Whenever you enter a query in a search engine and hit 'enter' you get a list of web results that contain that query term. Users normally tend to visit websites that are at the top of this list as they perceive those to be more relevant to the query. If you have ever wondered why some of these websites rank better than the others then you must know that it is because of a powerful web marketing technique called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
SEO is a technique which helps search engines find and rank your site higher than the millions of other sites in response to a search query. SEO thus helps you get traffic from search engines.
This SEO tutorial covers all the necessary information you need to know about Search Engine Optimization - what is it, how does it work and differences in the ranking criteria of major search engines.
1. How Search Engines Work
The first basic truth you need to know to learn SEO is that search engines are not humans. While this might be obvious for everybody, the differences between how humans and search engines view web pages aren't. Unlike humans, search engines are text-driven. Although technology advances rapidly, search engines are far from intelligent creatures that can feel the beauty of a cool design or enjoy the sounds and movement in movies. Instead, search engines crawl the Web, looking at particular site items (mainly text) to get an idea what a site is about. This brief explanation is not the most precise because as we will see next, search engines perform several activities in order to deliver search results – crawling, indexing, processing, calculating relevancy, and retrieving.
First, search engines crawl the Web to see what is there. This task is performed by a piece of software, called a crawler or a spider (or Googlebot, as is the case with Google). Spiders follow links from one page to another and index everything they find on their way. Having in mind the number of pages on the Web (over 20 billion), it is impossible for a spider to visit a site daily just to see if a new page has appeared or if an existing page has been modified, sometimes crawlers may not end up visiting your site for a month or two.
After a page is crawled, the next step is to index its content. The indexed page is stored in a giant database, from where it can later be retrieved. Essentially, the process of indexing is identifying the words and expressions that best describe the page and assigning the page to particular keywords. For a human it will not be possible to process such amounts of information but generally search engines deal just fine with this task. Sometimes they might not get the meaning of a page right but if you help them by optimizing it, it will be easier for them to classify your pages correctly and for you – to get higher rankings.
When a search request comes, the search engine processes it – i.e. it compares the search string in the search request with the indexed pages in the database. Since it is likely that more than one page (practically it is millions of pages) contains the search string, the search engine starts calculating the relevancy of each of the pages in its index with the search string.
There are various algorithms to calculate relevancy. Each of these algorithms has different relative weights for common factors like keyword density, links, or metatags. That is why different search engines give different search results pages for the same search string. What is more, it is a known fact that all major search engines, like Yahoo!, Google, Bing, etc. periodically change their algorithms and if you want to keep at the top, you also need to adapt your pages to the latest changes. This is one reason (the other is your competitors) to devote permanent efforts to SEO, if you'd like to be at the top.
The last step in search engines' activity is retrieving the results. Basically, it is nothing more than simply displaying them in the browser – i.e. the endless pages of search results that are sorted from the most relevant to the least relevant sites.
2. Differences Between the Major Search Engines
Although the basic principle of operation of all search engines is the same, the minor differences between them lead to major changes in results relevancy. For different search engines different factors are important. There were times, when SEO experts joked that the algorithms of Bing are intentionally made just the opposite of those of Google. While this might have a grain of truth, it is a matter a fact that the major search engines like different stuff and if you plan to conquer more than one of them, you need to optimize carefully.
There are many examples of the differences between search engines. For instance, for Yahoo! and Bing, on-page keyword factors are of primary importance, while for Google links are very, very important. Also, for Google sites are like wine – the older, the better, while Yahoo! generally has no expressed preference towards sites and domains with tradition (i.e. older ones). Thus you might need more time till your site gets mature to be admitted to the top in Google, than in Yahoo!.
II. Keywords – the Most Important Item in SEO
Keywords are the most important SEO element for every search engine, they are what search strings are matched against. Choosing the right keywords to optimize for is thus the first and most crucial step to a successful SEO campaign. If you fail on this very first step, the road ahead is very bumpy and most likely you will only waste your time and money. There are many ways to determine which keywords to optimize for and usually the final list of them is made after a careful analysis of what the online population is searching for, which keywords have your competitors chosen and above all - which are the keywords that you feel describe your site best.
