Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization --- (SEO)

Give your site a tune-up!
So, you want to get the word out about your site and are rarin' to go.
Great! But there's something you should do first. It's essential to get your website is in top shape, and ready for the search engines & your visitors, before promoting it.
About 90% of your visitors will find your site through a search engine (SE) such as Google. To maximize your chances of being ranked well in the search results for the search terms you'd like to be found for, your site must be written in a manner that the SEs find useful.
It's all about getting the right people to your site.
Here's a checklist of simple things you can do to optimize your website for the SEs. Consider it "Search Engine Optimization." A little tune-up can make a huge difference!

Keywords
If you haven't already, check out Identify Your Niche & Targeted Keywords, the first article in this series; it explains how to decide upon the keywords & keyphrases you'll use in the tune-up below.

Tune-up basics: title, meta tags & headings
Each page needs a valid title, meta description tag, and at least one heading. These have a big impact on your success.
Each of these elements should include the keywords & phrases relevant to the page, for which you'd like to be found.
For example, if your page is about your freelance writing services, include the words "freelance writing services." That will make it more likely that you'll be found in a search for those words (or phrase).
Here's how to maximize the effectiveness of your title, meta tags and headings.

Title
The title doesn't appear on the webpage itself, but is found in the border at the very top of your browser window.
The search engines use the title to help them understand what the webpage in question is about. In the search engine results it's used as the link to your webpage. And, when someone bookmarks your site, it's what shows up in the Favorites list.
The title tag is very important to the search engines; if you only use one optimization tip on this page, use this one.
Here's an example, taken from my webdesign portfolio page: 
The title tag should be under about 80 characters. Keep it as brief and descriptive as possible.
It should be specific to the page it's on. If you're an artist & the page includes booking information, don't just title the page "Leah Kelly Band Official Website" (I just made up the name) or "Contact Information." The first doesn't describe the specific page, and the second is too generic. Instead, use "Leah Kelly Band - Booking & Contact Information, Bellingham, WA"
Too often We see websites with titles such as "Welcome to XYZ.com Homepage." This is really useless, unless you want to be found for a search on the word "welcome" or "homepage." The domain name isn't helpful, because no one would do a Google search for it either. (If they already knew the domain name, they would just type it & go there.) A SE can't figure out what the site is about from that title.
Also, using just your name, with no other descriptive text, isn't sufficient, unless you merely want to be found for your hame and nothing else.
Since you have only a short phrase to describe the site, make the most of it. Do use your name (if it's something people would search for), perhaps your location, and incorporate a few keywords or keyphrases to accurately describe the page. (Don't just put a list of keywords though.)
In the example above, the title reads "Web Design & Graphics Portfolio - Musicians, Artists & Writers." I didn't include "Quanta" because no one is really likely to be searching for a page like that using my business name.
But probably someone searching for such a webpage such as that one is looking for web design for a musician, artist or writer. And I'd very much like people searching for web design for musicians, writers or artists to find that page. So I included those keywords and keyphrases in the title.
Writing a good title takes a bit of thought but it is well worth taking the time to do it right as it can have such a large effect.

Meta tags
Meta tags used to be rather important, but have been so abused that now the SEs largely disregard them when deciding what your page is about & in ranking it in the search results. They're still used for other reasons, though.
The meta description tag is still very useful, because it's often what's displayed as the descriptive blurb beneath the link to your site in the search engine's results. A well-written one can help pull visitors into your site.
It should be 1 or 2 sentences, perhaps 3 - about 25 words, or 150-200 characters. Don't repeat the same word more than a couple times, and describe what is found on the page in question in an engaging manner.
If the search engine doesn't find a meta description tag on your page, it will cobble together sentences or phrases from your webpage to use as the blurb that accompanies the link to your site.
The meta keywords tag isn't used much anymore, since unscrupulous folk tended to load it full of irrelevant words, hoping that would increase the number of visitors to their website. But the SEs caught on and now most ignore this much-abused tag. It doesn't hurt to include one, but it's OK if you want to skip it. If you write one keep it to about 200 characters.

Headings
Consider using headings to organize the text on your page. This will help your visitors find information on the page easily. An in a similar fashion to the TITLE tag, it will assist the search engine bots in determining the subject(s) of your page.
A H1 heading should be the first on the page. The H1 heading will probably be similar to your title tag - but perhaps briefer.
Smaller numbers, such as H2, H3, refer to subheadings.
For example:
The heading "Optimize Your Website for Success
In the Search Engines (SEO)" at the top of this page is the H1 heading.
The orange headings, such as "Basics: Edit Your Title, Meta Tags & Headings" are H2 subheadings.
The smaller read headings, such as the one just above, "Headings," are H3 subheadings.

Present your text effectively
Content is king!

Yes, it really is. And the most important piece of wisdom we can offer is:
Without good content, it doesn't matter how much optimization and promotion you do ~ people will have no reason to come to your site.
Websites that attract the most visitors offer unique content. So, give your visitors something they can't get anywhere else, and give them plenty of it. Keep your site fresh, and stay enthused. Your energy will carry over to your website, and to your visitors - and will keep 'em coming back for more.

