The Importance of Search Engines
Search engines have become the universal business directories and consumer report rolled into one. As the leader in search engines, Google provides for a widely used marketplace for retailers, consumers, and researchers, and organizes results by relevance of the topic searched. Add to the fact, it’s free.
Google has become a potential source of revenue and brand awareness for e-commerce sites and new online start-ups. Achieving and maintaining high rankings is a key to online success, and business owners and web designers/developers rarely have the time to learn and implement successful Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knowledge and experience. Here is a brief overview of SEO.
What is SEO?
By definition, Search Engine Optimization is the process of improving the volume and quality of search engine traffic to a website. This means making a site more relevant to a target set of keywords from the point of view of a search engine. A #1 ranking is ideal, as it receives the lion share of clicks for search results.
How does it work?
Search engines send small programs known as ‘bots’ or ‘spiders’ to ‘crawl’ the internet in order to find new websites as well as to revisit previously visited sites. In doing so, they ‘crawl’ through a web site’s content and return information to the search engines regarding a site’s content, inbound links, file size and more. The search engine’s algorithm then takes this information into account and ‘decides’ which keyword(s) a web page is relevant to and how relevant (and trustworthy) overall the site is. This affects where/if a page will show up in search engine results.
How can it benefit me?
The obvious answer is that search engines provide website owners with exposure and potential relevant traffic. A top ranking for a product or service will mean increased sales. Best of all, this is free traffic.
What does SEO involve?
SEO involves making a website (or at least, a web page) more relevant to a chosen keyword or set of keywords. To oversimplify, this means adding instances of these keywords on the website and getting more links from other websites. The more instances of a keyword on a page tells Google and other search engines that the page is relevant for a particular topic. Your website is also perceived to be more relevant and credible if external web pages link to your website. In addition to this, there are numerous other factors like your website’s file size, load time, and internal navigation structure that are taken into consideration for ranking results.
There are a number of SEO-specific techniques that web developers can use in order to gain better search rankings.
Copy is King:
Unique and original content that is optimized and enhanced for SEO purposes is one of the most reliable and surefire ways to ensure that search engine robots will notice your site.
Factors such as structure of language, choice of copy, and even presentation are all taken into consideration. Thankfully, these qualities can be tweaked for your benefit while also making your site more generally appealing to users in the process.
Google visits millions of sites when conducting its indexing process and as such can overlook sites that take longer to load due to condensed and sloppy coding, or overused style properties that make navigation a clunky affair.
Standard HTML has a reputation for being dense and heavy. A website’s code needs to be as light as possible since long loading times for the user translates to long loading times for Google.
Fortunately, new standards in web design can clean up the clutter. In particular, choosing Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to design your website keeps the code light by keeping all of the style properties in one place, allowing for less code repetition, and also making it easier to add new content.
Dead are the days when SEO was simply about loading up code with META tags. Now every facet of a site from title tags and images, to copy placement and text formatting have an impact on not just SEO, but also how you wish your site to be presented to both Google and web users.
Cascading Style Sheets have quickly become the cutting edge standard for both an SEO-friendly design, as well as faster production of visually stunning web pages. Additionally, because all of the graphical aspects of design are controlled by one central style sheet, the code volume is dramatically reduced, allowing for more efficient pages.
In today’s World Wide Web, most of the pages you see owe at least part of their appearance to CSS, including this one. On the horizon are even greater programming and designing tools that will put out more amazing results than CSS.
A large portion of optimizing your content involves choosing the right keywords for your site. Keywords are essentially any words or phrases that a user may search for that would draw them to their site.
However, while finding out keywords may seem as simple as picking a few relatable terms, one also has to take into consideration competition and search volume. From a contextual standpoint, it may make sense to use certain keywords for your website, but just how high is the search volume for those keywords? Also, a keyword may have a high search volume, but the advertiser competition may be so great that your relatively smaller website may not be able to compete with bigger sites.
At any rate, once the appropriate keywords are chosen, web pages need around 300 words of quality content, enriched with your keywords. Never include a keyword in the copy that isn’t mentioned in the Keywords META tag, and never include a keyword in your META tag that isn’t included in your copy. Also try to include keywords in your title tags without making it look overly blatant.
Your ranking may increase in Yahoo and MSN with the techniques already outlined, but for Google, you will need links on your site and as many of them as you possibly can. This is called external SEO and it can make a huge difference for your online presence.
One way to do it is to write articles and arrange for them to be posted on other websites with a link back to you. Blogging is another example of how you can garner attention, both from the search engines and from potential customers.
This leads us to the toughest part of the Google SEO process — back links. Back links are websites that link directly to your website. The general principal is the more back links you have, the higher your pages will be ranked since the consensus is that your page is more important if so many links are pointing to it.
Submitting your site to dmoz.org, Yahoo! and other directories can increase the number of sites linking back to yours; however, one issue is that setting up back links takes time. Emailing 5-10 websites each and every day to request back-links or partnership links is recommended but also remember that the sites contacted should be relevant but not competitive.
SEO the Right Way
SEO is not a series of tricks and cheats. It’s a fundamental application of good usability for users and search engine spiders alike. As search engines continually get smarter, shortcuts and other methods of fooling their algorithms have either lost their efficiency or in some cases, even resulted in penalties via lower rankings or even entire delisting. Even
Do It Right
There’s no room for slackers and cheats when it comes to Google. There is no easy way out, and no foolproof method for getting to the top ranking instantly.
Though many sites may try resorting to shady tactics such as “black hat SEO,” “spamdexing,” or keyword and link stuffing, these can actually harm search engine results, and Google may remove them from their indexes altogether. The bottom line is that Google wants quality websites where the appropriate amount of work has been devoted to SEO.
Give Google its fair due of credit for being an intelligent, well-crafted search engine tool and it will reward you with a higher ranking. There are rules and guidelines that have been set forth for achieving strong results, some of which can be bent, but ultimately sites looking for more traffic want to adhere to these mandates.