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Dreamweaver and SEO -What you need to know

There are so many myths and misconceptions about SEO on the internet, that it’s difficult to filter truth from fiction. Search engine algorithms change on a regular basis, so what worked 6 months or a year ago may not be as effective today.

There are some SEO and design techniques that you can take into consideration when designing your website that can help your site rank higher in the SERPs or Search Engine Results Placement.

Internal Page Linking Structure

The method your site uses to link pages together can play an important part in how your pages rank. The more internal links your site has to a specific page tells the search engines that page is more important than other with fewer internal links.

External (Outbound) Links

What sites your website links to can give search engines an idea of how credible your content is.

If you have a site that focuses on car insurance, for example, and you link to authoritative industry websites such as the Insurance Information Institute, your site may be perceived to provide useful information and get a small bump in your rankings.

If you link to unrelated sites, such as link directories, your site may actually show up lower in the rankings, especially if the sites you are linking to are considered spammy.

Age of Your Site and Pages

The age of your site is taken into consideration in determining the importance overall. This has long been called the “sandbox” effect, and new sites may not be indexed well in an attempt to prevent spam sites from ranking high in the SERPs.

Individual pages can move up in the rankings as their age increases, especially if others find the content useful and you obtain one-way links to your pages. Newer pages may rank well for long-tail phrases and over time may rank well for more competitive search terms relavent to your page content.

Recent updates to Google’s algorithm have changed the way the sandbox effect works. With the popularity of blogs and social media, it is no longer advantageous to “sandbox” a site for any length of time since search engines strive to show the freshest, most relavent search results.

Update Frequency

How often you update your site may have some bearing on how well it ranks, but the type of site you create may have some bearing on this.

If your site is a news site, you obviously need fresh content on a regular basis. Normally, it is more important to have site updates occuring rather than page updates. So it’s more important to focus on adding new pages to your site rather than updating the pages that are already there.

Code Validation

A relatively new emphasis has been placed on code validation and SEO. Adhering to web standards when designing a website is important, but I really don’t think a spider cares if your code is XHTML valid or not. As long as your navigation can be followed by a search engine, your pages will be indexed whether they validate or not.

Content length, LSI and LSA

You might read that your page content needs to be within X and Y words to be optimal for SEO. Obviously, the more content you have on your pages, the more likely your pages will rank for long-tail search phrases. Write your content for your user, and not what you think search engines prefer.

LSI is an abbreviation for Latent Semantic Indexing. LSA stands for Latent Semantic Analysis. LSA was originally used by the predecessor to Google AdSense to determine the content of a page for ad serving purposes. In a nutshell, LSI is how your page reads. Is it coherent? Does it flow? Are the concepts relevant and related? Is it spammy? Some people believe that by having a high LSI value will help their pages rank better in search engines.

This kind of goes back to the old days of keyword stuffing, and obviously having a high concentration of the same keyword will get your page demoted in the SERPs. If your page content focuses around a concept (keyword) and you use other keywords that are related, then you will achieve a good LSI score. Search engines look at your page as a whole and how relevant the content is to your overall site, your inlink anchor text and the sites that link to you. LSI is just one factor out of hundreds that help determine your ranking.

Inbound Links

Everyone knows that inbound links are important in determining how your site ranks. The quality of the links are just as important, if not more important than, the quantity of the links. Having just a few links from authoritative, high PR (Google PageRank) sites can do much more than many links from low PR sites. That’s why there is such a thriving market in link sales.

You should focus on obtaining links from sites that are relevant to yours. On our previous car insurance example, you could focus on getting links from sites that specialize in car reviews, automotive financing, other lines of insurance, personal finance, etc. Many people have the misconception that all “relevant” sites are competitor sites, but this is not true.

Participating in industry forums, posting on related blogs or posting articles about your site topic are good ways of obtaining one-way inbound links to your site.

Anchor Text

Anchor text is simply the text that is used in links back to your site.

If you are using a tool like Google Webmaster Tools to keep track of your website performance in Google, it actually provides you with a list of keywords used in the anchor text back to your site. You obviously want your primary site keywords to be at the top of the list.

Another important aspect of anchor text is the text around the link. If your link says “free insurance quotes” but all the text around the link is about Dreamweaver and SEO, then you probably need to find a more relavent page for your link. : )

Search engines are pretty intelligent, and the overuse of footer links and spammy link building strategies has resulted in the downgrading of many inbound links.

