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Search Engine Optimization: A Primer
by Bob Wakfer

Love them or hate them search engines are here to stay. There is no doubt that most web sites are found for the first time as a result of keywords entered into some search engine. Currently the most popular of all search engines is Google with some recent surveys indicating
that 38% of people use Google as their first choice or primary search engine.

So how do you get your website indexed in the first 10, 20 or 30 results presented by the search engines when someone searches on one of your keywords? The answer is not simple or absolute - put 10 SEO(Search Engine Optimization) experts in a room and you will get 10 different answers. Put the same 10 SEO experts in a room a month from now and you may get 10 different answers.

How can this be so you ask? These people either know what they are talking about or they don't. Why so many differing claims and opinions? The simple answer is that the search engine world is
constantly changing and shifting. First the search engines do not publish their rules or algorithms for indexing and ranking pages. If they did everyone would optimize exactly to the rules and ranking
would then be either impossible or meaningless. The second problem is that search engines are constantly altering their algorithms in an attempt to fine tune and increase the value of the results presented when you search.

Is Search Engine Optimization Possible?

Despite the ever changing rules, and despite the diversity of opinion and methods advocated by the SEO experts, there are some basic principles, which when properly applied will get your site better
placement in the search engine ranking. Here are things we know for sure.

Content is King

People search to find sites that contain the information or content in which they are currently interested. Search engines attempt to give them the most relevant sites based upon the search terms entered. Howcan they do that? The obvious way they can do that is by evaluating the content of the web sites in their index.

So rule 1. is always have some content or information on your home page. Generally this should be at least 200 to 300 words ofinformation about the site and what can be found there. This content
should be written using phrases and expressions that people will type into a search engine when looking for a site like yours.

I believe the content should be written first and the rest of the page built around it.

Keywords, Meta Tags and Other Good Stuff

Once you have written the content there are a number of techniques for optimizing around this content to make your site more attractive to the search engines. Within the content itself you should place your most important key words in titles or heading as defined with title tags. The search engines places more importance on words found in titles.

There are parts of a website that are not visible to the viewer but which are read and used by the search engines both to evaluate your site and to describe your site in the search results. These parts are usually referred to as the meta tags albeit the most important of these is the page title which technically is not a meta tag. The three elements I am talking about are the title, the description and the keyword list.

Before we go on a note about key words is in order. When thinking about and researching the keywords for your site and content, don't think of single words think of two, three and four word phrases. If you sell, or are offering information about, widgets made from stainless steel for the building trade then your keyword phrase should look like this: 'stainless steel widgets for contractors', 'builder's widgets', 'construction widgets', 'stainless steel widget information' etc.

The Title

Most website titles are too short. Most search engines will use and display between 60 and 115 characters of your title. The title should contain the most important key words on your site. It should be a mini description of the site. In the widget example the title might be: 'Construction Widgets: Stainless Steel Widgets for Contractors'.

The Description Meta Tag

The description meta tag is the next most important tag and it can be up to 200 characters in length. This is the information that many search engine display after they display your title so it should be thought of as your one sentence sale pitch and should include as many keywords as possible and still read smoothly. Using the above example a description meta tag might read: 'Construction Widgets: Stainless steel widget information and specifications for the builder and
contractor. Buy your construction widgets here.'

The Keyword Meta Tag

This tag is used to list all relevant key words. Many SEO experts think that this tag is becoming less significant than previously thought. However there is nothing wrong with including it. All your keyword phrases should be listed in this tag. The generally accepted rule is to limit the tag to 1000 characters and separate the keywords or key word phrases with a comma and a space.

Other Good Stuff

If you are using images on your website be sure to include an 'alt tag' that uses one of your key words with each tag. You will have noticed that as you drag your mouse over the images on some pages a text description will appear. This is the 'alt tag'. The search engines will read these and see this as a further reinforcement of the importance of your key words.


Web Site Popularity

So far in this article we have dealt exclusively with content and keywords. The other factor that search engines use to rank web sites in order of importance is the popularity of the site. They judge the popularity of your site by the number of links from other sites to your site. The links need to be relevant and the more links the better. If in our widget example they could get a Contractor
Association to put a link on their page to the widget page the search engines would be impressed. Links from non-competing but associated product supplier are also useful. And of course if they could get their contractor customers to put up links that say, "we use stainless steel widgets" on all our projects this would be great.

How do you convince other web masters to put up links to your site? You do this by offering to put up links to them on your site. In the example above you would have a section on your web site that would says "here is a list of contractors who use our stainless steel
widgets on all their projects". Then put up a links to every contractor who has agreed to put up a link to your site. This is known as a reciprocal link agreement and is becoming more and more important to succeeding with the search engines.

In Conclusion

The information in this article covers only 2 of the aspects of Search Engine Optimization. In future articles we will deal with the importance of being listed in Directories and how to get there. We
will talk about buying keywords and other ways to pay for a prominent listing by the search engines. To see this second article go to http://www.compar.com/infopool/articles/news1vs17.html now.

About the Author

Bob Wakfer is the President of Computer Partners and a long time
student and practitioner of SEO. Computer Partners offers web site
design hosting and search engine optimization for its clients. If you
would like to discuss any of these services with Bob you can email him
at bob@compar.com.

 

 

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