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What is SEO - Search Engine Optimisation

Dave from Suffolk asked us "What's all this I hear about SEO? It seems to be on every web master forum I visit recently".

Well Dave, SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and it means just that. It's a method of engineering individual web pages or entire web sites, to achieve higher and more relevant quantities of visitors. Google like many other search engines is algorithmically based. Although the exact nature and inner workings of these algorithms are a closely guarded secret, there are a number of 'known' methods for improving your chances of high rankings in search engine results. Before we go into any more details, you must first understand the entity with which you are dealing with. Although each of the popular search engines have their own web crawling methods, or spiders to give them their proper names. We will focus our attention on the one which Google uses, called The Googlebot Spider.

The Googlebot Spider

Search engines would not exist today if they didn't have content. The better quality, and higher quantity the content, generally the more likely you are to find your desired results. In Google's case like many others, the way in which it builds it's content is by examining other peoples websites. So how does it know your website exists and where to find it? - In realistic terms, it doesn't know about your site, and could not possibly find it unless someone has told it where to look. You may not have told it, so just who did? Well in a number of cases when you take out a hosting plan with a service provider, they may submit your site or domain name automatically. You may also have purchased an expired or pre-used domain name, in which case the domain name may have already been on Google's crawl list. Finally, someone may have linked from their site to yours, and their site may be on Google's crawl list. So if you have just made a new site, the first thing you should do is enter the full domain name into Google's search. If it finds any results, then you are already on it's crawl list. If it tells you that no information is available for the url, then you are not on it's crawl list, or your are and just have not yet been crawled.

Once your website has been found by Google then it will send along it's spider. You can identify when Google visits by close examination of your web logs. You would typically see a line ending in:

Googlebot/2.1; +

The front of the line should tell you which page on your site was crawled, depending on individual web logs. The spider will examine each pages content in turn, and decide whether or not it's worth inclusion in it's database. If it finds either a HREF or SRC tag within your html source, then it will add their destinations to it's crawl list. Now you can begin to understand how Google might have found your website in the first place. The spider will then proceed to follow the links to all your other linked to pages on your site. Where a page has no link to it, there is not much chance of it being included on Google. However, and this is important! - there is also no guarantee that it won't be included in some search engine results. I stress the importance of this, as people time and time again leave private or even confidential pages open to search engine spiders. In order to stop a search engine from spidering a particular page, you must include a robots.txt exclusion file in that directory. If the page is of a private and confidential nature, eg, contains names and addresses of customers, then a robots.txt isn't nearly enough protection. You need to instead create a file called .htaccess in your web directory, and include information to deny all access. These files are great for restricting access to websites to only a set of individuals, via means of usernames and passwords. So once the Googlebot spider has finished visiting your website, it should then add you pages to it's database. At this stage it is possible that some pages might be dropped, usually because Google believes they duplicate another websites content. If they all make it then you should be able to search Google for your site name, and display all of your Google'd pages.

How do you optimise your website for search engines?

So you are now listed in Google and can find your website by typing in it's domain name, that's the first stage complete. What about typing in some keywords relating to your web pages content? - anything on page 1's results? - anything on page 2? 3? 50?. Well don't be to hard on yourself, this means two things. The first thing is that your site is probably not optimised for the search engines, and secondly is probably not very popular yet. In this section we will deal with the optimisation or optimization as our state side friends prefer to call it first. We will come to website promotion and popularity in just a moment.

This is by no means intended as a full and comprehensive guide to Search Engine Optimisation, one such document would cover literally hundreds of pages. Just perform a search on SEO or Search Engine Optimisation in your favourite search engine and check out the number of results returned. Always remember, Search Engine Optimisation evolves each and every day so you should always keep up to date with the latest goings on via SEO forums and message boards.

I would like to begin by drawing your attention to another of our websites hosted here on the Fuzzup Network, this site will be constantly referred to throughout the tutorial.
Please open the following page:

I will now hopefully demonstrate my ten top tips for how I optimised this website.

