February 23, 2011
Search engine algorithms have become very advanced particularly in their ability to analyze the interlinking structures of the web and to determine unnatural linking practices (or ‘link schemes’ as they are often referred to). Techniques like reciprocal link building which worked well a few years ago, now fail to significantly improve ranking and can in fact cause serious problems if undertaken on a large scale or free-for-all uncontrolled manner.
The latest search engine algorithms place significant emphasis on determining the trust and authority of a site by analysing who links to it. Get links from reputable sources relevant to your particular field and you will be rewarded with higher search engine ranking.
Because the search engines possess a finely honed ability to determine the quality and relevance of links there’s little doubt that SEO is becoming much more difficult. Higher quality one-way links are now required and not just to the website homepage, but to every category and service the website offers through a process called deep linking (acquiring links to internal pages or your site). These links should ideally be placed on relevant content-rich pages in the body content of the page, not on content-devoid pages that consist solely of lists of links or are used for ‘link exchange’ purposes.
If you want to avoid search engine penalties, it has been shown time after time that the most successful web design and SEO strategies take into account Google Webmaster Guidelines. Taking this into account, here are some best practice SEO tips to help promote any new website:
1. Test Website Accessibility Thoroughly
2. Check Cross-Browser Compatibility
A site which doesn’t work in one or more web browsers will result in lost business as visitors turn away in the hundreds. Before embarking on SEO, check your website renders properly in all current browser versions of Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome.
3. Each Page Should Have a Unique Purpose
No two pages should be optimized for the same keyword and the site’s structure should have a sensible hierarchy where main services and categories receive links from all website pages in what is called the persistent navigation. Less important pages should be linked from inside these sections or categories rather than in the main website navigation.
4. Research Keywords Buyers’ Use
Spend time doing thorough keyword research and always consider terms potential buyers would use when looking for the products or services you sell. Use a tool like the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to check local volumes and competition for keywords and build rich content around these identified terms using unique keywords on each page.
5. Write Semantic Copy
When writing copy consider the fact that search engines now attempt to extract meaning from your content by analyzing the mixture of keywords you have used. For this reason a page will achieve higher relevance if it covers a topic from all angles and contains many different complementary keywords relevant to that topic rather than repeating the same phrase time and time again. Start by assigning a page an H1 heading (the main page heading) and then breaking the topic down into four or five sub-topics each of which should have an H2 or H3 sub-heading. Each sub-topic will then have its own sub-set of keywords around the main topic. This technique can significantly improve the semantic meaning extracted from any content.
6. Build Website Value
Write compelling original content that is in-depth, topical and relevant. Don’t be tempted to copy content from elsewhere on the web as search engines employ advanced duplicate content detection. Write about topics which aren’t covered extensively elsewhere and offer valuable content which is helpful to your readers. Websites with unique content and value consistently sustain higher readership and acquire more quality links which in turn lead to higher ranking and readership.
7. Use a Unique Title Tag for Each Page
Each page on your website should have a unique page Meta Title Tag. Just to clarify, this is the TITLE tag inside the HEAD area of the HTML code. The Meta Title remains one of the most important aspects of SEO and is one of the top five Google ranking factors even after the latest search engine algorithm changes. Title tags should be less than 70 characters including spaces and should contain the page’s main target keyword along with a secondary keyword alongside your brand (if needed). Avoid repeating the same keyword more than once and place the most important keyword at the beginning of the title.
8. Write Unique Meta Descriptions for Each Page
While the Meta Description Tag now has little overall ranking influence, it is still frequently used by the search engines in the search results when listing your site’s pages. For this reason it is important. Having well written, unique Meta Description tags can significantly improve click through and result in more website traffic. Meta Descriptions should be around 160 characters long including spaces and comprise an accurate description of the page with a compelling reason to visit it. A few of the main target keywords should be incorporated towards the beginning of the description. The Meta Description can be found inside the HEAD area of a web page.
