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SEO 101

Marketing guru Russ Ain of Overdrive shares his wisdom with search engine optimization with this guest column.

This page is filed under keyword(s): seo.

Search engine optimization, also known as "SEO", is a subject that emanated from the early days of Yahoo! and has progressed quite far since then. Google has since become the choice engine of many (and probably 99% of our readers). Everyone knows how to get to it (google.com, duh) but many don’t know how to cater your site to appearing at the top of the natural results (i.e., what's below "Sponsored Search"). That’s where SEO comes in – the optimization of your website for search engines.

Let's take a look at some tactics which do (and don't really) assist with attaining that elusive #1 ranking.

Important

  • Content – Google is a fairly intelligent search engine – because Page and Brin are smart guys. Well, not only that, but their intention with Google was to make an engine that not only could read HTML and parse out the key words, but can also try and figure out what a page is about. Thus, the textual content on your page is really key. The more you can gab about your subject area – nursing, computer games, BMWs, day trading – the happier the search engines will be with your site.
    • Have as many pages that make sense for your subject.
    • Focus each one around a specific theme.
    • Include roughly 200-300 words per page.
    • Search engines can't read JavaScript, Flash, video, or pictures. You are welcome to use these, but make sure there is some HTML text that describes what's happening.
  • External/Back links – Another way that Brin/Page thought would create a great engine would be to create an authority system – they called this PageRank, which is simply the quality (and quantity) of links that lead to a site/page. Got a link from CNN, ABC.com, and AOL's home pages? You're in an envious position. .EDU and .GOV sites are also powerful places to get links from. One college scholarship site I used to work on began ranking in the top 5 for the terms "scholarship" and "scholarships" simply because I was able to acquire a few links from some very strong .GOV sites.

    Having trouble getting links? Make sure you're linking to each one of your site's pages from all the others. And include the keyword you are targeting for the subsequent page in the link text (also called anchor text). We'll discuss some tactics for acquiring links like these in a future piece.
  • Title tags – These are the words contained in the link you click on in the search result and are also at the top of your browser when you open it. Since it is at the very beginning of your code, Google uses this to get a sense of what your page is about.

    There are many theories on the optimal way of writing title tags. Mine is to include a few keywords about your site/page and then your company or site name. Keep in mind that the Title is not only for search engines but it also needs to encourage users to click on it within the SERPs (search engine result pages). Even if you are ranked #1 - people don't click, you don't eat.

And here are a few areas that aren't so important:

  • Meta keywords – Back in 1998, all you really had to do is have keywords in your meta tags and content. It didn't matter if it made sense; it just needed to have the keywords you wanted to rank on. The engines are (thankfully) more sophisticated and meta keywords matter little for the major engines. Should you include them? Yes, but I'd rather spend time composing a new article focusing on another keyword you'd like to rank on.

    That said, the meta description does offer some value. Not so much from a keyword perspective. But more so, it is usually the text that people see in a search result. So, make yours inviting and descriptive. Make it so the user is encouraged to click on your SERP. That's the main benefit.
  • URLs with keywords – This is another tactic that has lost value over the years. If your domain has keywords, it can serve some value from people typing it in within their browser bar, which can result in some easy links. But creating a URL structure that includes keywords is a fairly simple thing to do – and Google's goal is to provide higher rankings for tasks that require more effort, such as acquiring good links and writing informative content. It doesn't hurt to include your keywords within the URL structure; just don't expect your rankings to jump from doing just that.

The above is a start of where you should really focus your time on. In my next few pieces I'll review some more specific areas that you should look at when creating your site, linking tactics, and keyword research.

This article was written by Russ Ain. Russ is a search analyst at a Boston SEO agency. He keeps it real with some service oriented architecture and rocks out with email archiving.

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This page is filed under keyword(s): seo.
Author: Russ Ain
Last updated: 14 May 2008

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