1. Choosing the Right Keywords to Optimize For
It seems that the time when you could easily top the results for a one-word search string is centuries ago. Now, when the Web is so densely populated with sites, it is next to impossible to achieve constant top ratings for a one-word search string. Achieving constant top ratings for two-word or three-word search strings is a more realistic goal.
For instance, If you have a site about dogs, do NOT try and optimize for the keyword "dog" or "dogs". Instead you could try and focus on keywords like "dog obedience training", "small dog breeds", "homemade dog food", "dog food recipes" etc. Success for very popular one-two word keywords is very difficult and often not worth the trouble, it's best to focus on less competitive highly specific keywords.
The first thing you need to do is come up with keywords that describe the content of your website. Ideally, you know your users well and can correctly guess what search strings they are likely to use to search for you. You can also try the Website Keyword Suggestions Tool below to come up with an initial list of keywords. Run your inital list of keywords by the Google keyword Suggestion tool, you'll get a related list of keywords, shortlist a couple of keywords that seem relevent and have a decent global search volume.
When choosing the keywords to optimize for, you need to consider not only the expected monthly number of searches but also the relevancy of these keywords to your website. Although narrow keywords get fewer searches they are a lot more valuable than generic keywords because the users would be more interested in your offerings. Lets say you have a section on your website where you give advice on what to look for when adopting a dog. You might discover that the "adopt german shepherd" keyphrase gives you better results than a keyword like "german shepherd dogs". This page is not of interest to current german shepherd owners but to potential german shepherd owners only. So, when you look at the numbers of search hits per month, consider the unique hits that fit into the theme of your site.
2. Keyword Density
After you have chosen the keywords that describe your site and are supposedly of interest to your users, the next step is to make your site keyword-rich and to have good keyword density for your target keywords. Keyword density although no longer a very important factor in SEO is a common measure of how relevant a page is. Generally, the idea is that the higher the keyword density, the more relevant to the search string a page is. The recommended density is 3-7% for the major 2 or 3 keywords and 1-2% for minor keywords. Try the Keyword Density Checker below to determine the keyword density of your website.
Although there are no strict rules, try optimizing for a reasonable number of keywords – 5 or 10 is OK. If you attempt to optimize for a list of 300, you will soon see that it is just not possible to have a good keyword density for more than a few keywords, without making the text sound artificial and stuffed with keywords. And what is worse, there are severe penalties (including ban from the search engine) for keyword stuffing because this is considered an unethical practice that tries to manipulate search results.
3. Keywords in Special Places
Keywords are very important not only as quantity but as quality as well – i.e. if you have more keywords in the page title, the headings, the first paragraphs – this counts more that if you have many keywords at the bottom of the page. The reason is that the URL (and especially the domain name), file names and directory names, the page title, the headings for the separate sections are more important than ordinary text on the page and therefore, all equal, if you have the same keyword density as your competitors but you have keywords in the URL, this will boost your ranking incredibly, especially with Yahoo!.
The domain name and the whole URL of a site tell a lot about it. The presumption is that if your site is about dogs, you will have “dog”, “dogs”, or “puppy” as part of your domain name. For instance, if your site is mainly about adopting dogs, it is much better to name your dog site “dog-adopt.net” than “animal-care.org”, for example, because in the first case you have two major keywords in the URL, while in the second one you have no more than one potential minor keyword.
When hunting for keyword rich domain names, don't get greedy. While from a SEO point of view it is better to have 5 keywords in the URL, just imagine how long and difficult to memorize the URL will be. So you need to strike a balance between the keywords in the URL and site usability, which says that more than 3 words in the URL is a way too much.
Probably you will not be able to come on your own with tons of good suggestions. Additionally, even if you manage to think of a couple of good domain names, they might be already taken. In such cases tools like the Tool below can come very handy.
Probably you will not be able to come on your own with tons of good suggestions. Additionally, even if you manage to think of a couple of good domain names, they might be already taken. In such cases tools like the Tool below can come very handy.
b. Keywords in Page Titles
The page title is another special place because the contents of the <title> tag usually gets displayed in most search engines, (including Google). While it is not mandatory per the HTML specification to write something in the <title> tag (i.e. you can leave it empty and the title bar of the browser will read “Untitled Document” or similar), for SEO purposes you may not want to leave the <title> tag empty; instead, you'd better write the the page title in it.
