Dave Woods - Freelance Web Design Warwickshire

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is an important part of the web design process but it’s still amazing to see that so many web designers overlook it or don’t understand the basics.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be going into a little more depth and detail about how you can improve the performance of a website in the search engine result pages (SERPs) but today I’ll go over a few basic things that you can change on your site itself that will improve your rankings.


On page factors

A lot of novice web designers who don’t understand the search engine optimization process often over complicate things by including things like back links and PR from day one without actually understanding what they need to do from a web design perspective to give their site a fighting chance to begin with.

There’s many on page factors that can improve a website’s position in the search engines so I’ll be touching on a few of these areas that will have the biggest influence to sites like Google, Yahoo, MSN and ASK.

Metatags

Back when search engine’s first came into use. Metatags were an important factor of determining how well a site was ranked. However, due to these being abused and words being used that may not relate to the actual content of the site most search engines no longer use the metatags for ranking purposes.

It’s still worth including meta-keywords for those that do use them and meta-description as this is displayed by some search engines as the snippet in their results pages but spending any significant time on this these days is a waste.

Spend no longer than about ten minutes setting your meta-tags up as there’s much more important factors involved nowadays that will influence rankings.

URL

The address of the web page is extremely important to search engines. A domain name with a specific key phrase will significantly help a page to rank well. Failing that, using a folder structure with names relating to the particular content and key phrases is a great way to go and the major search engines will certainly use this as a factor within their search engine results pages.

Title

After the URL, the <title> attribute is probably the next most important factor. Many novices who understand a little about search engine optimization will use the title attribute to include lots of variations of different keywords as they believe the more keywords they can get in here the better.

However, not only will this look like spam to users of the site it can also have the opposite effect to the one desired. Think of the title attribute as a percentage and the more keywords that are including within the title, the more diluted it becomes.

Using a 3 or 4 word key phrase for your title will usually be much more effective and descriptive of the page and in my experience I’ve found it to be much more beneficial when it comes to ranking.

Headings

h1, h2 etc are all used for headings of the page content and the same theory applies to these as was described in the previous section. Using heading’s that are descriptive and concise to the content without being overly descriptive will get picked out by the likes of Google.

Anchor text

When we talk about anchor text, we’re describing the content that is provided within a link. Using good descriptive text is not only good for search engine optimization but will also have the benefit of making the site usable by ensuring it’s easy for your users to understand where the link will take them, whilst it’s also good for accessibility.

Content

And finally, one of the factors that many novices over look is the actual content on the page. A search engine spider will read the entire content of a web page and decide based on words within that page, what the content is about and which key phrases it’s likely to relate to.

The content shouldn’t be used as a way of stuffing keywords into the content as your users will obviously have to read this too but making sure that the words your focusing on appear a few times in the text as well as using variations of these key words is important.

Summary

You may be reading this and thinking, “well duh” but the basics of search engine optimization aren’t that difficult. If web standards and semantics are used along with a little common sense then improving your SERPs by improving the on page factors isn’t rocket science.

A little thought about which key words you should be targeting and good use of semantic markup can go a long way to improving your site’s performance in the search engines.


6 comments on “Search Engine Optimization Basics

  1. Joseph

    Dave –
    I’ve beaten myself ragged writing meta tags that didn’t seem to help my SEO efforts. Also, using .htaccess files to rewrite URLs to more SEO friendly names really has helped my database-driven sites. Thanks for the concise list.

  2. Jermayn Parker

    Yeah I personally would not worry about meta tags either, so yesterday 😆

    how you write your URL is a big factor. The title, headings, anchor text etc is for the user but the URL is for the computer. If you use WP I would definately suggest some suggestions etc with using the slug (url) etc

    Looking forward to your seo articles though 😀

  3. Joe Hepperle

    Everything you wrote here is enlightening and refreshing. Your premise is that many web site owners do a terrible job at SEO. But, I’m not sure how you arrived at that conclusion — even though you have clearly described what they are doing wrong. Here’s the LOGIC problem: If they have bad SEO, how would you know? In theory, all of ‘their’ pages would be listed way back at result number 435,587 or result number 1,329. Did you surf all the way back to the end of a particular search result to get examples of ‘bad’ SEO pages? By the way, when Google et al. say there are 2,345,987 results for ‘Hobnobbing with the Rich’, I think they are lying. Have you ever tried to go to result number 23,497 or any result past 2 or 3 hundred? Can’t be done! They don’t exist! I think they proportionately multiply the actual number of results by some formula to end up with extremely large numbers that are proportionately correlative to the actual, lower, number of real results. Am I a whacko or what?

  4. Dave Post author

    Hi Joe,

    I arrived at that conclusion, not from looking at Google’s search results but simply through experience of browsing the web.

    Often when visiting a site, I’ll be curious to see how the site is built and the code used and a simple look into the source code is all it takes to satisfy my curiosity.

    It’s here that it’s clearly obvious that many of the sites I visit don’t use all or sometimes any of the methods I’ve described above.

    I agree that Google doesn’t necessarily show all the results that it claims but I believe this is an initial estimate and it also emits any results that are similar to those returned which could explain the inaccuracy.

  5. nitinpai

    Dave,

    You say,

    The address of the web page is extremely important to search engines. A domain name with a specific key phrase will significantly help a page to rank well. Failing that, using a folder structure with names relating to the particular content and key phrases is a great way to go and the major search engines will certainly use this as a factor within their search engine results pages.

    … but I just was surprised to see thr URL of this post itself. Aren’t your contradicting yourself? 😀

  6. Dave Post author

    Yeah well spotted. The issue I have is that my current host don’t currently support mod_rewrite and the php methods I’ve attempted to integrate into WordPress don’t seem to work all that well.

    So… my next task is to find another host 🙂