Search Engine Optimization Basics

If you are a new webmaster you may have heard of SEO, but really weren’t sure what it was or how it can help your site. SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization and is important for helping get your site to rank higher on the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) in the major search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN.

Why would one want higher rankings? To optain more organic traffic. Organic traffic is defined as ‘free’ traffic. In other words, when a surfer lands on your site, it did not cost you anything in hard cash for them to get there, as opposed to Pay Per Click (PPC) traffic. Organic traffic can include direct traffic, where a surfer enters your URL into their address bar and lands on your site, and Search Engine (SE) traffic. There are a number of factors that can influence your rank in the search engines. I’m going to step you through any of the basics today.

1. How do the search engines find my site in the first place?

First, you will need to give the search engines a reason to look for you. Either submit your website to them through their online webform, or work with other sites that rank well to get Inbound Links (IBL) to your site. Make sure the site that is linking to you is related to your type of site in any way. This is called relevancy. If the site is not relevant, it will not help you nearly as much as one that is. Most SE’s regard relevancy of links as more important than sheer numbers; however, any free Inbound Link is generally a good thing.

There are a few cases where certain inbound links may not be desirable. One type of link that is not considered desirable would be a link that originates from a ‘Link Farm’. Link Farms are classified as a repository of links with no central theme, developed for the sole purpose of trying to increase SERPs ranking. Sometimes this can be difficult to determine, so don’t worry about it too much. If you concentrate on trying to get quality Inbound Links, then you have nothing to worry about.

Once the search engine is aware of your sites existence, it will send an agent to check out your site. Search engines employee programs called ‘bots’ or ‘spiders’ to ‘crawl’ websites. These simple programs will visit your site and try to follow all the links within that site. The spider will look at meta tags, links, and your site’s content and report that info back to the search engine. The search engine then uses an algorithm to determine how your site will be indexed and where.

2. What are meta tags?

Meta tags are HTML tags that describe certain aspects of your website. Metas can be used to describe the keywords for your theme, a description of your website, whoever the author is, and the character encoding your site uses, among other things.

The two metas that this article is concerned with are the ‘description’ and ‘keywords’ tags. There is any debate in the SEO field as to how important meta tags are. Regardless of whether one SEO believes that they are worthless and another is a stout believer in meta tags is irrelevant to this articel. It is still important that you know what they are and how they are used. When any of the ‘big boys’ may ignore your meta tags, a lot of the smaller Search Engines and Directories still use them.

The first meta tag is the ‘description’, and it is just that – a description of your site written in plain English. As a rule of thumb, it is a good idea to keep your description under 250 characters. Descriptions that are too long will not be displayed fully by the SEs, so keep it short and sweet (KISS). A sample description for this article could be: “An article about basic Search Engine Optimization”. See? Short and sweet.

The keywords tags describes the keywords of your website. Keywords are single or multiple words (phrases) that also describe your site. For those of you into social bookmarking, think of them as ‘Tags’. For example, the keywords for this article could be: search engine optimization, SEO, SERPs, webmaster, and basic.

3. Links, backlinks and reciprocal linking

Links can be inbound or outbound. When you link out to another site, you are telling the world that you think that other site is related to yours and that you believe it is important. If your website is about cooking, but you have a lot of links to webmaster resources, you may be hurting your potential ranking in the search engines, because, webmaster links have no relevancy to cooking. This is not to say you can not link to your friend’s website if theirs is unrelated to yours. You can. You just want to be sure that the majority of your outbound links are relevant to your site.

Also, you want more inbound links than outbound, ideally. In the beginning that is difficult, as people don’t know about your site, and more importantly do not know if your site is a quality that they would want to associate theirs with. This is where reciprocal linking can be a very good thing.

Reciprocal linking is where you link to another related site, and they link back to you. When this does not have the impact that one way backlinks (inbound) do, it is still a good strategy to have your site noticed. Go to related sites, even sites you may consider as competitors, and find their “Links” or “Resources” page. On that page, many sites will tell you how to exchange links with them. If they do not have any info on link exchanging, just send them an email. A good strategy to get them to link to you, is to link to them first. That way when you send your email requesting a backlink, you can say “Hey, check out my site, I’ve already linked to you. Please return the favor.”

