Search Engine Optimization Solutions
Everything you always wanted to know about Search Engine Optimization but were afraid to ask
12 Must-Follow SEO Rules
1. Content. Content. Content.
2. Analyze Web Logs.
Measure everything, at least twice, and then check again. While I would be the first to say that many of the procedures that make up website optimization are more art than science, one needs to take a very scientific approach to the results of the effort. This is done by methodically keeping a record of, and making an analysis of the sites web logs. There are a number of specialized software which make the job easier but at the bare minimum, one needs to keep a close eye on the site visitors and their activity while on the site. No matter how well planned the strategy, it is largely theoretical until proven by the results, which can only be measured by the logs, and a thorough analysis of their content.
3. No one can guarantee a #1 ranking on Google, or any other search engine.
Those who promise such feats will either optimize for such vague search term phrases (such as, "green stunted widgets with purple Polka-dots and icing") that no one will ever likely look for, or they are making a false claim, which they have no intention of keeping, or they have an inside edge at Google, something which they will loose, quickly, when the honest folks at Google find out about it. The other option, that they will take the money and run, is worth mentioning here but I'll be polite.
4. Some things are just plain silly.
5. SEO is not Pay-per-Click.
While no one would argue the effectiveness of getting increased traffic and sales, through a well planned, pay-per-click campaign, the fact remains that the conversion rates are generally low and they cease the moment the "pay" stops. With a well planned and executed SEO campaign, while results may take a bit longer, they continue to produce, and in fact grow, long after the work is done and paid for. Quite often we have found that after a thorough optimization of a site, only minor adjustments are needed on an ongoing basis, primarily related to new content and/or new items of sale or service.
6. SEO is not witchcraft, Druidism, shamanism.
Neither does it require any special chants, ceremonial fires, or investments, though some of us do like to howl at the full moon, on occasion. There are no "Top Secret" practices which a reputable SEO can not tell a client, a judge, or his mother, for that matter. The very nature of the Internet has always been cooperative and there is nothing about SEO that can't be learned, with a heavy dose of time and money. A reputable SEO firm will give you an item per item breakdown of just where the money goes. Be wary if you sense a secretive atmosphere or any unwillingness to answer questions. While there are technical points which might take some background to fully understand, if one has a solid overview of the entire situation, a simple explanation should be easy enough to come up with.
|7. Do-it-yourself SEO.
Yes, you can execute your own SEO campaign and find a reputable SEO firm to help plan and organize it for you. About one half of our own clientele do some part of the actual work themselves, or have their in-house dedicated personnel do it, after discussion of the goals and aims of the business/website, a thorough website analysis, comprehensive search phrase research, and focused instruction on the ways and means of achieving high SERPs. These preliminaries are followed up with a detailed program of suggestions and methods which the client can then implement themselves or hire others to perform. Average savings; 30-40%.
8. Phased Implementation.
While many companies spend thousands of dollars per month on Search Engine Optimization, an alternative is available which will pay dividends to you in increased sales and leads without the high initial investment. The most important consideration is to have a reputable firm handle the initial evaluation and suggested optimization planning first. The trial and error method will cost much more, in the long run, with or without the desired result. After studying the plan and establishing a workable budget you may implement the plan as finances allow.
9. Remember the old saying, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Never was this more true than in the realm of SEO. While concrete and measurable gains will always come from a well thought out and executed optimization strategy, the Internet is a competitive media and we all want to be number one. Accept that a steady upward movement, over time, will place you worlds ahead of a flash followed by a crash.
10. A thought to ponder.
At stake, in the race for the top, is the very existence of your website, your business, and quite possibly your reputation. Beware of any "shortcuts" or less than ethical schemes that anyone might suggest to further your business goals. When it's all said and done it is you, the business owner, who bears the responsibility for any company or individual you hire. Insist on knowing exactly what the strategy is and what steps are being performed to implement it. If it seems, in the least, suspicious, ask for and get an explanation. In this case, not only is ignorance not bliss, it could very well be the beginning of the end for your business.
