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An Introduction To Search Engine Optimization And Web Design

Create a website and in no time at all you will be receiving visitors, right? Wrong. It can take time before a search engine finds and indexes your site. Once it does, it is by no means any guarantee that you will be one of the first sites listed under your subject. Search engines index billions of pages and even the most obscure subject can have thousands of pages. For example, the American Wirehair cat is extremely rare-only twenty-two were registered with the Cat Fancier's association in 2003. Yet, when I type in “American Wirehair Cat” into Google, it gives me 220,000 pages to choose from. That means there are about 100,000 pages for each cat! Yahoo gave me fewer choices--only 99,100 pages.

So how do you put your webpage at the head of the pack? It all comes down to search engine optimization. Search engine optimization, or SEO, is the term used to describe methods and tricks used that will help improve how search engines rank your page. The higher that your page ranks, the better chance your page will be selected by someone searching, resulting in more traffic to your site.

Search Engines like Google and Yahoo! use complicated, highly guarded algorithms to rank your website that can be so confusing Einstein himself would have trouble figuring it out. Instead of focusing on those issues, let us instead focus on a few basic areas that will help improve your websites ranking.

One final note about search engines: The most popular search engine in July 2006, according to Nielsen NetRatings, was Google. Almost half of the individuals they surveyed used that search engine. Yahoo! came in second with about 24% of users followed by MSN (10%), AOL (6%), and Ask (3%). All other search engines share about 8% of the market. For that reason, this article will focus mainly on Yahoo! and Google.

Keywords

Choosing the right keywords for your page is the most important step in SEO. In actuality, "keywords" usually key phrases since you will be choosing about three or four key phrases for each page of your website and rarely focus on a simple word. It is important that you are specific when picking your phrases. You need to stay away from generic terms such as “cat,” “television,” or “car.” Pick phrases such as “American Wirehair”, “plasma television”, or “Chevy Corvette”. The more specific you can be the higher that your page will be ranked, and the better chance your page will be found by your target audience.

To pick the right phrases, think about what words you would type in when looking for your site. Ask your friends and family members what they would type into the search engine. Understand that television and TV are two different words and not interchangeable in the minds of search engines. Going back to my example of American Wirehair cats, I might choose the keywords of “American wirehair cat”, “Caleb's Cattery”, and “rare cat breeds” for the fictitious site for Caleb's Cattery. Keyword phrases should only be about three to four words long.

Domain Name

If you have not picked a domain name, it is best to pick one that uses at least one of your keywords in it. Use dashes to help separate the words, if desired. A website named http://www.calebs-cattery.com or http://www.calebscattery.com is better than http://www.caleb.com. For even better results, choose something like http://www.calebs-wirehair-cats.com. That said, it is believed that search engines may rank domain names with more two or more hyphens lower because they are usually associated with lower-quality or spam-ridden sites.

Anchor Tags

Anchor tags, also known as anchor text, are the visible hyperlinked text on the page. Search engines typically weigh them heavily. Make sure that your anchor tags contain as many of your keywords as possible. Also, they should not be too long, although there is no limit, and be a clear indication of what the user will find by clicking on it.

Headings

When designing a webpage for search engine optimization, it is important that you use headings (, , ) for your titles instead of graphic images. Search engines weigh headings heavily as an indication of what content to index your pages. Therefore, it is important that your page have headings that include your keywords. Pages without any headings rank lower in search engine results.

Meta Tags

Meta tags help search engines index a website correctly. Although there are quite a few meta tags to choose from, the two most important are description and keywords. If you do not place these two in your heading section of your website, search engines will decide for themselves, usually by taking information from the first text it can find. Here is an example of each of the meta tags.

• meta name="description" content="An introduction to search engine optimization, or SEO, including how to pick and use the right keywords, use meta links, title tags, alt tags, image names, site maps, links, and headings.

• meta name="keywords" content="search engine optimization, SEO, webpage design, choosing keywords, anchor tags, headings, meta tags, title tags, alt tags, image names, site maps, robots.txt, keyword spamming or stuffing, web content development

The description should be about 170 characters long and never exceed 200 characters--including spaces and include all the major keywords for the webpage. Notice that commas separate the keywords and there is no comma after the last keyword in the sequence. Also, try not to repeat a word more than twice in the listing. A lesser important meta tag is the author tag. While it will not help your website be ranked higher, including it will help your company or your name be recognized.

It is critical that your description and keywords are accurate and relate to that page. Listing words or phrases that are not included in the text of the page lowers their relevance ranking. Search engines will rank the relevance of terms based on how many times the term occurs on the page, the position they are located in the document, the length of the document and the “weight” of the search term. Weight is determined by how often and the location of the keyword. Words that appear in the title, headings, and tags are considered heavier than other terms.