Age of Inbound Links

The same relavence applies to the age of inbound links as it does to your site pages. The older a link is, the more value it will pass to your site. For this reason, obtain permanent inbound links rather than links that may be removed or change over time.

Use of Heading Tags

This is one technique that has really stood the test of time. The heading tags (H1, H2, etc) should be used appropriately on your site. The H1 tag is the most important tag and gives the most weight on the text enclosed. In most cases, your page title should be enclosed in H1 tags. Only use it once at the top of the page. H2 and H3 tags can be used for subtitles on your page. They carry less weight than the H1 tag, but should be used sparingly. Use your page keywords withing the heading tags.

HTML Title and Description Meta Tags

Every page on your site should have a title and description meta tag. The title tag should contain a very brief keyword-rich title, less than 60 characters long. One mistake made by web designers is to put your website name or company name in the title tag. This is a big mistake from an SEO standpoint. Put your keywords first and repeat a variation if possible in the latter part of the title.

The description meta tag is used by search engines to create the description shown in the search results. Keep this under about 150 characters and again, use your keywords in the description. If you notice in Google, search string matches are highlighted in both the title and description, so it’s important both from an SEO and user point-of-view to have your keywords in both the title and description fields.

Structure of Page Content

The rule of thumb on page content is to use your keywords in the first paragraph, sprinkle them throughout the content text, and use them again in the closing paragraph. Don’t repeat them excessively down the page, or too high a keyword density will be seen as “keyword stuffing” by search engines and your page will be penalized in the rankings.

Too often, and I’m guilty of this myself, we write page content for the search engines rather than the users who will be reading the page. It’s difficult to get that keyword out of our heads and it shows up more frequently than it normally would when writing content.

The key to writing good, SEO-friendly page content is to keep your keywords in mind, but vary the useage. In our car insurance example, if you were writing a page on car insurance rates, you could vary the content to include terms such as “car insurance premiums”, “auto insurance costs”, etc. That way you avoid excessive reptition of your main keyword, and you also have other good long-tail phrases that could pull in traffic to your site.

CSS, DHTML and Flash Navigation

Everyone knows that if a search engine can’t find the links to your pages, they won’t get indexed. Having straight CSS navigation links on your site is the simplest way to ensure search engine spiders can find your pages.

Older DHTML and Flash navigation extensions may have caused some issues with the spiderability of your site, but the new extensions are all very search engine friendly. They simply write the links to your pages in a very spiderable form on your page, even though the menu itself is still being served through javascript or Flash.

We use DHTML navigation on our site, and we have full control over how pages are linked from the main navigation.

Position of Content in the Code

The rule of thumb concerning page content is to place it the highest in your code. Some layouts may position the sidebar above the content section in the code, but search engines are able to determine areas of your site that are similar, such as sidebars and navigation. There are ways to move the content above the sidebars using both CSS and tables, so you if you really need the content at the top of your code, you can do it by modifying your layout.

Footer Links

The widespread use of spammy footer links has caused a devaluation of the value of these links by search engines. It is very common to see links in footers to the web designer’s site, to other unrelated sites or to link directories that require the link be kept in place.

If you are trying to obtain inbound links, the last place you want your link is in the footer. The best place for an inbound link is smack in the middle of the content, surrounded by relavent text. If you can’t get one there, try for a sidebar link on a relavent page.

SEO No-No’s

Here are a few things you don’t want to do to improve your site ranking. Some black hat SEO people would probably scoff, but if you want to maintain an improve your website rankings, don’t do any of the following.

Hidden Text or Links

Search engines are able to tell if your link or keywords are hidden by CSS or by simply making the text the same color as the background. The most famous case of this was BMW of Germany. They had a bunch of invisible text on their page and were banned by Google until they cleaned up their site.

Buying Text Links

Google has recently really cracked down on buying text links. They even have a link in their webmaster tools to report paid links.

Use the Same Anchor Text

Vary your anchor text occassionally so you don’t have thousands of links pointing to your site using identical anchor text. Too many links with the same anchor text will raise a red flag and you’ll get a Google slap for it.

Link Farms

Having inbound links from link farms is a quick way to drag your site down in the rankings. Work on getting good-quality links from other sites, not quick links from link farms and directories.

Page Cloaking

This is a technique where you show one page to a search engine and another to human visitors. The search engine page is content-rich and the human page is a heaping pile of spam.

There are literally hundreds of other bad SEO practices, and if you know what they are, you probably don’t need this page anyway.

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