Writing for the web
Good writing for the web isn't the same as good writing for print; the web has more limitations. You'll want to prepare your site's content with that in mind. Here are some tips on writing effectively for the web.

Keywords & phrases in your text
When writing your text, don't forget to include the keywords & phrases relevant to the page. For example, if the webpage is about your freelance writing services, your text should include the words "freelance writing services." That will make it more likely that you'll be found in a search for those words (or phrase).

Is your content current?
Make sure your site is updated as often as possible, at least once a month if possible. Keeping it fresh not only causes visitors to return, but it also encourages the search engines to return on a regular basis to see what's new.

Effective linking strategies & keyword use
Internal links
Internal links are to pages on your own website. These type of links are completely within your control and can have a dramatic effect.
Use brief, descriptive text links. For example, if you sell Beat books, a link on your pages reading "homepage," is clear enough, but it's better to use "Beat books home," or even just "Beat books." This helps the search engines understand that the page being linked to is about "Beat books" - not about "homepage."  

Image links
Search engines can't read images. So, if you're linking with an image (as with a navigation button), use "alt" text to describe the webpage the image leads to. :

Inbound links (IBL)
You don't always have control over the words someone uses to link to your site. But if you're in a position to specify the link text (as in a reciprocal link exchange, or in a directory submission), suggest one that contains one of your keyword phrases.
Here's an example:
Haley Sage
Haley Sage - Americana Singer-Songwriter
The first link doesn't give people (or search engines) any idea of what the site is about. The second includes some keywords.
Almost all links are good. But ones with your keywords in them pack more punch

Relevant inbound links
The SEs give the most weight to links from webpages that are closely related to your own keywords. These are called "relevant links."
For example, if you're a Surrealist painter, it would be beneficial to get a link from a webpage about Surrealism, painting, or art.
And, if you can get a link from a relevant page that also contains your keywords in the link text, that's even better!

External Links
External links are those to other websites. Link out to quality websites similar to your own. What will be helpful to your visitors? Don't link to spammy websites, link farms, or what Google calls "bad neighborhoods," because links to these type of sites can hurt you. Be very selective in your links.  

Check for & correct errors
Validate your HTML & CSS.
Check your website's HTML & CSS coding for errors with WDG's free online HTML validator & W3's CSS validator. Validation will ensure that the search engine robots won't trip over incorrect code, and that the site displays correctly for your visitors.

Check your links
Check for dead or redirected links using W3's free online link checker.

Proofread your text
Check carefully for typos & grammatical errors. Have a friend double-check, in case there's something you missed. And don't forget to check your title and meta tags, too.
Or, try an online spell checker which will check an entire webpage.
Correct spelling is critical, because if you're a singer-songwriter but a typo makes it "singer-songriter" you won't be found in a Google search for "singer-songwriter."  

Notes on problematic site construction
Flash & splash screens can prevent your site from ranking well in search engine results and can also make it difficult for your visitors to use your site. The reason is that SEs only read HTML, not Flash, or images. If there's no HTML text you prevent the SEs from accessing your content. Since most people will find your site via the search engines, that's a problem. Framed pages are "orphaned" in the search results without navigational links to the rest of your site.

Flash sites
Flash looks great. But because SEs can't read it, Flash sites are mostly off-limits to them.
If you want to keep your Flash site, consider offering a non-Flash version to your visitors as well. This will keep the search engines (and your visitors without the Flash plug-in) happy.
Sure, some major label bands do have Flash sites. But they're so well known that folks don't have to use a search engine to find them. And their fan base is so big that if they annoy or inconvenience some people, it doesn't hurt them. Are you in the same position?
Since the goal of your site is to get people to find it and experience the site and what you have to offer, it should be designed to maximize that possibility. If you must have Flash, it's a good idea to use it only for non-essential functions - not for navigation links or text.  

Splash screens
You've seen them - the homepage of a site is just a big Flash presentation, logo, or image that you click to get to the rest of the site.
Since SEs can't read photos or Flash, there's virtually nothing there for them to read. If there's just an image, and the words "click to enter," Google will figure, based on the available text, that your website is about the topic "click to enter!"
Splash screens also make your visitors (& SEs) perform an extra step to get to the good stuff on your website. Read more on splash screens and some alternatives.  

Frames
Framed sites are built so all pages correspond only to one web address - your domain name. (On non-framed sites each page has its own address. Most sites on the internet are non-framed.)
With regards to the SEs, one of two things happens: only your homepage shows up in a Google search, or individual pages show up orphaned, stripped of the navigation menu & their greater context (maybe even the name of your site). Most significantly, folks can't click to the rest of your site.
Frames also prevent folks from bookmarking or linking to a particular page of your site.
If you're using frames to easily include a navigation menu on every page, using SSI (server side includes) is a better, simpler, way. It's not difficult to convert a framed site to use SSI instead.  

See your site like a search engine sees it!
If you'd like to see what a search engine robot (or spider) "sees" when it visits your website, try this tool. Search Engine Spider Simulator.
When the results come up, take a good look at the "spidered text." Ask yourself: Are these the words & phrases for which you want your website to be found? Or, should some changes be made to your website so that it has a better chance of success?