1. It is very important to know exactly what keywords you plan to target in the search engines. Like all things in life, if you have a plan it's much easier to know when you get there. By keywords, I refer of course to what people will type into Google in order to find your website. For this particular website I had two sets of keywords in mind. I wanted to target people entering "kitten photos" and or "cat photos". This point is very important and it's something which you should decide upon right from the beginning, as it will guide the remainder of the creative process. So with my keywords decided upon, the first thing I did was to create the URL for the website. Many people neglect the importance of the URL in Search Engine Optimisation, you can see from mine however this was definitely not the case. The URL contains both sets of keywords "kitten photos", and "cat photos", and a number of other relevant words too. My site plan was to make a website dedicated to my cat named Ella, and to have lots of photos of her. This I hope to have reflected in the URL along with adding SEO value to it at the same time. I was not to bothered about people remembering the URL as the site is one which you either bookmark or do not. It doesn't need to be short so you always remember it off the top of your head. I should stress at this stage the importance of the '-' hyphens within the URL. Without them I would loose any additional SEO as Google would simply see my site called and of course "ellakittenphotoscatphotos" is not exactly going to be found in the dictionary any day soon. So the hyphens help Google to see the individual words within the URL, and aid towards my overall search engine ranking.

2. If you now view the source html for our example website and cast your attention to the head section. You will notice three very important lines. The first is the title line, this is the line of text which appears in your web browsers title bar. It may seem unimportant to you, but to search engine spiders like the Googlebot it's prime SE candy. This is generally the first thing a spider will see when it comes to visit your website, and it is typically the line of text that appears at the top of your search engine listing. You should always include your keywords in the title, and any additional text which is relevant to drawing in traffic. In my case I start with "kitten photos" and "cat photos" my two targeted keywords. I then add a general description to inform visitors what the site is actually about. Please don't forget, with all the SEO you must still look after your visitors else they may never return. Moving on you can see the meta description line, in Google this line typically appears under your website title in the search results page. It is important that you use this line to tell your visitors why they should visit your site. In my case I explain that we have pictures of kittens and cats in our gallery. This is relevant text based on my nominated keywords. Finally we have the meta keywords line. This is not used by all search engines, but some do still use it and therefore it's important to fill it in. You should start with your chosen keywords, seperating each word by a coma. Text should be all lower case, and I would advise against using too many keywords. Ten keywords is probably enough.

3. Now to the graphic heading. I wanted to draw the visitors attention immediately to my cat Ella, especially showing how cute she is. You will notice however I opted for a plain text based site heading, rather than including the heading in the actual graphic file itself. The reason for this is that any search engine spiders would simply not have seen the site title, were it in the graphic, and I would have missed an opportunity for using more keywords. You will also notice that the text is no ordinary text, instead it's wrapped up in a h1 html header tag. This is more search engine optimisation at work here, spiders tend to give main headings (h1,h2,h3 etc) more relevance than regular text. So it's best to use them where-ever possible for your main site headers. Once again you should not go over board with heading tags, as over saturation can be just as bad as not using them at all. Under the main heading you will also see that I have included a sub heading h2 tag. I knew that I was not going to need any menu's for the site, and thought what better place is there to include some more keyword candy than right here.

4. Next comes the text part. You need to let your visitors know what the site is about and quickly. If they fail to find out what exactly your site is about, then they will leave almost immediately. I tell them all about our cat Ella, and how she came to be. You will then notice how I break the text up with a non abtrusive Google AdSense link, and finally I end the text for the time being and tell my visitors that it continues after the photo gallery. The reason I didn't want the text to go on any further is to keep the gallery within view from the top of the page. This is very important as visitors will land on the site wanting photos of cute little kittens and cats. If they fail to see any they will leave. This becomes even more relevant when traffic starts to arrive at the site from Google image searches.

5. On the subject of Google image searches, have a look at one of the photos in the Ella gallery. Pay close attention to it's filename, which you may need to right click then properties on to see. You will notice two things about the pictures. Firstly they are stored within a directory structure containing my two sets of keywords, secondly all pictures contain my actual keywords plus an extra description of the image itself. You should also note that each word is once again seperated out by our friend the hyphen. The Google image search is an incredibly understanded tool for driving traffic to websites, and one which site owners rarely use. Just as a test, how many images on your own website have filenames along the lines of image001.jpg, etc. Well if you took the time to give each image a relevant filename, like "ella-kitten-photos-cat-photos-pussy-gallery-ella-on-chair-sticking-out-her-tounge-with-white-wool.jpg" which I use on the site, you may be shocked by the extra traffic Google image search sends your way. Generally what will happen is that someone will go to the Google image search and enter kitten photos, cat photos, or even pussy photos (eek!) and they will see a selection of images, including those from my site. When they click on one, Google will take them to the page containing the picture gallery, thus it's important they can see the gallery immediately. Remember Google takes an inch or two away from your site with the frame at the top of the page. Another point which is often overlooked is that of href title, and image alt tagging. If you examine the source code again for Ella's Page, you will notice that all of my href links have title tags, and my image src's have alt tags. These are displayed in different web browsers for different reasons, in IE for example the alt tag is displayed when you hover over the image. In Firefox the href title tag is displayed instead. You should always make good use of both these tags, as these are also picked up by the search engine spiders. I copy the filename of each picture into both the title and alt tags, however remove the hyphens as they are no longer required.

