Search Engine Optimisation and Marketing Guide

Ed

Ed

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If you're building a commercial website, then you have to optimise it for the search engines and start a marketing campaign. Here's a short guide to getting on the right track.

Search Engine Optimisation
To start with, assess what the purpose of the website is. Are you promoting a range of products? a service perhaps? is your market local, nationwide, european or international? All these questions and many more will determine the content of the website and you need to be aware of these before you begin with your endeavour.

A few pointers for the site to begin with.
  • Try to avoid frames, ActiveX, Java, Flash, client-side scripts and animations.
  • Use CSS and keep style away from (x)HTML.
  • Always use old fashioned hyperlinks for navigation and not images.
  • Try and maintain a - never more than 2 clicks away - policy with your navigation structure.
Back to SEO.

RULE: Every page must be individually optimised - search engines index pages not sites.

Forget about the META keywords tag (as far as I know only Inktomi read these, Google does not). That comes last. The most important part of any webpage is the content, it's structure and the title. A paragraph <P> contains more important text than any old floating text. A header <H1> contains more important text than a paragraph and the title <TITLE> is probably the most important text of all.

You don't have to keyword spam every tag either. There are many options for hiding text from the user that can be read by search engines such as the TITLE attribute of the TD tag. This serves no real purpose unless the website requires such a function. Just stuffing keywords in everywhere solely for the search engines makes it terribly hard for screen readers and other tools to make a website usable for blind or partially sighted users as well as insulting the search engine spiders intelligence.

Keep it simple.
  • Keep descriptive text and sentences in paragraph tags <P> as that's exactly what they are.
  • Add a descriptive keyphrased subheader <H2> to the paragraph and summarise the content.
  • Add a descriptive keyphrased page header <H1> to describe the product or service that page promotes.
  • Forget keywords, think keyphrases. No-one searches for "COMPUTERS", commonly it's "CHEAP COMPUTERS FOR SALE" or "FAST COMPUTERS FOR SALE".
  • Reinforce the page with the predominant keyphrases and words in all the paragraphs, subheaders, headers and titles.
  • Titles should contain KEYPHRASES then KEYWORDS then description or company name.
  • Never use javascript, java or flash for links. ALWAYS use standard hyperlinks.
  • Don't use the "click here" text within a link, use a keyphrase describing the page that you're linking to.
  • Anything clickable, eg hyperlinks with text or images, use the TITLE="" attribute and be keyphrase descriptive.
  • ALL foreground images must use the ALT attribute, again be descriptive. (not strictly seo, more usability)
  • Get the META description tag spot on, be informative and clear about what you're promoting.
  • When writing copy for the site, make sure you have at least 200 words of visible text which contains keywords and phrases or at least be very descriptive and elaborate on your product or service. Search engines love text.
  • Only target 2 or 3 keyphrases per page. Too many and you're pages become vague instead of focussed.
  • Don't keep fiddling with copy. It takes months to reap the benefits so look upon this as a long term campaign.
  • Don't ever try and fool the spiders with jump pages, redirections or hidden divs. They'll stamp on you.
  • Never use META keyphrases and keywords that aren't in the content. They waste time and space.
All the above techniques need to be applied to every page individually with no exceptions. It's very easy to become lazy about this but you'll lose out if you do. Once the site is built and optimised, add a stats tool before publishing. Statistics provide you with useful data such as referring website or search engine as well as keyphrases used to find you. You'll also need to use stats to steer your future keyphrase amendments.

Effective Marketing Online
This doesn't have to be that hard, but it is time consuming and never ending and should be treated like any other marketing strategy for a business. Take it any lighter than that and you'll lose out in the long run. Websites that have lots of other websites and pages pointing to them are deemed important. The more the better. This also includes your own pages as commonly, these all have links back to the home page. This is a good reason to break sites down into seperate sections. Each product or service should have a dedicated page. The more pages your site has, the more pages point to your home page.

