Search engine optimization — SEO — may seem like alchemy to the uninitiated. But there is a science to it. Search engines reward pages with the right combination of ranking factors, or “signals.” SEO is about ensuring your content generates the right type of signals.
Our chart below summarizes the major factors to focus on for search engine ranking success (and thanks to Column Five Media, for the infographic design).
The Search Engine Land Guide To SEO explains factors in more depth, with tips and a tutorial on implementing them. Read on!
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Let’s back up a few steps away from the hectic world of online marketing and take a basic look at how search engines actually operate. Over a million new pages (some say 10 million) are being added to the Internet every day, so there are scads of ‘newbies’ out there. Should this article be too basic for you, please pass it along to a new webmaster or someone just starting out. This basic search engine primer will help beginners understand how search engines work and get them searching along with the rest of us.
Parts of a Search Engine
Search engines have three major elements:
First is the spider, also called the crawler or bot (for robot). The spider visits a web page, reads it, and then follows links to other pages within the site. This is what it means when someone refers to a site being “spidered” or “crawled.” The spider returns to the site on a regular basis, such as every month or two, to look for changes.
Everything the spider finds goes into the second part of a search engine;
The index, sometimes called the catalog, is like a giant book containing a copy of every web page the spider finds. If a web page changes, then this book is updated with new information. Sometimes it can take a while for new pages or changes to be added to the index. Thus, a web page may have been “spidered” but not yet “indexed.” Until it is indexed –actually added to the index– it is not available to those searching within that engine.
Search engine software is the third part of a search engine. This is the computer program which sifts through the millions of pages recorded in the index, to find you a match to your search term, then presents the results in what it believes to be the most relevant order.
All search engines have the basic parts described above, but there are many differences in how these parts are combined to produce results. All the major search engines follow this theme to some degree, in the same way a cook may follow a chili recipe, but cooks like to add their own secret ingredients. Search engines like to add spice to their ranking methods. Each engine has it’s own set of rules. Nobody does it exactly the same way, and this is why the same search on several search engines often produces different results.
The term “search engine” is often used generically but inappropriately to describe any site where you can perform a search. Search engines and directories are not the same. The differences lie in how the listings are compiled.
Search Engines Vs. Directories
Search engines, such as Google; http://www.google.com/ create their listings automatically. If you change your web pages, search engines eventually find these changes. Page titles, body copy, meta tags, descriptions and outside links to a web site, plus many other elements, all play a role in how and where the site is listed within the engine.
A directory such as Yahoo! depends on humans for entering its listings. You submit a short description of your web site to the directory and an editor reviews your submission before adding it to the index. A good site, with good content, may be reviewed more quickly than a poor site. In a directory you can “submit” your site for review, but there is no guarantee that it will be included.
Here are two well known directories.
Yahoo! – http://www.yahoo.com
DMOZ – http://www.dmoz.org
Hybrid Search Engines and Metacrawlers
Some search engines maintain an associated directory and also have a part of their listings supplied by a third party. Some engines are known as metacrawlers because they can “crawl” through several other search engines all at the same time. Metacrawlers can be very useful when you are searching because you can compare results from several engines at once.
Using a Search Engine
Imagine walking up to someone and saying, ‘cookies.’ They’re going to look at you with a blank face. By typing a request as vague as ‘cookies,’ into a search engine you are bound to get a vague set of results returned to you. Search engines don’t have the ability to ask questions to help you focus your search. You have to help them. They need to quickly find a match to your request of ‘cookies’, so it makes sense they will first present you with the most generic list of subjects from within their index. Making your request much more specific such as ‘chocolate chip cookie recipes’ will bring you back a much more relevant list of results. The more specific your search term, the better your chances are of finding what you want.
Once you feel you are getting good at finding what you want, try using the “advanced” search techniques offered by the engine. The advanced search functions offer a complete array of ‘power searching’ tips and techniques. As an example, by using a plus sign (+) to combine your search phrases, you can really hone in on better results. Something like this: “DVD players +Toshiba” will get you right to where you want to be, rather than using the term DVD players by itself. This is only one rather simple example. Advanced searching is a whole new world. When you’re ready to become a power searcher check it out.
