So What’s It All About?
The web is a great free resource for information. The reason for this is that there is a wealth of good quality documents containing – you’ve guessed it! – good quality content. Search engines help people to find all this great content by sending out “spiders” to view sites and rank them depending on how relevant the CONTENT is to the keyword or phrase that the user typed in. The more relevant content and hence useful information a site has to offer the higher it will rank in search engines. SIMPLE! Sure, there are loads of other SEO techniques that are used to boost rankings, and are very important, but to a lesser extent (except perhaps the title tag). You could have the most optimised site on the web but if it had no content to it would not be relevant to anyone – so would not be ranked very highly.
As unscrupulous SEOs take advantage of search engines ranking algorithms to artificially boost a site’s ranking, certain techniques come and go. The only way to do it properly and to the letter of the law is to do it honestly, ethically and provide good content. For example, in 2001, anyone involved in SEO would have told you that you MUST use meta tags for keywords and descriptions, which was certainly true at the time. Now, however meta tags make virtually no difference to your ranking. This is not to say that you shouldn’t use them as some smaller search engines still make use of meta tags. This highlights the fact that the Search Engine Optimization industry is constantly changing and you need to keep up with the latest news to stay on top, this is perhaps the most important SEO lesson of all.
Currently the majority of sites on the Internet do not pay much, if any, attention to SEO. For example, you would be very hard pushed to explain rocket science to someone in one paragraph of text, yet so many sites have only very short descriptions of what they are about. These are usually sites aimed at selling a product, which is very silly, as someone looking for a particular product obviously wants to find out more about it. If you have not done a good enough job of convincing someone about a certain product then you loose that person as a visitor and as a sale.
Another problem, even with good quality content, is that if it is written by a professional writer rather than a SEO, your rankings could be hurt. This is a subject of great debate: do you ruin the flow of the page to get good search engine results or do you sacrifice high search engine rankings so the page reads well? The answer is you do neither you find a good compromise, which takes care and experience.
What Can We Do About It?
Search engine spiders are really just basic old age web browsers, such is IE2 or netscape2. They are text only browsers and read the HTML code from top to bottom just as you or I read a page. One good way to get an idea of what the search engines will be seeing is to view your site in a non-graphical browser, such as Lynx (a.k.a. Links). Don’t be too alarmed at the results when you see all your hard design work pulled to pieces. This is what search engines will see. Remember they don’t care too much about how it looks, only how it reads. Viewing a page in a non-graphical browser highlights the importance of having things like image ALT tags and Title tags for links etc.
The placement of the content within the code is also very important as search engines consider text nearer the top of the page to be more relevant and hence give it a higher ranking. This is not always easy to do if like many sites, you use HTML tables to control the layout. “But I can’t get the look I want without tables,” you say? Then here’s a solution: by using CSS2 (Cascading Style Sheets Specification 2.0), you have many benefits on top of creating clean search engine friendly code. The great benefit of CSS2 for SEO is that you can place your important content anywhere in the code and can control its position, layout and formatting by the external style sheet. What I do with sites using CSS2 is place the content at the very top of the code, then the navigation links, menus, etc., and then items as you would wish them to be displayed on the page. Because of this it is perhaps worth having a serious think about re-coding your site to use CSS2.
Links in the relevant content to other pages with relevant content greatly increases site ranking as well. The best way to do this without loosing visitors is to create a resource on a subject. To use the rocket science example, if you designed rockets you would not want to refer someone to a competitor, but you could provide links and information on the best rocket fuel to use, even though you have no interest in rocket fuel your self. Because you are talking about a very similar subject the relevance goes up and so does you search engine ranking. Don’t be shy to link to external sites; if you provide good content, people will come back. Make sure you operate a good linking strategy to achieve the best link popularity. Make sure that the text you use for the link is relevant to the subject of the page it is linking too, for example use the title tag if possible.
The “Keyword Density” of your content is also taken into account and is a factor in assessing the relevance of a document. Keyword density means what it sounds like, the density of the keywords in the document. If the keyword is mentioned several times it is considered to be more relevant. Many SEO’s suggest a keyword density of 4-10% i.e. 4-10 keywords in every 100. Personally I feel that this is a little high and tend to err on the side of caution and go to the low end of this range. Don’t think that you can just repeat your keywords several times though; search engines will see this as Spam and could ban you from their index all together.
Keyword Proximity goes hand in hand with Keyword density and simply means how close your keywords are to the top of the document. Search engines go on the thinking that if you are talking about a particular subject you are going to want to mention it fairly early on in your content. For example if a keyword was mentioned only once at the bottom of the page it is unlikely that the page would score highly.
Lastly, make sure that what ever you do it is totally ethical and honest. Phases come and go where unscrupulous SEO techniques will work, but these are soon squashed by the search engines, and only serve to give the industry a bad name in the long run.
To sum it all up:
- Use a non-graphical browser to look at your site. This gives you a better picture of what you are working with and more of an understanding of how search engines see pages.
- Place your content as high up in the code as possible.
- Link to other relevant pages using descriptive keyword rich text near the top of your content. This means you are creating a useful resource on a subject that people will want to view.
- Pay attention to keyword density and proximity.
- DON’T SPAM – if you’re not sure it is the right thing to do DON’T do it.