Unlike URLs, with page titles you can get wordy. If we go on with the dog example, the <title> tag of the home page for the http://dog-adopt.net can include something like this: <title>Adopt a Dog – Save a Life and Bring Joy to Your Home</title>, <title>Everything You Need to Know About Adopting a Dog</title> or even longer.
Normally headings separate paragraphs into related subtopics and from a literary point of view, it may be pointless to have a heading after every other paragraph but from SEO point of view it is extremely good to have as many headings on a page as possible, especially if they have the keywords in them.
There are no technical length limits for the contents of the <h1>, <h2>, <h3>, ... <hn> tags but common sense says that too long headings are bad for page readability. So, like with URLs, you need to be wise with the length of headings. Another issue you need to consider is how the heading will be displayed. If it is Heading 1 (<h1>), generally this means larger font size and in this case it is recommendable to have less than 7-8 words in the heading, otherwise it might spread on 2 or 3 lines, which is not good and if you can avoid it – do it.
III. Backlinks – Another Important SEO Item
What are Backlinks?
In layman's terms, there are two types of links: inbound and outbound. Outbound links start from your site and lead to an external site, while inbound links or backlinks, come from an external site to yours. e.g. if cnn.com links to yourdomain.com, the link from cnn.com is a backlink (inbound) for yourdomain.com, however the link is an outbound link from cnn.com's perspective. Backlinks are among the main building blocks to good Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
The number of backlinks is an indication of the popularity or importance of that website. Backlinks are important for SEO because some search engines like Google, give more credit to websites that have a large number of quality backlinks, and consider those websites more relevant than others in their results pages for a search query.
Therefore, when search engines calculate the relevance of a site to a keyword, they not only consider the number of backlinks to that site but also their quality. In order to determine the quality, a search engine considers the content of the sites. When backlinks to your site come from other sites, and those sites have content related to your site, these backlinks are considered more relevant to your site. If backlinks are found on sites with unrelated content, they are considered less relevant. The higher the relevance of backlinks, the greater their quality.
For example, if a webmaster has a website about how to rescue orphaned dogs, and received a backlink from another website about dogs, then that would be more relevant in a search engine's assessment than say a link from a site about car racing. Therefore, higher the relevance of the site linking back to your website, the better the quality of the backlink.
Search engines want websites to have a level playing field, and look for natural links built slowly over time. While it is fairly easy to modify your webpages to make them more SEO friendly it is a lot harder for you to influence other websites and get them to link to your website. This is the reason search engines regard backlinks as a very important factor. Further, search engine's criteria for quality backlinks has gotten even tougher, thanks to unscrupulous webmasters trying to achieve these backlinks by deceptive or sneaky techniques, such as hidden links, or automatically generated pages whose sole purpose is to provide backlinks to websites. These pages are called link farms, and they are not only disregarded by search engines, but linking to a link farm could get your site banned entirely.
When a link incorporates a keyword into the text of the hyperlink, we call this anchor text. A link's anchor text may be one of the most powerful resources a webmaster has. Backlinks from multiple websites with the anchor text "orphaned dogs" would help your website rank higher for the keyword "orphaned dogs". Using your keyword is a superior way to utilize a hyperlink as against having links with words like "click here" which do not relate to your website. The'Backlink Anchor Text Analysis Tool' is a tool which will assist you find your backlinks and the text which is being used to link to your website. If you find that your site is being linked to from another website, but the anchor text is not being utilized properly, you should request that the website change the anchor text to something which incorporates relevant keywords. This will also help boost your rankings.
Ways to Build Backlinks
Even if plenty of backlinks come to your site the natural way, additional quality backlinks are always welcome.
1 The Backlink Builder Tool
When you enter the keywords of your choice, the Backlink Builder tool gives you a list of relevent sites from where you might get some backlinks.
2 Getting Listed in Directories
If you are serious about your Web presence, getting listed in directories like DMOZ and Yahoo is a must, not only because this is a way to get some quality backlinks for free, but also because this way you are easily noticed by both search engines and potential visitors. Generally inclusion in search directories is free but the drawback is that sometimes you have to wait a couple of months before you get listed in the categories of your choice.
