Rosa wants to learn about dogs – Cocker Spaniels in particular. She goes online, visits Google and types in Cocker Spaniels, and in return Google spits back a list of sites on her subject. This is done by millions of people every day using a variety of search engines, Google, Yahoo, MSN, etc.. But what factors determine which sites rise to the top of search engine rankings?
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is about making sure your site is listed on the top of the search engine’s results. Search engines are compiled of databases put together by computer programs called spiders. These spiders crawl all over the web, going from site to site, indexing each site they visit.
Some search engines list the results of a user search according to link popularity – which site has the most links from other sites. Others organize data according to information contained in the sites meta tag, while others base their results on common themes. Usually a site will use a combination of these and other methods to sort the results, so it’s to your benefit to also use a combination of factors. Just a word of caution about overusing anyone of these methods, it will only work against you.
Link popularity is like a kid in school. The more people who hang around you the more popular you are. In this case the more other sites link to your site, the more popular you are and the higher your rankings on search engines.
Like in school, you can improve your popularity by developing a campaign asking other kids to be your friends/ other websites to link to you. Unfortunately, if you remember from your school days, this is not always successful; it’s the same on the World Wide Web. Link popularity campaigns can be time-consuming and complicated if you don’t have a clear plan of action.
Try instead to make “friends” with those sites that are relevant to your web site. Think of it as making friends with people that like the same things you do. Do a search and look at what the search engines rank as experts in that field. Contact the owners of these sites and ask to link to them and maybe in return they will link to you. Also check out your competitor site and see who links to them.
For those who aren’t familiar with HTML this may just be gibberish, but it has a name. It’s called a Meta Tag, and having it in your HTML coding helps search engines immediately get an idea of what your site is about, and incorporate the tags in their algorithms. Some search engines also list a summary on their results pages, so readers can see what the site is about and what keywords apply to it. For this reason choose your words carefully, make sure it’s something that will entice the reader to read more.
When describing the site in a meta tag, place the keywords at the beginning of your description and close to each other to achieve the best possible ranking, and try limiting the number of characters you use between 150 and 250. Limit the number of keywords you repeat in a meta description to three to seven times. Anything over that could be viewed as spam by the search engines, and the site will be banned from most of the major search engines.
Finally there are themes, which are actually important keywords used consistently throughout the site. These keywords can be placed in Meta Tags, the website’s title or in the body. Search engines look for these keywords to get information about the site’s themes, which also plays a part in the ranking process.
As with meta tags, avoid spamming. The general suggestion is to repeat keywords in the title or meta tag three to seven times, and in the body, keywords should make up three to seven percent of all the words in text.
For those who would like more information on SEO and how to make it work for them Search Engine Optimization for Dummies can serve as a good starting point.