Archive for February 28th, 2011

28
Feb
11

SEO: The Beast with Two Heads (part One)

When we talk about “search engine optimization,” we are really talking about two very different projects, projects that take very different routes and very different skill sets but work together toward a common goal—increased search engine prominence.

Every SEO Professional knows this. They tend to break it down into “on page” and “off page,” or “internal” and “external,” or “site elements” and “off-site elements.”  Some SEOs specialize in one or the other, but most take on both task with every optimization project.

ONE: On Page SEO (or, how to make new spidery friends)
These are the core elements of a website that interact with search engines and other users. They are built into the site and are fundamental to search engine success. These elements all impact the website at every level, starting with the website’s bones (or architecture), then to navigation, to keyword targeting, to meta-data, to content organization (or semantic hierarchy, if you are a true SEO geek), and even content development. All of these things are so interwoven into a website that they are hard to separate from design and construction. So interwoven, in fact, that I’m going to argue that these optimization elements should be done by web developers and designers, up front, before launch, before links, before any other damn thing. And who better than the people who are there from the very beginning.

Sometimes, this side of the process is called “spider-friendliness.” That’s a great way to think of it: does your website welcome the search engines in, show them around, explain what their content is about, and make an argument for why they deserve a higher prominence than all those other websites in the same topic space? To get all detailed about it:

  1. Architecture. The way your site is deployed to your web server is where this all starts. Your folder names and the way they are laid out. File names—page files, image files, media files, include files, all of them. Database structure and interface. All of that gross techie stuff matters. Your website has to be constructed on a framework that can be understood by search spiders, and driven by a system dynamic that doesn’t interfere with spider access.
  2. Navigation.Once a spider stumbles across the site, can it find its way through from the home page to every other page? That’s really important. I’ve seen sites with thousands of pages of content, but only a couple of hundred indexed by Google all because there was no clear path from the home page to all the others.
  3. Keyword targeting. You really really really have to know your keywords. Not kidding. You really really really need to know them. The best time to do learn your keywords is BEFORE YOU START WRITING CONTENT.  Seriously. Do you know what the website is intended to do? Do you know what products or services or information you are trying to disperse? Then you have everything you need to start working on keywords.
  4. Meta-data. This the first place your keywords will go. Yes, I know that meta-tags are out of favor. I know that they have been sorely abused. I know that they’re just not cool. Still, what if you build a 12,000 page website without them and then suddenly they’re cool again? Oh, you’ll be happy you put in at least a descriptiontag, alt tags, and I even still use the keyword meta-tag as a handy place to put a page’s 4 or 5 top keywords. If for no other reason than so the next SEO guy knows what the hell we did here.
  5. Content organization. This is getting more and more important all the time. From the page title, to the <h#> tags, to bullet lists, and bold text, and image captions. Hierarchical organization is your very best opportunity to let spiders (and humans, too) know what the stuff on your pages is about.
  6. Content development. So you built a site, and its all spider-friendly, and you got lots of keywords and metastuff, and hierarchies, and everything. That’s great and all those things will take you a long way toward Google Nirvana. But you can’t just coast. You must continue to think of new, valuable things to say about your topic.  Because spiders prefer their meat fresh. So build into your internet business plan a strategy for identifying, developing, and deploying useful content on a regular basis.

TWO: Off-page SEO (to be continued in tomorrow’s blog! Stay tuned!)