SEO basics are relatively constant, but the SEO game is constantly changing. We used to write content to attract the Search Engines but times have changed and continue to change regularly with algorithm updates. Search engines now have very sophisticated ways of deducing if the language patterns are natural and aimed at the visitor or a search bot/crawler. Bottom line... your website is there to engage visitors and it needs to clearly state that you understand their "problem" and have a solution whatever that may be. Those searching for your solution on search engines will find you, so sayeth conventional logic/wisdom, if you speak to their needs and make your case as an expert in what they are seeking.
SECTION I: Basic Keyword best practices
- Keywords in [title] tag – It is generally the case that what is written inside the [title] tag is displayed as your page title in search results. Keep it short (6 or 7 words at most) and keep the most important keywords near the beginning.
- Keywords in URL - Keywords in URLs can help if done properly - e.g. - http://domainname.com/seo-services.html, where “SEO services” is the keyword phrase you are attempting to rank well for. But, if you don't include the keywords in other parts of the document, don't rely on their presence in the URL alone to have any major effect.
- Over stuffing the URL can have negative effects as well. For example (www.domain.com/self-storage/cityname) is a great domain structure. Good use of keywords, only 2 pages deep. (www.domain.com/self-storage/zipcode/cityname/facility) is a bad domain structure. Good use of keywords by the page is 4 pages deep, so the PR/SEO value is so diluted by the point it hurts the page.
- Keyword density in document text – This subject is always debated. I usually recommend common sense. Make sure the document has a reasonable amount of relevant keywords “sprinkled” throughout the page, making sure that in all cases it makes grammatical sense. Over use of keywords is called keyword stuffing and it is explained in a section below.
- Keywords in text – Expanding on the above, keywords in text are important, especially in the case where a specific keyword or phrase is used as the anchor text of an inbound link, or link from another website. Inbound links are positive votes from your peers as to your website’s worthiness, and when an inbound links anchor text matches internal keywords in your text, that is a much more effective link.
- Keywords in headings ([H1], [H2], etc. tags) – Always use descriptive and high level keywords in your headings, and make sure that the text following a particular heading relates to the particular keywords used in the heading.
- Keywords in [alt] tags – Don’t let anyone tell you that images are “Bad” for SEO. That isn’t entirely true. An excessive amount of images compared to relevant and valuable text is not recommended. When using images, make sure to include descriptive Alt Text that includes relevant keywords to the specific nature of the subject image, but also to the broader message of the website as well. Spiders can’t read images but they can read the textual descriptions in an [alt] tag, so make good use of the opportunity to include some extra keywords without penalty.
- Keyword proximity - Keyword proximity measures the distance between related keywords, most often for multi-word keywords. Logically, it is best if they are immediately one after the other. For instance, of you are trying to rank for “dog Food”, placing them together is more effective than having “dog” in the first paragraph and “food” in the third paragraph.
- Keyword phrases or Long Chain Keywords – These consist of several words – e.g. “Website Design and SEO services”. It is a good practice to optimize for popular ones which tend to be the top 20% of the search volume, so you will have a better chance of getting exact matches of the search string. However, don’t neglect the other 80% of searches that don’t quite match the exact keyword phrase. While everyone else is fighting for that top 20%, you could drive substantial and relevant traffic to your site by concentrating on the others which could include misspellings, or something like” Website and SEO Services” or “Web site and S.E.O. Services” etc. Clearly they are looking for the same thing, but they went about it differently.
- Keyword dilution - When you attempt to optimize for an excessive amount of keywords, especially unrelated ones, this will affect the performance of all your keywords.
- Keyword stuffing – This one is a big one and a continuation on point #3. Any artificially inflated keyword density (10% and over) has a high potential of being flagged as keyword stuffing and you risk getting dropped from the search engines’ indexes. You wouldn’t write this, “Of all days, today is one of the greatest days, considering days like today are individual days and not a part of a group of days…” Do you get my point? If it sounds suspicious to you, it will to your reader and the crawlers/bots.
Section II - Internal and External Linking
- Anchor text of inbound links - As discussed in the Keywords section, this is one of the most important factors for good rankings. It is best if you have a keyword in the anchor text but if you don't, it will still have some positive effect.
- Origin of inbound links - Besides the anchor text, it is also important that the site linking to you be reputable and in good standing with the search engines. It is relatively safe to assume that sites with greater Google PR are reputable. Some might tell you that search engines DON’T penalize you for inbound links under the theory that you can’t control who links to you, but ignorance is no longer a defense these days, especially when so many people are purposely paying for links and exchanging links with any and everyone who asks.
- Links from similar sites - Having links from similar sites is very useful. It indicates that your competition is voting for you and you are popular within your community or trade. However, don’t only seek links from similar sites. Search engines are smart enough to consider your industry and understand that a seemingly unrelated link could be relevant. In self-storage, there’s no telling who is storing with you and they may choose to link to you as well. They’re unrelated, but their link is valuable too.
