Achieving top position for keywords in search engine results pages (SERPs) is becoming one of the highest priorities of marketers. Why? Because studies* show that only the top few search result positions drive click-through, website traffic, registrations, and other great results like sales! Despite this priority, the majority of company or brand websites lack even the most basic Search Engine Optimization (SEO) techniques. *(Source: Search Engine Watch)
Developing your website, or retrofitting an existing website with best practice SEO is critical to achieving improved organic or natural search engine results (vs. paid search results).
Search Engine Optimization Techniques
SEO is impacted by on-page coding and content, off-page link-building, and social media presence. Some of the techniques and features that support search engine optimization include:
- Meta tag coding
- Page Titles
- URL structure and redirects
- Broken links and duplicate content
- Site Maps and Text Links
- Link Building, Reciprocal Links, and Inter-Linking
- Keyword content or “landing” pages
- Blog and Social Media Integration
Invisible to the user, Meta tags are HTML (or XHTML) coding for descriptions of a webpage’s contents, thus enabling the search engine to correctly index the web page’s contents. Meta tag coding is the most fundamental SEO technique, and critical to most search results. Meta tag coding includes Meta descriptions, Header tags and Alt (image) tags. In the past, Meta keywords were used but are now less important.
Each webpage should have a keyword-rich Meta description (also relevant and specific to the page), approximately 150 characters in length including spaces. Header tags are brief headlines that should be coded at the top or header position of each page. Alt tags are the file names, image titles or descriptions for images contained on your website. These are useful when search engines index or “spider” your website since the engines automatically turn off images and read only text, including file names. Therefore, instead of image filenames such as “DCP0003.jpg,” images should be re-named “KEYWORD.jpg,” to increase search results.
Page titles or Title tags, although not technically Meta, work with Meta Descriptions, and are typically displayed in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) as the title, along with the Meta description. Title tags are the descriptive words at the top of the browser window that, more often than not, only list the company name or website address. Title tags should be simple and keyword-rich, and approximately 70 characters in length, including spaces.
An often neglected SEO technique is setting-up URL redirects, or more specifically, a 301 permanent redirect for your website. Search engines will index both the www.domainname.com and domainname.com versions of your website. This scenario creates what is known as duplicate content, thus diluting the search authority of both.
Also called a canonical redirect, the 301 permanent redirect (redirect) is vital to proper search engine optimization and improved rankings. A simple way to test whether your website has a 301 redirect in place is to type and “yourdomain.com” into your browser address bar then hit “Enter”. If the URL does not automatically change to “www.yourdomain.com”, then the redirect is NOT in place to resolve canonical issues and, therefore, is not optimized for the search engines. The redirect must be done at the hosting server level, and can often be completed via hosting tech support requests.
Throughout the process of maintaining your website and practicing good SEO, you need to identify and fix various errors. The more errors on a site, the more penalized the site by search engines. The 404 error, which means ‘Page not Found’ more often than not results from a broken link on your website. Sometimes, these are easy to find when you happen to be browsing through your site. On the other hand, once your website is built out with thousands of pages it can be difficult to pin-point which links are broken. Various tools are available for you to check this, such as SEOmoz and the broken link checker.
Another common SEO error is duplicate content. Search engines are smart. They know if you are posting duplicate pages with the same content, and only changing the title. They also penalize you if two or more pages have the same title. So, instead of wasting your time doing this and getting only one of those pages indexed by search engines, always make sure that each page is unique.
Another important SEO determinant is URL or domain structure—specifically, keyword-rich sub-domains. When linking to website sub-pages that are often served dynamically via databases, the URL that appears on the “http” line often includes obscure database code with multiple back slashes or symbols. To eliminate this search engine hurdle, ideal URL structures use the base domain name, along with simple keywords or keyword phrases in place of this coding.
Site Maps are yet another SEO best practice. Typically a secondary navigation text link placed in the footer of the web page, and linking to a sub-page with a simple outline of website content and sub-links. This is often called a Site Index. In the same location, redundant text navigation links for all primary navigation should be placed. Site Maps and Text Links allow search engines to index all of your website contents and sub-links to determine search rankings. XML Site Maps should be submitted to key search engines including Google, Yahoo and Bing.
Link-building, Reciprocal Links and Inter-Linking are key aspects to search engine optimization. Why? Because most search engines rank websites based on how many links there are to that site. The practice of dedicating a website sub-page or pages to industry links, and/or requesting reciprocal links supports link-building. Link sources include paid and free directories like Yahoo and DMOZ. Industry blogs, publications, associations, trade shows are also great sources. Bookmarks to your website or pages are a source of links. Place Share and Bookmark widgets on your website and blog, and bookmark your website sub-pages with popular Bookmark sites like Digg, Delicious and StumbleUpon. Finally, Inter-Linking are text hyperlinks to other pages on your website.
Before posting your company’s enhanced website on the worldwide web, be sure your website content includes keywords that correspond to the Meta tags for those pages, or even dedicated landing pages or sub-pages for your site’s top keywords. As referenced previously, these pages should use keywords in URLs, title-tags, Alt tags and meta code to ensure the best search results.
Now more than ever, Blogs and Social Media are major determinants of Search Engine Results. Best practice search optimization requires that your website link to your blog and social profiles. Ideally the blog is a primary navigation link, and a sub-domain of the site (ex. www.sitename.com/blog). Two of the most important determinants of website search authority are indexed pages and links to your website. Blogs support both with each blog post indexed as a new page, along with blog roll reciprocal links. More on this topic will be covered in our blogging best practices.
Placing social icons with hyperlinks to key social media profiles including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn and Google+ along with Share or Bookmark icons is also important to building search authority. Counter tools like the Tweetmeme Retweet tool, Facebook Like button, and Google +1 also support social sharing, and ultimately search authority.
Search Engine Optimization in Action
Below is a sample homepage of the Construction Marketing Association with numbered references to SEO features.
- Keyword-rich page title, or Title Tag
- Keyword-rich URL or domain structure
- Website navigation based on keyword analysis
- Social sharing including hyperlinks to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, bookmarking and related
- Keyword density of page content
- Interlinking of text to other pages
- Image Alt Tags
- Not shown, proper meta-coding, site maps, URL redirects
It’s Time to Optimize!
With a Search Engine Optimized website, organic or natural search results will flourish. There a several options for measuring search authority and search engine optimization (SEO). We prefer and recommend Google Analytics, but this does require installation of Google Analytics tracking code. Certainly test keywords with search engines to measure your search engine results page (SERP) placements. A free and robust measurement tool is Hubspot’s Marketing Grader .
Please bookmark and share your comments on Search Engine Optimization (SEO) below. How has SEO helped your company’s online presence?