Search engine optimization (SEO) is a vital part of website design and marketing. A properly optimized website will allow web crawlers to properly index your website for search engines (such as Google, Yahoo!, Ask, and Bing) so that your site appears prominently in the search engine results pages, or SERPs. Four of the primary areas of consideration for SEO are:
1. The Appearance and Usability of Your Website for Visitors
Search engines can track how many visitors your site has, how long they stay on your site before clicking elsewhere, and how often they return. All of these play a role in how well your website performs in search results.
Considering this, it is essential that your site be optimized not only for search engine web crawlers but also for human visitors. If your visitors find that your site is easy to navigate, contains useful content, and can provide value on an ongoing basis, that will be reflected positively in the SERPs.
This also means that you must keep your site active. If a search engine discovers that your website is neglected for long periods of time and grows stale – especially in comparison to other sites offering similar content – visitors will stop returning and your site will sink in the SERPs. Regularly updating your site with new content, on the other hand, can enable your site to ascend the rankings.
2. The Quality of the Content Contained on Your Website
More and more, search engines are attempting to direct searchers to websites that contain quality content. Providing good content optimized with the keywords and phrases that searchers might use can boost your site’s performance in the SERPs and draw more visitors. If your site is filled with advertising or riddled with spelling or grammatical errors, however, it will negatively impact your site’s performance.
The uniqueness of your content is also an important factor. This is true now more than ever, and continues to grow in importance with every update to search engine search results ranking algorithms. If your site is found to contain duplicate, near-duplicate, or spun content when compared to other websites, it will lessen your site’s value, at least in the judgment of the dominant search engines. Whether you create your own original content or hire others to do it for you, it is a SEO necessity that your site be unique.
Additionally, considering the problem of content scrapers (which will steal your content to use it on other sites), it is recommended that you regularly post new content. You should also take precautions to limit those who might steal your content. For example, you can limit the amount of content contained in your RSS feed. You can also file a DMCA complaint whenever you discover a content thief.
3. The Traffic Your Website Attracts and Maintains
A well optimized website will entice visitors to revisit your site periodically. This can be a signal to search engines that your site has been deemed useful by its users. If these users add links to your site from their own websites, that will also add weight to your site’s importance.
You can increase your website’s traffic and the number of links to it in a variety of ways:
• First, you can include your URL in any comments you make on blogs. If the blog applies a “no follow” tag to its comments, however, it will not be counted as a link to your site.
• Second, you can submit articles as an “expert” to be posted on another reputable website. Typically, sites will permit you to include a short bio containing a link to your site.
• Third, you can submit your URL for inclusion in relevant online directories.
Beware, however, of unethical link exchanges or purchases, as these will harm your ranking, possibly even resulting in a ban from selected search engines.
4. The Technical Elements of Your Website
In contrast to the early days of SEO, search engines today want to see sites that are designed more for the user than for web crawlers. Thus, the usability and quality of your site are of primary importance. There are, however, some SEO elements that remain a bit more technical. While these elements do contain value for visitors, they are generally intended more for the benefit of web crawlers. These elements include:
• An XML Sitemap and robots.txt file. These can each assist web crawlers as they index your site.
• Page titles containing keywords. These are the titles that are inserted into the HTML code and appear in the bar or tab at the top of your Internet browser.
• Effective text formatting that incorporates heading tags. The formatting you use, which can also enhance your user’s experience, can emphasize your keywords to search engines.
• Alternate descriptions for images and videos. Though many users will never even notice your alternate descriptions contained within your HTML code, they can reap rewards in terms of SEO.
• URLs containing recognizable and relevant words for searchers. Using real words rather than codes or non-descriptive terms will make your URLs more memorable and can also be another way to incorporate keywords.
• A custom 404 “page not found” error page. This will show that you are concerned about your visitors experience with your website. The 404 page should be consistent with the rest of your site and can provide a link to your root page, an HTML Sitemap, and other important sections of your site.
Invest the time and effort to apply SEO to your website. It can make the difference between your site’s success and failure. Though there are no guarantees, an optimized site has the potential to climb the SERPs and achieve a prominent position at or near the top. This greater visibility typically translates into a greater number of visitors, which in turn enables you to market your product, promote your message, and share your opinions more effectively.