SEO for google
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today's online world search engine rankings can make your business succeed,
and while rankings in Yahoo and MSN are very valuable, their combined
market value is still less than that of Google. This makes achieving top
rankings in Google that much more important.
In this three-part series on How to Optimize for Google we will touch
on a number of important aspects for top Google rankings including website
optimization, links, Google Webmaster tools, and a number of other considerations.
The focus of Part 1 will be on page website optimization.
THE RIGHT KEYWORDS
This article is not about keyword research so I will not spend too much
time on this topic, however, I felt it was important to at least brush on
this slightly. If you are interested in reading more, please see Keyword
Research for Organic SEO.
Make sure that your targets are achievable.
If you select the wrong keywords, it can make your entire optimization
experience essentially a waste. Choose keywords that are attainable but
yet still offer a reasonable search frequency for your industry. Your
phrase selection should also be targeted to bring qualified traffic to
Using the hotel industry as an example, targeting the word "hotel"
would make very little sense but by narrowing it down to "Victoria
BC hotel" you now have less competition, and a more qualified audience.
Keep your targets in perspective and go after the obtainable rankings.
There are many on-site factors that play a role in your search engine
rankings. Here are a number of those factors and what you can do to increase
your chances of success.
The title tag plays one of the most important roles in search results
at Google, and is almost always the heading Google chooses for each of
its listings. Placement of your target phrase is best used near the start
of the tag and repeated again in the middle or near the end. Three uses
of your target phrase may be helpful in some instances, as long as it
is not too overwhelming. For best results each page on your site should
have a totally unique title tag.
It is also important to remember that because Google will use this title
as the main heading for your listing, you will want to keep it attractive
to potential searchers. Try to also add a call to action, or other wording
to help make your listing appear attractive to searchers.
To help illustrate the fact Google takes this tag into consideration,
simply do a search for your target phrase and take a look at the titles
of the top 10. I tried a search for a rather broad term "hotel"
and saw that all 10/10 listings had it in the title tag, and 6/10 had
it as the very first word. A quick scan showed that the entire top 30
either had the word hotel, or hotels in their title tags.
If you do only one thing to your website, make sure that all your title
tags are relevant, unique, and contain your target phrase for each page.
Meta Description Tag
The Meta Description tag is still occasionally used by Google as the description
which appears in the search results themselves. While this used to be
a more common practice Google tends to use it most often on sites with
very limited content, or those which are flash based. I have seen it still
used for content rich sites, however this is less common.
The Meta Description tag still has an impact on search rankings. Your
best bet when using this tag is to keep it short and sweet with your target
phrase close to the start and never repeated more than 3 times. Like the
title tag, each page on your site should have its own unique description
Meta Keyword Tag
When it comes to Google this tag is useless, and won't influence your
rankings. There is some speculation as to whether a spammy keyword tag
can however, have a negative effect on Google rankings. As a result, if
you do utilize a keyword Meta tag for the smaller engines, it is best
to keep it clean and play it safe.
Keyword density plays a role in overall rankings; however, it is not as
cut and dry as it once was. Once upon a time there was a magic number
that when used could almost guarantee top rankings.
This is no longer the case. Today the ideal density varies from industry
to industry, phrase to phrase. To find out what density you should aim
for, take the top 10 or 20 search results and see what percentage those
sites are using. In most cases you will find that the majority of these
sites have a very similar density to one another, and this average density
is a good estimation of what you should aim for.
Body Text and Keyword Placement
The location of relevant text on your site will help establish the overall
importance of your target phrase. While you do not want to overwhelm the
engines and site visitors with a bombardment of target phrases at the top
of the page, try to sprinkle in some instances as close to the top of the
page as possible.
Be sure to include various synonyms for your target phrases within your
body text on your site. Google will use these synonyms to tie in the overall
relevance of the page for your main target phrases, which in turn can
improve your odds.