Good luck and have fun searching.
Search Engine Optimization is by no means a simple practice. It is made up of a number of complicated in-depth processes and requires an ample amount of time to comprehend its core facets. Moreover, because SEO is an ever changing industry, keeping up with the latest SEO trends can be difficult. For these reasons we have compiled a list of some of the most important SEO practices to be aware of. This is by no means complete, but should serve as a general guideline.
Change is necessary
One of the misconceptions about SEO is that it will automatically improve a site’s ranking within the search engines without necessitating changes to that site. Unfortunately this is not the case. An SEO firm that claims it can mysteriously make a site perform better in the search engines without modifications is not practicing ethical standards.
In order to index websites, search engines send out spiders, or bots, to visit a site’s pages. The spider learns what the site is about by ‘reading’ the site’s content, so it can place the site into the appropriate context. Spiders analyze the main body content, as well as content located within the Meta tags. One of the perks to this process is that the more relevant the site’s content, the better the rating it receives. Therefore, sites laden with pertinent, text rich content are favored above sites that do not incorporate such strategies.
At the basic level, a true SEO service needs to analyze then apply changes to a site’s content, optimizing Meta data and the main body with relevant keywords and phrases popular within that site’s vertical. For this reason, site’s built predominantly with Flash are simply not as effective in the search engines, because the spiders have nothing to read. If you have a Flash entry page, make sure there is an HTML version available as well.
Contact your SEO service before you update
It’s very important to communicate with your SEO service before implementing changes to your website, unless you are 100 percent certain you know what you’re doing. Even the slightest alterations can affect your site’s rankings in the search engines; when spiders revisit your web property and discover things have changed, it can be for the better or for the worse.
There are numerous instances where clients accidentally overwrite previously optimized work without realizing it. This is a simple mistake, but it can be a costly one. For instance, you may accidentally replace optimized elements in the Meta tags or body content by using older or newer templates that are not optimized properly.
Site redesign is an even more crucial matter. Redesigning your website can be a scary undertaking since it will no doubt affect your site’s position within the search engines. Even if you’re comfortable making small changes to your website, contact with your SEO practitioner before you implement the new site is imperative because you are typically overhauling the whole thing. Your SEO will be able to offer vital information and the technical assistance required to make this complex process a success.
Site redesign is an in-depth discussion, but here are some important guidelines to keep in mind:
- From our Senior SEO Analyst Jade Carter: “A new site design often means new content, either added to pre-existing pages or implemented on entirely new ones. This content needs to be properly optimized for the search engines. Pre-existing pages that were formerly optimized are now out of whack because you have added in new material that affects the density levels of those pages. These have to be properly analyzed and adjusted for your relevant key messages. New pages need to be optimized in sync with the rest of the site.
- In most cases with a site redesign, the URL and directory structure changes completely. This means your pages in Google’s index will no longer exist. Any positive traffic flowing to these pages will stop dead in its tracks. Place 301 redirects on the heavy hitter pages to salvage the search traffic currently associated with these pages. This will literally tell the spiders “sorry, this page has moved permanently. Please forward all traffic (and hopefully PR) to the redirect target and mark ‘this one’ for removal.” Relying on your pages to naturally ‘fall’ out of the index will cost you dearly in lost traffic, and this is avoidable.
- Placing an entry into the robots.txt file that excludes access to the old file extensions, when applicable, can expedite their removal from the index, but will not address the issue regarding the current search engine traffic.”
- Keep the new design user friendly. Search engine spiders read websites as humans do. A new design with a poor layout spells disaster.
- Double check all the links on your pages and make certain they are in working order. Search engine spiders are not fond of broken links, and you may be penalized in the rankings because of them.
Know your links
Exchanging links is a popular activity, and it’s one way to increase your traffic and ranking within the search engines. Inbound links count as points toward your site, and give you higher placement. However, there is a process to adding links that must be followed.
