Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Search Engine Optimization Basics

What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a collection of techniques that can be applied to a website to increase the search engine ranking of the site. Search engine ranking is the position that your site occupies when a search is done using keywords you are targeting on your site.

Why is search engine ranking important?
The higher your site's position in the search engine results pages (SERPs) the more people will see it and potentially click on your listing, bringing you more traffic. Google, one of the most popular search engines, list 10 search results per page. Most searchers never look beyond the first page of search results. SEO is important because if you can get your site listed in the Google top ten for your search terms you will get significantly more traffic than if your listing shows up on any subsequent pages.

SEO techniques fall under two broad categories, on-page factors and off-page factors.

On Page SEO
On page factors are all the things you can do on your website to increase SEO. The on page factors usually revolve around keywords, and you use these techniques to let the search engines know what you site is about. On page factors include things like the use of keyword and description meta tags, the use of the alt tag for images, HTML header tags, keyword placement, etc.

Off Page SEO
Off page factors revolve around backlinks, but also involve the use of keywords. Backlinks are the links placed on other sites that point to you site. Backlinks are also known as "inbound links", a term which is often easier to understand. Inbound links are those links pointing towards your site.

Steps You Can Take To Improve Your SEO

1. Always use keyword and description meta tags.
For every page on your site you should have meta tags unique to that page. Meta tags are HTML code found between the tags near the top of the page when you are looking at the HTML code.

For the keywords meta tag create a comma-separated list of keywords relevant to your site. Keywords don't have to be single words. They can, and should, be keyword phrases relevant to the content of that page.

For the description meta tag write a description of your site that would make someone want to click your link. This meta tag's description is used by some search engines, including Google, as the text description of your site. So it's not just for the search engine's benefit, it's also likely to be seen by a human and it may be the difference between that human clicking on your site's link or another site.

2. Where you have images on your site, always include an alt tag.
The HTML code for including an image in your page has an optional attribute called the 'alt' tag. It's short for 'alternative text'. It was originally intended as a text description to aid viewers surfing with images turned off or using a screen reader so they could get an idea of what an image was about, since they couldn't see it. But search engines also use the alt tag to find out more about what your page is about.

You want the alt tag to contain keywords relevant to your site and the image they are describing. Instead of just putting "header" in the alt tag for your header image, use the opportunity to tell the search engines what your site is about, with something like "Puppy Training Header", if your site is about puppy training. Don't over do it though, you want this description to be concise rather than stuffed with every keyword relevant to your site.

3. Use header tags wisely.
The header tags H1, H2, H3 etc. are used by search engines to figure out what the important keywords for your site are. You can easily change the appearance of the header tags by using stylesheets, so try to use the standard HTML header tags instead of custom styles for your headers. Then just make sure you've got relevant keywords in the headers. The H1 header should contain the primary keyword for your page, the H2 header should contain the secondary keywords for your page, etc.

4. Get backlinks with relevant keywords.
Get backlinks. Lots of them. This should be an ongoing part of your SEO. The more backlinks the better, but you want to grow your backlinks naturally. It looks a lot more natural if you work on getting a handful of backlinks every week than if you suddenly got 10,000 backlinks overnight because you bought them from a link farm. The search engines are watching for these unnatural patterns, and you are likely to be penalized for engaging in such practices.

There are many ways to get backlinks. You can develop relationships with other webmasters to get traditional reciprocal links from other related sites. Participate in forums related to your topic and be sure to have a link to your site as part of your 'signature'. Write articles for article directories which include a link back to your site in the 'bio box'. Create Squidoo lenses or HubPages with, you guessed it, a link back to your site. If you have a blog submit your RSS feed to RSS Aggregator sites, and add it to your Squidoo lens or HubPage. Use Social Bookmarking services to bookmark your pages and encourage your visitors to do the same. Use Twitter to send out a 'tweet' when you post a new article. This is just to get you started, it's not an exhaustive list by any means.

Now that you have some ideas for where to get backlinks, it's important that you choose good anchor text for your backlinks when you can. The anchor text is the text that turns into the hyperlink (it's often blue, sometimes underlined). The search engines also use this text to figure out what your site, or page, is about. So where you can, specify what the anchor text will be. You want to use your main keywords, and variations on your main keywords. Try to vary it a little (that looks natural), while still keeping it relevant of course. Keep in mind that the keywords you use when you are linking to a specific page are not necessarily going to be the same as when you are linking to your homepage.

In some cases you don't have the option of specifying the anchor text. But don't miss the opportunity to specify it where you can. If you trade reciprocal links with another site, specify what you want your anchor text to be. The other webmaster will probably appreciate it because it saves them time having to decide what it should be. When you create Squidoo lenses and HubPages, or for your forum signatures you have total control over your anchor text. Use it wisely.

We've covered just a few basic, but very important, aspects of SEO in this article. This is a very good place to start if you want to improve your sites search engine optimization. Keep applying these techniques until it becomes second nature and you should see an improvement in both your search engine rankings and an increase in the traffic to your site.