How to get search engines to pay attention
August 20, 2007
The days of putting up a Web page then waiting for it to show up on the first page of any search engine are long gone. Today it takes time and effort to see your site in the first couple pages of results.
However, most site owners and webmasters do not know where to begin. By following these 10 steps you can increase your Web site’s natural search optimization and get the search engines to take notice.
1. Optimize for keyword content
To get listed correctly in the search engines, each page of your site needs to be optimized to the best of your ability. Since the keywords that you decide to target will be used throughout the optimization process, choosing the right keywords is essential. If you choose the wrong keywords you will not be found in the search engines. If you are not found in the search engines how will anyone find your site? Pick one core term for each page and write the optimized text around it. To brainstorm top phrases for your industry try reviewing your competitors’ websites.
2. Write unique title tags
The title tag of your page is the most important factor to consider when optimizing your web page for the search engines. This is because most engines place a high level of importance on information found in your title tag. The title tag is also what the search engines usually use for the title of your listing in the search results.
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The title tag appears as the description of the page at the top of your browser’s window. It should be a complete sentence that includes your term(s) for that page. Do not overstuff these tags or your website will be penalized in the search results!
3. Implement quality Meta content
Meta is a part of the page html code human visitors to your site rarely see. It is used by search engine visitors (robots or bots) to help them determine what the page is about.
Description Meta should be one or two core-term enriched sentences that do not exceed 250 characters.
Keyword Meta is a space-separated list of terms relating to your page. The core term should appear at the beginning and end of this list. Limit the number of characters to 1,024, including spaces.
4. Content is king
The page content is one of the most important factors to letting visitors and the search engines know what it is you are offering. Improve your content and you will improve your listings in search engines. Each page should have at least 200 words of copy and include your keyword terms. The most important aspect of writing for the Web is that you write for the human visitors, not the search engines.
5. Use image alt text wisely
Each image on your page can include a keyword phrase that relates to the image. This text will also help those that may have their images turned off when visiting your site. This text can be included in the alternate or “alt” attribute of the html code for an image. The important thing is to describe the image first and then try to work in key terms.
6. Use a robots.txt file to tell search engines where to go
This simple text file is a roadmap of your web site. It should be placed in the root directory of your site, and it tells the search engine spiders which sections they should go into and which ones they are not allowed in. It is one of the easiest tactics you can use to help ensure your site gets crawled. It’s also one of the most overlooked opportunities.
7. Use a Sitemap.xml file, and keep it up to date
A sitemap file is a source of information for the search engines, like your robots.txt file. It tells them the location of all the sections and pages of your Web site, how important each of those sections are to your site, and most importantly when those sections were last updated.
Most importantly, when you change your content, update your sitemap file!
8. Get rid of duplicate content
It’s easy to use the same content for multiple pages on your site, especially if you’re a retailer and the manufacturer has already provided lots of content for you. However, every time you use the exact same content you are taking a chance that the search engines will throw your site out of their results, thereby negating all of your hard work to get there in the first place.
Take the time to rewrite content for each page, regardless of how similar it may be to another page. Get rid of mirrored sites or completely rewrite these as well. Also, rewrite an article two or three times for use in article marketing or syndication.
9. Create custom error pages
If a visitor accidentally stumbles into a section that does not exist anymore, their browser’s default “Page Not Found” message does not give them a way to get back into the content of your site.
However, it is very easy to set up custom error pages that have the same look and feel as the rest of your site. They will help keep visitors and therefore search engine spiders from reaching a dead end in your site and leaving.
10. Get validated!
First, validate your code for well-formed HTML. The rules of HTML have changed quite significantly over the years, and it is no longer optimal for you or your webmaster to generate messy, broken mark up. Although not a requirement from the search engines, both Google and Yahoo mention it in their guidelines for Webmasters.
Second, validate your entire Web site through Google and Yahoo. This is a simple task that involves uploading a file to your Web site’s root directory or adding information to your meta tags. You can find more information on this process in the search engines’ Webmaster guidelines.
This tip also serves to build a level of trust with the search engines and lets them know that your site is a current and active. This is a major component in determining how often your Web site is visited by the search engines.
The 10 tips presented here are just the beginning of a well-optimized Web site. The depth of a successful natural search optimization strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but we hope this guide will help site owners and Webmasters improve their natural search optimization.
Kristy Crabtree is the owner of Westward Strategy & Design Group in Sparks, and Chris Gandolfo is a marketing and design specialist with the firm. Contact them at (775) 720-3521.