Free SEO advice

Here's some brief advice on ensuring web pages rank well in search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. While I don't claim to be an SEO (Search Engine Optimization) hotshot, even some webmeisters can get a bit bamboozled at times.

Firstly, here's a nugget I gleaned from a forum: the keys to optimising look likely to remain content and links.

Content is king, I've read. And while I've found pages that rank well even though they're nearly naked, this seems broadly true. Links to a site, and to specific pages, are important; so too is a site's internal link structure. Sort these, and you should have some chance of ranking okay, especially for non-too competitive keywords.

2013 update: after changes in Google, the situation seems blurrier than ever. Big brands like amazon have massive clout, and it's evidently tougher for small sites to receive good rankings in search results. [I nearly wrote "to achieve good rankings", but I feel that it's more like having good rankings bestowed upon them; and these rankings can be taken away.]
This situation is partly a result of darn spammers, and Google's actions to try and counter them - lots of colatteral damage.

So, back to the original post. Things here are worth a try, but none is a panacea.

Tthere's far more to Search Engine Optimization (SEO) - black hats, white hats, link farms, pagerank, and that sandbox. If I had it all figured, this page should be #1 in search engine results. It isn't; but I do have other pages that rank well. Here, I mainly cover techniques that work for me.

Some techniques for Optimising Websites and Web Pages to Boost Search Engine Rankings

Keywords and phrases

Before optimizing a page - indeed, before even creating it - you should figure just which keywords and phrases you want it to rank for in search engines. Broadly, the less common these words and phrases, the easier this will be (see later, where I mention this page ranks well for "clever blighters"). For common words and phrases, things get tougher; toughest of all if they are money related - this page's theme, search engine optimization, is tightly contested as many companies offer commercial SEO services.

When you have a few words and phrases, you might want to check for more ideas using Overture's Keyword Selector Tool).

Maybe, too, split the keywords and phrases between pages, so each page may be tightly focused on a particular word or phrase. 

Titles

Web pages have a couple of basic types of title.

There are the titles that appear within the pages.

And there's the highly important, yet too often overlooked, page title. This is the title that appears in top bar of web browser window, also as the title when the page appears in a list of search engine results. Not unreasonably, search engines such as Google figure this title might have high relevance to what the page is about; so Google at least places great importance in the page title. This means it's good to have a descriptive title, including major keywords and key phrases that you hope people will search for in order to find your page.

The more obscure your title, the better the chance you'll have of being near top of results - as you should be up against fewer pages! But if you aim for something competitive - "poker", "viagra", "search engine optimization" - well, good luck to you.

Don't go overboard. Try for a short title; plus something that might be enticing to someone scanning down a list of search results. You may not make the top result, but if the title seems appealing, should help with getting people to visit your page. (July 05 note: I've just tossed in the words "free advice" in just such a flagrant attempt to garner interest. And after all, this is free, whilst related pages include a fair proportion from SEO companies that charge for their services.)

Regular titles: these are less important, but you might want one or two with <h1> tag, a smattering with <h2>, or maybe try Bold and so on.

Other Meta Tags

The page title is one of the meta tags - not displayed in browser window, but gives info on the page. Others include description and keywords for the page; these used to be important, but then spammy site makers found they could hoodwink search engines by stuffing these with keywords people might search for, yet might have little relevance to page ("hot chicks", "sex" ... for grannie's cooking classes).

Seems search engines may still make some use of these, so I tend to include, figuring that shouldn't hurt (if the keywords are actually in the pages), and might help a little. Sometimes noticed Google using my meta description, rather than just text lifted from web page, in search result listings: so helpful to write an enticing description. 

Noindex: this looks worthwhile for pages you are happy for search engine robots to discover, but which you don't want including in search results. Should be able to use it to ensure that don't have pages with "thin content" appear in search results: for instance, as on this site, use for pages based on keywords, which list articles associated with these keywords [I want the article pages themselves in the search results].

Content: the King!