To find possible synonyms you can use a thesaurus, but the best way is
to search Google itself and see exactly what they consider to be similar.
Simply search in Google for your target phrase preceded with a tilde,
such as "~hotels". Next scan through the search results for
any text Google has bolded. These are all words that Google considers
to be related. Using the "~hotels" example Google brings up
phrases such as 'travel', 'tourism', 'accommodation', as well as various
hotel chain names such as 'Hilton Hotels'.
Keywords in Domain
There is still some speculation if having a target phrase as part of your
top level domain (TLD) is of use to search rankings. From my experience,
yes, there is value here, although, nothing like it was several years
If you are starting off in the online world and are contemplating which
domain to go for, consider one that uses your target phrase, assuming
that it is both relevant to your business name, and uses no more than
a single hyphen. While multiple hyphens in a domain can be successful,
they are very common with highly spammy websites, so it is best to not
take that route if possible.
While having a keyword located within your domain can offer some ranking
juice, I would not suggest heading out and doing a domain swap. In most
cases you would be better off working on your existing site than starting
from scratch with a new domain.
Keywords in page specific URL
Using keywords for specific page URL's can also help add a little bit
of value to your site, providing you use them responsibly. Consider using
a keyword as a directory name and as part of a file name where it naturally
makes sense to do so. If you have a website that focuses on tourism and
includes local hotel listings, you may want to consider the following
structure for your page on the Hilton:
Placement of target phrases within heading tags helps to establish the
importance of those given phrases. That said do not over do it, or abuse
it. Only place target phrases within a heading tag if it makes sense to
do so, and don't flood a page with numerous tags. Heading tags are not
as critical as they once were, but still a good contribution to a well
Link Anchor text
This is the actual text you click on as part of a link. When full or partial
target phrases are used within your text links they help pass on some
value to the linked page for those phrases. This is also true when considering
surrounding text. When the content around the link is also relevant, the
link holds slightly more value.
While a link that simply states "click here" or "www.domainname.com"
does have its place, they provide considerably less value than a link
that would use "discount hotels" as its anchor.
Image Alt Text
While image alt text still plays a minor role, its biggest part is within
the use of image based navigation. If you have an image linked to another
page, the alt text will be attributed much the same way as standard link
anchor text is.
Image Alt text should always be short and to the point and should accurately
describe either the image itself, or the page the image is linking to.
Do not use alt tags as a place to stuff keywords.
These are links that are found mid sentence or mid paragraph as opposed
to a simple listing of links as found in a menu or possibly on a sitemap.
Links found mid paragraph tend to pass on a little more value from the
surrounding text and can offer more relevance to the linked page.
It is absolutely imperative that your website be fully spiderable by the
search engines. This may seem obvious, but often webmasters overlook Google's
ability to crawl a website. Google has become very advanced in what links
it can follow and how it can spider a website, but there are still some
things that can cause significant roadblocks.
- Flash: One of the most commonly made mistakes is the
use of flash. If flash is used as a sole means of site navigation then
you can count on Google not viewing your internal pages, and having a
significant disadvantage in terms of site rankings.
- Java Script / DHTML: These days most Java Script and
even DHTML menus can be spidered by Google, however, this is not always
the case. If your site utilizes any kind of fancy navigation and you are
wondering why Google has not indexed your internal pages, check out Google's
Cached Text version of your page. If you do not see any text links, then
your navigation may be invisible to Google.
- Images: Image based navigation has been safe for many
years now, but if your site uses this form of navigation it is essential
to have brief, relevant alt text on all your buttons. This alt text will
act much like standard anchor text for text based links. This is not only
for the purpose of search ranking value, but take a look at Google's cached
text version of your page. If you have image based links that do not have
alt text, those links do not appear. This doesn't mean Google won't follow
them, but for anyone viewing your site on a text based browser, your links
will be invisible to them.
