Search engine optimization (SEO) requires strategically using some basic techniques to boost your website's ranking in the search results of various search engines. Effectively using keywords (while avoiding over-use), cultivating inbound links from reputable websites and providing XML site maps to the major search engines are three important techniques to learn for boosting search results.
Most effective search engine optimization (SEO) tactics have one thing in common: keywords. By anticipating the search terms used by customers and incorporating them into a website, marketers can boost their sites' natural search engine ranking, which is vital to internet marketing.
Obtaining a desirable search engine ranking requires good information about the keywords and keyword phrases related to your website's industry or topic. A good place to start is to examine the keyword density of pages on the website. Keyword density is measured by the number of times a word appears on a page divided by the number of words on a page. Keyword density is used by search engines to help determine the rank of a website for a given keyword.
One of the best ways to determine the keyword density of terms on your website is to create a keyword cloud. A keyword cloud is a visual representation of a web page based on the way a search engine sees it. In a keyword cloud, the keywords in larger fonts have a higher "keyword density." This means that they occur more frequently on that website. Popular search terms should be the largest words in your site's keyword cloud.
To generate your own keyword cloud, try one of these free tools:
- Icon Interactive's Keyword Cloud Tool generates a keyword cloud. (www.iconinteractive.com/tools/wordcloud/)
- SEO Tools generates a keyword cloud that includes phrases. (www.seochat.com/seo-tools/keyword-cloud/)
It's important to incorporate popular keywords and key phrases into your site so potential customers using those words will find your site on search engines. The addition of newly popular and highly relevant keywords will improve the ranking of your site in natural search engine results. To find keywords you may be overlooking, try these free tools:
- Icon Interactive's Keyword Suggestion Tool help find keywords related to the words you enter and displays the popularity of the term. (www.iconinteractive.com/tools/keyword.php)
- Adapt Keyword Finder Beta emails you a report of alternative keywords related to those you enter. (keywordfinder.adapt.com)
- Google Trends can be used to explore and compare the volume of queries over time, by city, regions, languages, etc. (google.com/trends).
Based on what you learn, you can rewrite pages to include popular and effective key phrases throughout your site. Place keywords in the page title, headings, metatags, comment fields, "alt" tags, URL link text, and throughout the body of your web pages where a keyword or phrase is appropriate.
The trick is to improve the density and placement of important keywords and key phrases throughout the site without negatively affecting the content. Keywords need to be as specific as possible to each page. This ensures that people who find the site through search engines won't be disappointed with the content they find.
Search engine optimization isn't based on keywords alone. Importance is also a factor. "Important, high-quality sites receive a higher PageRank," according to Google, which uses its PageRank system to determine the best sites to display in natural search engine results.
"Google goes far beyond the number of times a term appears on a page and examines all aspects of the page's content (and the content of the pages linking to it) to determine if it's a good match for your query." An easy way to measure a site's PageRank is to visit a site like checkpagerank.net.
Google and other search engines reward sites linked from other popular and reputable sites. Sites linking to your site should have an equivalent or higher page rank. Text for incoming links should include keywords and phrases.
Incoming links that contain keywords within the text of a link are also viewed as more relevant than links without keywords. Links that use phrases like "click here" or "learn more" are less relevant. And text links that only contain a company's name aren't relevant for keyword searches that leave out the name.
SEO is not about being highly ranked for every possible keyword or getting incoming links from every possible website. It's about being highly ranked for the right keywords and linked from the right kind of websites.
Links to your site boost your placement in search results
The best means of measuring your website's popularity is by determining its link popularity—that is, the number and quality of other websites linking to it. Each time another website adds a link to your website, it's a vote of confidence in your site and the quality of its content. This confidence is monitored by search engines, which reward popular websites with higher search engine rankings. Ideally, you want your site to appear on the first page of a search results list.
To measure your website's popularity, use any free, web-based link popularity tool. IconInteractive.com provides one of the better link popularity tools on the Internet. These tools will provide you with a summary of incoming links to your site from the most popular resources.
Sites with fewer than 1,000 incoming links are virtually invisible. Sites with 1,000 to 5,000 links are average. To be considered among the popular set, a site should have 20,000 or more incoming links. The most popular sites have more than 100,000 incoming links.
A website's link popularity indicates the perceived value the site has to the Internet community at large. It indicates how easy your website is to find—and whether others believe your site is worth finding. Popular sites become known as must-see destinations on the Internet.
If your site's link popularity is lower than expected, or than desired, there are a number of things that you can do to improve its popularity over time:
- Write articles. Articles are the best way of attracting visitors and incoming links to a website. Writing about your company's industry in a meaningful way will lead to a higher volume of incoming links. This does not include sales-oriented content specific to your company's product offerings or the reasons why they should buy your products.
- Publish press releases. Press releases are one of the best means of attracting new visitors to your website. And when you publish your press release using media outlets such as Marketwatch or PR Web, the natural result is incoming links to your website.
- Create RSS feeds. RSS stands for "Really Simple Syndication." Providing an RSS feed is the easiest way for you to offer content to other websites. RSS files include article headlines, summaries, and links back to your website. When new content is added to your site's feed, all of the sites that use your feed are updated at the same time. Several sites exist to promote your RSS feed to other websites and to Internet surfers.
- Advertise online. Paid advertising can make huge contributions to a site's link popularity. When you purchase pay-per-click or display advertising from popular websites, the byproduct is a boost to your link popularity. Kicking off an online advertising campaign is a good short-term tactic to boost popularity, while you deploy other popularity-boosting tactics.
Building a site's link popularity takes time and persistence—particularly if you take the best approach by only seeking links from high-quality directories and websites. Don't seek links from sites that aren't reputable or relevant. Avoid companies promising hundreds of links to your site overnight.