11. All incoming links are not created equal.
Both the relevance to your line of business and website subject matter and the PR value of the incoming link determine how valuable they are to your own PR ranking. With Google starting the trend, nothing new there, and most of the others following close behind, the days of grabbing all the inbound links, in any way possible, are gone. Not only will low ranked and/or irrelevant inbound links not help, they will, in fact, cause a penalty. Link farms, free-for-all link schemes, automated link accumulation software, or any other fad that doesn't carefully screen the links and websites they are coming from will, in the long run, do more harm than good.
12. It's more than just facts and figures.
The relationship between an online business and SEO is, perhaps, one of the closest of business relationships. In order to be effective, a SEO must know not only the facts and figures pertaining to the endeavor, but he/she must know something of the dreams and aspirations of the business principals. Things which don't normally come out in a prospectus are often invaluable information when searching for the "right fit" into the complex world of the Internet. our own clients sometimes ask, due to the frequency of our calls and email in the early phases, "Am I your only client?" I usually laugh and say something to the effect that until I know your business almost as well as you do, yes, you are the only one that counts.
SEO:There's been much fuss lately as to the need for Search Engine Optimization of the right kind; some will tell you that to be effective SEO has to be "organic"; others will swear by the power of using the right software, coincidentally, their software. Then there are those who say that if you find the right "niche market", the world will beat a path to your door and leave their money when they get there. I even spoke with a fellow yesterday who claimed that if you only launched new sites when the moon was full... well, that's a whole other story.
Where there is less conjecture is in the dire consequences possible as a result of using the wrong kind of optimization. Horror stories abound of the million dollar investments that have simply gone down the drain when Google and the rest decided that the optimizers had cheated in their enthusiastic rush for the top. The early techniques of getting a website to the top of the search engine results (link farms, cross linking, doorway pages, keyword stuffing, and all the rest) have slowly been made ineffectual by the steadily rising sophistication of the search engine administrators,(and the algorithms they employ to keep the race fair and assure relevant search results).
So what is good SEO?
We could, perhaps, define SEO by function; we could talk about the actions which bring about the optimization. First there's research, hour upon hour of research must be performed for each account. With such items as industry research (what's the competition up to?), keyword research (how big is the market for this product/service?), competition research (how many others are already vying for this market?), marketing research (who else has already done this before and what did they discover that I better know about too?) Many hours, days, and sometimes weeks can be spent getting a clear visualization of a plan before the actual project can ever begin.
To even start a website without the proper research is a guarantee that:
nobody will ever link to your site (World's Worst Web Sites, excluded);
nobody, except maybe your mother, will likely see your website;
your investment and business venture will fail-miserably;
you will never be found in the major search engines; and
your results will match your research
We could approach the question of SEO from the perspective of form. Every site is constructed differently, designed differently, laid out differently, has a unique way with which it interacts with visitors, and targets those visitors differently. These are all factors that are considered during the research performed prior to laying out a raison d'être for optimization. Architect Louis Sullivan, argued that a building's purpose should determine its design, stating emphatically that "Form follows function." Shortly after, his student, Frank Lloyd Wright argued, "Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union." Although Sullivan and Wright were speaking of architecture as it relates to concrete and steel buildings, there's an architecture which goes into the design of a website that, when done well, echoes Wright's observation very nicely.
Good SEO will see to the writing or rewriting of the content on each page to effectively work in all targeted keyword phrases. A professional web-copywriter will be able to take the SEO recommendations for keyword usage and incorporate them into existing content in a way that reads naturally (i.e. does not look like you jammed keywords here and there) and has the ability to convert your visitors into paying customers. This is no small order and if it is not performed well, the site will remain just another pretty page that nobody ever sees. Or, worse yet, your site will attract lots of visitors but they will become confused by the copy and fly off to the next site without ever taking the desired actions (sign up, buy, make contact).
