Basics of Search Engine Optimization–Learn or Die
White-hat & Black-hat SEO
In SEO parlance, white-hat describes SEO performed in a proper and legitimate way. This means adding quality content that people will actually want to read or see. Adding quality content to your website causes people to spend more time looking at your pages, and they may decide to link from their website to yours. These actions don’t go unnoticed by the search engines. They are telling signs that your website is providing a quality experience to its visitors. Besides adding quality content, there are other measures to take that are important and considered white-hat. (These measures are mentioned later in this section.)
Black-hat SEO means just what you think: trying to manipulate and cheat the system. There are hundreds, maybe thousands of ways people have figured out to get their sites to rank higher. It is a never-ending struggle for the black-hatters. They are determined to find a shortcut for ranking higher. Unfortunately for them, however, it has become extremely difficult to do. And if black-hat methods are detected, the page will be penalized by ranking it worse in the search results or banning it altogether.
One black-hat method of the past was to have a keyword typed in thousands of times on the same web page. The search engines index how many times certain words appear on pages in order to glean what the pages are about. If the word bicycle appears fifty-seven times on a page, the search engine might determine that the page has something to do with bicycles. When search engines were less sophisticated, they were tricked by people putting certain keywords hundreds or thousands of times on the same web page. This might have looked very strange if the visitor of the page saw the repetition—but they didn’t. The designer would simply make the repetitive keyword the same color as the page background, and voila! The repetitions of the keyword were visible to the search engine spiders but invisible to viewers of the web page.
Most SEO professionals now agree that the search engines have won the war over the black-hatters. There is little to do now, other than stick with proper white-hat methods. The interesting thing is that it’s not easy to define exactly where the line is between white-hat and black-hat SEO. There is no official guidebook. A good policy, however, is to concentrate on creating quality content for your website users rather than creating content with search engine spiders in mind.
On-Page & Off-Page SEO
Aside from the white-hat and black-hat classifications, there are two kinds of SEO: on-page and off-page.
On-page SEO refers to things that can be directly controlled on your website. Some of the things, such as headings and paragraphs of text, appear visible to viewers of your pages. Other things are tucked away in the underlying code, and not meant to be visible to viewers of the page.
Off-page SEO involves trying to gain notice for your web pages from other places on the web. Since search engine spiders crawl pages all over the web, they notice where there are links and references to other websites. If the spiders see that your pages are mentioned or linked to on other reputable web pages, your rankings will be favorably influenced.
There are things you can do on your own web pages that go a long way for SEO. Not only is it okay to do these things, the search engines want you to them. Remember that search engine spiders will crawl your site, looking for hints about the subject of your web pages. The following items are key indicators. Make sure you carefully decide on the keywords you use for on-page optimization. Here are some places where search engine spiders look on your pages:
The page title is what shows in the top of the browser window or tab when a web page is loaded. This is perhaps the most important thing to be optimized with keywords. The title is placed between html tags within the header-section of the html document with the page code. How you set the title depends on what method you’re using to build your web pages.
This is another tag that’s placed in the header section of the html document with the page code. The text placed here is often seen on search engine results pages to describe what the web page is about.
Headings (H1 and H2 tags in html) are a key indicator for the search engine spiders to decipher the content on a web page.
Search engines examine the text on web pages to look for words that appear frequently, indicating the subject matter of the web page.
When you have images on your web pages, it’s highly advisable to have alt-tags (meaning “alternative tags”) that indicate what’s shown in the images. This is important for times when images might not load into a browser (the alt-tags words will show instead) and it also gives another opportunity to further optimize your page with keywords.
The links and the anchor text for links are noticed by the search engine spiders. Make sure to use words that relate to the relevant subjects.
Having keywords directly in the URL can be an effective optimization technique as well. For example, if I create a page about skateboard tricks on my website, I can create the following URL for that page: www.brickway.net/skateboard-tricks/.
The most important on-page SEO method is to provide quality content that will interest your visitors. The more, the better. Having a blog is a great way to keep a fresh stream of content flowing in your site. Use keywords in your blog posts that are relevant to your business. This is perhaps the most effective method of SEO. (There is more about blogging in Part 2 of this book.)
