Search Engine Optimization Best Practices
By Jamie OlsonApril 2006
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.
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.
Here are some more link tips:
- Adding links too quickly can be viewed as spam. Only add a few links at a time.
- Links in the body content have more value than links located elsewhere.
- Don't repeat the same links on the page. You may be penalized for it.
- Links should be located on your top pages. The higher the better. As a rule of thumb, links should be no more than three pages in.
Many sites use multiple URL's to represent an entry page on a site. However, the search engines prefer to list only one of these URL's in their indexes. In fact, Google made recent updates (Big Daddy) to all of its data centers with this in mind. Google does not want redundant URL's in its index because they are unnecessary, require too much work to sort through, and take up too much space. Therefore, 301 redirects should be placed on all URL's that represent a main entry page. If not, the engines will choose which URL to list in its index, and it might not be the one you had in mind.
Outsource your SEO
Search Engine Optimization is the most important factor surrounding the success of your online business. In many cases, clients who perform their own SEO work, even at the most basic levels, can damage the performance of their websites due to inexperience and lack of resources. Reputable SEO firms are already equipped with the necessary knowledge base and technology infrastructures to perform SEO properly. A reputable SEO firm is also better prepared to deal with the frequent changes associated with the industry, keeping up-to-date on the latest trends and search engine algorithm changes.