Like hanging around with the wrong crowd in school, the results of exchanging links with disreputable websites can be negative.
XML sitemaps can get search engines to notice you
In order to include your website in its search results, the search engine must know it exists. Generally, websites are "discovered" by automated programs that follow links (crawl the web) from one website to another. While this works well for large and prominent websites that have been around for years, it works much less well for the small site that just launched. Transmitting a sitemap to the search engines lets them know your website is "open for business."
Don't get the XML Sitemap used by search engines confused with the "sitemap" that your customers can see on your website. The customer-facing sitemap is HTML code located within your site. It serves primarily to help customers locate content and navigate to different pages on your site. The XML Sitemap is a completely separate file that is transmitted to the search engine providers for their use in indexing your content into their search engines.
In addition to getting a new website on the crawl-path of the search engines, an XML site map can speed up the frequency with the content on your site gets re-indexed by the search engines. This is extremely important for websites that have frequently updated content (news or shopping sites) or sites with numerous images.
XML Sitemaps can alert search engines to specific types of content and provide them with valuable information about that content. For example, Google suggests that you consider providing either a separate XML Sitemap or including metadata in your main XML Sitemap about the following types of content:
- software source code
- geography (KML)
Submitting an XML sitemap
While the dominance of the Google search engine makes Google XML Sitemaps the most important Sitemap to consider, you should submit your Sitemap to all of the major search engines. Fortunately, the protocol used to create the Sitemap for Google works for Yahoo and Microsoft as well.
The Sitemap protocol uses very simple XML tags and has a relatively limited set of metadata, even including those specific to different content types. Moreover, the restrictions on sitemap files are modest. URLs must not include embedded newlines. You must fully specify URLs because Google tries to crawl the URLs exactly as you provide them. Your sitemap files must use UTF-8 encoding. And each sitemap file is limited to 50,000 URLs and 10 megabytes when uncompressed.
However, if the paragraph immediately above may as well have been written in an obscure, long-dead language, then you may wish to hire someone to create your Sitemap. Although someone versed in XML will have little difficulty with the task, computers are extremely finicky about correct syntax, the novice will spend more time than the cost-savings may be worth. (Ideally, the initial developer should have created the map for you when the site was built.)
However, if you are a dedicated do-it-yourselfer, then you should consult these pages for additional information:
When you submit a sitemap file to Google, you're notifying Google what URLs on your website are ready to be crawled. Each time a change occurs, such as the addition of a new page, you need to resubmit your sitemap file for changes to be considered. You can submit it in different ways: on Google Sitemaps home page using a URL or with Google's Sitemap Generator installed on your web server and scheduled to run automatically.
Selecting an SEO Vendor
Protect yourself from unscrupulous and ineffective search engine optimization (SEO) companies by arming yourself with a little bit of knowledge and a whole lot of common sense. Hiring an SEO company that uses shady tactics will end up costing you more than just the amount you pay the vendor. Throughout 2011, Google has been adjusting its search ranking process to penalize sites, such as "content farms," that use unethical techniques to boost rankings. In fact, Google has blocked certain companies (J.C. Penney and Overstock.com) from appearing on their search results.
Good SEO vendors can boost your website traffic
While a reputable SEO company will not "guarantee" a specific result, hiring a firm that specializes in SEO can provide a significant boost in website traffic by making your website more visible to more people. They should be willing to show you samples of their work and provide verifiable success stories.
The ideal SEO company should provide marketing expertise as well as technical expertise. Ideally, they should have experience in your industry and in your area of the country. This is surprisingly important because, without a solid understanding of these factors, the SEO company will not be able to craft an effective list of keywords.
Good SEO companies provide effective keywords
Don't confuse keyword quantity for keyword quality. A higher volume of keywords doesn't translate into a higher return on your SEO investment. The most popular keywords don't always get the highest quality response to your product or service. There may be higher quality leads and sales that come from less popular keywords that are well-researched. The best way to accurately predict the return on investment for a keyword is through KEI (keyword effective index).
A template won't do. Template solutions don't allow for keywords and strategies unique to your business. This template thinking can become extremely costly and is common in agency environments. Your business is very likely unique. There are local search aspects of your business to account for and unique branding considerations as well. Your current business relationships need to be added into the equation before time is spent optimizing. Search engine marketing companies that cannot customize for your unique business model will cost you money over the long term, guaranteed.
Avoid black-hat tactics
"Black-hat SEO" is a label search marketing industry uses to refer to SEO companies that use questionable tactics in an attempt to "game" the search engine rankings. (The name comes from the villainous cowboys in old Spaghetti Westerns who donned black hats, contrasting with the heroic cowboys who sported white ten-gallon hats.) If you are a reputable business person who is looking to build a successful business that will thrive and grow, don't hire a black-hat SEO firm. While many of their unethical techniques do actually result in a short-term search boost, you will pay in the long run!
There are many horror stories about black-hat search engine optimization methods that have gotten websites banned from the search engine. Marketers continue to be seduced by the temptation of quick results and instant traffic. At a 2004 SEO strategies conference in Chicago, a famous black-hat search engine analyst known for selling instant results on difficult keywords spoke about his practices. When his clients are banned from search engines, he profits. It's an opportunity for him to convince a client to purchase a new domain and start the process over again from the beginning.
Avoid any SEO vendor that:
- Guarantees the top search engine ranking;
- Engages in any type of keyword packing—whether in located metadata fields, hidden fields, or invisible text;
- Uses "shadow domains" that are destinations of link redirects;
- Has single-IP advertising networks; or
- Relies on link farms (pages of unrelated links) or content farms (pages of shallow, generic content).