Saturday, June 6, 2009

SEO for Beginners

SEO is the name for the adjustments and additions you do to make your web site more attractive to search engines. Search engines sort sites by algorithms that consider a page's content, meta tags, URL, incoming links, and site history to decide how important and relevant a page is. The search engine's decision determines how high up the search engine result page your web page appears when someone searches for a relevant keyword. A page that ranks well according to appropriate principles is called "SEO friendly." Most browsers do not look past the first page or two of results, so it is absolutely essential to your web site's success to get into the top ten or twenty results for the keywords most important to your site.

How do you use SEO to rise higher in the search results? First, you select the keywords to target. Ranking well for a general term like "coffee" is everyone's dream, but almost impossible to do; you will probably find that the more specific the keywords, the easier it is to rank well. "Coffee beans" is a more specific keyword, but "Blue Mountain coffee beans" is better, and "roasted Blue Mountain coffee beans" is excellent. When competition is too high, you may need to use an even longer keyword phrase, like "roasted Blue Mountain coffee beans mail order."

Once you have a list of keywords, retool each page to target one keyword apiece. The keyword should appear in the page's title, description meta tag, and file name. (Ignore the keyword meta tag, which was so heavily abused that it is now irrelevant to SEO.) Any anchor text that points to the page should also include the keyword, and the main content on the page itself should repeat the keyword a certain number of times. The number of times a keyword should appear in the body is a delicate and tricky part of search engine optimization; to prevent abuse, search engines change their algorithms frequently, so one year the most SEO friendly percentage of keyword appearances is 10%, then the percentage drops to 6%, then to 4%. Read reliable SEO forums and keep up to date on the latest SEO developments to know how often to mention a keyword in each of your web pages.

When you have optimized the individual pages, take a look at your overall site design. Is your design code light, or will search engine spiders have to crawl through masses of unfriendly code to get to the content? If the code is now at the top of the page, can you relocate it after the page body? Are pages linked with Javascript and Flash, or do you have plain HTML links to and from each page? Have you implemented a spider friendly sitemap?

As you can see, making your site SEO friendly is not an abstruse, magical process. You only need to write content that your readers will enjoy reading, and add a few minor search engine optimization details intended for search engine spiders. Spend some time on good forums and read recent articles, and you will quickly acquire the knowledge you need to make your own web site search engine friendly.

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