Search engines such as Google, Yahoo and Bing are, undoubtedly, the most important source of visitors and traffic for any website or blog. For most websites, more than half of their visitors are people who landed on the website while looking for something on search engines. The chances of getting visitors from search engines increase manifold if the website appears on the first page of search results for some keywords, and even more, if it’s the first entry on the page. But this is just a small part of the search engine optimization (SEO) story. There are a whole lot of things to take care of for getting the most out of search engines.
Rule the world with SEO
If you want to dominate the world with your website or blog, you cannot ignore SEO. So websites and blogs have to take care of search engines along with its target audience. Before you can dominate search engines, you will have to know how they work.
Search engines use a software called spider for crawling the Internet. A search spider visits a webpage, scans the content and indexes the keywords in the search engine’s database. The spider also looks for websites linking to the webpage and the sites linked from it. Both type of links are also used for determining the relevance of the page for a user’s query. The spider then jumps to other linked webpages and continues with the same process. This way the spider crawls all interlinked webpages and indexes them. However, if a website is not linked from any other website that’s already on the search engine’s list, the spider may not be able to discover it unless the site is submitted for being indexed.
Knowing how search engines work comes handy in optimizing your website for the masters of the Web. Here’s a simple explanation by a Google search engine engineer about how Google processes a search query and serves the results in a fraction of second.
How to optimize a website for search engines?
This question has been the subject of several books. A lot of websites and forums thrive on it. Also, there’s an army of so-called (often self-proclaimed) SEO experts who earn a living by trying to answer this question. Given the immense nature of the Web and search engines, it wouldn’t be possible to answer this question in a few sentences. In this article, we will learn the basics of SEO.
1. Create useful websites
For a search engine, it’s important to provide useful and relevant results. That means even when you want to rank first on a search engine, your focus should be on creating websites and blogs that are useful, readable, aesthetically pleasing and an overall enriching experience for the reader. Also, if your website has quality content that others find useful, chances are you will get some good links, thereby improving its search engine ranking.
2. Keep your website fresh
Search engine spiders love fresh content. If your website or blog is updated regularly, search bots will visit it more often. Try to add fresh content every couple of days, at least three posts or articles every week. If your website’s content doesn’t change very often, add a blog to it and update it regularly.
3. Avoid duplicate content
Search engines don’t like duplicate content. If there are four webpages with same content, search engines will just use one that they think is the original content and ignore the rest. Makes sense from the search user’s perspective. Why force them to see the same content several times?
If you have the same content on two or more pages, set 301 redirects from non-preferred pages. It will tell search engines which page to index and which ones to ignore. You can also add canonical link tags pointing to the original webpage within the head tags in the HTML code of the duplicate pages on same domain or its subdomains. (More about rel canonical tag on Google Webmaster Blog.)
<link rel="canonical" href="http://example.com/page.html"/>
4. One page, one URL
Google and other search engines like unique content. But the problem of duplicate content may arise even if there’s one webpage or article that’s accessible from two or more URLs.
For example, if http://your-website.com and http://www.your-website.com opens the same page (index page of your website), for a search engine, it will be two separate websites with same content. To avoid such content duplication, use just one URL, say, http://www.your-website.com and redirect (using 301 redirect) the other URL (http://your-website.com) to it. That ways the end user gets to access your website with both URLs without search engines treating them as two separate websites with duplicate content.
5. Unique title with appropriate keywords
Title of a page is one of the most important elements of any webpage as this is also used as the title for your webpage’s entry in search results. Like a newspaper headline, your webpage’s title needs to grab the reader’s attention. If the title is sharp and precise, with appropriate keywords, and the reader is clearly told what to expect on the page, it will get more visitors. Do not have a common title for all pages on the website.
Never try to stuff the title with keywords, making it a gibberish. Like the content, page titles should also be written for readers, and not for search bots.
6. Accurately describe the webpage
Description of a webpage the second most important element on a webpage. It is often used by search engines to help users sample the content of the webpage and gauge if the page has to offer the information that they are looking for.
Summarizing the content of the webpage in description meta tag is a good practice. Alternatively, you can write a teaser sentence so that the reader gets interested in visiting the webpage. Be precise and concise while writing the description. Try to keep it within 150 characters.
Again, make sure not to crowd the description with targeted keywords. Remember, optimizing a website or webpage for search engines is very similar to creating a novel or a newspaper. You have to make your product for your target audience, not for vendors or news agents.
