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Cheat Sheet

Search Engine Optimization For Dummies

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a strange business. SEO businesses are 80 percent scam, so if you hire someone to do search engine optimization for you, you’ve got a slim chance of success. Therefore, you need to understand the basics of SEO so that you can either create a search engine–friendly web site yourself or find a firm that knows what it’s doing.

What You Need to Know to Optimize for Search Engines

Before you optimize for the search engines, you should understand the basic search engine landscape. You can break the landscape into search sites, search systems, search engines, and search directories:

  • Search site: A search site is a website where you can search. Google’s a search site, AOL is a search site, and Yahoo! is a search site.

  • Search system: Many search sites get their data from other companies. Search systems are companies that create search data. For instance, Google is a search system that feeds data to AOL and many other sites.

  • Search engine: A search engine is a system that indexes individual pages inside websites.

  • Search directory: A search directory is a collection of information about particular websites. A search directory doesn’t index pages inside those sites; it just contains basic information about each site. Yahoo.com is one of the oldest and most important search directories. Search directories are far less popular than they used to be. (Most people don’t even know they exist.)

The three most important search sites are Google, Yahoo!, and Bing. Google and Bing have their own search engines. However, Yahoo!’s search engine actually provides data from Bing; Yahoo! no longer maintains a search-engine index itself.

Google dwarfs all other search systems. Around 65 percent of regular search-engine searches are down at the Google search site. Add in the sites that Google feeds search results too (such as AOL.com, Earthlink.com, Comcast.net, and so on), and Google is responsible for about 67 percent of all searches.

Bing is responsible for around another 30 percent of searches, including the results it feeds to Yahoo!.

Ask.com is often included in the list of the top search engines; but it’s only responsible for a couple of percent.

Don’t forget, however, that not all searches occur at regular “search engines”; people often search for information at video sites, social-networking sites, online stores, and the like. For instance, billions of searches are carried out every month at YouTube.com, Craigslist.com, Facebook.com, eBay.com, and Amazon.com. So if you sell products, focusing purely on the regular search engines is a big mistake; most “product” searches are carried out elsewhere.

How to Use Basic On-Page Search Engine Optimization Techniques

When the search engines look at your pages to figure out what they’re all about, you can in effect tell them what the page is about. You get the most out of search engine optimization by putting keywords into the pages, in the right pages. Following are a few basic search-engine optimization techniques for your webpages.

Say that you’re optimizing for the phrase rodent racing. Here are a few tips for where to place this text:

  • The page’s filename and path — the URL — is very important. Get keywords in there. Don’t waste this prime real estate. You might have something like this: http://www.yourdomain.com/rodent-racing-scores.html

  • The page’s <TITLE></TITLE> tags are also very important. You should make sure you include keywords, like this: <TITLE>Rodent Racing - Looking after Your Rodents, Feeding Them, Everything You Need to Know</TITLE>

  • The description tag is important, though not always for search-results placement; Google says it doesn’t use the tag to help rank your page. However, the tag will often appear in the search results page, so make sure that it contains good keywords, but also consider that it’s a sales pitch, encouraging searchers to click your link rather than someone else’s. For instance: <META NAME="description" CONTENT="Rodent Racing - Scores, Schedules, Everything Rodent Racing. Mouse Racing, Stoat Racing, Rat Racing, Gerbil Racing. The Web's Top Rodent Racing Systems and Racing News">

  • Despite what you may have heard, the KEYWORDS meta tag holds little value; search engines either ignore it or give it very little weight. Use it, but don’t spend much time on it. Put a few basic keywords in there.

  • Headings on your pages are valuable. They should contain keywords and should be formatted in a manner that tells the search engines that they actually are headings; use <H> tags. Use an <H1> tag at the top and then use <H2> and <H3> tags lower on the page.

  • Use keywords in your image filenames and in the image tag’s ALT text. For example: <IMG SRC="rodent-racing-1.jpg" ALT="Rodent Racing - Ratty Winners of our Latest Rodent Racing Event">. Using ALT text is particularly important when creating image links to other pages on your site, as it tells the search engines what the referenced page is about.

  • Wherever possible, use text links. Search engines read the anchor text in the links to find out what the page the link points to is about. If you need lots of links in your site, use good keywords in those links.

  • Repeat your keywords . . . but not too much. If you want a page to rank well for rodent racing, then it also needs to appear a few times throughout the body text. But if it sounds clumsy, you’ve overdone it.

  • Draw attention to keywords in your body text. Make them bold; put them in bulleted lists, or make them italic.

Here’s the ideal optimized page:

You used the keywords in the filename

. . . and in the <TITLE></TITLE> tags

. . . and in the DESCRIPTION meta tag

. . . and in the page’s first <H1> tag

. . . and perhaps in some subheadings

. . . and multiple times throughout the body of the page

You have the keywords in links, elsewhere in your site, pointing to the page.

You have the keywords in links, on other websites, pointing to the page.

