Search Engine Optimization

SEO ranking Just what IS search engine optimization? It means structuring a website and including high-quality content so that the site can be found, indexed, and ranked by search engines.

There are over 200 search engine optimization variables that factor into search engine results. These variables can be grouped into four categories: on-site content, coding, notification, and in-bound links. I’ll highlight some of the search engine optimization variables below.

On-site Content for SEO

The people who created search engine algorithms decided the best websites are the ones that are useful to their users. These are the websites that appear closest to the top of search engine results pages. One of the criteria for search engine optimization “usefulness” is the website’s content.

SEO Copywriting Should Include:

Information that’s relevant: Search engines reward websites with well-written, relevant text.

Keywords and phrases: It's useful to anticipate what keywords and phrases people will use to find your site. There should be enough repetition of keywords and phrases for both humans and search engines to understand the thread of the topic, but “keyword stuffing” is penalized. Important words should appear close to the top of page.

Headlines and subheads: Headlines and subheads are recognized as important when given specific codes (h1, h2, etc.). Keywords and phrases should appear in headlines and should be repeated in body copy.

Internal links: Website’s topics are usually served up in bite-sized chunks, each topic to its own page. The link “SEO copywriting” is an example of an internal link — it links internally within the same website. These are useful for site visitors to find related topics and for search engines to understand what the subject is.

Bolding: Bolded words give search engines another clue as to a page’s topic, but I’m not usually a fan of this technique; I think it can be distracting for humans when used in combination with internal links. Go for it if it looks good!

Updated content: Search engines reward sites that frequently change content — new content is a reason site visitors return.

Behind the Scenes — Coding for SEO

SEO copywriting doesn’t stop with the text that’s visible on a web page. Keywords and phrases should also be incorporated into the website’s coding. In addition to the site’s text, the coding itself plays a role in search engine optimization.

SEO Coding Should Include:

Page titles: Short, relevant, keyword-rich page titles give search engines information about specific pages. They appear behind the scenes in HTML coding, in browser tabs and bookmarks, and in search results (the latter two are visible to the public).

Page descriptions: As with page titles, page descriptions should be specific to each page. The page description often appears to the public in a search result (although search engines could borrow text from the page’s body copy if their algorithm determines it’s more relevant to the search). Page titles should be keyword-rich and compelling for humans to want to click through to your site.

Meta keywords: It’s a good practice to identify what your keywords are for SEO copywriting. Keep the list short and narrowly focused to the topic of each page, and include the list in the behind-the-scenes coding. Google doesn’t bother with meta keywords anymore, but other search engines do.

SEF (Search Engine Friendly) file names: Without even reading this web page, you’ll know what it’s about by its web address: http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2009/09/google-does-not-use-keywords-meta-tag.html. SEF file names contain real words (keywords!) that tell both humans and search engines what the page is about.

Image file names & ALT tags: Search engines can’t see images like people do, but using descriptive image names helps them “see” images. ALT tags in the HTML coding were created for people with impaired vision, but they’re also useful in other ways, including giving search engines a clue as to what the image is.

Coding structure: Search engines prefer quick-loading sites that are constructed so that their unique content is closer to the top of the page that contains the coding. Industry best practices include building websites using external Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) vs. the older method of using tables; optimizing graphics to reduce file sizes; placing scripts at the bottom of an HTML document; and a whole host of other coding techniques.

Search Engine Notification

Search engines are adept at finding and indexing websites...eventually. A new site (or a newly revamped site) will be indexed faster if the search engines are told about the site. It’s especially helpful to create a sitemap (a special table of contents) and submit it to search engines to prompt them to index the listed pages.

Inbound Links

Search engines reward the “popular kids”: Do you remember from school — maybe you’re still experiencing it — how the popular kids got so much attention? The more attention they got, the more attention they got. It’s the same idea with search engines. If other websites link to yours, there must be a reason, right? Search engines look at how many sites, and how many quality sites, link to your site.

Links from other sites: A good quality link will be from a popular website that covers the same topic as your page, with relevant keywords contained in the link. You don’t have complete control over this type of inbound link. You can ask for them, you can create content that people like to link to, but ultimately it’s someone else’s decision to link to your site.

Directory Listings: Search engines pay attention to quality directory listings. The listings should be kept current, with accurate, keyword-rich information. Do you belong to a local chamber of commerce? Are you a member of a trade association? Add your website's link in the member directory on those websites. Other directory listings don’t require membership (e.g. Yahoo Directory, DMOZ); some are free, some require payment.

Blogs: If you’re particularly knowledgeable in your field, you can add comments to other people's blog posts, along with a link to the relevant section on your website (not all blogs allow this).

Are you thinking about improving your website’s SEO? Do you want to include SEO best practices in a new website? Contact Renaissance Graphic Design...