Title Tags

Technically, the title is a meta tag but because it is probably the most important one, it is listed separately. It is also what search engines list first, so it should be carefully thought out. Make sure you have a unique title for each of your pages.

The title tag is placed in the header section inside . Most people simply place the name of their site in the title tag, which is not good SEO. Instead, place your most important keywords phrases inside the title tag without listing them. For example, instead of saying “Caleb's Cattery” say, “Caleb's Cattery - Home of the finest rare American Wirehair cats in northern New York”.

Length is also important. Google displays 66 characters of a title tag, cropping between words. For example, in the above example, Google would simply list the title as “Caleb's Cattery - Home of the finest rare American Wirehair cats.” Yahoo! allows much longer titles, up to 120 characters. Therefore, you are best to include a title that is at least 66 characters long and subtitle that is an additional 54 characters long. You also want to consider what will be displayed by web browsers, such as Microsoft Internet Explorer or Mozilla Firefox, and what would be displayed if a visitor bookmarked your site or on browser indexes. Explorer displays the first 95 characters at the top of the page, the first 48 characters on its tabs, and the first 60 characters in its bookmarks. Mozilla Firefox displays at least 130 characters at the top of its pages, 55 characters on its tabs, and 43 characters on its bookmarks.

Alt Tags and Image Names

Search engines only index text. However, they do index the alt tags associated with images. This is why you should label each image on your website with tags that use your keywords whenever possible and relevant to the image. Do not include alt tags that are simplistic. If Caleb has a picture of a new batch of kittens on his site, the alt tag should list it as “American Wirehair kittens from Caleb's Cattery” instead of “kittens”. Be as specific as possible without going overboard.

File names are another great place to include keywords. While you cannot include spaces in a file name, you can separate your keywords with hyphens (-) or underscores ( _ ), which will be perceived as spaces by search engines. Going back to the above picture, instead of naming it “image1.jpg” list it as “american_wirehair_kittens.jpg” or “wirehair_kittens.jpg”.

Site Maps

Site maps are documents that can be submitted to search engines that help them learn the structure of your site. You need to set up a site map that has a direct link to every page on your site and place a text link to that site map on the index page of your site. You can also submit this site map to search engines such as Yahoo! and Google.

Robots.txt

The robots.txt file is a file that you place on your web server that instructs web robots which directories can or cannot be crawled. A robot is a program that searches the web hypertext structure looking for websites to index. They are also known as web wanderers, web crawlers, or spiders. Robots.txt implements the Robots Exclusion Protocol, which allows the web site administrator to define what parts of the site are off-limits to specific robots. The very basic robots.txt file will simply contain the text:

User-agent: *

Disallow:

This signals that any robot can search all of the pages on your website. If there is a page on your site that you do not want robots to index, simply insert a backslash and list it after disallow. For example, if you want to exclude the page “www.calebscattery.com/friends.html” you would place the following in your robots.txt file:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /friends.html

Once you have created and uploaded your robots.txt file, you can make sure it is valid by going to Robots.txt Checker [http://tool.motoricerca.info/robots-checker.phtml].

Keyword Spamming or Stuffing

Keyword spamming, also known as keyword stuffing, is when irrelevant keywords are included on a webpage in the hopes of attracting unsuspecting surfers to the site. This can be done in a variety of ways such as listing phrases at the bottom of the page, including hidden text on the page, or other methods. This is also the most popular of the “black hat SEO” methods, or unethical search engine optimization.

Search engines are good at recognizing these tactics. Sites that employ these methods are either ranked lower or, in extreme cases, removed altogether from the search engine. Even if the web robot does not recognize your methods, your competitors might and then report you.

Web Content Development

Each page of your site needs to contain at least 250 words, although 500 words would be better. When web robot visit, they will read your site from top to bottom, left to right. For that reason, try to include your keywords very early on in your text and then a few more times within your text. Do not list the words or repeat words

It is also important to note that web robots “count” any html, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), JavaScript or other code listed on the site. Learn and use external style sheets to remove it from your page. It is believed that most robots will only look at the first 80-100 lines of code--including any blank lines you may have included. If your text is buried at the bottom, it might not get included when they index your page.

Spending the time to optimize your site for search engines is as important as developing quality content when it comes to finding and keeping visitors. Having the best site in the world does no one any good if it cannot be found. Good SEO should not change the content of your page or alter it significantly. It will only alter its ranking by search engines.

Author:.

Omaro Ailoch is a senior software engineer, an internet marketing expert, an entrepreneur and the founder of OC IT Services a highly skilled California based web development, design, and search engine optimization firm. Omaro has been helping businesses and organizations become more efficient by custom developing solutions to streamline their business processes. He also helps businesses by providing them with professional web presence and helps them ac...

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