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April 30, 2009

How to Optimize for Google – Part 1 of 3

In today’s online world search engine rankings can make your business succeed, and while rankings in Yahoo and MSN are very valuable, their combined market value is still less than that of Google. This makes achieving top rankings in Google that much more important.

In this three-part series on How to Optimize for Google we will touch on a number of important aspects for top Google rankings including website optimization, links, Google Webmaster tools, and a number of other considerations.

The focus of Part 1 will be with on page website optimization.

This article is not about keyword research so I will not spend too much time on this topic, however, I felt it was important to at least brush on this slightly.

Make sure that your targets are achievable. If you select the wrong keywords it can make your entire optimization experience essentially a waste. Choose keywords that are attainable but yet still offer a reasonable search frequency for your industry. Your phrase selection should also be targeted to bring qualified traffic to your site.

Using the hotel industry as an example, targeting the word “hotel” would make very little sense but by narrowing it down to “Victoria BC hotel” you now have less competition, and a more qualified audience. Keep your targets in perspective and go after the obtainable rankings.

There are many on-site factors that play a role in your search engine rankings. Here are a number of those factors and what you can do to increase your chances of success.

Title Tag
The title tag plays one of the most important roles in search results at Google, and is almost always the heading Google chooses for each of its listings. Placement of your target phrase is best used near the start of the tag and repeated again in the middle or near the end. Three uses of your target phrase may be helpful in some instances, as long as it is not too overwhelming. For best results each page on your site should have a totally unique title tag.

It is also important to remember that because Google will use this title as the main heading for your listing, you will want to keep it attractive to potential searchers. Try to also add a call to action, or other wording to help make your listing appear attractive to searchers.

To help illustrate the fact Google takes this tag into consideration, simply do a search for your target phrase and take a look at the titles of the top 10. I tried a search for a rather broad term “hotel” and saw that all 10/10 listings had it in the title tag, and 6/10 had it as the very first word. A quick scan showed that the entire top 30 either had the word hotel, or hotels in their title tags.

If you do only one thing to your website, make sure that all your title tags are relevant, unique, and contain your target phrase for each page.

Meta Description Tag
The Meta Description tag is still occasionally used by Google as the description which appears in the search results themselves. While this used to be a more common practice Google tends to use it most often on sites with very limited content, or those which are flash based. I have seen it still used for content rich sites, however this is less common.

The Meta Description tag still has an impact on search rankings. Your best bet when using this tag is to keep it short and sweet with your target phrase close to the start and never repeated more than 3 times. Like the title tag, each page on you site should have its own unique description tag.

Meta Keyword Tag
When it comes to Google this tag is useless, and won’t influence your rankings. There is some speculation as to whether a spammy keyword tag can however, have a negative effect on Google rankings. As a result, if you do utilize a keyword Meta tag for the smaller engines, it is best to keep it clean and play it safe.

Keyword density plays a role in overall rankings; however, it is not as cut and dry as it once was. Once upon a time there was a magic number that when used could almost guarantee top rankings.

This is no longer the case. Today the ideal density varies from industry to industry, phrase to phrase. To find out what density you should aim for, take the top 10 or 20 search results and see what percentage those sites are using. In most cases you will find that the majority of these sites have a very similar density to one another, and this average density is a good estimation of what you should aim for.

Body Text and Keyword Placement
The location of relevant text on your site will help establish the overall importance of your target phrase. While you do not want to overwhelm the engines and site visitors with a bombardment of target phrases at the top of the page, try to sprinkle in some instances as close to the top of the page as possible.

Be sure to include various synonyms for your target phrases within your body text on your site. Google will use these synonyms to tie in the overall relevance of the page for your main target phrases, which in turn can improve your odds.

To find possible synonyms you can use a thesaurus, but the best way is to search Google itself and see exactly what they consider to be similar. Simply search in Google for your target phrase preceded with a tilde, such as “~hotels”. Next scan through the search results for any text Google has bolded. These are all words that Google considers to be related. Using the “~hotels” example Google brings up phrases such as ‘travel’, ‘tourism’, ‘accommodation’, as well as various hotel chain names such as ‘Hilton Hotels’.

Keywords in Domain
There is still some speculation if having a target phrase as part of your top level domain (TLD) is of use to search rankings. From my experience, yes, there is value here, although, nothing like it was several years ago.

If you are starting off in the online world and are contemplating which domain to go for, consider one that uses your target phrase, assuming that it is both relevant to your business name, and uses no more than a single hyphen. While multiple hyphens in a domain can be successful, they are very common with highly spammy websites, so it is best to not take that route if possible.

While having a keyword located within your domain can offer some ranking juice, I would not suggest heading out and doing a domain swap. In most cases you would be better off working on your existing site than starting from scratch with a new domain.

