Optimizing Your Website

If you’re looking for a quick overview of a variety of topics to help you perform search engine optimization on your web site, keep reading. This article will cover basic issues such as internal linking and anchor text, as well as slightly more advanced items, such as why you should link out to good resources and more.

In this article we discuss on-site optimization and touch on the following topics:

  • Internal linking.

  • Using anchor text on internal links.

  • Alt tags and images as links. 

  • Broken links.

  • URL problems.

  • Usability issues – DO NOT rely on navigation.

  • Building navigation.

  • Linking out.

  • Using no follow to sculpt page rank.

  • Site maps.

Internal Linking

Internal links, just like in-bound links, are used by search engines to rank your pages. You must link to the most valuable pages from your high PR pages in order to pass Page Rank and help those pages rank.

For example, assume you have a 20 page website. Your home page has a Page Rank of 7, page A is PR5 and page B is PR6. All of your other pages are PR 0. Suppose one of the PR0 pages (let’s call it X) is optimized for a keyword for which you want to rank. To help page X rank, make sure to link with your targeted keyword from the home page (PR7), page A and page B. This way you pass their ranking power to page X, making it more likely to rank.

Keep in mind that toolbar page rank is a weak measurement since it’s not real, so another way to measure ranking power (in order to pass it to other pages) would be with links. Check the link profiles of the best ranking pages and then link from those pages with targeted keywords to the pages you want to rank on search.

Search engines rely heavily on internal linking data. Pages to which you link most frequently are the pages you tell the search engines are the most important.

Be sure to use keyword-rich anchor text. You may not have much control over how other people link to you, but you definitely can reward your own content with keyword-juicy internal links. Example:


<a href="example.html">your keyword here</a>


Use keywords that are similar to the page title. If for example your page title is “Sport Nike Running Shoes,” then the anchor text of a link to that page should look something like “nike sport shoes.” There’s no need to be exact in the anchor text, but it’s important to include your targeted keywords. Try to vary anchor text throughout the site to look more natural.

Search engines are after high quality, valuable, natural pages, written for humans. Too much SEO may alarm search engines, so try being as natural as possible.

Alt tags and images as links

Stay away from image links if possible. If not, then include your targeted keywords in image ALT tags, as those serve as anchor text in image links.

Example:


<a href="example.html"><img src="image.jpg" alt="your keyword here"></a>


DO NOT stuff the ALT tag with keywords. It doesn’t work; it will alarm search engines, which might possibly flag your website for human review. If humans spot keyword stuffing in ALT tags, then you’re likely to be banned from the index.

Some web surfers use software that reads ALT tags out loud, and I doubt your visitors would be happy to hear “running sport shoes from nike, nike shoes, nike running shoes sale, buy shoes, buy sport running shoes” etc…

Yahoo and Google employ human quality raters, so watch out.

Broken Links

Broken links are a signal of low quality. Not only do visitors get intimidated, trust your site less and leave, but search engine spiders cannot continue indexing your site past a broken link. Links are like rails for spiders. Break a rail and the train stops. Break a link and spider stops.

You can check for links using Dreamweaver or the free Xenu Link Sleuth program.

When you link to your homepage, make sure it’s

  • site.com

instead of

  • site.com/index.html

This shows consistency in your link profile and is less confusing for search engines. The job of SEO is to make your website usable for search engines, so little cues like these, when combined, go a long way.

Make sure that all of your links lead to either www.site.com or site.com. Though they may seem the same, those two addresses are considered to be two different websites. There was once a lot of confusion regarding this, and Google now treats the two as one website, but it’s better to over-insure yourself just in case. Select one of the formats and stick with it. Example: if you link internally and you selected www.site.com, then all other internal links should be www.site.com/more_urls.html, instead of site.com/more-urls.html.

This also applies to outside links.

If you use a content management system, make sure it produces search engine friendly URLs. Some content management systems make different URLs which lead to the same page, which is not good for SEO. Set up or reprogram your CMS so it produces single and keyword-rich URLs. There are extensions, or you may need to hire programmers to recode the management system itself.

If you’re building a website and planning on using a content management system, I recommend Joomla. It’s free and has better features than many systems that you have to purchase. On top of that, it has thousands of useful extensions, including some that are SEO-related.

Usability issues – DO NOT rely on navigation

Do not rely on navigation to guide visitors to the appropriate pages. Looking through navigation takes time and some effort. Your time is limited to a few minutes per visitor, so use it wisely.

Build paths to the pages you want visitors to see using links within content. A good example of this can be seen on the website for the Brooks Group. Though their links are not search engine friendly, they guide visitors using content, not navigation. Learn from them, but make your links search engine friendly. Check out the Brooks Group website to see what I mean.

Building navigation

Navigation should help visitors find what they need on your website and guide search engines to your pages. If you cannot use too many keywords in your main navigation, then offset the navigation to your footer and use keywords there.

Use breadcrumbs to make website more usable:


Homepage > Section 1 > Something Else > Article


It’s not necessary to make navigation 3-4 levels deep if you have a lot of content. In fact, including a lot of layers is usually confusing. Instead use 1-2 levels, but change it completely once users enter into different sections. Explore the Google Help center to see this in action. Notice how their main navigation changes once you enter into a different section or a large subsection that has a lot of content. It’s very intuitive and easy to use.

Linking out

You do not have much control over who links to you, so search engines go easy on links from bad neighborhoods, but you have complete control over who you link to. If you link to low quality spam sites, either by partnership or on your own, expect to see a negative impact on your rankings.

If you have links from spam sites and link to those sites, then you can be sure you’ll be classified as part of the spam network.

On the other hand, when you link out to quality, relevant websites, this tells the search engines that your website is a quality resource. Search engines are believed to take this into consideration, so link out from your content to high-quality pages.

  • Once you link out to useful information that visitors find interesting, you will be associated with that information, increasing the chance they will come back to you for more.

  • Sites to which you link may return the favor, especially bloggers who track incoming links and watch for “buzz.”

Many links have no ranking value. These include pages that cover privacy policies, terms of use, contact information, about us and more, but those pages are expected on each website by visitors, so you can’t avoid them.

As you link internally from page A to page B, C, D and F, link power from page A is distributed equally between B, C, D and F. If, for example, page F is a privacy policy page that has no ranking potential, you can apply a “nofollow” attribute to the link from page A to page F. This blocks search engines from passing link juice to page F and as a result, more link power is now distributed between pages B, C and D.

Here’s how a nofollow link looks:


<a rel=”nofollow” href="example.html">example link</a>


You have to understand the basics of page rank, so if the above sounds confusing, you can learn about pagerank

Be careful with page rank sculpting. Once you use “nofollow,” you indicate to the search engines that you understand SEO.

I wouldn’t worry about PR sculpting on a 20-page site. This tactic is for larger websites.

Site maps

A site map is a page that has links to all of the other pages of your website. The idea of a site map is to give a quick route for search engines to find all of your internal pages and to help users get quickly to the content they want.

Make your site map simple and easy to use. Don’t worry about graphics. A good example is the site map used by WebEx.

There’s another kind of site map known as an XML site map, exclusively for search engines. It alerts the search engine each time a new page is added to your website. Do not overly rely on this. Though the idea is good, you still need to make sure that you integrate each new page within its context, and give it some internal links. Nothing is more effective than the “old-fashioned” structure, so be sure to integrate you new pages. If you do not, it’s hard for search engine to know the importance new pages.

Google has a free XML site map generator in Webmaster Central.

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