August 11, 2008

Tags blog

The New Face of Search Engine Optimization
<p>Most SL customers host websites on our services, and all websites benefit from high search engine rankings. The old

Most SL customers host websites on our services, and all websites benefit from high search engine rankings. The "old method" of search engine optimization doesn't really work anymore. Back in the days before Google, the best way to get to the top of the search engine rankings was to follow four easy steps:

  1. Diversify your IP space.
  2. Add keywords to the tag on your site.
  3. Make sure those keywords also appear in the body of your document.
  4. Take 2 & 3 and fill them with references to Pokémon, pop music, and porn.

However, only #3 is a valid tactic in this new, Google-driven world. Let's analyze them one by one.

Diversifying your IP space. Old search engines gave more credence to sites located in "geographically diverse" areas, where "geographically diverse" was determined by class C addresses. Now, however, with the advent of huge centralized data centers, search engine algorithms recognize that a site with 15 servers in the same datacenter may be just as effective as 15 separate cities. Of course, it's still a good idea to buy servers in, say, Dallas, Seattle, and Washington DC.

Meta tags. Google and other major search engines don't really look at meta tags anymore for keywords. They still will use the meta tag for language, encoding, and summary data. However, the processing power of search engines has been increasing exponentially in the last few years, which means they're capable of analyzing the actual content of the page rather than relying on meta tags. If you still have meta tags, you can keep them, but they're only really useful for language and summary information.

Document body keywords. This is an area where it still matters. As previously mentioned, search engines now are capable of searching the entire page. In the past, it was only a few search engines that indexed actual page content, and even then it may have been a simple count of how often your meta keywords match page contents. Now, however, Google stores local copies of every page they index (to a certain extent) and uses the entire page contents for search and cached viewing.

Dummy data. When search engines were younger, they could be fooled very easily by simply including the top 1,000 popular search terms in your meta tags and as invisible text inside your document body. I never understood it personally, but the thinking was that if you had enough references to Britney Spears on your page, you would hijack enough people that one of them would forget what he was originally looking for and buy your product instead. Though I guess that's how spam works now, isn't it?

So what can you do right now to improve your search engine placement? There are a few easy things to do, broken into the following categories:

  1. Page Titles. Your pages should each have a unique, meaningful title. Putting the name of your site on every page doesn't do anyone any good. Not only will it give your search results more visibility, but it will help people find it again if they bookmark it.
  2. Page Content. You want your page content to be meaningful and arranged around a central semantic theme. Don't put up one huge page featuring thousands of unrelated pieces of information. Keep it concise, unique, and focused. You have an unlimited number of individual pages, make use of that fact.
  3. Dynamic Content. The more often your site changes, the higher your Google rank will be. You could take the cheap way out and simply put a box on your site that has random content, but the best way is to actually do updates as often as possible. This ensures not only visibility on the search engines, but makes your site more useful to the people that eventually make it to your pages, which is your main goal anyway.
  4. Accessibility. This is a key area that many sites overlook. You need to make heavy use of the title and alt attributes for things like links and images. Not only is it required by the Americans With Disabilities Act, but it helps blind users navigate your site. You know what acts like a blind user? Search engine crawlers. When you do a Google images search, the images that pop up most likely have alt attributes specified. The same goes for link titles, if you put a brief link description in your titles, not only do you get pretty mouseovers on the links, but they add one more point to your eventual page rank.
  5. Linking. Google builds its page rank based on links to and from the page in question, as well as the page contents itself. With this in mind, it's useful to link out to sources on whatever topic you're attempting to talk about. The higher the page rank of the target, the higher the benefit to you. Also, it's a good idea to attempt to be useful enough for other people to link to you, either in message boards or as a source of their own. All links eventually increase your page rank. Also, as a small note, make your URLs "search engine friendly" by attempting to include keywords in there as well. Many message boards will include the post title in the URL for just this purpose. Also, for some reason, Google refuses to index any URL with "?id=" in it, so be careful about that.
  6. Site Map. Search engines love site maps. Users don't care for them as much, but a concise HTML or XML site map with links to every page on your site divided into sections with a short description increases links, increases accessibility, and gives the search engines more meta data on the important topics in each page.

So all you have to do to improve your search engine rank is to have dynamic, frequently changing content about a single, concise topic on an easily accessible page that is frequently linked to by other pages. Wikipedia is a perfect example of search engine optimization in action. Each page is titled with the topic it discusses; every image has a title attribute and links out to a full description of the article; each link has a title attribute; many outside sources are mentioned; plenty of sites link to each article as well as the root domain; and the index page changes every single day with completely new and original content.


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