How Do I Optimize my Website for Search Engines?
SEO, an abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization, is the practice of optimizing a website for web search engines. With a comprehensive optimization technique implemented on a website, the search engines will be able to index and crawl it in an effective way. The goal of website optimization is to get your website listed in the first several search results for particular keywords.
There are two ways of optimizing a website for search engines: On-Page Optimization and Off-Page Optimization.
On-Page optimization method includes webpage structure and content fine tuning. The results of this method primarily depend on the webmaster and he/she can easily modify the web pages. On-Page optimization can be done through the following processes:
- Code Optimization – It is very important to keep the web page code simple and ‘clean’. A clean code can be easily read and understood by the web crawlers whereas it would take much time to crawl through a shabby code. As most of the pages will be written in HTML markup, make sure you cluster the styles into a CSS file and not into various tags. The actual web page should consist of clean tags without the styles coming in the way.
- Title Tag Optimization – A title tag is a crucial component of a webpage. When search engines crawl the website, the Title tag is the first element to be crawled making it highly important. The Title tag should be short but descriptive and expressive. Include the website/company’s name in the Title tag for the homepage (usually index.html). In other pages, include the keyword for which the page has been optimized. The targeted keyword should be placed first in the Title tag. If there’s a page targeting the keyword “Pink Dresses”, include “Pink Dresses – <company-name>” in the Title tag but not “<company-name> – Pink Dresses”.
- Meta Tags Optimization – Meta tags are generally used to describe the page content in brief. There is a better chance for a website to show up in searches if Meta tags are well formulated. A Meta Description tag explains the page in short and Meta Keyword tag lists all the targeted keywords for which a user may search.<META NAME=”description” content=”Buy/Shop Pink Dresses for Ladies and Kids”>
<META NAME=”keyword” content=”Pink Dresses, Buy Pink Dresses, Dresses for Ladies”>
- Heading Tags Optimization – Heading tags (like <H1>, <H2> etc) help in highlighting the important text and headings on a webpage. Place the crucial information in heading tags and apply the styling or such heading tags in a separate CSS file. Heading tag should be applied with styles such as bold, underlined or italics.
- Internal/External Link Optimization – Internal and external links are very important. A website should have a well structured internal link model with comprehensive anchor text. Avoid placing the entire link as the anchor text; instead, put some keyword targeted words/phrases.<a href=”/PinkDresses250To300.html”>www.PinkDresses.com/PinkDresses250To300.html</a> should be avoided; instead, <a href=”/PinkDresses250To300.html”>Pink Dresses between $250 USD and $300 USD</a> should be used.
- Image Optimization – As the web searches have ventured into images as well, it is important to place well structured ALT text on every image. Search engines scan the ALT text when a search is made. Hence, if the image has good explanatory ALT text, the chances of the website showing up in the search will increase. Also, make sure a descriptive TITLE text is used in images, since they show as tooltip on the page.
- Create Keyword Rich Content – The content should include keywords and synonyms. The keyword density should be approx. 5-6% of the total content, but these things can easily change and they are never completely clear. The content should not be stuffed with keywords because that can cause negative effects.
Unlike On-Page optimization, Off-Page optimization techniques are not in the control of the web developer (at least not entirely). These techniques refer to how the web perceives the website. Off-Page optimization can sometime be tedious and time consuming but it highly affects the search engine optimization. Moreover, Off-Page optimization is often considered more important than On-Page optimization.
- Widespread Keyword Research – One of the most important things in search engine optimization is researching the correct and effective keywords. Keywords play an important role in searches, since web pages are targeted for specific keywords. Usually the longer search terms do better than the very general ones. For example, “news” will not be as effective as the “Beijing 2008 Olympics news and medal updates”. Perform a wide research for keywords which are mostly searched by users, but have the lowest competition.
- Use Search Engine Compatible Technology – Some people will put a lot of funky features on their websites. This includes various CGI scripts, numerous frames, flash components, and even more dynamically created pages. Unfortunately, while the viewer may enjoy it, search engines may not, as they “don’t know” how to crawl through it. So if you have a site with a lot of frames or flash components, search engines will have a difficult time crawling through your website. Although your page may be indexed, the spider may not be able to crawl through the various links within the frames.
- Generate Quality Inbound Links – Search engines also place a lot of importance on “Linkbacks” or “Inbound Links”. In case of Google, backlinking is a big portion of a site’s ranking. However, the sites linking to your website should be relevant to your own. A movie site might not benefit so much from a gardening website. Also, your links should not increase at rapid pace because the search engine might suspect you of using non-legitimate methods. It is extremely important to follow the rules.
- Update your Website Continuously – Search engines seem to like active and well updated websites. An idle website from 1999 might be aged, but it certainly won’t get a good ranking on a search engine if it was last updated in 1999. Search engines are always looking for new information to index. Usually, web logs (blogs) are very successful with search engines because content can be built quite easily.
- Use a Sitemap or an Index – Search engines love to see a sitemap because it allows them to navigate through the webpage very easily. A sitemap can be created with various free tools on the Internet. For example, with WordPress, there are a couple automatic sitemap creating plugins that will automatically update your sitemap every time the blog is updated.
- Use the Freely available Webmaster Tools – There are numerous webmaster tools that can help you analyze your stats a bit better. This includes backlink trackers and keyword research tools. Using these will help you find more methods of optimizing your website for search engines.
- Check the URL
- Does the URL contain your keywords?
- Is the URL too long?
- Does the URL use hyphens as keyword separators?
- Check the Page Title
- Does the Page Title contain your keywords?
- Is the Page Title too long?
- Check the Description Tag
- Does the Description tag contain your keywords?
- Is the Description tag too long?
- Check the Keywords Tag
- Does the Keywords tag contain your keywords?
- Is the Keywords tag too long?
- Check the Headings
- Are your keywords used in the H1 tag?
- Are your keywords used in the H2 tags?
- Are your keywords used in the H3 tags?
- Check the ALT text
- Do your keywords exist in the ALT text of an image on the page?
- Check your HTML
- Does your page validate as proper HTML?
- Check your body text
- Does your body text mention your keywords enough?
- Does your body text contain enough content?
- Is your body text human-readable?
- Does the page have excess HTML markup which could be removed?
Off-Page SEO Checklist for a Web Page
- Is the page listed in your sitemap?
- Is it possible to issue a press release about this new web page?
- Can you submit this new web page to web directories?
- Should you mention this new web page on relevant web forums?
- Have you traded reciprocal links with similar web pages?
- Have you added anchor-text links to this new web page from your other pages?
On-Page SEO Checklist for a Web Site
- Does your web site have a site map?
- Does your web site have plain HTML links to between pages?
- Does every page of your web site link back to the index page?
Off-Page SEO Checklist for a Web Site
- Is it possible to issue a press release about this new web site?
- Can you submit this new web site to web directories?
- Should you mention this new web site on relevant web forums?
- Have you traded reciprocal links with similar web sites?
- Is your web site appropriate for a Top Site List or a Web Ring?
There are hundreds of tools and techniques to optimize your website for search engines. Visiting SEO blogs and various SEO related websites can be helpful. Consulting SEO experts and visiting some of the numerous SEO forums can also help you learn something new (and there is always something new to learn) and stay up to date with the latest news in the SEO world. Some methods of search engine optimization are good (white hat SEO), but search engines can change their policies, which could make one of your formerly legitimate tricks to now be considered abusive (black hat SEO).