Every day I make the rounds through the various SEO forums, and every day I run into forums that read something like this:
- “Google Hates Me!”
- “Why is Google mad at me?”
- “Gone from Google, please help!”
- “Indexed yesterday but now I’m nowhere to be found”
- “Am I banned from Google?”
- “Stuck in the sandbox for 6 years”
- “I’m going to take a long walk off a short pier”
O.K. so I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point. It seems as if a lot of newbie optimizers (and even some fairly experienced ones) are having trouble settling down into a stable optimization strategy. There are various reasons for this, the main culprit being a basic misunderstanding of how search engines work and what the main factors are in determining organic search engine position rankings (SERPs). Without resorting to pseudo intellectual banter and highbrow terminology I’m going to attempt to narrow down the basic tenants of search engine optimization.
First and foremost, if you are trying to do business on internet (i.e. make money) don’t lose site of the golden rule of business: It takes money to make money. If you are planning to invest $20 a month and somehow parlay that into $10,000 a month of profit, then please don’t quit your day job. Achieving top rankings in Google or any of the other major search engines requires the expenditure of three resources:
- More Money
When my partner and I plan a budget for a new “niche” site we set aside US$20 a month for linksmanager.com (for reciprocal linking), US$250-$500 for “advertising” (Text link, Static Banner, Paid Directories, PPC, CPM, etc), and $100 to $250 for contracting someone to acquire relevant reciprocal and non-reciprocal links. This monthly budgeting doesn’t include our overhead for Office Space, equipment, utilities, hosting, and whatever other costs your business might require.
If you have the time to personally acquire links for your site, by all means, eliminate the “link acquisition” costs from your monthly budget. You can also adjust your budget depending on the competitiveness of your target search terms (more if the term is super competitive, less if the term is barely competitive). The point here is that you need to come up with a realistic monthly budget for optimization, and you need to be prepared to comply with the established budget, even though you may not see returns for 1 to 6 months. “Sandbox” conspiracy theories aside, most websites do not become profitable overnight. Be prepared to spend some money in the short term in order to make some money for the long term. Your website is an investment, and like most investments, it takes time to establish a healthy profit.
Now that we’ve got that basic tenet out of the way let’s move on to a checklist of SEO essentials that will lend stability to your SEO campaign:
It’s all about links
Understand that the search engines are based on the interlinking structure of web pages. In laymen’s terms: It’s all about links. I’m not just talking about backlinks from other domains. The way that you interlink the pages of your own site is critical to your long term SEO success. Also, creating new pages of relevant content for your site (articles, tutorials, forum subpages) creates new relevant backlinks for your site. Although a link from an exterior domain is more influential than an interior domain link, search engines like Google do factor in the “votes” from the interior pages of your own site. This is why you’ll hear the wily old veterans in discussion forums ranting and raving about the importance of developing new pages of content for your site.
Relevance, Relevance, and more Relevance
Search engine robots are smart little critters. They’re like those pesky flying drones with the robotic dreadlocks from the movie “The Matrix”. They know what they’re looking for. Make sure that you gear your SEO strategy towards relevance. Focus on acquiring relevant backlinks from sites that contain lots of content. If your site is about frogs, a backlink from a site focusing on Puerto Rican tree frogs is way more influential than a link on an “animals” page on a “one size fits all” directory site. The only true exception to this rule is the DMOZ.org directory. It’s definitely worthwhile to get a link from that directory. I could get into the intricacies of getting accepted there, but we’ll get back to that battle at a later date.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it…
Time and time again I’ll see folks spend countless hours, days, weeks, and months analyzing an obscure “on-page” optimization factor like the keyword density of the 4th image alt tag of a “contact us” page with the hopes of finding the magic formula for #1 rankings. On-page factors are important (kind of), but they will not make or break you in terms of SERPs. I know this because I happen to work for a fortune 500 company that operates a mega sports site affiliated with a major television network that received 100’s of thousands of visits per day from search engines with virtually NO ON-PAGE OPTIMIZATION. Why did they rank so well? Because they had millions of backlinks and millions of pages of relevant content.
Make sure that you spend more time refining your link portfolio and you content, and less time tweaking on-page factors. Instead of messing with your H1 header all day, write a new page of content or make some link requests.
If you’re going to look at on-page factors, keep if simple
There are six on-page factors that are essential to the proper indexing of your site’s web pages:
• Image Alt Tags
• H1 and H2 (level 1 and level 2 headings)
• Body (written content)
Familiarize yourself with these six factors. Establish a systematic approach to integrating these aspects, then stick to your guns. There’s no sense in trying to constantly “tweak” these factors. Because of the unpredictable nature of Search Engine algorithms it is quite possible that what passes as the “perfect” formula today will be considered spam tomorrow. Here is a rough estimate of what I consider when integrating these on-page factors into my site(s), and keep in mind that while there are other on-page factors, these six provide a good foundation:
Title: The title tag should include between 5 and 9 words. The exact phrase of the main target search term (for example: “frogs”) should be included within the context of the tag. This target term or “keyphrase” should account for 25% to 60% of the entire title tag (this is called keyphrase density). If possible, have the keyphrase appear at or near the front of entry.
Image Alt Tags: There is often more than one Alt Image (short for alternative image) tag on any given web page. This is because an Alt. tag is used to describe static images. Therefore, it is important that all static images on a given page have alt. tags. As a general rule more than %50, but less than 100% of all Alt. tags on a given page should include the keyphrase (for example: “frogs”). As a rule of thumb 3 out of every 4 alt. tags for a given page should include the keyphrase. However, it is important that these alt. tags properly identify the image. We don’t want to label an image “fantasy basketball” if it is an image pointing to the homepage.
H1 and H2 (level 1 and level 2 headings): This popular CSS command should be used to “highlight” our keyphrase. If the keyphrase occurs within the body of the given web page then the H1 tag should be used on that specific occurrence. In most cases, using (bold) or (italics) on the keyphrase is a suitable substitute for the H1 tag.
Description: The description tag should be no more than 2 sentences (20 words) long. It should be an objective description of the specific Web page and should incorporate the keyphrase.
Keyword: The keyword tag should include 6 to 20 words or phrases. The first entry should always be the main keyphrase.
Body: Make sure that the body (written content) of your page includes your target keyphrase 1-3 times. Try to keep the content to between the 250-500 words, but if you go over it’s not the end of the world.
One last bit of advice, if you’re having success make sure that you are not easily swayed by the assertions made in self-proclaimed “experts” on forums or articles. SEO is somewhat unique in that there is no manual (unless you count Google’s terms of service) and most, if not all, conclusions are based on circumstantial evidence. There is no regulatory body that serves as a compass for the industry. You’re on your own, and if you’re buying into this SEO thing remember the old adage: let the buyer beware.
If you find a strategy that works stick with it. If you’re having trouble cracking the top 10, try and befriend someone that is having obvious success. Heck, that’s what I did! I came across a very popular auction site and befriended the owner/administrator. That individual helped guide me down the path to success. I’ve also turned to moderators of some established forums that seemed to be level headed and seemed to know what they were talking about. The answers are out there. You just need to know where to find them and always strive to keep your mind open to new (or even old) ideas.