by John Eberhard
The subject of search engine optimization (SEO) is an important one, because if done correctly, it allows you to take advantage of search engines and get traffic directed to your web site from them.
The first thing to understand about SEO is that everything with search engines is based around keywords. Your site doesn’t just rank well or poorly on a search engine, it ranks well or poorly for particular keywords. And by keywords, we mean any word or phrase that people type in at a search engine looking for something. When looking for keywords, phrases of 2, 3, or 4 words actually work better than single words.
So the trick in SEO is to come up with a list of possible keywords, then find out how many people are searching for those keywords monthly, and how many competing web sites they are who are trying to target those keywords.
In SEO it is vital to pick the right keywords. If you pick keywords that have too much competition, you can do all the SEO (and later, link building) that you want but you will not be able to rank for those keywords. It will all be wasted effort. So the trick is to find keywords that have decent traffic, but as little competition as possible.
There are two web sites that offer keyword research services, Keyword Discovery, and Wordtracker. A lot of people swear by Wordtracker but I find its interface to be a bit retarded. My tool of choice is Keyword Discovery, which is easy to use and fast. They have a free tool that just shows search counts and a paid service that also shows the competing site information.
Once you have a list of keywords selected, the next step is to start putting those keywords onto your web site pages as much as possible, without putting them into the pages too much, which is called “spamming.” It’s not the same as sending unsolicited email of course, but nowadays, just about anything done on the Internet that is considered too much is called “spamming.” It’s the generic term meaning “You’re doing it too much.”
Here’s where you need to put your keywords.
- Meta Title: This is part of the hidden part of your web page called “meta tags” which give information to search engines but are not seen by visitors. The meta title is what appears in bold blue and underlined on a search engine when your listing comes up in response to a search. You should select 1-3 of your top keywords for your meta title, and these are more important than and should come before your company name. And you should have a unique meta title for each page of your site, each with keywords appropriate to that page.
- Meta Description: The meta description is what appears on a search engine listing underneath the meta title, that describes your page. This is where you write copy that is appealing and compelling and gets your potential visitor to click on the listing and thus arrive at your site. I sometimes see sites with no meta description and then Google or other search engines will take random text from somewhere on your page and stick it in there. Oftentimes text from your navigation bar will end up there. Not very professional and not very compelling to get people to visit your site. Insert 2-3 of your top keywords into the meta description, and make this description different for each page of your site.
- Meta Keywords: There is a keyword tag in the meta tags, and this is where you can put every keyword that will be relevant to that page, with each phrase separated by commas. There is some controversy as to whether to include a meta keyword block, as Google and some other search engines ignore it. Only Yahoo gives it much attention. But hey, it is another valid place to put your keywords onto that page, and it’s not “spamming” (I hate that word).
- Alt Tags: Alt tags are text tags that are attached to graphic files on a web page, that can be seen when you mouse over a graphics file. Using Dreamweaver or some other web authoring program, you can enter your alt tags for all of your graphics files. Use your alt tags not so much for descriptions of the graphics, but as another completely valid place to put your top keywords.
- Headlines: You can design a web page using “h1” and “h2” tags, for headlines and sub-headlines, which then defines the font and size and colors for the headlines. Any keywords included in these headline tags are given more weight, so if you can include them there do so.
- Body Copy: Finally you have to use the keywords in your body copy (text) for that page. Use your top keywords for that page as much as possible without being unnatural. Each page should emphasize 2-3 keywords.
Search engine optimization should be done for a site at least every 2-3 years, and then sets up your site to be able to rank well for the keywords you are targeting. Once done, then don’t forget that you have to do link building after that, which is equally if not more important.