from other sites to suit the target search terms and their pages.
- Organize all the on-page elements to suit each page’s target search term.
- Sit back and watch your rankings improve!