Keywords in page specific URL
Using keywords for specific page URL’s can also help add a little bit of value to your site, providing you use them responsibly. Consider using a keyword as a directory name and as part of a file name where it naturally makes sense to do so. If you have a website that focuses on tourism and includes local hotel listings, you may want to consider the following structure for your page on the Hilton:

Heading Tags
Placement of target phrases within heading tags helps to establish the importance of those given phrases. That said do not over do it, or abuse it. Only place target phrases within a heading tag if it makes sense to do so, and don’t flood a page with numerous tags. Heading tags are not as critical as they once were, but still a good contribution to a well optimized page.

Link Anchor text
This is the actual text you click on as part of a link. When full or partial target phrases are used within your text links they help pass on some value to the linked page for those phrases. This is also true when considering surrounding text. When the content around the link is also relevant, the link holds slightly more value.

While a link that simply states “click here” or “” does have its place, they provide considerably less value than a link that would use “discount hotels” as its anchor.

Image Alt Text
While image alt text still plays a minor role, its biggest part is within the use of image based navigation. If you have an image linked to another page, the alt text will be attributed much the same way as standard link anchor text is.

Image Alt text should always be short and to the point and should accurately describe either the image itself, or the page the image is linking to. Do not use alt tags as a place to stuff keywords.

Inline Links
These are links that are found mid sentence or mid paragraph as opposed to a simple listing of links as found in a menu or possibly on a sitemap. Links found mid paragraph tend to pass on a little more value from the surrounding text and can offer more relevance to the linked page.

Site Navigation
It is absolutely imperative that your website be fully spiderable by the search engines. This may seem obvious, but often webmasters overlook Google’s ability to crawl a website. Google has become very advanced in what links it can follow and how it can spider a website, but there are still some things that can cause significant roadblocks.

– Flash: One of the most commonly made mistakes is the use of flash. If flash is used as a sole means of site navigation then you can count on Google not viewing your internal pages, and having a significant disadvantage in terms of site rankings.

– Java Script / DHTML: These days most Java Script and even DHTML menus can be spidered by Google, however, this is not always the case. If your site utilizes any kind of fancy navigation and you are wondering why Google has not indexed your internal pages, check out Google’s Cached Text version of your page. If you do not see any text links, then your navigation may be invisible to Google.

– Images: Image based navigation has been safe for many years now, but if your site uses this form of navigation it is essential to have brief, relevant alt text on all your buttons. This alt text will act much like standard anchor text for text based links. This is not only for the purpose of search ranking value, but take a look at Google’s cached text version of your page. If you have image based links that do not have alt text, those links do not appear. This doesn’t mean Google won’t follow them, but for anyone viewing your site on a text based browser, your links will be invisible to them.

URL Structure
Avoid long elaborate URL’s with extraneous characters. While Google has reached a point where they can index massive URL strings, it is best to avoid them if at all possible. For dynamic sites consider utilizing mod rewrites to significantly clean up the URL to not only make it more search engine friendly, but more user friendly as well.”victoria”&catid=”accommodations”

stands a better chance if cleaned up to read:

Basic website optimization is a critical component for successful placement in Google but is only part of the overall picture.

Scott Van Achte is the Senior SEO at StepForth Web Marketing Inc.; based in Victoria, BC, Canada and founded in 1997. You can read more of Scott’s articles and those of the veteran StepForth team at or contact us at

37 Responses to “How to Optimize for Google – Part 1 of 3

    avatar J W says:

    Do you think the keyword density formula will change soon?

    avatar Topics about Seo » How to Optimize for Google – Part 1 of 3 says:

    […] Henrik created an interesting post today on How to Optimize for Google â […]

    avatar John Yang says:

    Good Article.
    I just want to add one thing about people who later decide to get a domain name related to keywords.

    A 301 redirect will do the job.
    It will transfer your rank and traffic from old website to your new website.


    avatar free css templates says:

    Really awesome blog. I enjoyed reading this review from you. I found that you really update your site regularly that made me more interesting. I’ve bookmarked your site for my future use.

    Thank you

    avatar J W says:

    Do you think the keyword density formula will change soon?
    P.S. – Sorry, forgot to tell you great post!

    […] for top Google rankings includes a number of factors. In Part 1 of 3 we discussed onsite optimization. In Part 2 we will touch on incoming links as well as using Google […]

    Hello Scott, great information you put here. Regarding synonyms, while finding related words in Google, they are not the same as in Is there an update from Google about accepting words from as same in ~ operator?



    avatar Peter says:

    Excellent article. As a novice in SEO I feel you have given me the best comprehensive check list to address my optimization planning.

    Also what do YOU think of the comment from John Yang [above] about using a 301 redirect?

