SEO: Getting Started
Even if you are new to web development you have probably heard about search engine optimization–SEO for short. Generally speaking, SEO is more important to commercial websites than it is to personal websites but it’s just plain cool to see your website appear in the top 10 results of a search regardless of what type of website you create. In this article we will explore the basic concepts of how search engine optimization works.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
Simply put, search engine optimization is the practice or organizing your website’s content and HTML to improve each page’s organic rank (organic rank means basically any unpaid result). To that end there are many different factors that go into organizing content and HTML to be more search engine friendly. The most common factors that you should consider when optimizing are the content of the page, the page title, the meta description and the meta keywords. Obviously there are more than just 4 factors to successful search engine optimization but these elements form the basic core.
How do Search Engines Work?
There are two different types of search engines, crawler- based and human-based. And yes, it’s just like a automobile transmission–automatic and manual. The crawler-based engines use automated systems that constantly “crawl” the web and catalog everything they find. The human-based engines are exactly the opposite. They require a human to read, review and rank websites then enter that information into a database.
There is also one other “mutant” form of search engine that is usually referred to as a Hybrid engine. Hybrid engines use crawlers to automatically compile the basic data from websites but then use the human input to influence rankings. For example, two different websites that are virtually identical in content may end up with very different raking results if one website has been favorably reviewed by someone and the other has either not been reviewed or received a bad review.
Now that you know how the search engines compile their data I’m sure you would like to know exactly how they determine their ranks. Well, that is the big money question. All search engines have either developed their own unique algorithms or use a variation of a base search engine to compile ranks which means no two search engines are exactly alike. In fact, those algorithms are such closely guarded secrets that we will likely never know exactly how data is compiled and organized by any of the major search engines.
What’s Important to Search Engines?
As I stated earlier there are many different factors that search engines weigh when compiling rankings. However, there is a set core of elements:
The page title is one of the most important elements of search engine optimization as it provides the search engines with the most relevant keywords for the page. There are several good practices and bad practices when coming up with page titles. Do make your titles relevant and use as many of your most important keywords as possible. Don’t be overly repetitive or long winded. Being too repetitive can be considered a “cheat” by search engines and result in a lower rank. Being too long winded in your title can also yield the same result or the search engines may simply concatenate your title and ignore everything after a certain number of characters.
A good title should look something like this:
<title>Search Engine Optimization (SEO) : Getting Started - HTML Goodies</title>
A bad title would look something like this:
<title>Search Engine Optimization Search Engine Optimization Search Engine Optimization SEO SEO SEO SEO Getting Started Getting Started Getting Started - Even if you are new to web development you have probably heard about search engine optimization - SEO for short. Generally speaking, SEO is more important to commercial websites than it is to personal websites but it's just plain cool to see your website appear in the top 10 results of a search regardless of what type of website you create. In this article we will explore the basic concepts of how search engine optimization works.</title>
This one is a little tougher to optimize. Your focus should be on two fronts. First, try to put as many of your primary keywords at the top of your content as possible. Obviously you should not just list your keywords at the top of your content. It still has to make sense to the reader. Second, repeat as many keywords or keyword phrases throughout the text as makes sense. Again, repetition for the sake of repetition is never a good idea.
There are other techniques that you can use to get the search engine’s attention on your keywords such as the use of <H1> tags but we don’t have space to go into those techniques in this article. However, I promise we will cover some of those techniques in a future article.
This is simply a short summary of the content that is on your page. In most cases 2 to 3 sentences will suffice. When you write your description try to use as many of you primary keywords as makes sense. Again, don’t go crazy on the repetition or you may just end up lowering your rank instead of raising it. An example of a good description would be:
<meta name="description" content="Getting started with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a daunting task to the beginner. Explore how search engines work and the basic elements of search engine optimization.">
This is precisely what you would expect, a list of keywords and keyword phrases. There are just a few simple things to keep in mind when putting your keywords together:
- Do both keywords and keyword phrases
- Prioritize your keywords from most important to least important (in case a search engine caps the number of keywords it will catalog)
- DO NOT repeat keywords in the list unless they appear solo and within a phrase – e.g. “search, search engine” is fine but “search, engine, search, engine” is not.
- Separate keywords and phrases with a comma
- Don’t worry about putting common misspelling in your keyword list. Most search engines will assist the chronic bad speller search with correct spelling.
An example of a good keyword tag would be something like:
<meta name="keyword" content="search, engine, optimization, search engine optimization, SEO">
What is Meta Data?
Meta data pretty much encompasses all meta tags such as description and keywords mentioned above. Of course, there are many more that you can use such as author and copyright as well as http-equiv settings which define things like your content type and language settings. Meta tags were actually designed with complete flexibility in mind which means you could make up your own meta data if you are so inclined. Keep in mind though, your custom meta data will be pretty much ignored by everything and everyone but you.
Putting It All Together
Now that you know about all the basic pieces how do you go about putting them all together for each of your web pages? There are many different schools of thought on this but I prefer to use my own checklist:
- Read the content and compile a list of keywords
- Prioritize the keyword list from most important to least important
- Write the title using as many primary keywords as possible
- Write the description using as many primary keywords as possible
- Review the content and see if there needs to be any rewrite to bring primary keywords more to the front
- Put it all together on the web page
When you are all done the top of your page should look something like this:
<HTML XMLNS="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml" XML:LANG="en"> <HEAD> <TITLE> Search Engine Optimization (SEO) : Getting Started - HTML Goodies </TITLE> <META NAME="description" CONTENT="Getting started with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can be a daunting task to the beginner. Explore how search engines work and the basic elements of search engine optimization."> <META NAME="keyword" CONTENT="search, engine, optimization, search engine optimization, SEO"> </HEAD> <BODY> <H1>Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Getting Started</H1> My content text… </body> </html>
At this point hopefully you should feel comfortable doing some basic search engine optimization to your website pages. It’s not really a difficult or complicated process but it can most certainly be time consuming. Have fun and Happy Optimizing.