Search Engines 101 (Part 1): Building a Search Engine Friendly Site
Before you embark upon improving your search engine rankings, you should make sure that your web site is ready for the world. No broken images, no dead links, or spelling errors. It is a must to have fast-loading images, visible contact information, and a clear path to the goal of the site: registering for a newsletter, selling a product, selling a service, joining a fan club, or otherwise. Your web site should have a good balance between content and appearance. When a person comes to your site for the first time, you've got approximately eight seconds to inspire their continued visit. You've likely visited text-heavy sites that are overwhelming. You may have also visited sites that are so image-laden that it slows down the page loading time. It is also good practice to keep the majority of your home page content "above the fold," viewable without forcing the user to scroll. It is up to you to find the balance that best fits the story that you are trying to tell.
Search engines programs are called "spiders." They visit your web site and read the information found there in order to better populate the search engine database. Spiders are also known as "crawlers" or "bots." The term "spider" comes from their act of visiting many sites at the once by following links from site to site, their "legs" spanning a large area of the "web." Spiders typically crawl through a site's pages by following all the links on each page until all the pages have been read. The following list that describes the most important things that search engines consider when ranking your site:
- Title Tag – The title tag <title> defines the title, which is shown in the browser bar, of an HTML document. The title tag should contain a title relevant to the page, not just "Home Page" or "Contact Us". The title should be used for up to five keywords.
- Headings – The heading tag <h> creates a text entry in large bold font with several blank lines around it. Search engines view <h> tags as terms of emphasis, meaning additional weight is given to any keywords placed within the <h> tags.
- Bold – Using the bold tag <b> also gives weight to your terms.
- Alt Text – The ALT text is meant to be alternative text, primarily for use when an image is not being displayed. Search engines will read the descriptive sentence found in image alt attributes. At least one keyword should appear in each alt attribute. Be sure to include alt text regardless of whether your images link or are static.
- Meta Tags – Meta tags <meta> quickly define what the page is about. There are two crucial meta tags that you should use (meta tags are discussed with more detail in a later section):
· Keyword Meta Tag – <meta name="keywords" content=> Search engines use keyword meta tags as part of process to determine what your web page is about. Keywords should be chosen carefully and be specific to the page they appear on.
· Description Meta Tag – <meta name="description" content=> Search engines also use description meta tags to determine what your web page is about. Each page should have a unique description. The description should contain a few keywords and briefly summarize the content that appears on the page.
- Keyword Placement – When writing content for your page, some experts recommend that your most relevant keywords are found in the opening paragraph. Others recommend that slight differences in the engine spiders should have you sprinkle your keywords throughout your page. If you've written concise copy that is relevant to your page and contains your keywords, then you should be fine. It has also been said that keywords placed in proximity to each other are likely related, which will provide more weight to the terms.
- Keywords in URL – URLs are considered important by engines. Using keywords in filenames and directories improves a pages potential relevance.
- Page Last Modified – Updating your site frequently works in many ways. First of all, search engines regard "fresh" content as more relevant. Second of all, and perhaps more importantly, your users will enjoy the new content.
- Load Time – Search engines will measure how long it takes your site to load. Therefore, a slim, but effective design that isn't too image laden is key. It is also good to have a web host that can serve pages as fast as possible.
- Site Map – The best way for a search engine spider to find all of your pages is to link from your home page to a site map. The site map then links to all of the pages in your site.
- Navigation – Make sure that your navigation is text-based. If you use images for buttons the spiders may have difficulty getting around your site.
To reiterate, the above elements are used by search engines in their ranking algorithm. Your natural search engine ranking is based on the output of the engine's equation. This algorithm does change with frequency; therefore it is always a good idea to monitor your ranking. It is also good practice to look at the other sites ranked above you to determine what they may be doing differently. The hidden elements of other sites can be seen through using the "View Source" command of your browser.