The Ultimate Beginners Guide to Search Engine Optimization

By: , September 18, 2007 | Starting Tips For Webmasters

Beginners guide to SEO and Search Engine optimization. Learn the essential webmaster tips and tricks when getting started.

By TMK

INTERNET MARKETING BASICS:

What is SEO?
SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. SEO is the process in which a webmaster builds and presents a website to the many different search engines and portals on the Internet. SEO address the need for websites to be able to successfully target users seeking a relevant piece of information that is presented on a website.

The reason SEO is so important to webmasters is tri-fold. First it provides a website the opportunity to attract users at zero cost per visitor, as opposed to CPC (cost per click) which charges the webmaster money for every visitor. Secondly SEO is a skill like playing chess that anyone can learn to do with an appropriate time investment, the basics are relatively easy to read about and learn, but mastering the game is nearly impossible. Finally once a person has a full understand of SEO and how it helps generate visitors they will also understand all the ancillary benefits such as increased cross marketing opportunities, higher advertising rates, and the ability to leverage the work you have already done to help launch new web properties quicker and more successfully.

Okay I have a site, how do I get started?
Building a website is a process and SEO is another process. If a webmaster has already started the process of building a website it will be that much more challenging to integrate SEO into the overall process. (remember a website is a growing living process, even if when a webmaster believes that the website is “done” it is never really done as a website owner will most likely be maintaining their site over the course of its lifetime.) Any webmaster planning on launching a website should always attempt to consider their SEO needs long before creation of the code for their website ever begins. Never fear though, if you are one of the many million webmasters who already own an unoptimized site, it is not to late, it just means that you may have to work a little harder to make your existing site and the SEO techniques you want to use mesh together.

Okay, but you still haven’t told me how to get started?
SEO has a number of unique components. Understanding the goals of a website will help webmasters identify which components are priority and which ones can wait and be worked on over time. It is important to be able to first understand what the goal of the website is. Is the website trying to sell a product? Sell a service? Provide information? Collect information? These are just a few of the most common reasons a website is built. Once a webmaster is clear on the reasons for having their website, focusing on the different SEO elements will be much easier.

What are the different SEO elements I should know about?
Content: Having unique content is incredibly important to any website that wants to be successful. Content, be it text or images is what makes a website stand out to the search engines from all the other websites out there. Text itself is the most valuable thing you can have. This is one of the key things a search engine robot reads and uses to classify your site amongst the millions of other similar sites out there. Constantly adding, updating, and changing the text on your website is one of the top 3 things you can do to help improve search engine rankings. Learning how to write for search engines is a skill in itself and a number of different websites offer tutorials on this skill. In short this means writing content that appeals to your visitors but also contains the keywords and phrases in variation that will attract visitors to your site.

“Content Is King” use to be one of the most popular sayings amongst people who offer SEO services for a living. While this saying may still hold true, it isn’t the end all and be all of SEO. If you have terrific content and nothing else chances are you will still rank poorly on most of the major search engines. Always remember to archive any content that you are removing from specific pages on your site and leave users a link to find this archived content. You took the time to develop the content, no need to waist it, even if it is no longer completely relevant.

Keywords: Keywords generally should come before content. Keywords and phrases are the concepts and ideas that people are searching for to find a website. Understanding the website and what these words are is fundamental to developing content and focusing any SEO campaign. There are a number of different tools on the web that can teach you more about keywords and keywords selection. Needless to say if you are focusing on keywords that are wrong for your website then you are just spinning your wheels no matter how well you do the rest of your Internet marketing. Learning to read and understand the information within your log files while help you understand better the types of keywords people are using to find your site once it goes live and gets indexed within the search engines.

To see some of the tools I am speaking of, feel free to visit, Http://inventory.overture.com or Http://www.wordtracker.com. These are just a few of the keyword tools out there.

Log files: Every web server maintains log files, which are listing all the requests made to the server. With log file analysis tools, it is possible to know exactly where a websites visitors are coming from, how often they return, and how they navigate through the site. Log files will tell a webmaster when a search engine robot has visited. When a user from a search engine has performed a search and arrived at the site. What the most popular entry and exit points on the site are, so on and so forth. Understanding how to interpret log files is incredibly important for the long term health and maintenance of your website.

