I don’t call myself a Search Engine Optimization expert, but at the same time, I do know a great deal about SEO and have had success in optimizing several sites. Search engine optimization is for most people a black art – or at least a dark one. But it’s really not hard to do some basic things that help, nor is there some sort of magically secret way to lift your ratings as your spam folder may be trying to tell you.
Over the years, experience has taught me a great deal about things that work and ways one can improve search engine rankings for specific keywords. Sometimes this learning was from trial and effort to do so, other times just luck. A past version of this website had an excellent rating for “osCommerce” and especially “osCommerce and Joomla” with rankings in the top 10, sometimes even the top 3, for several years. (Even today we’re ranking pretty high for these terms without effort behind it now.)
This post will focus on sharing what we’ve learned about SEO over the past 15 years. It’s not intended to be the be-all-end-all, but simply list some basics that everyone should do to optimize a website.
1. Don’t Complicate Navigation
2. Write Code for SEO Consumption
Using HTML ables was the main way of building websites for most developers for years. Today, CSS and div elements are what one should use and this is especially true for SEO, too. Tables don’t organize your content in the source code so that the most important items are the first read, nor can it necessarily see the connections between the table headings and the content – with div elements and H1, H2, and H3 tags, you are making it far easier for search engines to know what the page is about and what is important. If at all possible, put the most important keywords in an H1 tag that is at the top of the source code. You can use CSS to move this block visually anywhere on the page, but the spiders should see it first.
3. Content is King – Make It Real
People for years did (stupid) things like put white text on white backgrounds with keywords or other descriptive content in attempts to elevate their search engine rankings for these terms. It may have worked at one point in time, but today it will likely get you blacklisted. Keep the content on your site real; descriptive and helpful text for your viewers helps both the individuals coming to your website and the search engine spiders. If you feel the need to include a block of keywords and descriptions, do it gracefully and thoughtfully by adding a page description block in visible text somewhere. Don’t hide it.
4. Page Titles, Alt Tags and Link Titles
It used to be that the meta tags for a page were important but the spammers and marketers out there soon made these elements useless; their content could no longer be trusted due to misuse. While I still take time to put meta data in my pages, I don’t knock myself out with it. It’s important to have it match the true content of your pages, but it is not the be-all, end-all of SEO today. What matters more (besides real content) are your title tags, alt tags and link titles. Feed the search engine spider the descriptions of your pages in the title, what your images are and how they relate to the content in your alt tags, and any other meta-like efforts you can do. (From my experience, page titles matter a great deal.) If at all possible, use mod_rewrite tools to optimize your URLs so that they also content descriptive terms that relate to your content.
5. Register Your Site With DMOZ.org
The Open Directory Project is a free resource that is used by 100s of search engines. This is the base source of many search engine’s categorization and data. You can only be placed in a single category, so be mindful of where you suggest your website be placed, and know that it take time (sometimes a long time) to get added as this entire project is run by volunteers and a human always validates the placement of the website in the index.
6. Update Content Regularly
Having content regularly updated tells the search engine that the site is being maintained an updated. It’s been my experience that this helps raise ones score.
These are some of the simple things you can do as you build or update your website. I’ll provide a list of more advanced methods in a future post, but the list above is something everyone can (and should) do who wants their content found by search engines and indexed well.