Thursday, June 14, 2007

Search Engine Visibility - Fundamental Points In Optimising Your Website

Search engine optimisation (SEO) has become big business due to the increased technical expertise required to properly carryout and deliver real measurable improvements. With constant movement of the goalposts it's testing for even the best SEOers to keep up to speed. There are however several basic level points we can all keep in mind should the cost of hiring professionals be unrealistic.

Analysing your website has to be a good starting point. Web logs and other forms of statistical information can give early indication where errors may exist within your website. Determining where search bots are struggling will allow you to focus on fixing errors which might otherwise nullify other SEO efforts. Googlebot activity for instance, is well worth spending time to understand. Reports will indicate if pages are running slow and as such perhaps search engines are abandoning the site. If search engines are struggling then its safe to assume regular visitors will also be experiencing slow loading of pages and possibly leaving prematurely.

Sitesmaps are another fairly easy way to make it obvious where all your pages are. Combined with the use of robots.txt you can let search engines also learn what's best left un-indexed. Sitesmaps are often presented as a summary page (or pages) within the site displaying links to everything that's worthy of listing. Google also offers a means to upload XML formatted files whereby you can push the list at Google instead of waiting for the next scheduled visit.

It's always worth considering how your site actually appears to search engines. To give you something of a feel for how well your pages perform it's perhaps worth setting yourself up with Mozilla Firefox (if you haven't already) as this nifty little browser allows you to easily turn off both images and JavaScript. If you find your pages are pretty messed up (as is sometimes the case) it may be that you should consider a design that has a better textual structure with less dependency upon graphics and JavaScript. While it's not the greatest sin in web design, overuse of graphics as a means of navigation can prove deadly for search engines and full site indexing. As a minimum, a text only set of links mirroring your main structure can be nestled at the bottom of the page. This will at least give search engines something to work with. A good alternative is to use CSS as a method to retain a classy design while also offering linking text. Where images are used it's always a good idea to remember to use ALT tags. As search engines effectively ignore images, so the ALT tag offers a little bit of something they can latch onto.

Flash animation is another area similar to graphics that offers nothing to search engines. To the user however, they can be massively attractive and provide an area from where a stream of information can be delivered. The best is to use flash in moderation, striking a balance between engaging the user while satisfying the engines. Just like graphical navigation anything important communicated to the user through flash should perhaps be subtly repeated in the regular text somewhere.

It's often said but nevertheless it's amazing how many people still ignore the basic meta tags. There's plenty of information around which will help anyone get a quick understanding of how best to fill out the title, description and keyword meta tags. While meta tags are important they are only a minor aspect of any one page. It's imperative that meta tags properly mirror the content of a page but of greater importance is that the content has an array of words and phrases that are relevant to the niche in which you are trying to compete. Don't go searching Google for words you think you should be listed under if your pages doesn't have them within the content.

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