We live in a day and age where people use search engines on a daily basis to find information, products or services. Web site owners who offer these things want to be found in the number 1 spot for a particular keyword phrase or at least on the first page of results. In order to obtain these prized positions, the engines have to make the decision that your site deserves that prestigious place. As web site owners or those who are responsible for the overall success of a site, how do we help the search engines come to this conclusion? While there may be many pieces of the puzzle to accomplish this, one of the foundational things that can be done is to make sure your site is "search engine friendly".
What does that mean anyway - search engine friendly? Does it entail having an all text site because search engines love content? Does it mean sacrificing aesthetics because graphical components get in the way of search engines? Does it mean stuffing your pages with repetitive keywords or employing sneaky tricks? Actually none of these things are ingredients for a search engine friendly site. Additionally many are under the impression that one has to sacrifice the end user if they are to please the search engine. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Let me give you some basic ingredients that constitute a search engine friendly site but in doing so, always keep this principle in mind - your web site is for the end user, not the search engines! What do I mean by that? It is quite simple. Search engines are not going to buy your products or hire you to perform a service. In other words, they are not going to pay your bills or allow you to earn an income. The end user will. It is the end user that you want to attract and as a result, covert to a customer. Therefore you should always design and market your site with the end user in mind. This involves the aesthetics of your site, its usability, the way it communicates and ultimately its ability to convert. Keeping this very important principle in mind, lets look at some key ingredients that make up a search engine friendly site.
Make Sure Search Engines Can Find You In The First Place
Seems simple enough, right? However, there are still people that launch a brand new site and then go searching for it on Google or Yahoo but are unable to find it. They submitted their site through one of those "add URL" forms or through a submission service but still do not show up in the search engine's index. You will never get your site listed, at least long term, in a search engine by simply submitting it. Rather you need to get a link from a site that is already in the search engines and then the engines will find the link, visit your site and add it to their index.
How does one go about getting a link on another site? The easiest way is to submit your site to free directories like GoGuides, JoeAnt, Skaffe or Wow. Search engines regularly crawl these and other directories and will find your site once it is listed.
Another thing that we do is add a link to the client's site in our client list, portfolio, press release section or even in one of our own directories. Either way, the preferred method of search engines is to find your site on their own.
Search Engines Crave Content
It is true that search engines like content or plain old html text. They do not recognize how aesthetically pleasing your site is but rather will digest the content of your site to understand its subject matter. That is not to say that you should sacrifice design for content. You can actually have the best of both worlds. There is a myth that one has to have all their content appear on the page before graphical components. That is simply not true. As long as there is good content within your pages, it doesn't matter where it is - search engines will find it. So the challenge then is not "where" to place content but simply to have it in the first place.
In having content it is imperative to then have the best content. This is where creativity in presenting information comes into play. If your site offers information on a subject, then make sure you have the best info available on the Internet. If you sell a line of products, make sure you provide content describing the products whether that be in the form of convincing sales verbiage, product reviews, testimonials or all those combined.
Make sure your content is written in a natural language. In other words, make sure it is written for the end user in mind. Who is your target audience. Men? Women? Teens? Business owners? A geographical region? Whatever it be, write for that target audience. This is where a good copywriter that has some basic understanding of SEO will be worth their weight in gold. "What about my keywords?" you ask. There is no reason why your site cannot contain well written content designed for your target audience and at the same time represent your most important keywords.
Is Your Site Crawlable?
I am probably stretching the English language using the word "crawlable". What I am referring to is simply making sure that a search engine can find other pages within your site beyond your home page. This may sound simple enough but I come across many sites that in one way or another have stopped a search engine dead it its tracks at the home page.
Another thing that will stop search engines from finding the sub pages of your site is requiring cookies or setting session ids. Sure cookies and/or session ids may be necessary to track visitor activity but you can make an exception for search engines. Search engine crawlers are like old browsers in a way. They do not like cookies. Don't require them to accept them or they will simply leave.
Search boxes and forms are another obstacle to search engines. They cannot add a zip code into a form field or a keyword into a search query box. If these are the only ways to reach the inner contents of your site, then you will shut the door on search engine crawlers.
The basic idea of allowing a crawler to find the inner pages of your site is that each page should be unique to a specific subject, product or service. Therefore in most cases the more pages you have indexed in a search engine, the greater visibility you have because you have a better chance of showing up well for multiple keywords and phrases.
Use Unique Title Tags and Meta Description Tags
How often I come across sites that have the same title tag on every page. Usually it is simply the company or web site name. It is also very common in product database sites that use a run of site title tag or an include file for the info that goes between the opening and closing head tags in the html.
Whether your site is static or dynamic, it is of the utmost importance to have unique title tags for each page. Each page should be different, right? Then why not make sure your title tag coincides with the subject matter of the page? The title tag is probably the most important thing a search engine looks at out of all the other elements of your site. So make sure you are capitalizing on this by having optimized, unique title tags for each page.
While you are at it, each page should have its own unique meta description tag as well. Sure Google rarely displays the meta description tag as the description of a listing that might appear in the SERPs but they still index it and Yahoo does use the meta description tag (at least at the time of this writing) as the description that appears in the SERPs.
Make Your Site The Very Best It Can Be
All search engines want to do is to be relevant and help their users find the very best sites related to their search queries. While some people do "trick" and "cheat" their way to the top, the web sites that ultimately earn the top positions and stay there are the web sites that are the best in their field. Never stop working to make your site better than all the others you are competing against. This is the best strategy in obtaining long term success not only in regards to search engine positioning but with your end users as well.
So in conclusion, having a search engine friendly site simply means having a site that they can find, that they can understand, that provides a wealth of good info and that is the best in its field.
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January 7, 2005
David Wallace is CEO and founder of SearchRank, an original search engine optimization and marketing firm based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is experienced in search engine optimization and marketing, pay per click and pay for inclusion management, directory submissions and web site design usability. David is a frequent contributor to various search engine related forums, an active editor of popular directories such as GoGuides.org, Joe Ant and Zeal and has had several articles published on industry related sites. Since 1997, David along with his company have helped hundreds of businesses both large and small increase their search engine visibility and customer acquisitions.
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