New Directions in Optimizing Page Content

Search engine optimization (SEO) is really a process consisting of multiple tasks, and the exact techniques used are sometimes closely guarded secrets. The way I see it, SEO done right should include six major tasks: optimization, submission, registration, positioning, monitoring, and maintenance.

In my last article, I promised to cover, over the coming weeks, the major changes in SEO strategies.

I’ll start by elaborating on current strategies for content optimization. It’s always been important to optimize your page content, but you must do so on two levels.

On one level, you’re trying to gain high rankings in the spider-type engines, such as Google, AltaVista, Lycos, and Excite. On another level, you’re persuading customers to use your products and services. So writing page content requires top copywriting skills as well as up-to-date knowledge of search engine algorithm trends. It also takes a good amount of time, and pages should be updated regularly.

Gone are the days when people would try to outwit search engine algorithms by methods such as repeating keywords within hidden text or with illegal doorway pages. Now, as never before, search engine algorithms are very complex; they differ widely and are constantly changing. In fact, search engines will quickly spot and penalize people who don’t follow their rules.

Although the exact algorithms for each search engine are unknown and are constantly changing, SEO technicians are constantly testing to identify best results. In the past, most algorithms appeared to favor keyword density in various sections of the Web page: the title, the keyword meta tag (if the engine reads meta tags), the first 100 words of Web copy (text), and headlines. The emphasis has moved away from a specific keyword density in favor of what is considered excellent or well-written content. So there’s nothing left to do but to optimize your pages correctly.

For optimizing page content, I recommend paying attention to these subtasks: keyword selection, keyword placement and coding, quality copywriting, site navigation design, and link popularity.

  • Keyword selection. Each page of your Web site contains a variety of content on different topics and subtopics. There are specific keywords embedded throughout your page content that can be identified as strategic keywords. Identify one or two phrases or two or more words from each page as your strategic keywords (multiword phrases work much better than single keywords). For brainstorming strategies on how to identify your keywords, read “Finding the Keywords That Will Help Customers Find You” and “Choose Your Words With Care.”
  • Keyword placement and coding. Place your keywords in all the HTML tags possible throughout the site, including meta tags. Not all search engines read meta tags, so you want to place keywords in as many other HTML tags as possible, including image Alt tags, !comments tags, and heading tags. But don’t omit meta tags, which can help overcome problems with tables, frames, and other danger areas. Make sure your strategic keywords appear in all critical locations throughout your Web pages. For instance, the page title is critical.
  • Quality copywriting. Your strategic keywords must be reflected throughout the copy (especially in the first 100 words) on all your pages. Remember, the spider engines look for HTML text rather than graphics. Some sites like to illustrate large sections of copy with graphics. Though a picture may be worth a thousand words, search engines do not read graphics. The result is that you’ll miss out on making your site more relevant. Beyond that, you need a professional copywriter to produce both keyword-rich and marketing-oriented text. Your customers need kick-ass copy that sells effortlessly, without creating confusion. At the same time, the robot engines need the text-rich information they’re looking for. Only a trained copywriter knows how to satisfy both needs.
  • Site navigation design. Some designers create Web sites with image-map links from the home page to the interior pages. Some spiders can’t follow these links and won’t be able to index your interior pages, which may be the most descriptive and relevant pages you want users to find. A good fix for this problem is to add to the home page HTML hyperlinks leading to your most important interior pages or to the major sections of your Web site. You can place these links leading to all your relevant content along the bottom of your home page so that search engines will quickly find them. Another good idea is to create a site-map page with text links to all the important areas within your site. If you follow this option, you can submit this page, ensuring that spider engines locate pages deep within your site.
  • Link popularity. Since many search engine algorithms include link popularity as a variable for determining high rankings, you want to get yourself linked to as many quality sites as possible. You can encourage linking by providing a link-instruction page on your site, detailing exactly how you want the links to appear on the linking sites. It can be a simple text link, a graphical link via a button, or a unique URL link. For more details on this linking strategy, see “Easy Linkin’” by Eric Ward. The number of links is subordinate to link quality, because quality content results in high traffic. For instance, a link from Yahoo or is much more important than a link from less popular sites.

So there you have it, the latest strategies for optimizing your site for search engines in 2001. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask, and, as always, I’d love to hear your feedback.

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