It's a big virtual world out there and every website needs friends so create a link worthy site, and start to make friends.

Let's talk about relevance. A relevant page pointing to your site is better than a non-relevant page. You may sell shoes but a site that promotes reconditioned gearboxes pointing to you won't be deemed relevant and won't carry as much weight. When looking for inbound linking partners, check out the page that you think your link will end up. Does the page contain keyphrases or words that are similar to yours? Are there literally thousands of other links on the page?

Don't waste time with sites that will bury your link or offer to give you a link that gets jumped to by an id goto page or javascript. Every inbound link must be a PROPER hyperlink and nothing less. Irrelevant sites may not negate your site and some are even great for your site, such as a mention on a local councils website or the BBC's for example, but spend your time looking for relevance as it's more productive in terms of marketing.

This is important.
If you ever have control over the link text in your directory submissions or reciprocal links, do not put the company name in, even if it asks you for it. Always use a descriptive keyphrase. Google is really leaning on this and it is a major part of the relevance algorithm. Another factor which some of the search engine watch people are noting is IP ranges. It's as though Google is paying attention to local IP's and giving them more importance than distant ones. How true this is, is questionable but they monitor and test search engines continually so should have an idea as to what's what. It can't hurt to look for UK links if you provide a UK service can it? Before I move on, I have to mention that most search engines are aware of the linking handshake which has gone on for many years now. Google specifically can detect cross linking and ring linking. This is where you have multiple sites that all point to each other or sites that contain one way links that end up returning to the point of origin. Although these links carry some weight, the best links you'll ever get are the ones that are not returned (Just to make things even harder). ;) The more one way links you get, the less links you'll need for a good rank.

Rank is only part of the story. My personal website has zero rank because I haven't long kicked it off but for certain terms it is No.1 in Google. When the inbound links become known to the search engines it will only seal the position and make it hard for anyone to shift it from the top.

RULE: Every website must be listed with Dmoz

http://dmoz.org is a manually edited directory and offers probably the finest reciprocal link you'll find and best of all, it's free. Check it out and see for yourself. This sets the trend. This kind of directory is what you'll need to spend time looking for to get those inbound links. You will, more often than not, have to link back to the directory but it's a small price to pay. Talking of price and paying, avoid any directories that are fee based, or at least until you have consumed all the many thousands of other free directories out there.

Take time out each month to aggressively seek new directories and linking partners. This doesn't stop. If you're lucky, you may be in a position to publish an article with a hyperlinked sign off about a subject you specialise in. This creates a great resource for people so other websites will naturally link to it, which in turn, links back to you.

Spy on the competition. Fire up the browser, goto your favourite search engine and type in the keyphrases you're aiming for. Now, disregarding the big corporations, organisations and government agencies look for the first private commercial enterprise. Find out why they are number one. Look at the keywords and phrases used paying particular attention to the title, headers etc...

You'll need Google for this one. You've done a search and seen a competitor. Their keyphrase optimisation seems weak (as surprisingly most are) but you're still wondering why they are number one. Into Google's search box, type LINK:HTTP://WWW.MYCOMPETITORSWEBSITE.COM and view the results. What you should see is a list of websites that are pointing to the competitors website. Now there are two things you can do. 1) Approach them and see if they wish to swap links with you. 2) Use the LINK: method on the first set of results and see who links to them. Either way, you'll start to see a variety of sites and directories that swap links.

Finally
I hope this helps a lot of people on their way to an effective commercial website. SEO and marketing is an arguable subject and studies show varying results but stick to the basics, design a site for the user alone and keep it simple.

Update
Because the way search engines evolve and shift the goalposts I have added a section to my website that will better reflect known changes. I will keep an eye out to see if any major changes have occured and will amend this post accordingly.