Avoid long elaborate URL's with extraneous characters. While Google has
reached a point where they can index massive URL strings, it is best to
avoid them if at all possible. For dynamic sites consider utilizing mod
rewrites to significantly clean up the URL to not only make it more search
engine friendly, but more user friendly as well.
stands a better chance if cleaned up to read:
Basic website optimization is a critical component for successful placement
in Google but is only part of the overall picture. Stay tuned for "How
to Optimize for Google - Part 2 of 3" where we will discuss Links
and Google Webmaster Tools.
for top Google rankings includes a number of factors. In Part
1 of 3 we discussed onsite optimization. In Part 2 we will touch on
incoming links as well as using Google Webmaster Tools.
Links are very important in today’s Google rankings, but just how many
links you need will depend on both the competitiveness of your target
phrases, and the quality of the incoming links themselves.
Essentially the number one rule of links is to keep it relevant! Topical
relevance is very important in order for inbound links to give your site
the most value. If the page that links to you is relevant that is good,
if the entire site linking to you is relevant, that is better.
First to get an idea of how many links you may need, take a look at the
top 10 ranking sites in Google and record how many links Yahoo is noting
for each site. (This is because Google does not display anywhere near
all the links they have noted). The average of this count is often a good
indication of how many links your site may need.
There are many different ways to get links to your site including the
age old reciprocal link trade, directory links, article based links, and
links from press releases.
Reciprocal linking has seen its value drop considerably over the past
few years, however, if the site you are trading with is relevant you can
still receive value from these links.
Google frowns on paid links, however that is not to say that they don’t
work. Often you can find highly reputable and relevant websites which
are offering paid advertising spots. If these links are coded to link
directly to your website without passing through any tracking redirects,
you will in many cases see value in the form of both direct traffic and
increased link densities and rankings.
Writing and distributing industry specific articles is a great way to
help increase both your link counts and site traffic; for examples of
such content see StepForth’s SEO
Blog News articles. Consider writing articles on a regular basis and
submitting them to some of the more popular services such as EzineArticles.
Be sure to include a link to your site from somewhere within the article,
or at the very lest within your bio. Try to use a target phrase as part
of the anchor text for additional value.
If something of importance has happened to your company such as a new
product launch, or other notable achievement – essentially anything news
worthy, put out a press release. Submit this press release through services
such as PRWeb
or PRNewsWire. Again, be sure to include a target phrase as part of
the anchor text.
There are also a number of places you can get links that have basically
turned south, and are not generally recommended. These include signatures
in form posts, guest books, and other typically free links.
Forum posts can help to marginally increase your link counts; however,
with this one you must be careful. Only add a link to your site in your
signature if both the forum allows it, and you are a respected member
of the forum. If you are a solid contributor and your posts have depth
and meaning, and the forum is highly relevant to your site, then having
a link in your signature may give your site some juice. Posting wildly
to random forms will in most cases get yourself banned, and will be both
a waste of time and potentially make you and your site look bad.
In nearly all cases, do not post your link to guest books. If you happen
to stumble upon a guestbook that is highly relevant to your site, the
other comments are relevant to your site, and you have something useful
(and again relevant) to say, then perhaps consider it, but typically focusing
on links from guest books is considered SPAM and is best avoided all together.
Having a link from your blog comments is not necessarily a bad thing.
If you find a relevant blog post of use, and have something relevant and
constructive to say, don’t be afraid to enter your link into the “URL”
field of the form, but don’t try stuffing links into the comment itself.
Link Farms & Bad Neighborhoods
These are sites that allow you to simply post your link no strings attached.
They are mostly long scrolling pages with countless links. Stay away from
them. If you see one, run in the other direction. These links are bad,
will not help with your rankings, and in some cases can actually damage
Stay away from sites that cross link with obvious spammers. These networks
of SPAM sites are not ones you would want your site associated with, and
if you achieve links from enough of these sites it can adversely impact
your rankings. Even more important, NEVER link to any of these sites –
as that will certainly tie in your connection to them and give Google
reason to discount your rankings.