When you’re talking about off-page SEO, you are mostly talking about backlinks. Backlinks are links to your website from other sites. For quite some time, backlinks have been used by the search engines to observe the popularity of different web pages. For example, if a certain web page has a high number of links to it from around the web, the search engines assume that there must be good content on that web page. That page will likely get better rankings than pages with similar content that don’t have as many backlinks to it. It started out as a simple concept: the more backlinks, the better for ranking. Then things changed. The black-hatters have been all over this for years. A whole industry sprouted up, just to create massive amounts of links to websites—for a price. Enterprising black-hatters created “link farms,” which are low-quality websites created solely for the purpose of selling links to paying customers. Needless to say, the search engines caught on. Nowadays, they can tell the difference between high- and low-quality backlinks.
Search engine indexes use sophisticated methods to determine the quality and credibility of web pages, including yours. If a page with good credibility links to your website, that will reflect favorably on you. If a page with low credibility links to your site, it would not result in better rankings for you. (It could actually result in a penalty, especially if it’s from a link farm.)
Another important aspect of backlinks has to do with relevance. If backlinks come from web pages that seem to be from the same field or a similar topic, that increases their value. For example, if your web page is about country line-dancing and a web page about country music festivals links to your page, that makes it a highly relevant backlink. On the other hand, if your web page is about country line-dancing and a website about carbon emissions testing links to your page, that’s not a very relevant backlink, and its value is decreased.
Now that you know what backlinks are, how they can be important, and how they can have varying degrees of impact, I’ll explain a few sub-topics related to backlink quality. These are: PageRank, anchor text, link juice, reciprocal/one-way links, and “no-follow”/“do-follow” links.
PageRank is Google’s proprietary system for grading web pages on their apparent strength and credibility. It’s named after one of the co-founders of Google, Larry Page. All web pages are given a PageRank number from zero to ten. Although the formula for creating the PageRank number is top-secret, certain aspects of it are common knowledge. Here are a few things known to have an effect:
- Number and quality of backlinks to that web page
- Age of the domain name (When a domain name is newly registered, it is believed to have a PageRank disadvantage for a while. SEO professionals call this “being in the Google sandbox.”)
- The content of the webpage
- Internal website links
- Keyword density (i.e., how often certain words appear in the text of the web pages)
Why is PageRank important when it comes to backlinks? Because the value of a backlink is related to the PageRank of the page doing the linking. The higher the PageRank on that page, the more beneficial the backlink is for rankings.
Anchor text is the actual text that becomes a clickable hyperlink. It’s often underlined and in blue, but that depends on the styling of the web page you are on. When it comes to the value of backlinks, search engines pay close attention to the anchor text of links. They consider it to be a telling sign about the subject of the page the link is pointing to. For example, if the anchor text is “click here for free legal advice,” those words will help determine how the page linked to will be indexed. If there is a common theme to the keywords in anchor text, that is a good thing for ranking. If a web page has a lot of backlinks, but the anchor text is not consistent, the impact of the backlinks won’t be as significant.
When SEO professionals attempt to build backlinks, they are careful about ensuring that the anchor text reflects the subjects and keywords of the pages to which they are linking. Be warned, though. Nowadays it’s important that the anchor text is not exactly the same on every backlink. Search engines try to reward natural activity on the web and to punish efforts to manipulate rankings. If you have a popular web page, truly natural backlinks would probably have varying anchor text. Large numbers of backlinks with exactly the same anchor text appear more like an SEO campaign than natural web activity. In the ideal situation, backlinks will have anchor text that reflects a consistent theme or topic, but not be identical in wording.
Link juice is another term that relates to the power of a backlink. It basically means “link power.” When a web page has a large number of links on it, the power of each link gets diluted. There is a big difference to having five links on a web page and five hundred. If a person puts five hundred links on one web page, it would appear that this page owner is indiscriminate about who he or she links to. The search engines take notice of this and determine the significance of the links accordingly.
Reciprocal linking is when there are mutual links between two web pages. For example, if you are a house painter and your friend is a plumber, you might agree to give each other a link from your own websites. One-way linking simply means that the link goes only one way—i.e., it’s not reciprocated. The value of a one-way link is generally better than that of a reciprocal one.
