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Search engine optimization & submission strategies - a beginners guide

(Originally published May 2002, last updated April 2010)

If you're new to the sometimes confusing world of getting listed on search engines, this guide will provide you with basic information and tips about ranking well on search engines that provide organic (free) listings. 

Need to learn about  search engine ranking and optimization strategies or want to monitor the SEO health of your web sites (and those of your competitors)? One of the most comprehensive set of online search engine optimization tools around -  SEOMOZ.


Search engine optimization is a term that has been around for a long time, but many people still do not properly understand the concept. It's only been in the last couple of years that general awareness has been raised somewhat, but also with many associated misconceptions.

Search engine optimization is not rocket science

Regardless of what you may have read from companies attempting to sell products that promise a no.1 ranking, there is no real secret to ranking well by playing by the rules. What it does require is time.

Doing anything outside a search engine's recommended guidelines might see you ranking well for a while, but in the end you'll likely end up with your site penalised or banned - and that can be forever.

"White Hat" search engine optimization is not about scamming or fooling search engine "spiders" (the software used by the companies to crawl through your site and index it). It's about making the best of what you have and making what you have the best. 

"Grey hat" optimization is using techniques that are sometimes just inside the boundaries of what search engine companies consider good practice. 

"Black hat" optimization is pretty much about tricking search engines - strategies you shouldn't risk unless you can afford to get banned altogether and as such, something I don't really get involved with.

Much of the white hat optimization is about content. Solid content is still king - the more valuable information you have, presented correctly, the more that other sites will link to you - but you need to let other sites know about your content. These inbound links, known as backlinks, are given great importance in ranking calculations as is the search engine's own "opinion" of your content.

Tried and true optimization techniques

The following is a list of tried and true strategies for increasing your profile in search engine rankings - stick by these to begin with before trying the more exotic strategies, and remember - don't gamble what you can't afford to lose. 

Content is king

A well worn term, but of critical importance. Provide valuable information, lots of it, ensure that is relevant to your subject and that it contains popular keywords and phrases in relation to your topic or industry. Learn more about selecting good keywords

Relevant file and folder names

Using relevant file and folder names not only helps you to quickly identify a page when maintaining your file base, but also does provide a bit of ranking juice. Learn more about file and folder naming issues.

Ensure you use correct meta tags

Meta tags are the sections of your HTML that provide direction and information for search engine robots. To get the best rankings possible in some search engines, be sure to use unique keywords, description and title tags every web page, with the latter being the most important. Meta description and keyword tags are not viewable to Internet users unless they examine the source code of your pages. 

For further information on these aspects of optimization, read our articles on meta tags and title tags.

Formatting your text

It's important to use heading tags (h1, h2 etc.), bolding and italicizing in your content - just don't overdo it. Apply them as you would in a hard copy report. 

Use heading tags for breaking up your page content into subject areas - it's not only good for search engines, it's kinder to your visitors as well. Use bolding and italicizing for emphasizing key points, preferably words that are related to queries you wish to rank well for.

Inbound links

The more "right" sites you can have linking to you, the higher you will be ranked in some of the major engines. In fact, a site without inbound links is liable to never do well. Also link out to other sites in your genre, bearing in mind that not all links are created equal - beware of linking to bad neighborhoods.

Try and exchange links with other quality sites which are *relevant* to yours ; but don't become a link farm; i.e a site with little content compared to the number of link pages. Search engines can detect this type of activity. Aim to be linked from popular sites if you can. Learn more about link exchange strategies.

It's also becoming increasingly important that the anchor text of incoming links is relevant as this relevancy will also effect your rankings on some engines. For further details on this aspect, read our tutorial on anchor text optimization.

Alt text for images

Search engines can't read images, so ensure that descriptive "alt" text is added to your image coding. Some sample coding:

<img border="0" src="../images/iconarticle1.gif" alt="Article section - Web development, eCommerce and site promotion tutorials " width="50" height="50"> 

Be careful not to go overboard with your alt text - this is known as keyword stuffing. For the best results, ensure your images are linked to relevant pages.

Page loading speed

It was announced by Google in 2010 that page speed would be one of their new ranking signals. While not as important as some of the aspects mentioned above, optimizing web page speed isn't just good for giving you a bit of edge in your rankings, but your visitors will appreciate it too.

Keep your site fresh

While old content can rank well for years, adding fresh content regularly not only helps to create "stickiness" (return visits) but also acts as a signal to search engines your site isn't one of the millions of abandoned sites that litter the Internet. Some believe it acts as a signal of relevancy to search engines. 

Get social

It's not hugely important, but establishing a presence on social networks such as Twitter and Facebook can help lift your profile among users and search engines. Maintaining a Twitter account and using Facebook fan pages as a marketing tool doesn't have to be a time consuming exercise. Also offer social bookmarking features on your site to make it easier for visitors to spread the word about your content - remember that more inbound links can certainly help with your rankings. A free and very easy to implement tool for doing this is available from AddThis.

Target your optimization efforts 

Just as your site's content should be focused, so should your search engine optimization strategies initially. Submit to all engines, but focus on gaining high rankings on Google, before turning your attention to Yahoo or Bing. Bear in mind too that Yahoo will start using Bing results sometime in 2010.

If you try and optimize for all from the outset, you may only achieve mediocre rankings across the board. The difference between No.1 position and No.5 position can literally translate into tens of thousands of dollars of income a year. 

It's my view that most site owners should focus on Google as it has around 67% of the market share and the only other two real players at present are Yahoo and MSN (now known as Bing). If you focus on Google, chances are you'll do okay on Yahoo and Bing.

Frames are evil 

Framed sites can be optimized for search engines, but it is very, very time consuming. If your reason for using frames is to make the editing of common elements such as menus a simpler task, consider implementing server side includes (SSI) or FrontPage Includes as an alternative. You can learn more about these elements, plus other search engine friendly elements that can also save you time in our article about web site upgrades

Can't get ranked or listed?

If you've observed all of the above, but still aren't having any luck with getting listed, try my article: "Why some sites aren't listed on search engines".

Current search engine URL submission overview

The following is a brief rundown on the major engines/indexes - and there really are only 3 these days - Google, Yahoo and Bing. 

In most cases these days, you don't need to submit to the major engines as they'll find you as long as you're linked to from somewhere, but it doesn't hurt to do a manual submission for a new site.

Google search free listing

To add your web site to Google for their free listings; use this page:

http://www.google.com/addurl.html 

Yahoo search free listing

To submit your site for free (but you'll need a Yahoo email account):

http://siteexplorer.search.yahoo.com/free/submit

MSN (Bing) free listing:

This is an important one as Bing will be supplying Yahoo with search results very soon.

Free submission form:

http://www.bing.com/docs/submit.aspx 

Further Learning Resources

The following articles, guides and tutorials will assist you with developing a search engine optimization strategy. Nearly a hundred other Internet marketing, web site development and promotion articles are listed on the following pages:

Optimization tutorials

General site marketing tutorials

Michael Bloch
Taming the Beast
http://www.tamingthebeast.net 
Tutorials, web content, tools and software.
Web Marketing, Internet Development & Ecommerce Resources
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In the interests of transparency and disclosure, please note that the owner of Taming the Beast.net often receives goods and services mentioned in reviews for free, or may receive payments or affiliate commissions for advertising or referring others to merchants of products and services reviewed.

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