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Website Optimization Basics

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google-penguin-crosshairsAs search engine optimizers we hear the term "optimization" all the time. We optimize our content, websites, pages, forms, click paths, designs, strategies, links, and so on.

Do we ever ask ourselves what it means to be a search engine optimizer? And just how do we optimize in the world of Pandas and Penguins? In the end how does this change what we do as SEOs?

Optimization is such a common term and used so generally, it is almost without meaning. Take a moment to think about it. What does it mean to optimize?

A Lesson in Real World Optimization

I recently traveled to Seattle. If you haven’t been there, in Seattle you have a few ways to make your way from the airport to the hotels, but none as touted as the Seattle Light Rail. For a mere few dollars, you can ride all the way from the airport to your hotel downtown.

Since the taxi and hire cars were running $40+, this seemed like the best way to make my way to my hotel. This seemed like a great idea – seemed being the operative word.

Before I even got past the train station exit, I was presented with what seemed to be some odd choices for a train station: a Nordstrom’s, a Macy’s, and a Nordstrom’s Rack. See, Seattle was ready for me. They had “optimized” the path from the train door to the exit and had strategically placed three stores in my route.

Mind you. I hadn’t left the station yet when I ran across these three stores that reminded me that it might have been 105 degrees when I left Las Vegas, but it was 52 degrees now and me without a jacket. Oh a jacket, I must get a jacket. Just as I am sure many other travelers are left with the thought of “I must get (insert item) soon!”

Of course I left with a bit more than a jacket (and now need to hit returns at the Vegas Nordstrom Rack). But I must say – brilliant! Seattle optimized the light rail station and I left a few dollars lighter.

Three stores, three price points, all there ready for the traveler, like me who was unprepared or perhaps forgot something. Not outside the station, not in a hard to get to spot in a corner, down a hallway, but literally while you walked to the train station exit. BOOM! Now that is real world optimization.

Imagine if your website was so well optimized for your users. In, Out, Purchase complete! Everyone should design their site as well as the Seattle Light Rail Train Station.

Never Dine With SEOs (Or: More Real World Optimization)

I once went to dinner with a group of fellow SEOs and the conversation was lagging. OK, it was dead as a doornail. We were set to embark on one of those awkward uncomfortable evenings where you can’t eat your food or slurp your drink fast enough.

Just in time one of the SEOs said, “You know what, we need to optimize this table”.

“What?” “Optimize the table?” We all looked at him like he lost his mind, but he was right. The people who knew each other weren’t sitting next to each other, the conservators weren’t next to the quiet ones, the flow of the table was broken.

Once we moved some people around the table to create conversational flow – once we “optimized” our table – the conversation was easy and fun. To this day most everyone is still friends.

This is the same was what we do as search engine optimizers. Our job is to make it easy for someone or some thing (say a search engine spider) to flow through our sites, to read our content, to understand our message, to interact, to buy, to convert, to achieve whatever goal we have set forth.

We make it easy not only to find our sites, but also to do what it is they came to do. We are site optimizers now, not just SEOs.

So What is Optimization?

Optimization is about making the simplest path to the most desirable goals.

For example, during my train station experience, I was never taken out of the station path, never walked down a long hallway, or moved to the outside. The process was very simple. Exit train, see store logos, enter store, buy, sent back to train station hallway, exit station. Beautiful!

What if you applied these examples to your websites?

When working with optimization, ask yourself, are your site tasks simple? Is your content easy to read? Are your forms this easy to work with? Does your design guide me to a goal?

Important Optimization Reminder

Google’s Penguin Update wasn’t about penalizing sites because of optimization. It wasn’t even about over optimization. It was about bad SEO practices, like keyword stuffing links and titles, link buying, link selling – the gamut.

Google wants good product. Make good websites. Create good content. You will be OK.

There is so much to know post-Panda, post-Penguin. It’s impossible to cover it all in one article, so here’s a basic guide to get you started on your new journey as a site optimizer.

Basic Site Optimization Tips

What follows are general tips that can apply to any website. These are intended as guides to help better the SEO of a site, and are for once you have implemented basic SEO.

Design

Make sure your design:

  • Doesn’t create a negative user interaction Experience
    • Site quality issues
  • Is NOT in Flash
    • Yes Google reads some Flash
      • Flash still isn't good for SEO
      • Flash is definitely bad for mobile
  • Follows the 80/20 rule
    • 80 percent of user activity is above the fold, so keep important items there
  • Loads in 3 seconds or less
    • 40 percent of users abandon sites that take longer
  • Follows Matt Cutts rules for advertising
    • These are specific amounts of space a site can use

Code

Make your code:

  • Clean
    • Separate Presentation (CSS) from Structure (HTML)
    • Don’t rely on Google being able to read AJAX
    • Put all inline CSS & JS in external files
  • Fast
    • Check it using the Page Speed plug-in
    • 85 percent is a good number
      • 90 percent is an awesome number
      • Yes Google says it affects only 1 percent of sites
        • But from my client sites, I don’t believe it; make your sites faster for better results.
  • W3C compliant
    • Validate your code
      • NOTE Schema Tags will not validate this is OK
  • Accessible
  • Mobile Ready
    • Smartphones receive the desktop Google index now
    • Use Responsive Design if possible
      • If you can’t Google will still crawl your site, but make efforts to move towards RD

Content

Make your content:

  • 500+ words per page.
    • Don’t appear thin.
  • Scannable
    • Website users scan text, they don’t read
      • NOTE users read small text, scan large
  • Clear
  • Concise
  • Original & Unique
  • Keyword as part of Natural Language
  • Simple Sentence Constructs
    • If using more than one conjunction in sentence (and, but etc.) probably need to rewrite.

Structure

Make sure your structure contains:

  • Canonical tags
  • Breadcrumbs for listings with site links
  • Topic focus
    • Pages should be specific, not general
      • Exception topic level pages
  • Clear Site Architecture
    • Clear Navigation
  • Schema tagging, do not pass go, add schemas NOW!

Links

Make sure your links

  • Are natural
  • Use diversification strategies
  • Limit Keyword Rich Anchor Text to 20-30 percent or less
    • And vary the text
  • Watch your C Class, IP Blocks and Domains of links coming into your site for negative SEO
  • AND FINALLY
    • Be very careful if you purchase links
      • Very, very careful
        • Like escaping from Supermax prison careful

Skate to Where the Puck is Going

Panda and Penguin and whatever update comes next will continue to change the SERPs and how we do what we do – sometimes, radically. Traditional SEO just isn’t enough any more.

The time has come! If you haven’t learned how to be a site optimizer, now is the time. Don’t let the next Google update leave you in the cold.

Google has made a clear statement where it’s going. As retired NHL great Wayne Gretzky once said of his success, "I skate where the puck is going." As a site optimizer, you should do the same!


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