Search Engine Optimization for Dummies

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There is a real­ly good SEO piece over at The Blog Her­ald which I found via one of my reg­u­lar reads . Since switch­ing from a flash for­mat to a blog for­mat for this web­site I have been get­ting more and more inter­est­ed in this top­ic as I have seen a vast increase in the amount of Google juice I get. Rather then write my ver­sion of what oth­ers have already said I thought I would try and pool togeth­er dif­fer­ent sources that have been of great help to me along the way.

A vis­it to the is very reveal­ing when looked at in this con­text it is not a mea­sure of google rank but it is a quick way to look at what top sites are doing. It becomes quick­ly appar­ent is that there is no one-way to skin this cat and the only thing that these sites have in com­mon is they have great con­tent. I am too new at this blog­ging thing to even pre­tend that I know any­thing about great con­tent so I can’t help there, but there are some things we have con­trol over which can great­ly improve our web­sites per­for­mance.

Understanding What Search Engines See

Google does­n’t see nice styling and does not take a look images when decid­ing what your site is about, it sees your doc­u­ments con­tent in the con­text of its struc­ture. So what gives a site its struc­ture and how does it help your blog? Struc­ture comes from HTML and each of the ele­ments gives its con­tent mean­ing. Use head­ing tags for head­ings, para­graph tags for para­graphs, link tags for links etc, Google under­stands this and uses this struc­ture to make deci­sions about your con­tent. Prob­lems only arise when you start to do things wrong. If you use a strong tag for a head­ing Google pre­sumes your know what you are doing and reads it as bold text rather then an impor­tant part of the page struc­ture. So what are some of the impor­tant ele­ments to keep con­trol of?

Page Title


Roger Johans­son writes:

By mak­ing your page titles sim­ple, yet descrip­tive and rel­e­vant, you make it eas­i­er for search engines to know what each page is about, and peo­ple scan­ning through search results can quick­ly deter­mine whether your doc­u­ment con­tains what they are look­ing for. The page title is also what is used to link to your site from search result list­ings.

Because of this, the title ele­ment is one of the most impor­tant ele­ments on a page. Some argue that it is the most impor­tant ele­ment.

<title>Document title | Section name | Site or company name</title>

This goes in the <head> of you web­page, appears only once and should be rel­e­vant to the con­tent of your page.

Pro-blog­ger Dar­ren Rowse has a great piece that adds mean­ing to the impor­tance of all of this.

Headings

Head­ings add struc­ture and imply impor­tance to con­tent, head­ings come in six flavours.

W3C writes:

A head­ing ele­ment briefly describes the top­ic of the sec­tion it intro­duces. Head­ing infor­ma­tion may be used by user agents, for exam­ple, to con­struct a table of con­tents for a doc­u­ment auto­mat­i­cal­ly.

You look at this pages out­line (scroll down past all the errors more about that lat­er) You can see how head­ings effect struc­ture when com­pared to this pages out­line My Dad’s site it’s old school HTML.

Shirley E. Kaiser writes:

Use head­ing ele­ments for head­ings: H1, H2, H3, H4, H5, H6. Don’t use CSS, the STRONG ele­ment or oth­er markup to fake your head­ings. See my arti­cle about this, Don’t Fake Your Markup: Acces­si­bil­i­ty Issues for CSS.

For exam­ple, this:

<h1>Our Com­pa­ny</h1>
<h2>Our Ser­vices</h2>

Becomes this:

Our Company

Our Services

Don’t fake your head­ings:

<strong> I am not a heading but I look like one</strong><br />
I am not a head­ing but I look like one
This may look like a head­ing but it does noth­ing to add struc­ture to you doc­u­ment.

Domain Names and Search Engine Friendly URLs

This is far more rel­e­vant then I orig­i­nal­ly thought when I start­ed writ­ing this, a quick google search for blog tips reveals in bold green let­ters google high­lights search terms in the web address. But how much weight does it hold? Quite a lot, just look at this search for Karl Rove. Ilovekarlrove.com is right up there has no incom­ing links and a page rank of 6 (I just don’t get rank­ing some­times). A domain name is impor­tant but if you have been using antibob.blogsomething.com there is no rea­son to loose sleep, as there are plen­ty of suc­cess­ful web­sites host­ed as a sub­do­main. Even a sub fold­er can be a very suc­cess­ful site. What can help if you don’t have a rel­e­vant domain name? is to use search engine friend­ly URLs:

yourdomain.com/this-could-be-relevant-search-terms-or-your-title/
Roger Johans­son writes:

Use search engine friend­ly, human read­able URLs instead. This will help both your rank­ing and your users. I’ve seen incred­i­ble improve­ments in search engine results from just chang­ing the URL scheme of a site.

SEF URLs are prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult to con­trol but most good CMSs take the pain out of this type of thing.

Image descriptions

When it comes to images and google I have found very lit­tle infor­ma­tion about what to do com­pared to oth­er ele­ments with­in a site. Use descrip­tive file names when sav­ing your images;

Johnny-at-the-park.jpg

Rather then;

0000023.jpg

Use alt tags for all images, not only is good for peo­ple with images turned off but it also gives search engines some­thing to go on when try­ing to fig­ure out what is in the box.

<img src="johnny-at-the-park.jpg" alt="Johnny at the park eating apples" />

I have found that google also gives a lot of weight to the text around the images so use descrip­tions if pos­si­ble. This can cause trou­ble with some CMS image gal­leries. On this site I want to have descrip­tions in all the image pages but unfor­tu­nate­ly they appear in the thumb­nail pages which is not what I want. For this I have had to use CSS to display:none, a bit messy but ness­esary.

Some peo­ple would not feel that this was as impor­tant but for sites where the image is the con­tent such as this one every lit­tle bit helps.

Valid XHTML/CSS and Accessibility

Inter­net old school­ers have dif­fer­ent views on this and I tend to be fair­ly relaxed about it tak­ing Mike Davidson’s point of view, this page val­i­dates most of the time but usu­al­ly fails because of the del.icio.us links in the side­bar, I could fix it but I don’t. But when it comes to learn­ing I have found val­i­da­tion to be invalu­able, there is no bet­ter way to see what you are doing wrong, but plen­ty of bad habits val­i­date;

<strong> I am a heading because I look like one</strong><br />

If you are like Mike and have been doing this long enough to wear the t‑shirt that is fair enough, walk on the wild side. Some of the top sites use old fash­ioned HTML4 and tables, but if any of this stuff is new to you learn it right the first time. Get Jef­frey Zeldman’s book, vis­it CSS Zen Gar­den read “Devel­op­ing with Web Stan­dards” they are great. Or if you don’t have time read Dave Shea’s “Mark-up Guide” print it, stick it on your mouse pad, or print it on a t‑shirt to impress your friends.

Links, Linking and Ranking.

Links from big peo­ple car­ry weight and get­ting peo­ple to link to your site is vital to your sites suc­cess, with good con­tent I believe this will come. Avoid link farms, be hon­est and don’t spam some top rank­ing blog­ger to get a link, seems to be a pret­ty con­sis­tent mes­sage through­out the web.

When you are link­ing to some­one else remem­ber that link con­text helps. Artist’s blog as a link is more weighty then artist’s blog click here.

You don’t have to get a huge amount of incom­ing links to be suc­cess­ful in your search results, I will nev­er be num­ber one in google for “war in iraq” but I get the ones I want “artist’s blog” “paint­ing waves” “oil paint­ing clouds” by fol­low­ing the steps above.

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