3 Forums and Article Directories
Generally search engines index forums so posting in forums and blogs is also a way to get quality backlinks with the anchor text you want. If the forum or blog is a respected one, a backlink is valuable. However, in some cases the forum or blog administrator can edit your post, or even delete it if it does not fit into the forum or blog policy. Also, sometimes administrators do not allow links in posts, unless they are relevant ones. In some rare cases (which are more an exception than a rule) the owner of a forum or a blog would have banned search engines from indexing it and in this case posting backlinks there is pointless.
4 RSS Feeds
You can offer RSS feeds to interested sites for free, when the other site publishes your RSS feed you will get a backlink to your site and potentially a lot of visitors, who will come to your site for more details about the headline and the abstract they read on the other site.
5 Affiliate programs
Affiliate programs are also good for getting more visitors (and buyers) and for building quality backlinks but they tend to be an expensive way because generally the affiliate commission is in the range of 10 to 30 %. But if you have an affiliate program anyway, why not use it to get some more quality backlinks?
6 News Announcements and Press Releases
Although this is hardly an everyday way to build backlinks, it is an approach that gives good results, if handled properly. There are many sites that publish news announcements and press releases for free or for a small fee . A professionally written press release about an important event can bring you many visitors and the backlink from a respected site to yours is a good boost to your SEO efforts. The tricky part is that you cannot release press releases if there is nothing newsworthy. That is why we say that news announcements and press releases are not a commodity way to build backlinks.
Link Practices That Are To Be Avoided
There is much discussion in these last few months about reciprocal linking. In the past few Google updates, reciprocal links were one of the targets of the search engine's latest filter. Many webmasters had agreed upon reciprocal link exchanges, in order to boost their site's rankings. In a link exchange, one webmaster places a link on his website that points to another webmasters website, and vice versa. Many of these links were simply not relevant, and were just discounted. So while the irrelevant backlinks were ignored, the outbound links still got counted, diluting the relevancy score of many websites. This caused a great many websites to drop off the Google map.
There is a Google patent in the works that will deal with not only the popularity of the sites being linked to, but also how trustworthy a site is that you link to from your own website. This will mean that you could get into trouble with the search engine just for linking to a bad apple.
Many webmasters have more than one website. Sometimes these websites are related, sometimes they are not. You have to also be careful about interlinking multiple websites on the same IP. If you own seven related websites, then a link to each of those websites on a page could hurt you, as it may look like to a search engine that you are trying to do something fishy. Many webmasters have tried to manipulate backlinks in this way; and too many links to sites with the same IP address is referred to as backlink bombing.
One thing is certain, interlinking sites doesn't help you from a search engine standpoint. The only reason you may want to interlink your sites in the first place might be to provide your visitors with extra resources to visit. In this case, it would probably be okay to provide visitors with a link to another of your websites, but try to keep many instances of linking to the same IP address to a bare minimum. One or two links on a page here and there probably won't hurt you.
V. Content Is King
If you were writing SEO text solely for machines, optimization would be simple. Sprinkle in some keywords, rearrange them at random and watch the hit counter skyrocket. Sometimes SEO copy writers forget that this isn't the case. Real people read your text and they expect something in return for the time and attention they give you. They expect good content, and their expectations have shaped how search engines rank your site.
What Is Good Content?
Good SEO content has three primary characteristics:
- Offers useful information presented in an engaging format to human readers
- Boosts search engine rankings
- Attracts plenty of links from other sites
Note that human readers come first on the list. Your site must deliver value to its visitors and do it in an engaging way. Few sites specialize in a subject so narrow that they have an information niche all to themselves. You'll have competition. Set yourself apart from it with expert interviews, meaningful lists and well-researched resources. Write well or invest in someone who does; your investment will pay off in increased traffic.
Although search engines aren't your primary audience, they still influence your page rankings. In the days of early SEO, using keyword-stuffed META tags brought in plenty of traffic. People didn't hang around on a site that promised low air fares and delivered advertisements, but that didn't affect the search engines. Each iteration of the engines' algorithms got better at discerning valuable sites from clutter, though, so site creators had to sharpen their technique as well. Instead of META tags, they used keywords sprinkled throughout an article.