How to Get the Most Out of Site Links

To make the most out of search optimization, every site needs at least a few links pointing to it. If the keywords you want to rank well for are very competitive — lots of other people want to rank well for them, too — you’ll need lots of links pointing to your site, and lots of links containing those keywords in them.

Links help your pages in a number of ways:

  • Links make it more likely that the search engines will find the pages — and more often. The more links, the quicker the site is likely to be indexed, and the more often the search engines will revisit.

  • Links provide an indication of value. More links means your site is more valuable. A link is, in effect, a vote for your site. Better still, links from other valuable sites provide more value. In effect, links from popular sites provide more “votes” than those from less popular ones.

Google uses a complicated algorithm called PageRank to figure out the value of your page; you can see an indication of the general range in which your PageRank lies using the Google toolbar.

In HTML a link tag is known as an anchor tag (<a href=www.yahoo.com>This is a link to Yahoo</a> , where <a means anchor). So you’ll hear people talk about anchor text, which is the text between the two anchor tags <a>This is the anchor text</a>

Putting keywords into anchor text in links pointing to your site is a very powerful way of telling the search engines what your site is about. These links tell the search engines that your site is related to Rodent Racing: <a href=www.yourdomain.com>Rodent Racing</a>

Don’t let anyone tell you that low-PageRank pages hold no value. Put lots of well keyworded links on low-PageRank pages and you’re still telling the search engines what your site is about. Even links inside your own site tell search engines what the pages they point to are related to, so make sure you have plenty of keyworded links inside your site.

Links from related sites may be more valuable than links from non-related. But as there’s no way to know for sure if a link is “related,” don’t let anyone tell you that links from nonrelated sites hold no value; it’s simply not true.

Here’s another linking concept: TrustRank. The idea is that search engines trust pages that are linked to from trusted sites. Thus links from newspapers, government sites, educational sites, and so on can provide more value than normal.

In addition, keep the following pointers in mind:

  • Links are not always links!

  • nofollow links tell the search engines not to follow them. You’ll see this in the link: <a href=www.yourdomain.com rel="nofollow">Rodent Racing</a>

  • Links sometimes appear to link to a particular site, but actually work through some kind of redirect, like adserver software, and so do not pass value to the referenced site

  • If a link to your site is on a page that isn’t indexed by a search engine, then it does you no good!

How to Use Local Search for Local Businesses

If you have a business that provides goods and services in a particular location, then Local Search is hugely important to you. Wouldn’t it be great if your business was one of the “pins” in the map at the top of the search results?

The local-search indexes are separate from the regular organic search information. The search engines gather this data from various business-record sources. But you can modify and add to the data, and in fact doing so is one of the most important things you can do to help yourself rank well in local search:

  • In Google, click the More or Reviews links to go to the business page; then, click the Business owner? link at the top of the page. You’ll have to verify that you are the owner of the business (by a code sent to your business phone, or a postcard sent to the location). Add as much data as possible; information about your products and services, pictures, videos, and so on. Use all the important keywords!

  • Do the same for Bing and Yahoo! (Yahoo! gets regular search results from Bing, but manages its own Local-search index.)

  • Consider also submitting to UBL.org, which will forward your data to dozens of other local-search systems.

Keep track of your reviews and encourage your customers to submit reviews. The local-search systems often display star ratings in the search results, so having 5 stars can encourage people to click on the link to your information.

How to Submit Pages to the Search Engines

You've probably seen submission services advertised, perhaps in the form of spam in your inbox, offering to submit your website to hundreds of search engines, over and over. In most cases these submission services are a total waste of time and money. Here's how to get your website into the search engines.

  • You must have links pointing to your website. If other sites don't care enough about yours to link to it, why should the search engines care enough to index it? The more links, the better.

  • Use a sitemap tool (such as XML-Sitemaps.com) to create an XML sitemap and put it in the root of your website. The XML sitemap is, in effect, an index of all the pages in your site.

  • XML-Sitemaps.com and others provide a free tool for creating sitemaps on small sites and also sell software that will automatically create a sitemap each night, for example.

  • In your robots.txt file, add a line pointing to your XML sitemap, like this: Sitemap: http://www.yourdomain.com/sitemap.xml

  • Create Google and Bing Webmaster accounts; you'll use these to submit information about your site. Not only is this the preferred method for letting them know about your site, they'll give you lots of interesting information about how they view your site:

  • Verify or authenticate your site with Google and Bing Webmaster consoles; you'll do that by placing a small text file in the root of your website, or a special meta-tag in your home page. After you've done that, you can access the reports about your site that both Google and Bing provide.

  • Don't forget to spend some time looking at all the information the Webmaster accounts provide you. For example, Google shows you your sitelinks — the small links that sometimes appear under your listing, when it appears at the top of the search results. Google even allows you to block some of the sitelinks, if you don't like them.

  • You may also want to submit to various directories. These are the two most important directories:

  • You may also want to submit to local directories or directories related to your particular industry. Search Google or Bing for directories or go to Yahoo! directory and look for Web directories in each category.

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