Basic SEO: Tricks and Tips

I wrote an article recently about what search engines hate the most when they are combing through a site, trying to decide whether or not to index it. Well, hate was probably too strong a word. It should have been more along the lines of what search engines find annoying. This article, on the other hand, will delve into what they truly hate – namely, when web developers try to trick them. We will then get into ways to add content to your site.

Tricking a search engine generally involves showing the searchbot a different web page from the one shown to the visitor. Unfortunately, searchbots are not that sophisticated when it comes to what they will or will not read on a web page. However, as search engines have grown over the years, they’ve gotten a lot better at recognizing when tricks are being used. Getting caught can result in a much lower ranking or an all-out ban from the search engine. Either way, it’s important to know what techniques are considered deception so that, if anything, you’ll know what to avoid.

Some of the most ubiquitous techniques involve manipulating keywords in some way. Keyword stacking (or stuffing), in which the same words or phrases are repeated over and over, or using keywords that are unrelated to your site are fairly obvious methods. Granted, these are very old and barbaric techniques, but they have proven to be effective in the past. For example, hiding keywords is usually done by making the text the same color as the background and using a very small font size. You can also use hidden fields (<INPUT TYPE=“HIDDEN”>), hidden layers (use a style sheet to put a text layer under or outside of the visible layer), or simply place text inside of a <NOFRAMES> tag. You can often check for hidden text by either checking the source code or clicking the top of the page and dragging to the bottom, highlighting everything in between.

Hiding links became popular because search engines rely so heavily on links to determine a site’s purpose. You can easily make a link look exactly like the rest of the text on a page, or at least the text surrounding it. And any piece of text can be turned into a link, even punctuation marks. Basically, links can be hidden in the same way as ordinary text.

Some people have been known to make duplicate pages. This is where they make copies of their own keyword-rich pages and add them to their site or to a site with a different URL. The purpose of this is to get more than one top entry on a search results page (some search engines display more than one page from a site). However, search engines have tools to help find duplicate pages, so people have turned to slightly modifying the page before using it again. One of the more unethical variations of duplication is called page jacking, in which people steal pages from other sites because they have performed well.

{mospagebreak title=Doorways and Redirects}

It’s important to understand the difference between a doorway page an information page. Doorway pages are bad, information pages are good. Got it? Good, let’s go have a beer. But seriously, the difference is much more ambiguous. By definition, doorway pages are overly optimized for search engines and are used simply as a means to direct traffic to your site. An information page is used to advertise your site and its affiliates and is actually useful for both the visitor and the search engine. The key word here is "useful," because determining whether a page is useful is always in the eye of the beholder. But if you’re honest, and stop trying to kid yourself, you can tell whether you really created the page for your site’s visitors or the search engines.

Redirects and cloaking are some of the more notorious techniques web developers use to get their site indexed. They are essentially the same thing in that they both involve showing one page to the search engine and a different page to the visitor. This can be a touchy subject because there are some web developers who feel that the limits of the search algorithms are forcing them to design their sites specifically for the search engines. Adding more fuel to the fire is the fact that search engines have trusted feeds (a legal form of cloaking), which will guarantee that your site is indexed, if you pay them.

A redirect is when you click to load a web page and the loaded page immediately disappears, only to have a new one appear in its stead. It can best be done by using JavaScript to either automatically grab the page within a split second or grab the page when a user action (e.g. a mouseover event) triggers it. In the past, people used the REFRESH meta tag, but search engines have long since caught on to this technique and will ignore the redirect page and move on to the destination page.

Cloaking is a bit more sophisticated and is harder for search engines to detect, although it certainly isn’t undetectable. It generally works by having a cloaking program identify the searchbot requesting the page (if it is a searchbot and not a browser) and sending a different, better optimized page. This doesn’t have to be as insidious as it sounds. In my last article, I described how it can be used to show search engines dynamic pages that would otherwise be invisible. So basically, if you aren’t intentionally trying to deceive the search engines, cloaking may be a viable option.

Some of you may think all of these methods are unethical no matter what. Well, have no fear. In the next section, I’m going to discuss the more legitimate ways to create relevant content and optimize your web page.

{mospagebreak title=How to Get Content}

When adding content to your site, it’s probably a good idea to compare your site to its relevant competitors that rank well in the search engines. If you think your site has better optimized content than they do, you can start to focus on other aspects of your site, like links. But this section is for when you need content and there are three different ways to get it: writing it yourself, getting someone else to write it, or using content that exists somewhere else.

Writing content yourself can entail several different techniques, but for the purpose of this article, I’m going to focus on writing articles and writing summaries of other online articles. And since writing your own articles is self-explanatory, I’ll just say that this is a time consuming process and not everyone is a good writer (trust me). If you’re going to summarize other articles that are linked to your site, make sure the summaries have the appropriate keywords and that the article is indeed related to your site. This is obviously much quicker than writing entire articles, but you do need the original author’s permission. Instead of writing full-blown articles, you can also write short reviews about websites or products that are relevant to your site.

Getting someone else to write your content should fall in line with the dirty tricks I mentioned in the first two sections, at least in my opinion. For the most part, you’re getting someone else to do the work for you for as little pay as possible, possibly even for free, if you’re a good liar. I won’t lie, writers are cheap (again, trust me), despite the fact that good ones are hard to find. If you do find one and are willing to pay them, it would be smart to draw up some kind of contract stating that it is “work for hire” and that you are buying all rights to the work. This probably isn’t necessary, though, if it’s a large company and the person works for you full time.

Using content that already exists is the quick and easy way to add content to your site. It is important, however, to avoid copyright infringement – putting someone else’s material on your site without their permission – unless, of course, you like getting sued. The main thing to remember is that you do not need to register for a copyright for it to still be copyrighted material. In the next section, I’ll go over some of the places you can look for content to put on your site.

{mospagebreak title=Where to Get Content}

There are numerous places to get content for your site. Keep in mind that all material you use should be appropriate to your site; this article is about SEO after all. Check out the following list of useful sources:

  • Websites – You can use material from either articles or newsletters, but you must contact the owner and get their permission.

  • Products – If you sell products on your site, ask the manufacturer for material about the product in question.

  • Content Syndication Sites – Material on these sites is free when you provide a link back to the original author’s website. There are also sites that allow you to pay for material. Make sure you manually put the material on your site to preclude any SEO-related conflicts caused by browser-side inclusion methods (searchbots don’t read browser-side code).

  • Government – Material made by (not for) the U.S. government does not have copyright protection, meaning it is free and in the public domain (the U.S. Postal Service and National Technical Information Service are exceptions).

  • Open Content – This is content that is available for modification and redistribution because of what’s called copyleft, which basically means the original author released their work on the condition that no one else can claim original authorship. You might also want to check into content released under a Creative Commons license; there are several variations of this license, and not all of them will let you repost content freely. You will need to do a little homework.

  • RSS feeds – If you find a site that provides an RSS feed with boatloads of material related to your site, you should install an RSS aggregator to put the material from the feed into your website. This can be complicated for those without experience, so I suggest you do your research or get someone who knows what they’re doing.

  • Create User-Generated Content – You can get content from your visitors by adding a Question and Answer or Frequently Ask Questions section to your site. You can also add a forum (sometimes called a Bulletin Board System) or blog on which your users can comment. Just search for the appropriate software on any search engine.

When finding content to put on your site, don’t forget that you’re doing so in order to optimize your site for the search engines. Make sure you search for content with your keywords. Just search for the specific type of material you want and add your keyword(s) to it. If you have a site focused on the Great Lakes, you could search for Great Lakes press release, for example.

That’s all the tips I have for now. I’ll see you next time.

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