In April 2011, Google's algorithm change devalued keyword and keyphrase "spam" in favor of more nuanced means of determining a web site's value to viewers. This update sent ripples throughout the Internet. From major commerce sites to hobbyists' blogs, search engines boosted high-value sites and cast down some once-mighty sites that relied too much on keyword-stuffing. Keywords haven't lost their value, but they no longer provide the only cue to search engines.
If SEO keywords have become devalued, links have grown in value. If other sites link to yours as an engaging read, controversial screed or authoritative text, search engines view your page as a site that viewers will want to see and bump it up accordingly. Filling your site with link bait will get you noticed by search engines and the people who use them, and the best way to draw links is with strong, fresh content. Social media sites provide even more buzz for pages with great content. Those links count too, so court them with content-rich pages.
SEO no longer means scattering keywords like Hansel and Gretel throwing breadcrumbs. The newest search engines scan pages almost as your readers might. Jakob Nielsen, a researcher and expert in human-machine interaction at the Technical University of Copenhagen, found that almost 80 percent of a web site's visitors scanned the page rather than reading it line by line. They spent their first fractions of a second on the page deciding if it was worth their time. Search engine programmers still use this research to devise algorithms that provide more organic and meaningful rankings.
The same things that catch a visitor's eye will get a search engine's attention. The upper left corner of the page is the most valuable real estate on the page, as it's where a reader's eyes go first. Put important text there so search engines and people will see it immediately. It's also a good spot for boxed text and itemized lists, both of which appeal equally to carbon-based and silicon-based brains.
Bold text makes people and machines notice, but use those tags judiciously. Too much bold text looks like an advertisement and will cause search engines to devalue your site. Italic text bold HTML tags should surround meaningful concepts, not emphasis words. Bolding a "very" or italicizing a "more" means nothing to a search engine, so apply those tags to important concepts and sub-headings.
Searches now look for associated terms and relevant phrases, not just keywords. A person picks up meaning from context and readily distinguishes the term "clipping" as it applies to hair from the same word as it refers to film stock or video game graphics. Let your visitors -- human and machine -- know whether you're talking about German shepherds as a dog breed or as an exciting career in European wool and mutton. In your SEO text, include synonyms and relevant terms to let search engines recognize the purpose of your site.
Happily, there's a way to work these terms into your content without monitoring keyword and keyphrase percentages: simply write the kind of engaging copy that people like to read. If you write for readers, the search engines will follow.
SEO Killers - Duplicate Content, Spam and Filler
You have a handle on what modern SEO content should be, but it's also vital to understand what it shouldn't be. Nielsen's research described what kept readers on web sites and shed light on what drove them away. Search engines take these same factors into account and rank pages down or even remove them from ranking altogether.
Duplicate content can sink a site. Even legally obtained duplicate content such as articles linked whole from news feeds and large blocks of attributed quotes diminish a site's SEO value. Readers have no reason to visit a site that gives them other sites' news verbatim. Page ranks will decline over time without original content.
While you don't want large blocks of duplicate content on your site, you want the timely information that your news feeds deliver. Build fresh new content on the foundation of other information whenever possible. It takes more effort to assimilate and summarize a news story or to use it as a link within an original article, but doing so will cast your site in a more positive light. If you add sufficient value with sharp writing and relevant links, you'll find yourself in the search engine stratosphere.
The old method of following keyword formulas and meeting keyword percentages is not only outdated, it will actively lower your site's rank. Heavy keyword-loading is the hallmark of advertising web sites, and search engines know it. Using related words and relevant phrases to enhance topic recognition marks your site as valuable and drives its search engine value higher. Varied writing is also more readable to your human visitors.
Nielsen found that human readers shunned sites full of filler phrases. Clear, concise web writing has greater value than sprawling pages full of fluff. Hyperbole and promotional language -- describing a product as "the best ever" or "the perfect solution," for example -- contributes nothing to the meaning of the text. Human readers filter out fluff and software ranks down sites with too much of it, so eliminate it from your site.
Search engines change their algorithms regularly in an effort to provide their users with more relevant results. The state of SEO art changes with them. The only constant in web writing is its human audience. Pages that provide novel, appealing content in a reader-friendly format will rise to the top of the rankings.
Try the Similar Page Checker to check the similarity between two URLs.