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August 24, 2007

How to Get Search Engines to Pay Attention

The days of putting up a website then waiting for it to show up on the first page of any search engine are long gone. Today it takes time and effort to see your site on the first page of results. However, most site owners do not know where to begin. By following these 10 steps you can increase your website’s natural search optimization and get the search engines to take notice.

1. Optimize for keyword content

To get listed in the search engines, each page of your site needs to be optimized to the best of your ability. Since the keywords you choose will be used throughout the optimization process, choosing the right ones is essential. If you choose the wrong keywords you will not be found in the search engines. If you are not found in the search engines how will anyone find your site? Pick one core term for each page and write the optimized text around it.

2. Write unique title tags

The title tag of your page is the most important factor to consider when optimizing your web page. This is because most engines place a high level of importance on information in your title tag. The title tag is used for the title of your listing in the search results and appears as the description at the top of your browser’s window. It should be a complete sentence and include your term(s) for that page. Do not overstuff this tag or your website will be penalized in the search results!

3. Implement quality Meta content

Meta is a part of the html code human visitors to your site rarely see. It is used by search engine visitors (robots) to help them determine what the page is about. Description Meta should be one or two core-term enriched sentences that do not exceed 250 characters. Keyword Meta is a list of terms relating to your page. The core term should appear at the beginning and end of this list. Limit the number of characters to 1,024, including spaces.

4. Content is king

Page content is one of the most important factors to letting visitors and search engines know what it is you are offering. Improve your content and you will improve your listings in search engines. Each page should have at least 200 words of copy and include your keywords. Write for the human visitors, not the search engines.

5. Use image alt text wisely

Each image on your page can include a keyword that relates to the image. This text will also help visitors that have their images turned off when visiting your site. This text can be included in the “alt” attribute of the html code for an image. The important thing is to describe the image first and then work in key terms.

6. Use a Robots.txt file

This text file is a roadmap of your web site. It should be placed in the root directory of your site, and it tells the search engine robots which sections they are not allowed in. It is one of the easiest tactics you can use to help ensure your site gets crawled. It’s also one of the most overlooked opportunities.

7. Use a Sitemap.xml file

A sitemap file tells engines the location of all the sections and pages of your website, how important each of those sections are to your site, and when those sections were last updated. When you change your content, update your sitemap file!

8. Get rid of duplicate content

It’s easy to use the same content for multiple pages on your site, especially if you’re a retailer and the manufacturer has already provided content for you. However, every time you use the same content you are taking a chance that the search engines will throw your site out of their results, thereby negating all of your hard work to get there in the first place. Take the time to rewrite each page, regardless of how similar it may be to another page. Get rid of mirrored sites or completely rewrite these as well. Also, rewrite an article at least twice for use in article syndication.

9. Create custom error pages

It is very easy to set up custom error pages that have the same look and feel as the rest of your site. They will help keep visitors and therefore search engine robots from reaching a dead end in your site and leaving.

10. Get validated!

First, validate your code for well-formed HTML. The rules of HTML have changed quite significantly over the years, and it is no longer optimal for you to generate messy, broken mark up. Although not a requirement, both Google and Yahoo mention it in their guidelines for webmasters. Second, validate your entire website through Google and Yahoo. This is a simple task that involves uploading a file to your site’s root directory or adding information to your meta tags. You can find more information on this process in the search engines’ Webmaster guidelines.

The 10 tips presented here are just the beginning of a well-optimized website. The depth of a successful natural search optimization strategy is beyond the scope of this article, but we hope this guide will help site owners improve their natural search optimization. For more tips visit westwardstrategy.com.

Author:  Gandolfo has over 5 years experience in online marketing, web development and natural search optimization for large corporations to start-ups and non-profits.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in visual communication from the University of Idaho and is a member of the Reno Tahoe AIGA.

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