- How many times can I repeat a word in a meta tag?
- Should I use my key terms inside of a header tag?
- Should I be inserting keywords into comment tags?
The questions above are just some of many relating to search engine optimization that can leave people feeling overwhelmed. Moreover, the more you focus on fine details like these, the more likely you will miss the "big picture" issues you should be aiming for.
This article aims to restore balance to those feeling lost. Come with me and forget the details, for the moment. Instead, let's talk about systemic improvements that you can and should make across your site as a whole. Doing so should increase the traffic you gain from search engines naturally, or what in 2002 started being referred to as "organic" traffic.
Design For Search Engines At The Beginning
Search engines are a primary way that people find web sites, and yet most site owners fail to consider them when they build sites. This failure means that sites miss out on traffic that they might otherwise receive "naturally." By naturally, I mean traffic that would be yours if you did nothing other than ensure that search engines could properly crawl your site.
For example, many sites make use of dynamic delivery methods such as Cold Fusion. A problem is that these methods often use URLs that include a ? symbol in them. That ? symbol keeps many search engines from crawling web pages.
Find a workaround to this problem. There's an easy solution for Cold Fusion, and one site owner I know that made this change increased his traffic by 300 visitors per day. He did nothing other than ensure the site could be crawled.
Likewise, if you are considering a dynamic solution, ensure it won't cause problems with the search engines. Don't just implement it, and then discover to your horror that you've put up a roadblock. The Dynamic Pages & Search Engines article offers suggestions on how to test if you may encounter problems.
Frames are another nightmare. If you have a site that uses them, strongly consider getting rid of them. If you are building a site or redesigning, drop the idea of frames right now. In many cases, frames are unnecessary navigational crutches. They always pose significant problems for search engines. It is simply poor marketing to use them, in many cases.
You wouldn't build a site that favored Internet Explorer users over Netscape users. Similarly, consider search engines to be a third browser -- and an important one -- which can't understand frames. Exclude them, and you're only hurting yourself.
If you insist on using frames, please see the Search Engine And Frames tutorial, which explains how to minimize their impact.
Two Design Tips For Your Style Guide
So far, we haven't mentioned any real "optimization" tips. Below are two general things that you should do across your site. These should be done at the producer or page designer level, and it shouldn't take more than one or two minutes per page. That's not much time, but it can still produce some dramatic results.
Title: Require that every page gets a unique title that reflects the theme of that page in about four or five words. Don't worry about creating the "best" title that incorporates crucial search terms. That's nice to do, but we're talking fast and easy. Just eyeball the page. Chances are, you'll come up with a half-decent title that will help with the search engines.
This is a must! Titles are still crucial elements to search engines, and too many sites use the same title for ALL their pages, often just the company name. Don't waste this valuable real estate.
Meta tags: Require that every page has a meta description tag, and that the content of this tag is the first two or three sentences of the main body copy.
This is easy to do -- it takes all of about 15 seconds. It is much better than leaving it to the search engines to grab the first 200 characters from your pages and for the basis of its own descriptions. Assuming you do rank well, do you really want a description that reads: "Home -- Click Here To Visit Our Advertiser -- Site Map?"
There's also a good chance that the first sentences of your page will contain important search terms. Putting these higher in your description tag can help your ranking.
What about the meta keywords tag? Forget it, if you are in a hurry. People obsess too much about this tag. But if you have some time, add one that summarizes the key terms that you are already using on your web pages.
Lobby For Links
Go to the search engines, search for those terms you want to be found for, and see what comes up. Then go to those sites and negotiate links. Some will be competitive -- but many won't, and they will be willing to swap links. You do have a reciprocal links page, don't you? If not, establish one. This is the web, and coopetition rules. Traffic you think you're giving away will in turn come back to you. Additionally, as you build links to your site, you help increase your ability to rank well at search engines that take link popularity into account. For more tips, see the Link Analysis and Link Building page.
Meet Your Favorite Search Engine Watch Contributors
Many of SEW's leading expert contributors will be at ClickZ Live, the new online and digital marketing event kicking off in New York (March 31-April 3). Hear from the likes of: Thom Craver, Josh Braaten, Lisa Barone, Simon Heseltine, Josh McCoy, Lisa Raehsler, Greg Jarboe, Dan Cristo, Joseph Kerschbaum, John Gagnon, Eric Enge and more!