And now to the crux of the issue, the stuff on your webpage. For search engines, that mainly means words - words that the search engine robots can read when they examine the page: they won't "see" words in photos, words in fancy Flash animations, or maybe even words that are brought in from other files. (Google, at least, will index your photos, so maybe use good names when you post these to your site.)

Also, on cluttered pages, search engine robots may have a job finding the main words to index. Partly for this reason, it's worth opening like a newspaper article - give the key info first, then expand on it.

Further, consider tighly focusing your page, so it really covers what you hope people will search for to find it. If you want to cover something related, you could make this the subject of another page.

The search engine robots (or spiders) will hunt for and index words on the page - and, clever blighters, will also index even blocks of text. This means you should have keywords and key phrases on your page - but don't go overboard on this, or you'll get penalised for spamming, which in worst scenarios can mean being booted out of a search engine's index.

When it comes to those keywords, try variations on spellings and so on - optimization and optimisation, say, or even misspelings.

Internal Links - and URLs

Even before starting your site, you should consider how to structure it. However many pages you plan, you should have as simple a structure as possible, so your visitors - including those search engine spiders - can follow links to pages you want viewed and index. Take a look at other websites, and follow at least some of what they do.

Consider having a site map, with the links to key pages/categories. Perhaps also use anchor text, especially for long pages, to certain place on a page.

As you create internal links, take care in choosing the words used: Google, at least, will take note.  

You might also pay attention to your page addresses - the URLs. Hopefully, you have a good domain name; after this will come the names of pages, perhaps precceded by categories. Here, too, there's a chance to have keywords, which search engines just might use.

Inbound Links - or Backlinks

Backlinks are the links from other sites to yours. Without at least one of these, your site won't be found by search engines unless you tell them about it (via link to submit URL, which is sometimes free, quite often not). Lots of links, if they're good ones, can help power your pages and your site to success.

So, what's a good link to your site?
First, it's from a good site, and preferably a strong page on that site. Not just from some page that links out all over the place, but from a site that's perhaps relevant to what your covering, and/or is pernickety when it comes to adding links.
Then, a link should have text related to what's on your page. For Google, the text in Inbound Links is given high priority, as it should indicate what a page is about.

So that sounds easy enough, regarding inbound links. The problem is, getting them. You should try for these links, like by suggesting your site to relevant directories, and seeing if other website owners will exchange links (if relevant). Then, if your site's worthwhile you should find a few "natural" links are created, by people who find your pages and decide they're worth linking to.

Outbound Links

Even your outbound links are important, so don't sprinkle them around willy-nilly.

One thing, of course: they may encourage people to leave your site, so don't overdo these links or people might leave faster than you wish. Then, they should be relevant, with decent text: Google check this, uses it to influence how your site performs; recommends you don't link to bad neighbourhoods.

And if you have too many links, your site may go down in search engine results as you're sprinkling away pagerank. Against which - if you have enough good links, you might be rated a real clever site, and do well for this reason.

To minimise pagerank "leakage", some webmasters add "nofollow", so the links won't be counted by Google. Can be a dodgy technique at times - I wouldn't like to see someone exchange links, then use nofollow in link to my site.
 

In closing: search for "search engine optimization", and you'll find a slew of sites and pages. Be critical as you check these: some might be rock solid, but a few may be flaky, and there are reportedly some moonshine and snake oil sellers out there (cross their palms with silver, and your pages will suddenly be number one for even hard-fought terms ... hmm. If you want such a service, take care before signing on).

While if you want to find a ton of advice from hotshots, and read through reams of discussions on the mysteries of seo, check out WebmasterWorld. Some threads aren't gripping; there are many posts that aren't worthwhile (though I'm not in the supporters forums, where hotshots hang out), but there are also classic posts, including Successful Site in 12 Months with Google Alone. [Haha! - now seems from another era; as social sites and other signals have come to the fore, and even at Webmasterworld I see little hard info on how to rank.]

Martin

Comments

Some seo help could come out from the free tools at domof [dot ]com , but the amount of data might get kind of difficult to interpret for a newbie so still there is need for a seo specialist to tell one exactly what is in there and how to take advantage of that info.