9. Diversify Your Link Building Activities
If you are promoting a new site, then avoid reciprocal link building and even if you have an established website, only reciprocal link to sites which are thematically similar and complementary to your site’s theme. When linking to any site check that that site ranks reasonably well in Google and that it is free from spam and has worthwhile content. Do not link to websites which appear to have weak or plagiarised content. Remember you are endorsing the site by linking to it and linking to ‘bad neighbourhoods’ can adversely affect your site’s own ranking.
Writing good articles and submitting them to high quality article sites is a good way of promoting your site as many article sites will provide a backlink to your site from the article body text.
Focus on acquiring one way links wherever possible and avoid adding lots of links with the same format or keyword.
10. Don’t Over-Optimize Your Links
The text used by any website linking to you (inside the clickable part of the link which opens your website) is called the “anchor text” of a link and this is an extremely important parameter which is analyzed and used by the search engines to assess the relevance of a particular page for a certain keyword. Thus, if more people link to a page with ‘cheap Ipod deals’ in the anchor text, then the search engines will tend to rank the recipient page higher for that term – assuming of course the links have sufficient quality (see point 12 – link placement). When optimizing anchor text avoid repeated use of the same keyword combinations because the search engine will consider this as an attempt to artificially influence ranking and they could penalize you. Hundreds or thousands of links all added in a short timeframe with optimized anchor text pointing back to your domain can be damaging, especially for a new website with few existing links.
11. Be Cautious of Link Buying
Many search engines have waged war on link buying, so if you must buy links it is important that they are purchased from sites which don’t advertise themselves as a ‘link seller’ and that there are no obvious signs of such practice – such as lists of search engine accessible links on their website homepage under ‘Our Sponsors’ or ‘Advertisers’.
12. Consider Link Placement
Bear in mind that link placement is very important too. A link to your site placed in the footer of a web page will carry little value because this is a widely used paid link placement area and the search engines are intelligent enough to now analyze where a link is placed on a page when determining its value. Always strive for in-content text links inside the body of a content-rich, relevant page wherever possible. Avoid seeking links which are placed on pages with long lists of other sites.
13. Consider Referral Traffic from Links
The best quality links to your site will be from pages which themselves rank for relevant terms related to your products and services in the search engines and your link placement within these pages will be such as to provide some referral (click through) traffic to your website as well as providing search engine value for SEO purposes.
14. Avoid Link Exchange Schemes
From my experience link exchange is dead, or at least it should be! However many misguided people seem to think otherwise. People who spend their time exchanging links for supposed SEO value are now merely fooling themselves. Many exchange links disappear very quickly when your back is turned and the value of these ‘link schemes’ has dwindled away to near zero in recent years. Sites which offer link exchange frequently offer links back from domains which are used solely for linking, often with weak, copied content and little or no trust. Links from these sites are frequently more harmful than they are useful.
15. Research Authority Sites from which to Ask for Links
Once you have your website value proposition sorted and a strong portfolio of ‘linkable’ content, research websites who are leaders in your chosen field to get links from. You can compile a list of links that your competitors have acquired using free tools like ‘Link Diagnosis’ (runs in Firefox) and by using Google advanced search operators. For example if you’re looking for .org domains that talk about your keyword and list recommended sites you might search for:
‘inurl:.org “your target keyword” + “recommended sites”
‘inurl:.org “your target keyword” + “Links” -reciprocal.
The latter search finds pages which don’t ask for a reciprocal link back.
16. Host the Site in Your Target Country
If you are targeting the US market, host your website in the USA. In Europe some UK hosting companies run web servers in mainland Europe countries like Germany. This is not ideal for SEO, although Google Webmaster Tools does allow you to set the target country for any domain.
17. Avoid Having Multiple Domains Which Have the Same Content
Keep the most successful domain and redirect the others with a 301 redirect to that domain. For new websites decide on your brand and stick to it. In the same manner, ensure that the Canonical version of your domain is re-pointed. This is your domain minus the ‘www’ attribute. The non-www version of your site should redirect to the www or vice versa depending on which version of your domain you’re promoting. Failure to do this will mean some people will inevitably link to the non www version of your site and others the www, splitting your all-important link equity.
18. Continually Analyze Site Performance
Steve Larkins is Director of KSL Consulting Ltd, a UK SEO company which offers an advanced SEO training course specifically tailored around the SEO needs of the client website.