Search Engine Optimization for Beginners

Posted: Jul 29, 2009  2 comments  

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Want to help your site achieve higher rankings in the organic listings returned by popular search engines like Bing and Google? Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the answer. SEO techniques and practices are used to help search engines understand what your page contains and ensure it is ranked appropriately in the search results when specific keywords are used to search the Web.

Search Engine Basics

A good place to start learning about SEO is with some search engine basics. Using a search engine is simple:

1. The user types in the search term.

2. The search engine analyzes the request and pulls out keywords.

3. The engine looks up the keywords in its database.

4. The results are displayed as a list of hyperlinks to Web pages that contain content that is relevant to the search term the user typed in.

The results from most keyword searches contain sponsored links and organic links. Sponsored links are basically paid advertisements that appear in a shaded box at the top of the list or in a column on the right side of the page. Search engine companies auction off space on the search results pages for common search terms. Then, after users enter the search terms containing the keywords, the sponsored links appear prominently on the page. This form of advertising is very effective because it offers a quick one-click option to Web sites offering the products or services they are searching for.

Organic links, on the other hand, are not bid on and cannot be purchased. Organic links are returned based on how relevant the search engine believes the Web pages are for the keywords in the search. Organic search results generally carry more weight with average users than sponsored links because the ranking is based on the search engine’s evaluation of the site and not on who paid the most for the keywords.

This gives you a couple of options for driving traffic to your site from search engines; bid on the search terms pertinent to your site and pay for sponsored links, and/or employ solid SEO techniques to get your site a high Search Engine Results Position (SERP) in the organic search results. The higher your site’s SERP for a keyword means a higher ranking in the search results list, making it more likely users will choose your site.

Here’s an example search containing sponsored and organic links:

Search Results Example

Search Results Example

Optimizing Your Site

So how does SEO work? Web crawlers (a.k.a. Web spiders) browse the Web to gather up-to-date information on the contents of your site. Then the search engine uses the information gathered by the crawler to create an index that ranks the pages in order of their relevance for specific search terms. The crawler examines the text, graphics, links, and metadata to establish what your Web page is all about so it knows which keywords pertain to your site. It also tracks the number of links back to your page and where they come from; the results of these processes help determine your SERP.

The specific algorithms used by Web crawlers to determine relevance are not publically disclosed. This prevents Web Masters from “cheating” and unfairly influencing SERP. If the search engine determines that your site is using unfair SEO techniques, it can blacklist the site from the search results. However, there are things you can do to ensure your content is ranked appropriately by maximizing the crawler’s ability to find your content and the engine’s ability to correctly index it, including:

· Select the appropriate keywords for your content. Target the keywords your audience uses to search for content like yours. Create a list of synonyms that users might substitute for your keywords.

· Use your keywords in your URL. Choose domain, site, and file names that contain the targeted keywords.

· Use your keywords and keyword synonyms in your headings and titles.

· Use your keywords and keyword synonyms liberally throughout your content. The number of times the keyword appears on the page (keyword density) is a big key to SEO. However, if your keyword density is too high your site could be blacklisted.

· Don’t use invisible text, tiny text, etc. to hide keywords on your site to increase density.

· Ensure that the title correctly reflects what is on your site. The title is the first thing the user sees in the search results.

· Fill in the “Description” meta-tag in the header of your Web pages. Search engines examine the description tag for keywords and display the description with the title on the search results page.

· Develop a site map or menu that links all of your pages to help the crawler find all of your content.

There are a number of other tweaks you can make to your site to improve SERP. If you are running IIS, you can get help improving your site’s SERP with the IIS Search Engine Optimization Toolkit. The toolkit can recommend how to make your site more discoverable and accessible to Web crawlers. It also gives you more control over how search engines crawl your site.

In a Nutshell...

Since search engines are how most people find what they are looking for on the Web, optimizing your site for search is a great way to increase the number of visitors to your site. Good SEO techniques also help ensure that visitors can find what they are searching for on your site and don’t feel tricked into visiting your site. Implementing a solid SEO strategy, using solid Web development practices, and writing lots of compelling content (and maintaining fresh content) are the keys to driving satisfied visitors to your Web site.

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