DMOZ, Yahoo and Other Directories
Directory based links can be of significant help, especially if they are
from highly reputable directories, the two biggest being DMOZ.org and
the Yahoo Directory.
Getting a site into DMOZ is like Gold. Google loves links from DMOZ and
your site will reap the benefits. The big catch however is actually getting
your site into the directory in the first place. Find the perfect category
for your site and check to see if it has an editor. If you see a link
“Volunteer to edit this category” try and find another relevant location.
Pages without active editors take much longer to get listed into. Once
you find the perfect directory submit your site every 4-6 months until
listed. If you are lucky you will get in eventually.
Yahoo Directory is seen as an authority in the eyes of Google, and getting
your site in will help your link reputation. This link does come at a
price of $299 per year, but will play a role in helping your website achieve
There are a number of other valuable directories out there that can help
you with your search rankings. Before submitting to any directory the
key is a combination of relevance and authority. If the directory is relevant
and active it may be worth considering.
GOOGLE WEBMASTER TOOLS
Google Webmaster Tools can be very useful for your optimization efforts.
It may not directly help you obtain higher rankings, but can help you
trouble shoot if you are experiencing problems. It will also allow you
to remove URL’s that you don’t want indexed and set various preferences
such as your domain, crawl rate, and geographic target.
This is the most common reason people use Google Webmaster Tools – the
submission of their XML sitemap. While you can use your robots.txt to
have Google find your XML sitemap, by submitting it directly to Google
you can check up on the spidering status.
Webmaster Tools is also quite useful for checking on various error URL’s
that Google may know about. Under the Diagnostics > Web Crawl you can
view any errors that Google has to report on your site. By cleaning up
any errors you can help increase your chances of rankings.
From inside Google Webmaster Tools you can get a much clearer look at
what sites Google is noting as having links to you, and give you a better
indication of the need, if any, to increase your link counts.
Be sure to select your domain preference under Tools > Set Preferred
Domain. In nearly all cases you will want to select the version including
Inbound links play a significant role in successful Google rankings.
By focusing on relevant links, as well as by diversifying where you get
those links from, you can build a solid foundation for your search rankings
today and into the future.
Stay tuned for How to Optimize for Google
Part 3 (of 3) where I will discuss other considerations including
redirects, HTTP headers, and a number of other factors which play a role
in successfully conquering Google.
In Part 1 and Part
2 of How to Optimize for Google I discussed general website optimization,
links, and Google webmaster tools. In Part 3 we will look at a number
of other considerations which play a role in successful rankings in Google,
and also touch on some tactics which are best avoided.
Completing Optimization: Other Considerations
If you need to use redirects on your site it is very important to use
the correct one. If a page is moving to a new location, or being removed
all together, it is very important to have this page redirected to either
the new location or the next closest page using a Permanent 301 Redirect.
While rare, if a page is being moved to a new location for a short term,
with the intent of it returning to the original location, then and only
then, will you want to use a Temporary 302 redirect. For more information
please see Redirects:
Permanent 301 vs. Temporary 302
Non WWW Redirects
To help eliminate page rank split, and provide your site with a little
extra value, implement a non-www redirect. What this redirect will do
is change the URL to include the “www” whenever a URL is accessed that
does not include it. This can help to consolidate links to the correct
page and give your site some additional strength. For more help on Non
WWW redirects please see: How
to 301 Redirect Non-WWW to WWW URL’s
Check your page headers! If you have implemented any form of redirect
on your site including mod rewrites, check your HTTP headers. You may
be surprised at what you find. Some forms of redirects may use a 302 code
where you really want a 301. By checking your headers you can ensure all
is well, and troubleshoot problems. On our website we have added our own
Header Checker for your convenience.