4. Submitting to directories and search engines

There are literally thousands of search engines and directories out there. Several are aimed at very specific niches, whereas others just want to be the next Google. Regardless, these are opportunities to have your site more backlinks without having to provide a reciprocal link in most cases.

First, don’t bother submitting your site to Google using the form they have. It’s pointless. Google will find your site when it is ready. A sure way to get Google interested in your site is to get a backlink from a very well respected website. Notice, I did not say high ranking, although the two generally go hand in hand. Google uses Page Rank, otherwise known as PR, to help determine how important a site is. Page Rank is a scale of 1 – 10. You can use many different tools to determine what Page Rank a page is, but the easiest is Google’s toolbar. You can download it at http://www.google.com/tools/toolbar. With Google’s toolbar, you can instantly tell what a site’s Page Rank is. At the time of this writing, http://www.ThosmonCon.com, has a PR of 4.

So, back to my point, get a site with a high Page Rank, 6 or higher, to link to your site. Google will find that link when it crawls the other site, and that will lead to Google crawling, and indexing your site much faster than if you submit your site directly to Google.

Another suggestion is to upload a sitemap to Google. A sitemap is a simple XML document that describes your site to Google. Once you upload a sitemap, Google will generally crawl your website within one week. You can find Google’s Sitemaps page here: http://www.google.com/webmasters/sitemaps/

Several other search engines actually don’t bother with getting their own results, they just scrape Google’s. So, when you get indexed on Google, that will filter down (eventually) to many other sites. A site that is absolutely worthwhile submitting to is: DMOZ.org. DMOZ, or the Open Directory Project, is the oldest and most respected ‘human edited’ directory, and is the basis for many other directories. In fact if you go to http://dir.google.com (Google Directory), you will find that it is just a mirror of DMOZ. No kidding, Google gets its listings for the Google Directory from somewhere else. So, if Google trusts them, it can be a big boost to have your site listed on DMOZ. The problem you will run into: because DMOZ is human edited, all submissions are looked at by…wait for it…humans. So, it could be anywhere from 5 minutes to many years before you get a listing in DMOZ. This is one of the most annoying processes for a SEO professional, but also the one of the biggest reasons DMOZ commands so much respect.

Here are any additional directory and search engines listings I have found that you may find useful:

http://info.vilesilencer.com/?rock=seo-friendly.php
http://www.isedn.org/
http://submit.isedn.org/ – this will submit your site to 40 directories with one click
http://searchwarp.com/AddURL.asp – personal favorite of mine, when you submit here, they will crawl your site immediately and index you within one hour on 3 different sites.
http://search.yahoo.com/info/submit.html – Yahoo!
http://submitit.bcentral.com/msnsubmit.htm – MSN
http://alltheweb.com/help/webmaster/submit_site
https://ecom.yahoo.com/dir/reference/cost – Yahoo! Directory

Last, I don’t recommend paying for inclusion to any site other than Yahoo! directory, and you should only consider this cost if you are confident that you have a quality site, and said site is going to make you money. The submission cost is a non-refundable $299 (at the time of this writing) and does not guarantee acceptance. If you have a quality site and it is accepted, this can help in many ways, including Google taking more acknowledge in your site. The reason Google likes sites listed in Yahoo!s directory is this: the site owner was willing to spend almost $300 to be included in a directory, and they were accepted by the #1 site on the net (site statistic is according to Alexa.com).

5. In conclusion

This article just barely scratches the surface of SEO, but hopefully has clarified any of the mystery of what SEO is and what it can do for you. Remember, try to get as many Inbound Links as possible. Don’t be afraid to ask for them. Reciprocal links are a good way to get noticed. Last, have fun with it. In future articles I will expand on any of these topics even further. Feel free to comment or ask questions at http://thomsoncon.com.



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