There are a number of different log analysis tools available over the Internet for free. The one I recommend is Funnel Web which can be downloaded for free at http://www.quest.com/funnel_web/analyzer/. But the truth is find which ever piece of software you are most comfortable with and then master it.

Linking: There are a couple of different kinds of ways to use hyper links on a website to help achieve improved search engine rankings. But before you begin garnering or exchanging links it is important to understand that while the link itself is important, it is also important to have the text within the link be very specific to your keyword needs as the search engines place a lot of weight on what is said within the anchor text of the link. This is a concept that is giving content a run for its money as one of the most important SEO features.

Domain Names and Files: Selecting the proper domain name is incredibly important these days, as often times a site will be totally associated with which ever domain name the webmaster chooses. Whenever possible always purchase the .com and the .net version of a given domain name. If a webmaster cannot acquire both extensions the webmaster needs to seriously consider whether the domain is the right one to use for the project.

Every file on a site should end in an .html extension as these pages appear to be indexed best in most search engines. There are a number of different ways to generate .html file extensions if you are using programming languages such as asp, jsp, php etc. It is worth research these options. Files names should also always be the primary keyword for the page which the exception of the homepage which should always be index.html

Also a site should always have a robots.txt file even if it is completely empty. A robots.txt file can allow experienced webmasters to control how and where search engines robots navigate over their website. It also can be used to identify never before seen search engine robots. Nearly every robot requests the robots.txt file before indexing a site.

Even with so many different domain name extensions .com is still the best. If you cannot build your site on a .com extension it might not be wroth it, I never build sites unless I can own the .com and .net extension. Because if you brand well and don’t own the .com odds are you will lose many visitors to the .com version of your domain name just because they typed in the domain name and went blindly to the wrong site!

Navigation: Before actually constructing a site the navigation should always be considered. A website should be built in such a way that every page can easily be accessed through an organized series of hyper links that will never dead end. Webmasters never want a search engine spider to dead end somewhere because this could lead to the spider not successfully finding all the pages on a site. The most common way designers make sure a spider can find all the pages on a website is by building a site map. The site map outlines the over all layout of the website eventually linking through to every page on the site. A properly constructed site map will also help users locate and navigate their way through a site quickly to find a specific piece of information. Site maps are especially important on the user end when a webmaster has a large site and doesn’t offer a search function. Generally users will use the traditional homepage navigation on medium to small sites.

In the past many people have attempted to abuse this feature of website construction by building what we call spider traps. Never ending loops of links that will keep a search engine robot from ever leaving your site. If you are thing about this, stop right now. It has been done before it will only get your booted or banned from a search engine.

Homepage: The homepage is the heart and soul of any website and needs to be treated that way. Webmasters need to carefully consider every external link that is included on the homepage. PR (PageRank)is the thing that most effects this decision. PageRank is a family of algorithms for assigning numerical weightings to web pages indexed by Google. The algorithm is primarily based on the number, value, and style of internal and external links on a website. A one way link is worth a lot more than a reciprocal link in many cases and this creates consternation for many webmasters. How do you get people to link to you with out linking back to them? Remember every time you give someone a link, you are telling Google that you think the site is worth of recognition as well as possibly a number of your own site visitors. Many webmasters spend an hour or two every day working on their link building strategies.

I almost never give another site a link directly from the homepage of one my sites. In my mind it just isn’t worth it, because not only do you dilute your own PR just a little bit, but you also risk losing some of your already heard earned visitors to someone else. There are a number of different ways to acquire one way links, including free directories such as http://www.dmoz.org, linking from other relevant websites that you own, and purchasing test links on high PR sites.

PageRank: Going back to PR a second. In the past PR was a hugely important factor for ranking well in Google, the worlds most popular search engine. While that importance has fallen off some in the recent months, PR is still one thing that can boost even a poorly constructed website into the SERPS (search engine ranking pages) if it has unique content. Having a high PR also means you have room to charge significant dollars to other who may wish to purchase advertising links from you. Additionally a high PR website will give you an advantage if you wish to launch more websites because it will give a foundation to link from. The inherent nature of having PR means that search engines spiders specifically Google, but also others, are finding your website from links existing on the Internet. Never discount the value of PR.

