Demystifying Search Engine Optimization: Part 2

By Jennifer Shaheen | Posted April 11, 2008

Last month in Part 1, we looked at the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and touched on the significance of how you code your Web site. Let’s dig a little deeper into how your Web site setup can increase your rankings in the search engines.

Cleaning Up Your Code

Kathy Fealy of KF Multimedia & Web, Inc., reminded us to emphasize keywords through the use of heading tags like <h1>, but it is important to understand that controlling the structure and emphasis of your page should be done by using cascading style sheets (CSS).

Style sheets, as developers call them, let you control the code and determine how the text appears on your page. This also lets you reduce the amount of HTML code on your Web page. Cleaning up code is an important strategy of starting a project.

Cleaning code doesn't refer just to HTML, but also applies to JavaScript code and Flash. Sites with fewer bells and whistles are much easier to optimize – and search engines give them preference. Sites that use Flash can't be optimized at all. Search engines look for – and assign higher ranking to – sites that have relevant information that related to keywords.

Link Building

Relevancy not only relates to the content on your site, it also has to do with the Web sites that link back to your site. Dov Weinstock of SalemGlobal Internet says that in-bound links must be relevant to the content on your Web site. He recommends looking for links through directories or community-based organizations.

"Facebook is great place to start," he said. "Connect with people who align with your services and look to build links with them. Blogs, shared video and other Web 2.0 tools can be a great starting place."

Building links with other sites is important, but according to Michael Coppola of Path Interactive, "You should build the links to the pages [on your site] that have similar keywords. Don't always back to your home page," he said.

When planning your link strategy, you need to identify whether paying provides real value or not. While you might be tempted by the many ads offering to sell you links, don't fall for it.

Typically those are links to sites that have nothing in common with yours – and that won't help you rank any better with the search engines – in fact, search engines will penalize you (i.e., decrease your ranking or stop ranking you altogether) for linking to unrelated sites.

"Credible links can come through industry associations and many times you do need to pay for membership," said Coppola. "Some paid directories, like BestoftheWeb.com, are legitimate sources, or you can pay for link in the Yahoo directory. Non-paid links in free directories, like Open directories are also helpful."

Sites that sell products online should consider submitting their sites and database content to shopping comparison sites. Fealy recommends sites like Shopping.com, Pricegrabber.com or Become.com. "Each site works differently and may charge for this service, but it will help build traffic and relevant links to your Web site," she said.

How do you know what other Web sites are linking to your site? Go to Google or Yahoo and type in: link:http://www.yourdomain.com, and the search engine will show you, according to its database, who links to you. 

You need to keep in mind that each engine differs, and that you may find that Yahoo shows more links to your site than Google. "Each search engine has different standards, and it may be that a site hasn't been indexed yet. If the Web site's new, search engines can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to list it," said Fealy.

Coppola added, "Search engines all have different ways they crawl a site. It may take the crawler time to come back. The more you make links and changes to your site the more frequently they crawl your site."

Tracking Your Rank

If you’re going to implement search engine optimization into your Web marketing strategy, than you need to know how your Web site measures up on the search engines. Various tools let you evaluate SEO results – our experts recommend these applications:

Get to Know the Search Engines

Understanding that each engine has its own set of rules and guidelines for compliance is one of the keys to success with search engine optimization. You need to learn each company’s rules and how to avoid violating their policies.

Weinstock recommends reading the search engines policies and monitor any changes to them. "Search engines are in the business of providing the best results, so they can change the algorithms they use. That may cause a policy change and further effect the position of your Web site," he said.

Fealy found that having an account at Google Webmaster Central to be very helpful. "This free tool lets you verify your site, and Google communicates with you about penalties," she said.

SEO is an element to a Web-marketing strategy and you can’t expect to see results within the first month. Fealy said it best, "Patience is a major component to success, and without a plan you will not have the desired long term results."

Jennifer Shaheen, the eMarketing and Technology Therapist, has more ten years experience working with small to mid-sized businesses on their eMarketing and Web-development needs. You can learn more about her by visiting her Web site, TechnologyTherapy.com

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!


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