"Links and Traffic Tutorial, Part Two" - Basic Search Engine Optimization Principles
Search Engine Optimization is often referred to as SEO.
The biggest challenge in the SEO industry is knowing exactly what will improve a website's rankings in the search engines and what will not. The search engine companies do not share with us how they actually evaluate a website. If they did, then the search results could be manipulated in a way that takes away from the value that they bring to their users.
Do you remember in Part One of our tutorial, Content of Your Website, how we said that the search engine does not care how well our websites rank in their results? And, do you remember how we said that the only thing that is really important to the search companies is the value of the results that they can deliver to their users, so that they can keep their paying advertisers happy?
This is where SEO gets complicated. The SEO specialists are always trying to figure out how the search engines value a website. The SEO folks want to know how the search engines determine the value of a site so that they can manipulate the display of their client websites, so as to improve the rankings of their client websites.
It is always a battle between the search companies and the SEO companies. As soon as the SEO people figure out how to manipulate the search results on a given search engine, the search engine companies change their algorithms. Algorithms are the mathematical formulas that the search companies use to determine the results they will deliver to their users.
Once the search company changes the algorithms they are using in their search engine, then the SEO people must race to figure out new ways to manipulate the systems.
It is a never-ending cycle.
When the Search Algorithms Change
When Google changes their algorithms, the SEO community goes into hyper drive trying to figure out how to manipulate Google all over again.
The forums automatically light up with new threads of "Oh my God! My client's websites disappeared from Google!"
The SEO community scrambles to figure out how the new algorithms evaluate websites. They toss up test websites to determine what ranks well under the new algorithms now, and what does not. And, when they discover some jewel of knowledge, they share it with their associates.
Cover the Basics & You Will Be Safe
This is a policy that we follow with ALL of our own websites.
For most of the keyword phrases that really matter to our businesses, we are on Page One of the search results in the search engines.
The last four Google algorithm changes did NOT affect our rankings significantly at all. In fact, they actually helped with our rankings.
On one keyword phrase, we had held the #1 spot for several years. And then, we began to slip a bit down to #3. When Google changed their algorithms and the SEO community went into panic mode, we checked our own listings. On this particular keyword phrase, we returned to #1 from #3.
This was our basic experience with all of our important keyword phrases. We either held steady or climbed in the rankings just a bit.
In the back of our minds, we cannot help but wonder if Google watches how often people tweak their text copy, and then use that as a further valuation of a website. We wonder if Google looks at the frequency of changes and makes a determination that if you change your copy too frequently that perhaps you are trying to manipulate their results, and therefore, they take points away from your site on this basis?
SEO Basics Prequel
We don't want to oversimplify the basics of good SEO, but we will not go into great detail about what good SEO will be.
If we simplify SEO too much, every SEO specialist on the planet will be writing angry letters to us. <grin>
If our own experience diminishes the nature of good search engine optimization, that is not our purpose. Our purpose is only to touch on the basics that we try to build into our own sites as a starting point of reference.
We have no doubt there are other facets of search engine optimization (that we will not cover here) that can be really valuable in the effort to improve search rankings for a website.
It is also important to note that we are not a SEO specialist, and we have never claimed to be one.
What we have stated is that we have done very well for ourselves using only these basic principles of search engine optimization.
Search Engine Optimization Basics
Search engines are only concerned with words on the internet. All search engine rankings "begin" and "end" with the values attributed to words.
Basic SEO is the understanding of how the placement of "words" will increase the value of a given web page, as it relates to the "keywords" that the search engine users have plugged into the search engine.
Words added to links raise the value of the page being referenced by the link itself. The embedded text / words in a link is as important within your own website, as it is when the link appears on an external website.
Often times, you will prefer to use images in your menu system instead of word links. The good news is that the search engines know this and appreciate the role of images in menu systems. As a result, the alt= tag inside of the image tag holds a value basically equal to that of any embedded text in a link. Both speak to the contents of a page being referenced to in your link.
Your <H1></H1> through <H6></H6> tags add more importance to the words contained within them.
These particular tags were designed as "Heading" tags. Their role is to separate higher value "Headings" from the remainder of the body text. Think of your "Heading" tag in terms of Title / Subheadings. Your Subheadings are akin to Chapter Titles, and thus should carry more value than the text around them.
We generally only use the Heading tag for our Page Title. We know that H tags are supposed to carry more weight than font tags, but the fact that H tags force the start of our paragraph a bit further down the page than we would like, is our basic reason for avoiding overuse of H tags. For me, it is a matter of aesthetics.
Rather than to use H for Headings in our page, we always use a heavier weighted font. For example, on this page, our regular font has a size=2. For our Subheadings, we use size=4.
SIDENOTE: Yes, we do realize that by using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), we can set with very fine detail how our page will display a H tag or any other tag. We do know that with CSS we can tell the browser how much space to allow under our H tag.|
Thus, we come to another of our personal preferences. Keep your HTML simple.
There are certain characteristics you can apply to text within your page that can add extra weight to the "keywords" in your page. Those extra tags are:
<B></B> - Bold
<I></I> - Italic
<font color=></font> - Font Colors
Use your title tags to make sure your page carries a good title. It is important to note that most search engines will use this when they display your site in their search results.
We do use meta tags in our HTML, but we certainly don't use all of them. As a rule, we always use the meta title= and the meta description= tags. We consider the use of the meta keywords= to be an utter waste of our time.
Additionally, we do use a comment tag in our header (just below the title tag). We use this comment tag as a backup page description, in the event that the spider that has come calling does not read the meta description= tag. A comment tag looks like this: <!-- comment -->.
The point of the description, whether found in the meta title= tag or the comment, is that this is how most search engines describe your page. It is better for us to control the search engine's description of our web page than to rely on the first bit of text that appears on a page... that could become ugly.
These Are Just the Basics
If you feel that you would like to engage yourself in the deeper search engine optimization process, then please feel free to do so.
We don't want to discourage you from learning advanced SEO techniques for yourself, or employing a SEO professional to work with you.
Instead, our purpose is to give you confidence to do the search engine optimization basics for yourself.
The information as it appears on your own site is only a small fraction of the elements that the search engines consider when they are trying to determine the value of your website.
Continue on to Number of Inbound Links.
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