Every web designer should be aware of the search engines and how they work. We understand how important it is that we deliver a well-designed web site that not only looks good and works well for our client but also performs well in the search engines after the site is launched. This not only helps to (hopefully) increase traffic to the site but can reflect on me for future work.
- SEO: Search Engine Optimization
SEO is the process of improving the volume and quality of traffic to a web site from search engines via “organic” (non-paid) search results. These days, it involves many things including keyword research, integrating those keyword phrases into the web site in a â€œsearch engine-friendlyâ€ way, increasing the number of quality pages for the visitor, and generating high-quality inbound links.
- SERPs: Search Engine Results Pages
Myth #1: There is only one search engine worth bothering about
Due to the excessive marketing of a certain search engine (which shall remain nameless), many clients think there that only one engine that exists and only one that matters. However, it’s common knowledge in the SEO world that THREE engines currently dominate the market for search â€“ Google, Yahoo!, and MSN or Windows Live as it’s now re-branded â€“ and they will all refer traffic to your web site in different quantities using different search terms. They will probably show different results as well for a single search.
A web site will often get traffic from a number of different sources so it’s crucial that all of these sources are valued and nurtured because if one fails for any reason or changes its algorithm (the way it calculates ranking) and you drop like a stone, you have the others to fall back onto while you figure out how to resolve the issue with that one. If the client can rank well for their search terms in all 3 of them, they are doing well.
If they are a client of yours, they may also email you about a search they have performed in their chosen engine using a random search term, asking you why they are not ranking on the first page for that particular term. When you explain that they are in fact ranking on the first page in the other engine and are on page #3 in their chosen engine, they may start to realize that there is more to search than meets the eye.
Myth #2. It’s all about the meta tags
I lose count of the times I have heard a client ask me, “It’s all about the meta tags, isn’t it?”
Meta tags are separate “labels” inside the head of a web page that describe what the site and the page is all about. They are invisible to a web page’s visitor yet are used by some engines to rank and others to display in their results pages. The 2 most widely recognized are the “meta keywords” and the “meta description” tags. Others can describe a page’s author, create a redirect, or show whether the information is copyrighted.
Since the engines use a wide variety of factors to determine site rankings (Google actually has a “secret sauce” of over 200 calculations that it uses to rank), optimizing a page to rank high is a joint effort. You should use everything available to you that the engines might give some weight, and therefore you should certainly use meta tags (including the meta keyword tag), along with every other legitimate, acceptable technique available.
Myth #3. If you submit on a regular basis, you will rank higher
You do not even need to submit once but it won’t hurt you if you do. If you can establish a link from a web site that is already indexed and ranking, you will get “spidered” by the “spiders” or electronic robots that the search engines use to gather information.
Myth #4. Google PageRank matters
PageRank explained on Google’s site:
“PageRank relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page’s value. In essence, Google interprets a link from page A to page B as a vote, by page A, for page B. But, Google looks at considerably more than the sheer volume of votes, or links a page receives; for example, it also analyzes the page that casts the vote. Votes cast by pages that are themselves “important” weigh more heavily and help to make other pages “important.” Using these and other factors, Google provides its views on pages’ relative importance.”
You can install the Google toolbar, which will display a little green bar and a number from 1 to 10. However, that number is only updated every 3-6 months by Google so you can find pages with PR8 below pages with PR4.
A good SEO campaign will automatically increase your real and true PageRank (as measured by Google, not indicated in your green bar, which is usually outdated) without your specifically setting out to increasing it on your own. Since PR doesn’t bring you traffic and sales (nor rankings), increasing it should not ever be the main goal of your campaign.
Myth #5. It’s all about links
Actually, that should probably read, it’s all about â€œlink authority.â€ True, links play an important role in how a search engine ranks your web page. But it’s not ALL about anything.
For example, your web site must be important because you have 1,000 links coming in, right? Wrong.
You may have 1,000 links coming in but 90% of those links are from generic â€œsnake oilâ€ link farms or web sites that have NOTHING to do with your siteâ€™s subject. In other words, you are not as important as you thought.
Itâ€™s about both link QUALITY and, to a lesser extent, QUANTITY. If you are linked from a web site that already has good rankings then your site will benefit from that â€œlink juiceâ€ because that link will show the search engines that your site is important enough to be linked to and give you credit for that with a decent rank.
Myth #6. Now my new web site is launched, if I sit back and wait, the phone will start ringing
Wrong again. The phone will only start ringing if you treat SEO as ONE of the pieces of your marketing efforts. If you concentrate on one aspect and rely on it to make your business successful, you will ultimately fail because you have failed to grasp the notion that a successful business relies on many constantly-fluctuating factors.
You need to announce your web site to the world then work on it constantly, trying to improve it and your visitor’s experience while they are there. Treat it as your storefront, welcome people in then give them things to do and look at. Remind them that you are striving to improve and will always have something new for them to look at, encourage them to return by keeping in contact with them.
Your web site is your storefront. Sitting in the back in a dark room will not make it a success.
Myth #7. An SEO company guarantees you a #1 spot
No one can guarantee anything, especially when it comes to the quirky and mysterious world of the search engines. If they do, run.
A more realistic goal may be first page rankings for your chosen search terms while continuing to improve traffic using an increasing number of terms that relate to your business. Look to improve, not to settle.
Myth #8. A Flash site ranks well
A 100% Flash site is notoriously difficult to rank. Because the search engine “spiders” love fresh content that is “readable” such as text you can highlight with your mouse, and web pages that contain lots of great keywords, which make sense to the visitor, they struggle with Flash because it is an embedded movie file. You cannot highlight anything with your mouse.
That’s not to say you won’t rank but it will be difficult to achieve goof high rankings for specific search terms.
Myth #9. Submitting to 1,000 search engines will help you
As mentioned, there are only a handful of search engines that people actually use so why submit to 990 others when they will have absolutely no bearing on your traffic? Many of these will bring you no traffic at all and you may waste time and money on trying to get listed in them.
If you can get listed on the most important ones, those results may be shared with other engines. For example, AOL is powered by Google – get into Google, you’ll probably get into AOL.
Myth #10. If I rank well today, I’ll rank well next year
Proper SEO requires a lot of constant effort and vigilance. Working with a professional can help you immensely as they do a lot of the SEO “grunt” work while you concentrate on other important aspects of your business.
If your site has been designed and built well in the first place, it may continue to perform well. However, as the web improves and adopts new technology, it’s important to stay ahead of the game and, ore importantly, your competition.