Wednesday, January 18, 2006

SEO - Search Engine Optimization Ranking Tips

Search Engine Criteria

The first thing that you need to know is that most of the major search engines utilize an algorithm to determine where a website ranks. The search engines have setup specific criteria that a website must meet to get to the top of the list. The criteria are different for every engine, but all engines share several commonalities. It all boils down to the type and amount of content provided on a given website, the level of optimization done on the site, and the popularity of the website (link popularity/PageRank). Below we examine these commonalities in more detail.

Understanding Keywords and Search Behavior

In order to rank a website, you must first identify and understand your target audience. Keywords can tell you a lot about the type of user that will be potentially visiting your website. Many times it is best to consult an optimization professional during this process. Most individuals can determine which keywords are best for their website, if they are using the right tools, which are readily available.

The difficult task if determining which keywords are most relevant, and realistic to optimize for. One must also determine which keywords to optimize for on the various pages. Search engine optimization is often referred to as "an art," and this is a perfect example of where it takes a professional's touch to achieve the best results. When competing for any keyword, you can be sure that there is anywhere from 100,000 to 100,000,000+ websites competing against you. Proper keyword targeting is crucial for a successful search engine marketing and optimization campaign.

The first thing to realize when targeting keywords is that it is not all about ranking for the most popular keyword. The most successful search engine marketing and optimization campaigns target the most relevant keywords. As an example, Hal's Auto Dealership in Wisconsin will probably never rank for the keyword "car." You must realize that the top 500+ results for the keyword "car" all have a much larger web presence when compared to Hal's Auto Dealership. Hal's Auto Dealership would be much better suited targeting keywords like "car dealership in Wisconsin," "used cars in Wisconsin," "new cars in Wisconsin," and the like.

There are several tools available from Google, Overture, and third party software developers that can make the keyword research process easier. utilizes a combination of these tools and others that have been licensed to create a professional analysis for our clients.

Content, Content, Content

Again, thinking at the algorithm level, how do search engines rank websites? The answer is quite simple: Those who have superior content rule. The phrase "content is king" was born about 4 years ago, and it still holds true today. If you want to be relevant for specific keywords, than you need superior or at least highly competitive content. With that said if you want to rank for a slew of different keyword phrases, than realize that you require a slew of relevant content. On average, one can target between 3-5 like keyword phrases per page.

This is another example of where a search engine optimization professional can lend some expertise. An expert can help determine what content you need, when compared to the type of keywords that you want to target. is one of many firms that offer this type of consulting.

Are you Optimized?

Now that you have determined the keyword you need to rank for, and you have the right amount of content in place, you need to optimize your website to stand out from the crowd. Regarding on-page scripting the search engines are really looking for 2 things: 1) keywords in the Meta and Title fields and 2) keywords in the body of your website.

Regarding Meta Tags there are 2 very important fields:

1) Title Tag - arguably the most important SEO tag for any website. Google, Fast/Alltheweb/Lycos, and Ask Jeeves support approx. 60 characters in the title, while Inktomi and Altavista allows for up to 110 characters in the title. It is important to target the most critical keywords in the Title. Every page should have a unique Title.

2) META Description Tag - also very important for every page on the site. Some engines do display the description defined, while others do not. All search engines do read the description tag, and do utilize the content found within in the ranking process. A good rule of thumb is to create descriptions that do not exceed 200-250 characters.

The META keyword Tag is essentially useless in today's SEO market, but is often times good to utilize as a placeholder for the keywords targeted.

The other optimization element to keep in mind is body content. Search engines are looking for dense content, with the right amount of keyword density and/or keyword placement. Depending on the architecture of a specific website, one may consider various means of placing keywords within body content. Typically it is best to place body content within a viewable area of the website. However, some websites may be graphic intense or within frames, or flash. In this scenario you will need to place keywords in ALT Tags, or No-Script tags.

Keep in mind that if you are following the rules published at the various search engines, that you must provide relevant content at all times, and it is always best to show all content to users that you show search engines.

At the end of the day, you must provide spiders with the keywords you want to rank in a variety of places, including META tags, Title, ALT Tags, Body content, links, etc. Enlisting the help of a professional is often times the most economical means of accomplishing these various nuances.

Are you popular?

So now you have determined the right keywords on the right pages, you've created all of the necessary content; you've optimized all of the content to the best of your capabilities. Congratulations - you're now in the top 80 percentile (from an optimization standpoint) of the websites listed for the keywords you're trying to target. So how do you get a 1st, 2nd, or 3rd page listing? The answer is quite simple: You have to be the most popular too. That's right, it's a popularity contest. In other words, how many other websites know you (link to you), and how popular are they?

This is typically referred to as link popularity, or called PageRank by Google. Every algorithm uses a different form of link popularity, PageRank being the most sought after because of the enormous Google network. Essentially, every website is given a score somewhere between a 0 and a 10. Google and a small handful of other sites on the web score a 10 - which is a perfect and absolutely unattainable score. You need a high score to target popularly searched keywords.

Consulting an expert here is almost mandatory for success.

Paid Inclusion

Once your site if fully optimized you'll need to submit to the engines, or pay the engines to guarantee that you will be indexed into their database. Paid Inclusion doesn't mean better rankings, but it does mean you are guaranteed the chance to rank because you will be listed in the databases. Currently you can perform Paid Inclusion with Inktomi, Altavista, Fast Search/Alltheweb/Lycos, Altavista, and Ask Jeeves. can provide Paid Inclusion services, and does incorporate Paid Inclusion into many of its Search Engine Optimization and Placement packages.