Google Optimization Secrets From The Trenches

What do learning how to outline a research paper and optimizing your website to rank highly in Google have in common? Much more than you might think at first glance. Keep reading to find out how to help your visitors find the information they need and keep Google’s spiders coming back for more.

If you have a website, and you want people to find it, then your site must be designed to be search engine friendly. There are some obvious and not so obvious things you can do to achieve this.

There is also a bit of trade off between which search engine you optimize for. While this article will focus on optimizing for Google, many of the things we talk about will also apply to Yahoo.

Additionally, before I go into the meat of the article itself, Google relies first and foremost on its “PageRank,” and other factors for determining your position in Google’s results are secondary. With that said, this article is not going to go into methods for increasing your PageRank. Instead we are going to focus on the other factors that go into how Google calculates relevance for a given keyword. For some great information on page rank, check out this article: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Google-Optimization-Help/Google-
PageRank-Frequently-Asked-Questions/
 

Google looks at a lot of factors to determine a page’s relevance to a keyword. In fact, while their primary reliance on PageRank rankles me, I do like the way they look at a whole page, and the way everything fits together within that page.

To that end, there are things you can do to “help” your page look very focused to the keywords that are important to you.

Keying in to the Top

Most website owners  know to put in the meta tags for keywords and to make the description meta tag keyword-focused. But then they will simply make the Title tag their Site name, which is a big mistake. The title tag should first have the single keyword (or at most three) that your site really wants, and then it should have the site name. For an example of this, see this article: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Search-
Engine-Optimization-Help/Search-Engines-How-to-make-them-a-TAG-
they-will-love/


Further, the very first graphic for your site should have the alternate text set to the keywords you focus on.

Next, while CSS has taken the venerable H1, H2, H3, and so on tags and replaced them with div and span headings, this reduces your potential ranking within Google.

You see, Google (and Yahoo) looks for the h1 and h2 tags as important indicators for what the text will contain. Therefore, the top of your document should have an H1 tag that has your most important keywords, followed by some content that is relevant to a visitor. Additionally, Google has become rather savvy to the frequency a site is updated with new content, so you’ll want to continually add new “stuff” to your site, again using the H1 tag, so that Google will come back to your site and respider. The more frequently Google thinks it has to come back to respider your site, the higher your site will rank.

If you check out Google’s information on how they rank pages (http://www.google.com/intl/en/webmasters/guidelines.html) you’ll see that they recommend that you “Make a site with a clear hierarchy.”

In other words, you should be able to describe your pages using middle school outlining techniques. Here is an example (I’m going to insert some tags to help make things a little easier to figure out):

- <Title>Dieting, Health – My Terrible Diet Site</title>
- <h1>Dieting your way to Health and Vitality</h1> (very top of site)
- – <h2>How to Diet without killing yourself</h2>(content article title)
- – - and then there is some of the content itself
- – <h2>How To Eat Enough While Dieting</h2>(content article title)
- – - and then there is some more content
- <h1>The Crispie Crème Diet</h1>
- – and now some content for this one 

In many ways your entire site should be laid out like that. Now I understand that you may have multiple table panes, but the main content section of your site should be laid out pretty close to what I’ve shown above. You could almost think “blog” for this, but I’m not saying your site should be a blog, I’m just using that as an example.

To make this easier, you may want to check out one of the outliners over at http://www.outliners.org. Unfortunately, you may find that there isn’t much there for Windows machines. But that’s okay. All those outliners do is output an “OPML” file (opml stands for Outline Processor Markup Language), and the OPML standard is ridiculously easy to understand.

And as a side benefit, Google can (and does) read/use the OPML file if your site has one. It will use that file to obtain more indepth heirarchial information about the way the data on your pages are laid out.

You can get the entire OPML spec at http://opml.org/. Understand that the whole issue with OPML is still one of those “hush-hush” things within Google, so you’re really getting the inside scoop on this one.

With that said, the folks over at Google aren’t stupid. First, your OPML file must be used to describe content that actually is on a page that can be reached from your site’s main page. Second, the OPML file must be a reasonably close representation of the actual page, and third you must provide a link from the page to the OPML file so the Google Spider can find it.

If you adhere to these rules, then Google will use the additional information that can be obtained from the OPML file, and that will help to drive up the rankings for your site, because of the additional meta data within the OPML file that can’t be found on an HTML page.

Another item that Google recommends is the creation of a site map. Well, guess what? By making the site map a hierarchical representation, complete with H1 and H2 tags (and an OPML file of its own), you can let Google know the “parent/child” relationships from one page to the next.

In other words, not only should each page’s content be laid out in a hierarchical manner, your entire site should be laid out in a hierarchical manner as well. This will help Google to understand how one part of your site relates to other parts … and drive every single page of your site higher in Google’s rankings.

Not meaning to beat a dead horse here, but by also giving your site map page an OPML file, you will allow Google to utilize the additional information, making your site more searchable by the Google spider than is otherwise possible.

Going Dynamic

I personally am a big fan of content management systems. I am also very against content management systems such as PHPNuke or PHP Website. If you check the Google site on its recommendations, it says, “If you decide to use dynamic pages (i.e., the URL contains a ‘?’ character), be aware that not every search engine spider crawls dynamic pages as well as static pages. It helps to keep the parameters short and the number of them small.”

Most content management systems require a ridiculous number of parameters and they don’t load fast enough to make them easily “spiderable.”

You see, the search engine spiders only allow a page a certain amount of time to load before simply moving on. A page that takes too long to load won’t be spidered as often and therefore won’t show up as high as it could in search results.

You can get the beginnings of an excellent CMS system that loads blazingly fast and doesn’t need more than two parameters ever at this site: http://www.wolfdatasystems.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=6.

That link will give you the “foundation” for the code that drives the CMS system that runs my own site over at http://www.wolfdatasystems.com. If you would like that code, including the stuff you need to create the appropriate tables, just send me an email and I’ll send it to you (free of course).

This one is rapidly becoming a huge deal with Google. The Google guidelines state that “If your company buys a content management system, make sure that the system can export your content so that search engine spiders can crawl your site.”

What the guideline is talking about is RSS. Google is rapidly getting to the point, and may get there a lot sooner than you might think, that their spider won’t even look at the page itself, but will instead focus on the RSS and OPML files. These two files are considered “content exporters.” Now we’ve already talked about the OPML file. If you want some information on RSS, there is an excellent article (of course I think it was excellent, I wrote it) right here on SEO Chat. You can read all about why RSS is important at this link: http://www.seochat.com/c/a/Yahoo-Optimization-Help/An-Insiders-
Secret-To-Seriously-High-Rankings-With-Yahoo/
.

The Wrap Up

Google, always one of the front runners, has reached the point that it is very “meta data” savvy. In other words, this engine can make use of OPML files and RSS files. It can then compare those files to your site’s actual content to make its decision making process that much more accurate when a search is performed. This means that sites that actually have RSS and OPML files are automatically ranked better than those sites which do not have them. Further, those sites which are laid out in a manner similar to their OPML files (in other words the content of the page follows a logical heirarchical order) will be ranked higher still.

And best of all, sites that follow design guidelines like that are easier to follow, read, and understand by visitors to your site, which will mean people are more likely to come back. And that’s the best benefit of all.

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