To see what a search engine spider bot "sees" when it visits a web page, go to the View button on your browser toolbar. Move your cursor down to Source (PageSource in Mozilla Firefox), and left click. What you are looking at is what Backrub (Google), Sidewinder (Infoseek), T-Rex (Lycos), Gulliver (Northern Lights), and all the others "look" at when they spider a site. They read it the same way you do, from top to bottom. Notice how much code and formatting are at the top of the page and scroll down to find the content (this article). Taking all of the code and paring it down to just what's needed and then finding ways to trim that is part of what good SEO is about. Try this on other sites you visit and you will soon understand the situation.
OK, time out! I tried not to mention specific software in this article but, hey! Have you ever wondered why Microsoft doesn't use FrontPage to create pages on Microsoft.com — even the pages that deal with the FrontPage software? Perhaps, they're trying to tell us something. I've spent literally months of our life removing and rewriting the loopy code and nonessential tags that have been produced by FrontPage editors. From an optimization standpoint using FrontPage to produce a website is akin to shooting yourself in both feet before you start to run a marathon. If Microsoft doesn't use it, why should you?
Now that that's out of the way . . .
After the code bloat removal process, good SEO will address getting all pages on the site to validate to the professional standards set by the W3C. Validation is simply a process of ensuring that the right coding elements are used and used correctly. This isn't a good guy - bad guy question or even a matter of not breaking the rules, it's about being accessible to everyone who uses the web. There is a growing number of the blind and visually impaired who use Voice Readers or text-to-speech software which "speak" the text on the web page. Many of the old tricks and shortcuts that web designers used in the past don't work with these or any of the growing number of other software designed to make a level playing field of the Internet. While many validation issues are not a big problem in and of themselves, if you find it on one page, it will likely run all through the site (and can take many hours of head scratching and work to clean up affectively).
Everyone has heard about meta tags, alt and title tags, and making them all search engine-friendly, but there are few sites that actually use them to full advantage. There's so much already written that I hate to add to the plethora of information, (real and misinformation) on the subject, but I will say that the purpose of the "alt" tag is to provide an "alternative" to a graphic and not, as widely believed, to go on and on about what a superior product you have or how wonderful your business is. <img alt="picture of DoDo bird"> 'Nuff said!
There are varying opinions about what should and shouldn't be included in a title tag. What is agreed upon is that all of the major search engines give the content of the title tag significant weight in determining what the page is all about. It's our practice to only write a title after everything else on the page has been written, and then with an eye to using at least two (better 3) of the keyword phrases that apply to the page. Unless you're "GE" or "Maxwell House," or intend to spend the kind of money they spent getting to be a well known brand, there is simply no reason to place your company name in the title tag. Save it for the terms that people will use to find your services/products. I know, you wanted mama to see your company name right up there in the Title Bar. It's ok with me, but it will cost you.
We Don't Need No Stinking Map
Site maps help both search engines and visitors quickly and easily get to the information that is important. It's amazing how simple a matter the design and implementation of a usable site map is, and how many websites either don't have one, or have an incomplete or obscure site map - an even worse scenario. If you're not sure you need one, build one anyway. Trust me on this one. If I come to your site and can't find what I'm looking for, I'll look for a site map. If I can't find a site map, I'll look somewhere else. Oh yeah, that's how 95% of website visitors are. Get a site map.
The robots.txt file is useful to communicate with the search engine spiders about content they should or should not index. This allows the "bot" to focus its time on the good stuff and not the irrelevant portions of your site.
Good SEO is all of these things and more. Your site will be off to a great start by following the suggestions mentioned here. And hopefully, this article will get you thinking that just maybe those "seo firms" which offer "Complete SEO $100." or "Get Your Site To #1 In Google" $295, aren't talking about the same things that we've been discussing here. After years in the business, I've yet to give even a "ballpark" figure for an optimization campaign without thoroughly researching the needs of the client, the structure of the site, and the competition for the target keyword. Every situation is different. Be wary of anyone offering a la carte SEO; without research, an individualized plan of attack, and careful implementation, you might as well wait for the next full moon.