There are all sorts of tried-and-true SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tactics that can be used to ensure your site is successfully crawled, indexed, and positioned in the major search engines. Though SEO tactics evolve with the technologies used to drive Web sites, certain fundamentals remain constant.
How can you tell if your site adheres to current SEO best practices? Let's start with some honest answers to the following questions:
- Are the keywords you're targeting relevant to site content?
- Are targeted keywords popular phrases used in search engine queries?
- Do page titles start with your targeted keywords?
- Does your site employ H1 header tags for prominent content titles?
- Is your permanent body copy contextually sufficient and keyword-rich?
- Do text links include targeted keywords that point users to pages within your site?
- Do you use CSS (Cascading Style Sheet) image replacement in graphical navigation on the site?
- Do graphics used in the site have descriptive, keyword-rich alternative attributes that are useful for visitors?
- Does your Web site have a site map with text links?
- Do the URLs of your dynamic, database-driven pages look simple and static?
- Does your site have a flat directory structure?
- Do your site's home page and other key category pages have PageRanks?
- Is your site listed in Open Directory?
- Do you routinely list your site in other trusted, human-reviewed online directories?
- Do all the pages in your Web site have keyword-rich meta descriptions?
- Does your site have a custom error page?
- Do the site's filenames and directory names include targeted keywords?
- Does your site avoid using pop-ups?
- Is the exact same content visible to both users and search engine spiders?
- Do you avoid free-for-all linking offers?
If you answered "yes" to all or most of the above questions, your Web site embraces some of the most common elements essential to SEO best practices. If you're unsure about some of the answers, consider the following additional information.
There's no point in angling for high rankings on keywords and keyword phrases no one searches for. If you're not certain what keywords your site's well positioned for, start digging through your referrer logs or Web analytics data to determine which search engines send your site considerable traffic for which phrases.
If you can't access your log files and search engine referral data, use a tag cloud generator to get some visual clues as to how the search engines interpret your pages. You might be surprised as to what any particular page in your site is actually optimized for.
Most subscription-based keyword analysis tools offer a free trial period. You can readily compare keyword popularity using tools such as WordTracker, KeywordDiscovery, and Yahoo's Keyword Selector Tool before deciding what phrases could send you considerable search-referred traffic.
Despite the popularity of individual words, it's best to target two- or three-word phrases on a page-by-page basis. Because of the vast number of Web pages indexed by the major search engines, competing for a listing or two on the first or second SERP (Search Engine Results Page) for a one-word keyword is a losing battle. Trying to make one page optimal for a multitude of unrelated keyword phrases is almost equally fruitless.
It should go without saying, but the keywords you select to target should be relevant to your business and your site's content. Permanent body text should consist of at least two to three sentences on every page, ideally more. Opportunities vary from industry to industry. At the very least, try to build about 250 words into key category pages.
Of course, site structure plays a large role in how well your site's indexed. The search engines have improved their ability to crawl through dynamic URLs, yet static URL structures tend to rank better. Flash and AJAX present additional search engine visibility issues that can't be addressed in this brief column.
If you have an all-Flash site and answered "yes" to visible text links, you may want to reconsider your answer. Use the control-A function in your browser to see what words are really visible on a page, or use Zippy to take a deeper look at what any particular page or site is actually optimized for.
Better rankings come with better linking. Better linking starts within your site. Having a site map is a no-brainer, as are nongraphical site-wide navigation, footers, and related deep links.
Pursuing well-ranked inbound links is an art form and an ongoing endeavor for nearly every Web site. Just make certain you execute on the fundamentals first, which should include submissions to key directories. Once your site is listed in DMOZ, the Yahoo Search Directory, Gimpsy, JoeAnt, and the like, continually grow you inbound links with vertical directories, local listings, business partners, vendors, and so on.
Implementing the 20 most fundamental elements of SEO best practices (or at least most of them) and avoiding the dregs of worst practices should provide you with a straightforward approach to better visibility for your Web site in the major search engines.