7. Meta keywords won’t do any harm
Google search engine does not consider meta keyword tags while arriving at a webpage’s rank and relevance. Keywords had been widely abused by rogue webmasters to trick primitive search engines. Now that Google search has become a lot wiser, it prefers to use the actual content for analysing a webpage’s relevance and positioning. But for other search engines that might still be taking into account keywords, there’s no harm in using appropriate keywords.
8. Search spiders like text
Honestly, search engines cannot see images or flash. So it’s advisable to use text instead of flash or images. If you are using images or flash for presenting adding zing to your website, stop right now. Use headlines in H1, H2 or H3 tags, in the order of importance. The headline of the blog or webpage should be assigned H1 tag. Second important ideas should get H2 tags, the third important ones H3, and so on.
This should, however, not stop you from using illustrations and images that add value to your posts. But all images should have accurate description in alt attribute of the image tag. This will help search engines identify the image and will boost your traffic by getting visitors from image search users.
<img scr="http://www.speckygeek.com/tajmahal.jpg" alt="Taj Mahal in Agra">
9. Proper navigation with static URLs
Having proper navigation is important for getting traffic to a webpage. All your webpages should be, directly or through intermediate pages, be accessible from the homepage and should have static URLs.
If you are using some content management system for your website, ensure that the links are not dynamic (changing with time), but are static. Imagine a search engine trying to access a page on your website, but getting error as the link to that page has changed dynamically.
10. Search-engine-friendly URLs
Search engines pay a lot of attention to the structure of the link to a webpage. But if your website uses alphanumeric URLs that cannot be used to identify the webpage, you are missing an important chance to improve your rank on search engines.
For example, one will not be able to guess what the webpage has to offer if its link is something like this: http://www.speckygeek.com/123abc.htm
However, if the URL to the webpage is http://www.speckygeek.com/how-to-blog.htm, you can easily get an idea about the content of the page. Such URLs are called pretty URLs and preferred by search engines.
11. Avoid splash pages
Splash pages are passe. Even if a splash page says “Welcome”, visitors would consider it as an annoyance. Similarly, search engines will be disappointed with a page that doesn’t offer any substantial value.
12. Don’t use frames <iframe>
A few years ago, frames were popular among website designers. In times when websites were created manually, one page at a time, frames allowed the designers to have a static page with navigation bar, header and other contents, and the webpage with actual content could be opened within a frame. It was web designers’ shortcut fix for avoiding the hassle of rewriting the same code over and again for each page. And if the designer wanted to change the navigation, header, etc., there was no need to manually change all the pages of the website. Only the main page which contained the frame had to be changed.
13. Everyone hates pop-ups
Pop-ups can be really annoying. Using pop-ups for serving ads or giving any information can irritate visitors. On top of this, search engines hate pop-ups.
14. Don’t buy or sell links
Incoming links are an important factor that determines a websites page rank on Google and other search engines. Some webmasters try to buy links from other websites in the hope of getting more search engine juice. They often add their websites on free-for-all link farms. Search engines can easily differentiate between a genuine link-back and deviant links. Having shady link-backs can even hurt your website’s ranking and reputation on search engines, and may lead to a ban. So never try to get link-backs from rogue websites with poor reputation. Do not pay anyone for it. Also, don’t link to any website with poor reputation.
15. No links in comments
If you have a blog where visitors can leave a comment, use “no follow” for all links in the comments segment. The “no follow” attribute in links in the comments segment will tell search engines not to pass on some benefit of your reputation to the linked website. You can alternatively choose not to allow any URL in comments. This will help you avoid draining of search engine juice by spammers posting irrelevant comments with links, looking to rank higher on search engines.
16. Use absolute links
Absolute links (such as http://speckygeek.com/how-to-blog.htm) will make your on-site link navigation less prone to problems, and if someone scrapes your content, you’ll get back-link juice out of it.
17. Focus on search phrases
Focus on search phrases and not single keywords while writing for your website. There will be lots of websites populated with keywords, but less with the keyword phrase. This will give an edge to your website. Also, put your location in the text if you want to get area-specific users.
18. Be honest
As the saying goes, honesty is the best policy. It’s even more true while trying to optimize a website for search engines. Do not try to cheat search bots. Never stuff irrelevant keywords in small font in some obscure corner of the page, hidden from readers. Always be honest to search bots as well as readers. Fraudulent methods can only help you get ephemeral success, but in the long run may lead to ban on your website and poor reputation among visitors.