When it comes to running an effective website that ranks well on the search engine results pages (SERPs), there are three major factors that can influence the number of search engine referrals (incoming searches) you get. This applies to all the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Live).
Content Is King
The most important thing is the content on your page regardless of how much time you put into Search Engine Optimizations (SEO) for your website without the content people are searching for you will find very little return on your efforts.
Involved with the preparation of your content is analyzing the keyword(s) for your given industry. Just putting Keywords in the keywords meta tag will get you no where without those Keywords existing in your content. This is known as Keyword Density, basically the more often you’re keywords the more relevant your content is for the searcher in the eyes of a search engine. Keep in mind an ideal density is around 3.5% per word in you phrase.
When writing your Search Engine Optimized content don’t forget about the end user. If you can’t get your keyword densities bang on, then don’t worry about it. I prefer to have a lower density but higher quality content for the end user, than having spammy content and a lower conversion rate. The end goal is still to convert your visitors to your products, services, or whatever your goal may be. Users, unlike search engines, are not interested in Keyword Density so beware of keyword spam.
And a final note on Content for this introduction is that it is advisable to constantly update your content. The longer your content goes without updates, the staler the content gets, and the lower your search engine positioning will drop. However with enough Link Building this can be negated.
Link Building Your Way Too Success
Link building is easily the second most important factor in SEO, and in some cases the most. Building links into your website is the only way as a webmaster that you can affect the authority of your website, and the value your existing content may have in the eyes of the search engines.
To conceptualize link building think of your website as if it was a person. The more popular a person is the more authoritative what they have to say is to their target audience. The big difference being that our target audience is Google, and the other major search engines, and having quality links on other sites equates to your websites “popularity”.
Now keep in mind when you start your link building that nearly no two links are exactly the same. When Google calculates the value of a link it looks at several important things to figure out just how much strength to give you. Here are just a few:
- How much strength did the page with the link have
- Number of external links on a page
- Anchor text used for the link
- Is a rel=nofollow tag used
- How long has that link been there
Now keep in mind all of these factors above are irrelevant if Google hasn’t cached the page with the link, if Google hasn’t found it then it is worth nothing. The stronger the strength of the page your link is on the more strength you will get in return. The more outgoing links there are on a page the more that strength will be divided between all the linked sites.
A link with a rel=”nofollow” attribute is virtually useless to your website other then increasing your overall link count to give your competitors a scare. You will mainly find NoFollow attributes for Blog Comments, Website Advertisers / Sponsors, Paid Links, or links to competitors (I use them on my resume for past work experience).
When a link is built very few search engines will give you the full strength of that link right away. This is done to maintain the quality of the SERPs if everyone could just go out build 1000s of links then rank there would be no quality to the search engines. Instead they slowly give you more strength as these links age up until around the 6 month period.
Lastly you will constantly see something called Google Pagerank. Pagerank is an arbitrary Google measurement assigned to a website / page to denote that pages strength. Now some people consider this measurement to be the end all be all, but in truth it means very little other than an indicator of you sites health. If you have a PageRank on your homepage as well as pagerank on most of your internal pages your off to a good start. Also keep in mind that pagerank only updates every 3 – 6 months, and ultimately the proof is in the search engine results not some number in the toolbar.
* It’s important to note that when I’m referring to PageRank above I’m referring to the visual PageRank displayed in the little green bar, not the actual PageRank that Google uses internally to calculate the value of a page.
Optimize Your Website Navigation Structure & Design
I purposely left site structure to last as it can be the quickest way for you to royally mess up your website rankings. The worst case with bad structure is that no part of your website will be cached and you will see no visitors. I’ve seen a lot of sites with a lot of issues causing no search engines to crawl these sites. Some of the worst yet simple structural issues that can affect your search engine crawler visibility that I’ve seen are:
- Automatically redirecting all visitors that come to your site to another page.
- Using HTTPS only
On other sites I have seen Google only cached the index page, which may have an assigned Pagerank without spidering the rest of the website. The things to remember when mapping out the structure of your website are:
- At all costs avoid having dynamic URLs (ie index.php?PageId=1), a dynamic URL is a URL that contains HTTP GET variables. Search engines don’t tend to spider these sites well. And to users they don’t have any relevant information to their Queries. Try to use Page keys that contain your keywords, if you need to use Dynamic scripts to build your website. If you have to use Dynamic URLs keep your number of variables at no more than 2.
- If possible try to use the Keywords you are targeting for your industry in your URL or Files / Directories. This helps increase your Keyword Density, as well as providing users clicking through on Google information relevant to their query in your file names.
- Don’t constantly change your website structure. Pagerank takes time naturally to develop, and Google holds new sites back in a Sandbox. By renaming a page you can often kiss your pre-existing search engine positioning away on renamed pages until their rank is redeveloped.
- When designing a new site try to avoid having filenames with extensions in the URL (ie Products.asp), this can limit your options in the future if you change programming languages (ie ASP to PHP), as well as the platform your website can be hosted on (ie Windows vs Linux Hosting).
- When implementing a new structure or new site, create a Google sitemap, and register it with Google to let Google know what to index.
Once you have decided on a website structure, or you have a pre-existing structure, the best way to score higher search engine positions is to have minimalist coding in the HTML to maximize your Content to Markup Ratio. The best way to minimize the amount of HTML code required is to use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). Cascading Style Sheets allow you to pull the design out of your HTML pages and place them into a separate file. Not only does this remove a lot of HTML if you were using Tables for layout, it makes maintenance a lot simpler as all your design changes are made in one place.
When I moved my website from table based layout to Cascading Style Sheets I managed to reduce my markup code by around 60%! If you have a very large site this can be even more beneficial as some search engines limit the amount of hard drive space they will allocate to caching your website, as well as raise the position of your content higher up in your document.
And thus concludes my introduction to Search Engine Optimization (SEO), it may sound long and long winded, but that is really just a little bit of what goes into successful positioning your website on the search engines. I’ll finish up with one last warning and that is to not buy or sell links, as you can easily be penalized completely from the SERPs for this (Google supplies a page for reporting websites for buying and selling). Good luck on your Search Engine Result Pages and Positioning!