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Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

21st Century Snake Oil

April 23, 2008
Have good content and keep it coming! Content is king because that is the very point of search engines. We search to find content. So sites with good quality content become valuable to search engines.

In the middle ages they had alchemy. In the 19th century they had snake oil. Today we have Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The latest in miracle cures for what ails your website.

SEO is not a short term fix, it is a long term strategy.

Like every other instantaneous fix to every other problem you've seen, SEO is not exactly as advertised. Let us start by saying that on the web content is king. And in case you missed it, on the web CONTENT IS KING. Don't believe us? Look at the sites that are popular, the LinkedIn's, the YouTubes's, the MySpace's, the Google's of the world. What do they all have in common? Content that people want.

So what exactly is SEO? SEO is a practice that allows you to optimize your website and it's content to achieve a higher ranking in natural searches on search engines like Google.

Sounds simple, so why do we say it is snake oil?

First, NO ONE KNOWS exactly how search engines like Google determine page rank. There is much speculation and some pretty good theories and ideas about how the various search engines work but search engines are constantly improving their methodologies, and they are also constantly defending against exploitations of their formula by unscrupulous SEO firms.

Second, SEO is quite simple yet there are firms out there who charge as much to optimize your site as it would cost to develop the site from scratch.

Finally, there are two kinds of SEO strategies out there, white hat and black hat. We'll discuss white hat strategies below. Black hat strategies involve questionable methods that are often risky and unethical. Black hat strategies seek to exploit loopholes or unethically alter search results. The thing to remember about this is that using these methods may result in a temporary bump in ranking but will ultimately lead to getting your site banned and removed from search engines altogether.

White Hat Strategies
So what's a webmaster to do? Here are the basic strategies that you can use to enhance your search ranking and not spend much more than time. And remember, whatever happens with any of the items below, be sure to make Google happy.

  1. Have good content and keep it coming
    Content is king because that is the very point of search engines. We search to find content. So sites with good quality content become valuable to search engines.

  2. Do what is right
    Don't resort to unethical short-term strategies. Develop a long-term vision for your site and your content. Don't just rely on natural searches but use your site and your content plan to drive your marketing. How is your website reinforcing your print efforts and vice versa. How are you using e-blasting to remind people about your business?

  3. Optimize the content you do have

    1. Titles
      It's such a simple thing, but how you title your pages plays a huge role in search results. In fact your title often forms the link that search engines display in their results. Don't be overly clever, use titles that search engines and visitors will understand.

    2. Use the right words
      If you want people to find you for certain terms and types of business, then use those words in your content. What's more, have content on your site that demonstrates your expertise in these areas.

  4. Inbound links
    Google and other search engines are largely driven by links to your site. It's quite simple, if other people and other sites say you are the place to go for a piece of information then when someone asks Google it says the same thing.

    1. General links should be bona-fide
      Be careful with this. One of the things that can get you in trouble is taking part in “link farms” that arbitrarily link to your site to alter page rank. Links should come from real people with real sites who really think your page and your site is worthwhile.

    2. Links from respected relevant sources
      Links to your site are powerful, but in the last year or two search engines are starting to note when an expert or a community of experts say you are important. So if you sell healthcare products, having links from prominent healthcare sites to yours are doubly important.

    3. Growth of inbound links to your site
      if linking is important then the continued growth of sites linking to you is also important.

  5. Have a site that works
    this is a big one, and will be the subject of an upcoming article. But in short, don't waste time and money on gadgets, graphics and sizzle. Use technologies like Flash, Javascript, User Accounts, Java and other potential barriers appropriately.

    1. text, copy, words
      your content should be words, not images, not flash. Don't let so called brand concerns make your site unreadable by search engines. Your brand should be expansive enough to include proper online content. A brand that cripples your website is a brand problem.

    2. valid html
      be sure your site is standards compliant and works in as many web browsers as possible.

    3. no flash
      Although it is fun and can add some real sizzle the same problem remains as the day flash was initially launched. Search engines cannot read content in flash and therefore flash based pages are virtually blank to search engines. We wish Macromedia had addressed this and we wish Adobe would now. But to date flash remains a significant barrier to SEO.

    4. no excessive use of javascript
      similar to flash, excessive and inappropriate use of javascript in the interest of being clever can result in your site being incompletely cataloged by search engines.

    5. content not images
      Using images for things like content titles was passé by the late 1990s. Content should be text, not images. What’s more, be sure that all of the photos and graphics on your site contain useful alt tags which will also aid in SEO.

  6. Fundamental Tags and Meta-Tags
    Don't worry if you don't know what any of the items below are. Simply know that your website's content should make use of them. Important words and content should be in these tags to help search engines understand the importance of your pages.

    1. Title
    2. H1 – H6
    3. Meta-Keyword
    4. Meta-Description

After you have done all of the items above, you can begin to think about investing money into AdWords, pay per click, and other similar web strategies. But until you have done the items above even paying for placement won't be as successful. So get back to the basics and you'll find that a large part of the SEO battle will happen naturally.

It goes without saying that a tool like GEEKPAK can help you with SEO. Not only does it help you quickly and easily add new content, but it does so in a way that meets most of the criteria discussed above. If that's still not enough, GEEKPAK also contains an SEO module that you can add to give you even more granular control over how search engines see your site.

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