Search Engine Optimization Basics


Learning the basics of search engine optimization isn’t difficult, it’s time consuming. SEO consultants can offer a variety of services but in the end, web site owners will appreciate the SEO services they’re getting much more if they educated themselves on the fundamentals.

The nature of marketing web sites has continually evolved from a focus on optimizing text to include an array of digital assset optimization such as images, audio, video and content delivery formats like RSS and mobile. Regardless, there continues to be a significant value in basic SEO.

In many cases, small businesses or small web sites especially, there’s a lot the site owner or webmaster/developer can do to improve the search engine friendliness of the site, i.e. fundamental content optimization, before pursuing outside help. However, those that do end up outsourcing on-page optimization and link building often do so because of a lack of resources or the desire to leverage expert experience to avoid big mistakes that can end up costing more to fix than a SEO consultant in the first place.

For those individuals and organizations considering their own basic SEO, here are a few items for review:

  • Define clear and measurable goals for the site and take benchmark measurements
  • Keyword research – generate a glossary of keyword phrases that addresses both prospect needs and the content you’re publishing. Here is a list of the best keyword research tools as voted on by our readers
  • Content creation plan – Think of it as an editorial calendar for your web site. You must PLAN on creating keyword sensitive content on an ongoing basis that adds to the user experience
  • Keyword mapping – Using a spreadsheet, map keywords to the page or category. Focus is important, 1-2 phrases per page
  • Keyword phrase order – Does the keyword order in the page match order in the query? Anticipate queries and match the word order: “luxury hotels Chicago” vs “Chicago luxury hotels”
  • Keywords and the buying cycle. Consider the content and where it fits within the buying cycle: Research, Consideration, Evaluation, Purchase
  • Keyword prominence (how early in the page content or title/meta description tag) – Guide: most important phrases high and to left
  • Write to inform and convert as your priority, not to rank. Title tags and meta description tags should be written with keywords in mind, but the focus must be on motivating the reader to click through or to perform some other desired action
  • Keyword in alt text of images, particularly of images that link to another web page. Keywords should be relevant to the page being linked to
  • Filenames containing keywords are useful, but do not change your entire site URL structure if you’ve already published another URL syntax
  • Use hyphens in file names, not underscores
  • HTML site maps listing links to all pages or top level categories on the site are still a good idea
  • Google Webmaster Central and Yahoo Site Explorer accounts can provide useful crawling and link information/resources
  • For bloated pages, try to place JavaScript and CSS data in an external file to speed page load and to move content up in the document
  • Implement and review web stats for trends, visitor behavior, content performance, referring traffic and optimization enhancement opportunities: Google Analytics, WebTrends, ClickTracks, Index Tools, HitsLink Enterprise

About Links:

  • Anchor text of interlinking site pages should include relevant keywords, not “click here”
  • Are all internal and external links valid? – Validate all links to all pages on the site
  • Employ a tree-like/organization chart linking structure with a minimal number of clicks to any particular page
  • Intra-site linking – Use appropriate links between lower-level pages. cluster links between sub categories
  • Linking out to external sites – Only link out to relevant, information rich sites. Do not link to sites that do not add value to the visitor experience
  • Avoid exchanging links for the sake of improving rankings
  • Ensure link stability over time – Avoid “Link Churn”, i.e. changing outgoing links often

Linking tactics:

  • Employ a linking program to acquire incoming links from relevant web sites by researching back links to high ranking competitor web sites
  • Contribute articles using keywords in titles to industry publications – not article directories
  • Engage in blogger PR and online media relations with relevant industry web sites
  • Submit keyword optimized press releases to search engine friendly wire services such as prweb.com, prnewswire.com, marketwire.com or pr.com
  • Submit the site to major directories – Yahoo directory, BOTW.org, DMOZ, Business.com
  • Leverage social networks and micro-blogging to promote linkable content
  • Diversify your link building tactics

A few things to avoid:

  • Don’t block your entire site from search engine spiders with a robots.txt during development and then forget to allow after publishing (believe me, it happens more often than you think)
  • Avoid all Flash, all Ajax, iFrames or anything that makes it difficult for a search engine to find and understand site content
  • Avoid more than 100 total links going out on any given page. Site maps can be broken up
  • Avoid JavaScript for navigation links. Use CSS for rollover or foldout menus instead
  • Avoid temporary (302) URL redirects. Use permanent redirects (301)
  • Avoid dynamic URLs with session ids, or URLs with more than three parameters and approximately 10 or less characters per variable
  • Avoid buying links from networks of blogs or sites of unrelated content. While we don’t have any particular issue with the idea of buying links as advertising, at TopRank, we prefer to “earn” links for the most long term value and lowest cost per acquisition

This list is about a third of the checklist I’ve recently revised for our internal use on text-based SEO projects, but should offer small web site owners ample insight into the variety of considerations with fundamental site optimization and link building. Interestingly enough, while things are constantly changing in the world of SEO, some things stay the same as you’ll see in this 2002 post from Brett Tabke, “Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone“.

A deep historical knowledge base combined with active engagement, testing, learning and analysis is what keeps web marketers savvy in the ways of SEO and depending on internal resources, it’s also why some companies are better off outsourcing SEO than handling it 100% their own.

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