My sites search engine optimisation guide

Update - Nov 2004
Flash - Since about July/August it appears Google and some other search engines can index the text Flash movie files. However, the text pulled from the movie will not be represented in a marked up way and as such there is no document structure so from an SEO point of view do not rely on it to give you good results. Also, forget keyword stuffing and setting the movie to 1px * 1px as search engines still check for keyword density (ie. 85 words saying "gadget" in a 100 word document or movie is not a readable document and as such will be judged as spam). I'm not sure if this is good news from a usability point of view as I wouldn't want to see navigation and important information put back into movies but we'll see won't we!

Natural links - Just a quick reference to inbound links for your website. Apparently, Google and probably others look for link text in inbound links as well as the position of the link within the document structure. For example, a page with other links and the same anchor text "Joe Blogs Blog" will be deemed a marketing link not a natural link (bear in mind that for internal navigation purposes your links within your own domain will be excused). So what is a natural link? A link like the kind we post when pointing someone to a resource on the internet within this very forum. The anchor text will always be different according to the context of the paragraph the link sits within and search engines look for this so be warned, make your inbound links quality ones if you have the option and keep anchor text variable and keyphrase descriptive.

Update - Jan 2005
Well, it's been a while since MS released their amazing, super Google bashing search engine, and to be honest, it's poor at best. It is alleged that MSNBot has crawled the Google index due to people noticing MSNBot requesting pages on peoples sites that don't exist apart from Googles cache. Far be it from me to cast aspersions but it may make financial sense for them to do that because any potential penalty wouldn't touch the cost of re-indexing the internet so they may have saved millions.

Anyway, regarding listings, results are poor. The algorithm isn't delivering relevant content so I wouldn't worry about promotion via MSN. Too expensive, hard to achieve rank and little return on investment. Overture, which feeds MSN, among others, has lost it's AOL Europe contract so that's another 60 million subscribers not seeing Overture ads. AOL have decided to go for Googles index for the search results and Adwords for sponsored sites. Another reason to stick with G for the mean time.

Update - Feb 2005
Just a quick link to a post I came across that has a huge list of directories to submit too. It's a great find. As always, DMOZ is No.1 but check out the rest of the directories in this list. Some are premium but many are free so get your websites listed.

http://www.webproworld.com/viewtopic.php?t=21900
 
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Ed

Ed

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Originally posted by dunc
I am a now retired SEO.

Some times it is hard to get the keyword density and positioning correct.

I used to rely on this trick to show the page that looks good while serving up an optimised page for the search engines. Try to keep the optimised page as close to the actual page as possible :D

Hmm...

Does sorta suggest not using frames in the first place. I know what you mean about some websites, they are inherently going to be a nightmare to optimise such as single flash movies or framed sites but if someone was serious about doing business online, my advice would be to start again and do a proper job as optimising a poor site will have negligable effect and really isn't a worthwhile investment.
 

Ed

Ed

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Joined
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Originally posted by dunc
This can method can be useful for gateway pages too.

LOL, how long ago did you retire?

Gateway pages are seriously frowned upon. Stuffing keywords into a page the user never sees or using redirects isn't recommended.

Another trick I heard about was using setTimeout to load an image in place of some spammy keyphrases after pageload. Hidden DIV's, white text on white background, duplicate content, reams of META keywords are all useless and make for an unusable site which takes longer to download due to extra code being loaded.

Display:none; has made a comeback to the SEO forums of late with people saying that their logs show no bots accessing stylesheets so search engines knowing that text is hidden on your site can only be done by being squealed on by a competitor.

??? off to check my logs...
 

Ed

Ed

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Posts
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Location
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There was an argument over whether the bots do read css and check for display:none;

Quite a few people said that their logs showed no requests from bots but it's an href and as such I would imagine gets followed and read if not indexed as suggested by one particular moderator on the seo forum.

If I were a spider and saw display:none; I would also check for accompanying javascript to manipulate the hidden element. If the js didn't exist, I would question the purpose of a hidden element and even run a text pattern and markup check on it to see if it's spammy.
 
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