Software

Increase site traffic with search engine optimization

Search engine optimization (SEO) has ballooned over the past few years into a quasi-science for increasing a site's visibility. Surprisingly, the techniques utilized in SEO are basic and often utilized Web standards. Learn about the many facets of SEO.

Search engine optimization (SEO) entails designing, writing, and coding (in HTML) a Web site to increase the chances of your Web pages appearing at the top of search engine queries for selected keywords and key phrases. The key ingredient of SEO is the text or keywords on a page. This text includes the page title, meta tags, headers, and page copy. Before we dive into these elements, it is important to understand text selection.

Text selection

Once upon a time, the use of meta tags could ensure success with search engines. These days, it is important to have relevant text or keywords throughout your pages. You need to utilize words and phrases that users (i.e., your target audience) will include in their search queries to increase search engine visibility. While you shouldn't overdo placement of this text on your pages, they should appear frequently and prominently on the appropriate Web pages. A key aspect of devising keywords or phrases is to be specific rather than general. For example, if your site is about cars, the phrase 'red Ford Mustang' is much better than 'sports car.'

You can assemble a collection of words and phrases by perusing similar sites and viewing their source to see what they may be using. Also, a brainstorming session with marketing folks and/or a sampling of actual users can yield text that you would never think of yourself. Once you assemble the words and phrases, you need to place them on the actual pages.

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Placing text on the page

One of the most important areas of a Web page is the header. This is where the page's title and meta tags are placed. The title itself is used by search engines, and it's often used as the title for links (from search engines) to the page. Therefore, it should be descriptive (and make sense) while including search phrases or terms. Keywords should be placed at the beginning of the title in case text limits are recognized.

While meta tags are no longer the standard way to gain search engine visibility, they are still used by some search sites. The most popular tags are description and keywords, so the following meta tags could be used on a site:

<meta name="keywords"
content="Web development, Internet development, HTML" />
<meta name="description" content="Web development information for all developers brought to you by TechRepublic.com" />

These tags should be placed within a page's head element. Size limitations may exist, so you should place the most important terms at the beginning.

Many sites utilize Flash to provide a jazzy interface, but it provides nothing to a search engine. A page should contain some text as search engines use the text on a page. The text should correspond with title and meta element content, as well as utilize your keyword phrases or terms. Page copy is very important, so you should make an attempt to include some on every page.

In addition to Flash, images and navigational elements like JavaScript toolbars are not processed by search engines either. With images, you should use the alt tag to provide descriptive text (with the text including keyword phrases and terms) for the corresponding image. This text is processed by search engines.

JavaScript toolbars and similar elements are ignored, but you can often include similar functionality via standard HTML and CSS. You can easily create a toolbar using a list element and CSS. You can also format hyperlinks to enhance search engine visibility by including descriptive text or keywords in the actual links and text surrounding the links, as well as including text in its title attribute. This can be a problem when links are dynamically created.

Accessibility

The use of standards-based pages can enhance a site's visibility with search engines. The reason is simple: standards include text-based solutions so it's easier to read or process pages by search engine spiders.

Actually, many of the suggested SEO techniques correspond with building an accessible Web site. This includes using alt tags for images, avoiding Flash or JavaScript based interfaces or ensuring a page is usable by browsers that don't support these technologies, and using clear language.

A good way to test a site for accessibility is by using a text browser such as Lynx to examine it because most search engine spiders see your site much as Lynx would. For more comprehensive details about building an accessible site, check out this good guideline for site design offered by Google.

Wrapping up

Making an appearance in a search engine's results can greatly increase a site's traffic. There are many ways to increase a Web site's search engine positioning, and most are simple and straightforward methods that surprisingly correspond with designing with Web standards. Of course, these techniques can be abused (e.g., blatant overuse of keywords and terms) and result in search engine spamming, but search engines do have policing policies. The key is to know your audience and your site's place on the Web.

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Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.

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Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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