No follow/Do follow
“No follow” and “do follow” are coded signs for search engine spiders. They can sometimes be found in the html coding of hyperlinks. Here is an example of the “no follow” tag in html code:
<a href=”http://www.hankslingerie.com” rel=”nofollow”>Anchor Text</a>
The “no follow” indicates that certain information normally associated with backlinks should be ignored by the search engines. In the case of Google, that means PageRank and anchor text. If neither the “no follow” or “do follow” tag appears, it becomes a “do follow” link by default. Assigning the “no follow” tag is a bit like saying, “we are linking to this web page, but are not really vouching for the credibility of this web page.”
Methods for Building Backlinks
If you are serious about SEO, finding ways to build backlinks is an important task. Though this can be a time-consuming and laborious process, good backlinks can be great for your rankings in the search engines. Here are a few ways you might consider to drum up backlinks to your web pages:
Complimentary businesses (reciprocal links)
Do you know anyone who has a website with whom you could exchange links? A reciprocal backlink could have some value and could also bring you traffic and customers. This technique becomes more valuable if there is a similarity in the topics of your web pages.
One of the most prominent methods of backlink building in recent years is article marketing. This is generally how it works: First, you write an article about a topic related to your business. Then you submit it to be published on another website. To get a backlink, you simply add a link to your website from the article itself. There are hundreds of article-submission sites that allow you to submit articles in this fashion. Although this can still be an effective way to get backlinks, it is not as beneficial to SEO as it once was. The search engines have devalued this type of link because it’s been an over-used tactic to influence rankings. If you are going to pursue article marketing for backlinks, be sure to submit your articles to sites that appear more credible and less spammy.
Guest posting is like article marketing, but it is directed more at blogs. Many blog owners are constantly trying to add good content to their blogs. If you can provide an article or some other content that they can use, you can often get a quality backlink to your web site. It’s important that there is a good match between the topic of your article and the main topic of the blog. It’s also important that it be a quality blog site, and not one that’s full of junky and spammy content. If you want to write guest posts for bloggers, simply contact the blog owners and ask if they would be interested in that arrangement.
Write a review of another business on your website
If you offer something beneficial to another business owner, perhaps they will be willing to link to your website. One idea is to write a favorable article, review, or blurb about a business on your site and then suggest that they link to it. Again, it helps more if there is some similarity or relevant connection between the businesses.
Around the web, there are many forums where people of a similar interest post questions and information. There are forums for almost any topic you can imagine. Participating in these forums is one way to get good backlinks. It’s important to use this method with the intention of making a real contribution to the group. Forums have moderators that are on the lookout for those who are only trying to score a good backlink. To find forums on various topics go to Google.com and search “forum: your topic.”
Creating content that could be newsworthy is one way of attempting to get backlinks. Writing an article in the form of a press release, and then distributing it to various press release gathering sites could lead to the article getting picked up and published. That process can sometimes result in good backlinks.
At the bottom of many blog articles there is a place to leave comments from the readers. Commenting on blog articles can be a way to get backlinks. Usually these are “no follow” links, but they can still have value. You definitely would want to find blogs about a topic related to your business that get a decent amount of traffic. Beware, though: there are a lot of black-hatters out there constantly spamming article-comment fields. This is known as “comment spam.” It’s not very effective because blog owners can easily remove these types of comments. However, blog owners usually appreciate real comments from people who actually read their articles. You can sometimes manage to get a backlink from comments you make.
The most fundamental thing to do for SEO is choose the keywords for which you want to optimize. This step might seem like a simple and quick one, but there can be more to it than you realize. There are several key questions to consider such as:
- What search phrases are most commonly used related to my business?
- How competitive are those keywords?
- What keywords can I use to distinguish myself from the competition?
The process of choosing keywords should not be rushed, since it’s the foundation of all of your SEO efforts. SEO success sometimes comes from adding the right “tail” to your keywords. As I mentioned in Part 3 of this book, adding words to more narrowly define your main keywords is called “adding to the tail.” A keyword such as coffee cups is considered short-tail. A keyword such as coffee cups with holiday designs is long-tail. Since there is so much competition on the web, long-tail keywords can be your best method of standing out..
When it comes to finding out how competitive certain keywords are, there are valuable tools you can (and should) use. One such tool is the Google Keyword Planner. It can provide a wealth of information for your keyword research. To use it, you must open an AdWords account (which is free to do).
Other keyword tools:
See "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book" by Barry Abraham
Barry Abraham is the author of "The Internet Marketing Strategy Book." This is a 10-chapter book that gives an easy-to-understand overview of current Internet marketing opportunities.
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