There are literally thousands of articles on the Internet about PR, but I strongly believe in the end, it is still something you must continuously work to achieve if you want to be successful. To find out what your PR is you will need to have the Google toolbar installed on your browser. This tool bar has the option to display the PR of any website you visit. Download the Google toolbar here: http://toolbar.google.com/

HTML TAGS
Code: Optimizing the html code of a website is still a very important factor in achieving successful search engine rankings.

Head Tag: A lot of different tags can go within the head tag.

The most important tag is the <title> tag. Keeping the title tag to 60 characters will keep it from being cut off in most search engines. A webmaster needs to be sure that their primary keyword, the word that encompasses the specific meaning of the page is included first within the title tag. Using a “Keyword – Keyword” style title tag has become common place in many SEO circles and still seems to be fairly effective. For people who are concerned with brand many people go “Keyword found at site_name”.

This is by far the most important tag on the entire document and deserves some thought on every page. Never ever use the same title on every single page of your site. Every page by virtue of being a unique page should also have a unique title. If you cannot find a way to give it a unique title then maybe you need to reexamine why the page is on your site. The title tag is also one of the few universal tags that every single search engine robot will read. Remember not every search engine builds their titles from the title tag, but the majority do. Google is the one big exception to this rule.

Meta Tags: Some people will tell you they are useless. Others will say they are still important, but a webmaster needs to remember Google ignores the majority of these tags. Nevertheless I recommend the use of 2 specific meta tags. The meta keywords tag and the meta description tag. These tags will help a webmaster define the scope of every page on a site. Often times it is best to define these tags before beginning the process of building the site, as they can help the webmaster stay focused on exactly what each page should be about.

The meta keywords tag should have between 5 and 10 keywords depending on the length of the words, I never exceed 120 characters including spaces. I highly recommend using the keywords tool that I mentioned earlier to help determine what the most relevant keyword terms maybe for each of these pages. Always start this tag with the same keyword you started your title tag with, which was the most relevant keyword for the page. The meta description tag is the other tag in my estimate that is worth bothering with. Never have the content of the tag exceed 240 characters including spaces. This tag should be a brief description of the page starting with the most relevant keyword term for the page.

JavaScript & Flash: Many search engines read JavaScript now, but in the past it was always a no no. Eliminating as much JavaScript as you can is always a boon, though these days it doesn’t appear to be nearly the deterrent it use to be. The same comments hold true for flash.

Unless I want exclude Googlebot or not have my site archived I never bother with any of the other millions of meta tags. Generally speaking I believe you hurt your opportunity to gather traffic by not building meta tags. Many other people will disagree with me, but my feeling is every little thing that you do to make your site better, even at the cost of extra hours will in the long run pay off because all those little things add up. At the other end of the spectrum, it is easy to go over board and common sense always need to be applied to writing all of these tags.

Body Tag and beyond: All of the good content you have worked on developing will go in this section. A number of other useful tags can also go into this section. Just remember when dealing with things like title attributes and alt tags to use common sense. If you have a picture with a boat in it, be sure that the alt tag accurately represent that. Also be sure when a page is complete to check every single link on the page and make sure that the code is w3 complaint. There are a number of tools to help you do both of these things.

Site Design: This entire section is commentary so you will have to forgive me, but design is just as important as any other element. Your site design effects the way the entire net sees what you have to offer. When poorly designed sites can be quaint, they certain fail to inspire confidence and definitely decrease your conversion rate. If you don’t have the skills to design a good looking site then don’t, pay someone else to make your vision come to life. If you cannot afford this option and still want to build your own site then practice and understand until you have something you feel is really good the chances are you will be behind the proverbial 8 ball. I am not saying don’t do it, but I am saying never stop improving it, if you launch and it is good enough, keep working on it, revamping it, and improving the quality until you feel really good about it.

Conclusion
Did I cover everything? Not a chance, do I believe this might help people gather the basics of SEO, maybe. In either case this post was designed for people who have little to no understanding about SEO. I hope to be able to post more and update this post as the days move on. I encourage questions and or comments on this post and I will edit the post accordingly.

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