- Links from .edu and .gov sites - These links can be considered to be like gold in some cases since .edu and .gov sites are generally considered more reputable than .com, .net, .biz, .info, etc. domains. These links are hard to obtain, so having some is a good sign.
- Number of backlinks- Generally the more, the better, of course taking into account all previous sections above.
- Anchor text of internal links (Named Anchors) - This also matters, though not as much as the anchor text of inbound links. When you link to other parts of your website, use logical anchor text. It helps to “interweave” the pages a bit more and suggests cohesion between them all.
- Around-the-anchor text - The text that is immediately before and after the anchor text also matters because it further indicates the relevance of the link and keywords.
- Age of inbound links - The older, the better. Be careful and don’t be over- zealous in your link building campaigns. Getting too many new links in a short time suggests buying them or link spamming.
- Links from directories - Important, though it strongly depends on the directory. Being listed in DMOZ, Yahoo Directory and similar directories is a great boost for your ranking but having tons of links from PR0 directories is useless and it can even be regarded as link spamming.
- Link Baiting – Give other websites a reason to link to you. Produce some unique content or something that could go viral. Produce a widget of some kind that you can share with others, or customize a video game.
Section III – Meta Tags
- [Description] meta tag - Meta tags are becoming less and less important but if there is a meta tag that still matters, it’s the [description]. You use the [Description] meta tag to write the description of your site. Once your site has been indexed by the major search engines, chances are you will see your [description] meta tag being used as the description of your site in search results.
- [Keywords] meta tag – This is becoming more and more debatable, especially with Google. Having been heavily abused by developers in the recent past, search engines have focused more efforts on the actual content instead which is much better in my opinion. Yahoo and Bing still somewhat rely on them, so fill them out, but don’t rely on a major boost as a result. They won’t hurt, so do it.
Section IV – Content
- Unique content - Having more content (relevant content, which is different from the content on other sites both in wording and topics) has a positive effect on your site's rankings.
- Frequency of content change - Frequent changes is suggested as a way of keeping content relevant and fresh. Making constant “minor” changes has less of an effect than a “major” change such as an article or new page with unique content entirely. Blogs and RSS feeds are useful tools for creating content updates.
- Keywords formatting - Bold and italic used to be considered another way to emphasize important words and phrases, but their importance is becoming less and less as search engines become more sophisticated. All indications point to search engines learning to decide for themselves the import of the content instead of taking direction from you via tricks of the trade; the emphasis being that well written and relevant content are more important than ever. Overuse of this type of formatting can have a negative effect.
- Age of document – I am referring to documents (articles or pages within an existing website) not the website itself when I say that recent documents (or at least regularly updated ones) are favored. Newer websites are generally not favored over older websites. The theory there is that if 2 companies sell identical items and Company A has had an existing website for 2 years, Company A has more credibility in that specific topic than Company B. But, Company B could establish itself rather quickly with solid SEO.
- Invisible text - This is a black hat SEO practice and when spiders discover that you have text specifically intended for them that is unreadable by site visitors, don't be surprised by the penalty.
- Duplicate content - When you have the same content on several pages on the site, this can actually penalize you even if it was not intentional. If it appears that you are replicating content in an effort to increase keyword saturation, you will not have a positive end result. To a lesser degree duplicate content applies to pages that reside on other sites but obviously these cases are not always banned – i.e. article directories or mirror sites do exist and prosper.
Section V – Domains, URLs, ETC
- Keyword-rich URLs and file names - A very important factor, especially for Yahoo! and Bing.
- Sitemap - It is great to have a complete and up-to-date sitemap formatted for the search engines and the site visitors
- Site size - Spiders love large sites, so generally the bigger the better. However if your website is difficult to navigate or is just TOO BIG, the spiders may either miss content entirely, or choose to index the website no further.
- Site age – Older, established sites are respected more. The idea is that an older site is more trustworthy (they have been around and are here to stay) than a new site that has just popped up and might soon disappear.
- Recent research shows the pure age of the site isn't making a real difference in Google searches. But site age is still valuable because the longer the site has been around, the more possible links are pointing to it still, which does add value. Starting with a fresh domain, means starting with zero links.
- Adsense - Just to clarify, the use of Google Adsense has no effect on your search engine ranking. Google won’t increase your ranking because of the fact that you are hosting Adsense ads, and neither will any other search engine. Adsense might boost your income but it has nothing to do with your search rankings. Be careful not to focus all efforts on Google and their many advertising methods and resources, there are many other search engines that people use.
- Adwords - Similarly to Adsense, Adwords has nothing to do with your search rankings. Adwords CAN bring more traffic to your site but this will not affect your rankings.