    Thanks very much Scott,

    avatar Kalousek says:

    A lot of useful info, what I miss however is how important each of the above aspect. Also I believe the G. penalization issue is quite important.

    Great article. I think this might be my new go-to article when friends decide they want to SEO sites themselves.

    avatar Jean sQuared says:

    This is just what I need… Thanks for the info 🙂

    I am an ultra-novice as a website owner and have been struggling with my SEO; I have changed repeatedly my title-tags, description, keywords, as I started to read up on the subject. I have found your suggestions extremely helpful and especially the “synonym” part; shall review again my website in light of this. I cannot seem to advance from a “0” Googe page rank…..

    avatar CARLA CASO says:

    Hello from South of France! Thank you for the information I’m gonna put it into practice for my eBoutique.

    Very informative and interesting article that is giving me a new up-to-date perspective on SEO. Thank you.

    avatar Sacramento Web Designer says:

    Good article for basic seo. Most of this article is usually overlooked when people ask me to see why their website is not ranking well. Kudos to you for setting the basic foundation on website seo.

    avatar mojtaba says:

    thank you for giude me and the best wishesfor you.

    avatar tohca4 says:

    Wow thanks for the helpful tips on optimising keywords for google search.


    Hi all, thanks for the comments. Here are a few responses to some questions you have posted.

    The Keyword Density factor changes all the time. This is something that used to play a big role with rankings, and now is quite subtle. I find that for most phrases, if you check the top 20 or 30, and analyze the density for a given phrase (as well as where it is located (titles, h tags, etc), you will often find a common thread or pattern. Many times, following that pattern will help your rankings out.

    John & Peter:
    When it comes to 301 redirects, if you need to change your domain, often times your rankings will follow. If I have a site with top rankings however, unless a domain change is essential, I would avoid it. I would not personally recommend changing the domain just to get a few kw’s in it if you already have good rankings. BUT the 301 is essential if you do the switch.

    John: focuses more on the official language, where as Google plays by more of its own rules. For instance, “travel” is not technically a synonym of for “hotels”, yet in Google’s eyes it is. For the purposes of SEO, I would go by what Google believes to be related.

    Don’t focus too much on Google Page Rank, it is, well, largely meaningless. BUT if you do want to work on increasing it, the #1 best thing you can do is increase your quality inbound links.

    avatar says:

    Thanks for the info. Been clicking on your updates everytime and they have all been very helpful!

    Thomas Dimino
    Great Green Shoipping

    avatar okefine says:

    Thank so much for information

    avatar jes says:

    Internal linking to part 2 and 3 of this article series might be good, not only for seo, but for the user 😉
    Otherwise a good overview, I’ve learned about the synonym search in Google.

    avatar Emily dickinson -- technobirdlive says:


    Great blog! I was really looking for such an informative blog…

    avatar How To Optimize for Google - Questions Answered | StepForth Web Marketing Inc. says:

    […] part series on how to optimize for google (part 1, part 2, part 3) were recently published over at SiteProNews, and I have been seeing a number of people commenting and asking questions. Here is a post to […]

    This is a great posting. Thanks a lot.

    Helpfull post. Thanks a lot.

    Very Informative, not to put ourselves out of a job, If business could only utilize these tools that some of us already know,
    We think it would help in the ever increasing.. “my neighbor does that” but it would give businesses the edge to make sure that Seo wanna be dont use blackhat which can get you banned.

    avatar Pankaj says:

    Excellent Idea. Thanks for sharing

    avatar Earrings says:

    I’ve read all three parts of this article, it is very informative, thank you

    avatar Linksys88 | Classified Online Ads | Place Free Ads says:

    Hey thanks for sharing your knowledge with us. May God bless you on your good deeds and efforts. More power to you Bro!

    avatar Classified Online Ads says:

    By the way, is it possible for google to index a website in less than four days?

    avatar Place Free Ads says:

    In webmaster tools, there is an option to allow google to include your images in their image index thing, does this pays a relevant role in SEO Optimization?

    avatar michaelj72 says:

    good info and a great reminder of so many important tips on optimization, some of which were immediately helpful to me. thanks scott. i’m saving this series

    avatar psd to html says:

    Yes, really good information, briefly and to the point. I especially like that section about KW density and density patterns – useful recommendations.

    avatar Matthias says:

    Hi Scott,

    Interesting post. Thanks for putting up such an informative article on SEO

    avatar Jinous says:

    Hi Scott
    thank you for your
    Good and correct article

    avatar Mike A says:

    Thanks for the tips. Very helpful.

    avatar How to Optimize for Google – Part 3 of 3 « Blogger Earn says:

    […] money In Part 1 and Part 2 of How to Optimize for Google I discussed general website optimization, links, and […]

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