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Officially it's called "Search Engines Optimization" but in practice it should be "Google Optimization". With more than 80% market share,[1] Google dominates the field and dictates the rules for optimizing website's ranking. Although Google never revealed how exactly its search algorithm works, it did published a guideline of DOs and DONTs.[2] Therefore, in order to maximize your website' search engines optimization, you should define and follow a clear strategy from the first stage of building the website and through its lifecycle. Even though search engines update their optimization algorithms constantly, the summary below provides an efficient guideline for the core elements that in any case, need to be addressed.


On-Site Strategy

Search engines use crawlers (robots) to scan the HTML code of each page in a given website. Hence, a significant part of the website's grade is determined by the way it's build. Below you can find the best practices for the main aspects of each website.

Website's Code

The most significant factors for determining the code grade are -
  • HTML Validity - The final rendered HTML code of each page has to comply with pre-defined guidelines. Here is a nice tool to verify any page's html code - http://validator.w3.org/
  • Appropriate use of meta tags - on the top of each page there is a hidden section with the purpose to provide metadata regarding the page such as Title, Keywords, Description, Author etc. Provide as much information as possible while assuring best relation between the meta tag and its content
  • Availability of maximum content on page load - Page's content should be accessible once the page has loaded. Any use of methods to show relevant content only when required is efficient in terms of usability but not in terms of SEO (because it prevents the robots from indexing all the content of the page). For example - FAQ page that displays the answer only when a specific question was clicked will be very useful to the end-users (not overloading them with details) but will not allow a robot to index all the answers (just the questions)
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    Example for code to hide a text object

Website's Structure

In terms of structure you should consider following these guidelines -
  • Meaningful URLs - Aim to provide URL's that provide a good sense of the page's content. Moreover, the URL address should imply the hierarchy of the page in the site
  • Include site directory - Including directory sections such as site map, breadcrumbs, and hierarchical navigation menus help search engines to index the website in a more accurate way
  • Avoid page redundancy - Each page should have only one related address (URL)
  • Provide appropriate error codes - Make sure that your website returns the appropriate http code for every request. For example - an attempt to approach a page who doesn't exist anymore should return an http 404 error code

Website's Content

Search engines aim to provide the users with the best relevant content for their search query. That is why a strong emphasis should be on -
  • Full alignment between the different objects of the page (URL, metatags, title, breadcrumbs) and the content of the page
  • Stick to well organized, simple, and unique content
  • Links & Images - Use text to clarify where links are leading and verify that a description of an image will still appear even if the image failed to load
  • Anticipate the different keywords related to the content and include them in the document. The density of the keywords counts (as long as they are relevant)
  • Verify inter-connectivity among the different topics of the site (using links, e.g. Wikipedia)

Off-Site Strategy

The other portion of the grade is determined by the number of links that lead to the website, considering the reputation of the publishing website and the level of relevancy of the target content. Any efficient Off-Site strategy should address the following points[3] -

Verifying linkage from relevant websites

Based on your website's context and business, identify relevant websites and strive for maximum amount of links leading to your website from them. Two best options for promoting linkage from other websites are content sharing agreements and availability of content import interfaces such as RSS, Web Services, etc.

Directory Submission
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Online Directory

This is an easy way to win some extra credit points in a relatively affordable option. Verify that your website is registered in the major yellow pages, portals, and other leading directories under the relevant category.

Using Social Media

Mass amount of links to your website from social media shows that[4] -
  • Your site is active
  • Your site is current
  • Your site is interesting
  • People found what they have looked for and liked it

Therefore, provide incentives and easy interface for your users to publish their activities in the related community and social platforms. Moreover, encouraging your employees to be active in social media platforms is another form of optimizing your SEO ranking given that their first hand comments and answers will include references to the source of information in your website. Since social media is received as authentic and less controlled by the site's owners, it credits your site with valuable SEO points.

Article Submission

Publishing professional articles in spots which are relevant to your business can boost your brand enormously. Furthermore, once popular, it proves that your employees are valuable content contributors. For example - when an owner of a digital marketing consulting agency publishes a very useful guide for increasing brand awareness in the web, his details which are published as well, serve as a powerful link to his agency website.

Things to Avoid

Attempts to mislead search engines (using the concepts they follow) may bring a short term benefit but will end up with negative points in the long run. Some examples include -
  • Keyword Stuffing - Using keywords out of their context and not in an appropriate way is useless and damaging the user experience
  • Hidden Content - Injecting content so it will be available for search engines only (text in the same color as the background or in pages which are not accessible to users)
  • Purchasing of Links - Paying other websites (usually created only for this specific purpose ) to place links to your website's pages
  • Spammed Meta Data - Adding non-relevant metadata such as keywords in order to increase the range of possible results
  • Duplicated Content - publishing the same content on different pages or on different dates. One more technique is making two URLs to lead to the same page

Measure the effectiveness of your SEO Strategy

By using simple analytics tools you can easily measure the impact of your SEO strategy. Tools like 'Google Analytics' or 'Omniture' provide valuable information (popular pages, duration of stay, bounce rate, and exit pages) which is crucial for the optimizing continues process.


Additional Reading & Tools

SEO from Wikipedia
Google Website Optimizer
Omniture - Leading analytics tool

References


  1. ^ http://www.statowl.com/search_engine_market_share.php
  2. ^ http://static.googleusercontent.com/external_content/untrusted_dlcp/www.google.com/en//webmasters/docs/search-engine-optimization-starter-guide.pdf
  3. ^ SEO, Prof. David Gracia, Digital Marketing Elective, IE Business School, November 2011
  4. ^ http://searchengineland.com/21-types-of-social-content-to-boost-your-seo-103625