First and foremost, all link exchange partners should be reviewed before they are accepted. If you’re linked to a site that’s penalized by the engines, it can cause you to be penalized as well. You should also avoid link partners that follow questionable SEO practices. Examples are sites that violate the search engine rules by using doorway pages, hidden text, or by stuffing their content with irrelevant keywords. Even if these sites are not penalized now, eventually they will be. Your SEO service will be able to review potentially bad link partners.
Your shared links need to be relevant. At one time it didn’t matter what links you had on your site, but now it does. The search engines give higher rankings to sites that follow this rule, and may penalize sites that do not. However, you need to determine if your prospective link partners are competitive or complimentary in nature. For example, a site about cameras should have links to other sites about cameras; but for the sake of its business, a camera shop site may not want to link to other camera shop sites offering the same products and services. Your SEO service will be able to help you determine relevant link partners.
When a contract is signed a sales representatives’ job is not finished. Client management is an integral part of the sales process before, during, and after the project. Some key points to remember when managing your clients are:
Be a Good Listener: A client should always speak more than the sales rep. A client should feel that they are being heard and ultimately understood. The sales reps’ job is to ask follow up questions, manage expectations, educate and build a relationship with that client.
Make the Client Feel Valued: Part of being a good sales rep is valuing your current clients. They are what keep the company afloat. This is an easy task through regular follow up calls to maintain the relationship, and make sure the client feels that they are not just another number.
Education: Another part of the job is educating clients to make informed decisions. When an informed decision is made the client is already happy and moving in the right direction.
Time Management: Recognize that mismanaged time spent on a project is ultimately bad for the client. They are using valuable dollars from their company, and a proper schedule is important for maintaining client feedback and fulfilled expectations.
Humility: If something goes wrong, apologize. People make mistakes, it is bound to happen at some point, but be humble and confront the mistake with a plan to correct it. Ultimately the client will appreciate honesty, and the timely fixes more than the mistake itself.
The mentality of a sales representative should always be “how can I make this project a positive experience for the client.” When thinking about dealing with a customer, think of how you would want to be handled – it makes sales much easier in the long run.
These principles can be applied to your marketing efforts as well. Putting yourself in the mind of your customer will help you get an understanding of what they want and need to hear to build that brand trust. This will allow you to cater your marketing efforts to initiatives that help reinforce these key principles. If the foundation of trust, value and education are started with your marketing efforts, it puts your sales team in a strong position to build from and ultimately close the deal.
Do you ever wonder why the same websites take over the top 3 rank spots on Google, Yahoo and Bing? Well it’s no accident! These companies have spent a lot of time and money perusing the latest SEO tactics and techniques to hold onto their much-earned spots.
Helpful SEO Tips & Tricks
- Use appropriate keyword/structure. Within each page of your website, make sure that your page displays your main chosen keyword(s) in the page title, body content, title tags, content headers, image name & tags (if you have images) and URL. Even though the URL doesn’t play a large factor in your results today, this is still good practice and provides readability for the user.
- Use Keywords Naturally. Don’t go overboard and flood your content with the keywords you want as Google, Yahoo and Bing will consider this keyword stuffing and/or spamming. Your keywords should fit and flow with the content and read like a natural sentence. Remember: you don’t get SEO points for quantity; it is quality that is important here.
- Deliver Quality Content. This plays a huge determining roll in web presence and organic SEO results. By providing fresh and relevant content that readers are interested in, and would like to read, allows for potential back-linking, sharing of content (through social media) and higher organic results (as Google sheds light on frequently updated and fresh content). This should be your primary focus when building a website or implementing SEO.
- Update Your Content Regularly. If your site is looking like a teenager’s bedroom with content thrown everywhere and no structure to the madness, then a cleaning is in order. If users find your content irrelevant, then so does Google, and your site will fall to the back in results. Keeping your content fresh, up to date and relevant to the website or services will only benefit your results. Adding a blog to your site is a fantastic way to get that new and fresh content circulating.