Home Page URL
Never have more than one URL for your home page. If your home page is
available and displays on more than one URL, then utilize 301 redirects
on all but the main URL you want to focus on – in most cases “http://www.xyzname.com/”.
All your links pointing to the home page should direct to the exact same
URL otherwise you will split the value of your home page into multiple
Google sees “http://www.xyzname.com” and “http://www.xyzname.com/index.shtml”
as different pages, but displaying the same content. This splits the overall
value of your home page, and can decrease the chances of rankings. By
keeping it consistent with a single URL, you remove this split and retain
more of the strength.
In theory having your home page split like this could bring with it duplicate
content penalties, however, I have yet to see this actually happen – that
said, it is best to avoid the risk all together.
XML Sitemaps are great for ensuring that Google and the other engines
are able to spider your entire site. While an XML sitemap will not directly
impact your search rankings it can help as Google is more likely to see
any SEO based changes more quickly, which in turn can have an impact.
This is the first file all search engines look for every time they visit
your site. While placing a blank robots.txt file in your root folder will
not help with search rankings, it will help reduce 404 errors appearing
in your log files.
It is also highly recommended that if your site utilizes an XML sitemap,
to include a call to this sitemap within the Robots.txt file. Simply add
the following line to ensure that the major engines (including Google)
can find your sitemap:
If you are finding that your site is simply not being indexed it is possible
that you are blocking the spiders in one way or another.
Start with checking your main site navigation, if you are using Flash
or some other fancy form of navigation that could be your problem right
there. Next check your HTTP headers to ensure that your home page is returning
a 2xx code which indicates that the clients’ request was successfully
received. Finally take a look at your Google Webmaster Tools for any noted
errors. If you are blocking Google, chances are you will be able to uncover
the issue with these steps.
Duplicate content can be quite damaging to your rankings. Ensure that
all content on your site is unique. Never steal or “borrow” content from
another site, and never cut and paste large portions of text from one
page of your site to the next. By keeping all pages of your site entirely
original you stand the best chances of getting a thumps up from Google.
Fresh Content / Regular Updates
Update your content. In highly competitive markets, sites with old static
content can often slip away. Keep your content fresh and updated to keep
bringing Google back to your site. If they find new pages and updated
pages with every visit, they will come back more often.
The age of your site can also have an effect on search engine rankings.
While there is little you can do (short of keeping the same domain) to
help on this matter, remember that the longer your site is online, the
better its chances for success. It pays to select the perfect domain right
from the start and not to change domains mid-stream. Older sites that
stand the test of time add a level of authority in Google’s eyes. New
sites seldom see rankings for competitive terms in their first year.
Note: Site Age is determined not by the date the domain was originally
registered by rather by the date Google first discovered content on your
Load time can have an impact in your Google AdWords Quality Score but
it is unknown for sure if it can also impact your organic search rankings.
It is best to keep you load time to as little as possible. If it is not
already a part of the Google Algorithm, it likely will be soon. Besides,
it is also best in order to give your site visitors the best experience
Server Up Time
This can be a rather significant issue. If you find that your web hosting
company has a history of down time, change hosts. If Google comes to visit
your site once and it is down, not to worry, they will come back, but
if Google visits your site often only to find that it is unavailable,
you can find yourself with drastically depleted rankings.
If you have a traditional brick and mortar store, consider submitting
to Google Local. While this
will not directly impact your regular organic rankings, you may find your
site ranking above the organic results with a “local business results”
map listing. This tends to be most common when your business is near the
geographic center of a city, and when the search phrase uses a geographic
W3C Compliant Code
There is much speculation as to if W3C compliant code can have a positive
impact on search rankings, and the majority believe “maybe” with some
saying “yes”. Regardless, it is definitely a good idea to have your site
be W3C Compliant if at all possible. Not only may it help you in terms
of search rankings, but having compliant code can decrease load times,
and help to ensure cross-browser compatibility, all of which are good
things. If at all possible, it is recommended that sites be made to be
Many experts who took part in the SEOMoz “Google
Search Engine Ranking Factors” lean towards it not being a big contributor,
however, it may be an issue if Google has difficulties indexing a page
A code validation service is available at validator.w3.org.
DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME
I want to stress that this section is about things you should NOT do.
These issues could be damaging to your rankings. If your site is implementing
any of these, it may be best to remove it.
This includes any text that you can simply not see when viewing the page.
It may be text hidden in invisible div layers, text located below the
fold with vertical scrolling disabled or even text on the same colored
back ground (white text on a white background for instance). Whatever
the case, hidden text can get your site into hot water and it is not recommended.
Don’t go over board in placing target phrases within your body text. Stuffing
keywords everywhere possible just because you can, is not only unlikely
to help you achieve rankings, it could very well have the opposite effect.
Large amounts of duplicated content or pages, as well as stealing or scraping
content from other sites is one good way to get your site banned.
Creating multiple websites or pages with nearly identical, yet slightly
different content for the purposes of trying to grab some Google rankings
is a good way to get your site into trouble.
If you have created pages of this nature for PPC campaigns, make sure
that they are blocked from the search engines as to not get you into any
Simple – Don’t Cloak. In a nutshell cloaking is when you display different
information to the search engines than you do to your human visitors.
Google frowns on this, and if they catch you, watch out!
Websites that are entirely flash based will not get you into trouble.
The reason I have included it here however, is that they won’t do you
many favors either. Sites that are all Flash, have little to no content
for Google to digest and thus, drastically reduce your chance of rankings.
If you must keep your “All Flash” site, it is recommended that you also
create a secondary HTML version for the search engines and for those visitors
who simply prefer it.
Frames (including iFrames)
Frames are also one of those things that won’t get you into trouble, but
do significantly reduce your chances of rankings. If you want any chance
of ranking in Google using a Frames site, be sure to copy your relevant
content from each page into your ‘noframes’ tag. While this is far from
ideal it may help you salvage some listings.
When it comes to including content through the use of an iFrame, remember,
Google can not see any of this content located within the frame. It will
be of no use to your rankings. If you rely on this content to help your
listings, find another method such as a server side include.
In this article I mention a few items which can be made much easier with
the help of available online tools. Here are some to help you on your
HTTP Header Checker
StepForth HTTP Header Checker
Search Engine Bot Simulator
Page Size and Load Time
Load Time Analyzer
Google’s Cached Text Version
Click on “cached” next to your listing in Google, then click “Cached Text
Version” at the top of the page. This is Google’s Cached Text version
of your page. Substituting www.domain.com with your website will also
bring up the cached version:
To see a larger selection of tools visit our SEO Tools page at the StepForth
There are a lot of little pieces to getting a site to the top of the rankings
in Google that I didn’t have time to mention here. In most cases not all
items noted in this 3 part Google optimization
series need to be in place to achieve top rankings, however, the more
you can implement the better. Links, optimization, and content all play
a significant role in Google rankings and the more competitive the term,
the bigger the role they play.
If you have a site in a competitive market it is best to ensure that
the site is entirely Google friendly and well optimized, while working
on increasing links, and expanding on relevant content.
Patience is important and Google rankings are possible, but they do take
time and effort. In nearly all cases it can take several months before
you start to see significant results, although in cases where a site is
just missing one or two pieces of the puzzle and those are put into place,
rankings can come much quicker. If you have any questions about optimizing
for Google try sending
them to us here at StepForth and we will get to them as soon as our
About The Author
Scott Van Achte is the Senior SEO at StepForth Web
Marketing Inc., based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You
can read more of Scott's articles and those of the StepForth team at news.stepforth.com
or contact us at StepForth.com,
Tel - 250-385-1190, Toll Free - 877-385-5526, Fax - 250-385-1198
This article was also published at www.sitepronews.com
Published - March 2010
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