6. Continuing on down the page, past the picture gallery we come to another Google AdSense advert. The advert positioning is once again optimised to gain prime exposure. Following on from the ad we see more text, remember I mentioned it would be continued after the gallery? well there it is. This is once more to give our visitors a good insight into Ella, and to hopefully convince them to bookmark the page. The additional content also acts as further search engine candy.

7. I will come on to the process of inbound links in the next section, but for the time being we move on to my favourite section on Ella's Page, the link to me section. Why should all website promotion be done by the web creators themselves? - why not let your visitors take some of the burden from your shoulders. In this section I actively ask, if you like this website then please link to it from your own website or blog. I provide a quick an easy method for copying my links, along with some nice graphical banners. If enough visitors place one of your links on their site, then you will soon see a vast increase in traffic coming your way. My last piece of advice on the subject of link to me sections, would be to regularly change the included text. Search engines favour organic links, eg, one's people create themselves rather than those from link farms. By changing the text every couple of months you will be making the inbound links appear more organic.

8. At the bottom of your page you should include a final copyright notice and any contact information. You should make sure that you also feature your keywords once again in this text. This is quite important as search engines for some odd reason like the last text lines of websites, and tend to include them within your search pages. Finally, at the bottom of the screen or somewhere at least, you should make a point of including your email address. Visitors to your website are more likely to find you trust worthy if they can see a point of contact. You should not however include the email address as a mailto link, but rather a static image with a blank alt tag. This stops the spammers from harvesting your email address from the page.

9. Back up to the top of the Ella's Page now, and to the right. You will notice a signup box, asking for your visitors email addresses. It is very important right from the beginning that you start collecting your visitors email addresses. You can then send them email newsletters and site update notifications every couple of months. You would not believe the amount of additional repeat traffic this can bring about to a website, and if you don't do it then you are simply throwing away this traffic. There are many companies that exist on the Internet who provide services for newsletter signups. You simply refer the visitor to a different website with a form on asking them for their details. You can then edit your newsletters online and send them out to different mailing lists. These services are usually charged by the number of emails which you intend to send out per month, plus a minimal running cost.

10. My last tip relates not just to websites but to anything in marketing, and don't forget at the end of the day marketing is what you are actually doing once you have a finished website. You should go out of your way to provide your visitors with added value, or bonus freebies. This can sometimes be the final selling point, even on a website selling nothing, that makes your visitor head for the bookmark page button. In my case on Ella's Page I tell the visitors that I have hidden three bonus pictures somewhere on the website, hopefully this will spur them on to stay a while longer and look for them. You will also notice that under the email signup box I have included a link to a message forum. Forums are another excellent method for creating repeat traffic to websites, and at the same time allowing you to gain valuable feedback from your visitors. You should always make the extra effort to get the forum to fit in with your site design, rather than just using the default look that came with it. There are plenty of free forum packages on the Internet, so there should be no excuse for not using one.

Tips on website promotion, inbound links and popularity

So how does your website gain popularity? well first you need to tell everyone you know about it. Then ask them to tell everyone they know about it, preferably via email. Next go to your online friends and ask them to link to your website from their own sites or blogs. You should also make a point of joining web forums and message boards relevant to your website content. Here you can exchange comments on your chosen topics, meet new friends, and have a link back to your website within your forum signatures. Although forum signatures do not count much towards your overall inbound link quantity (more on that in a moment), you will find you receive traffic from the other forum members. It's also a nice way to meet new people sharing your interest, who may own websites and would be willing to add links back to your own site. On the subject of inbound links, this is the name given to any links from other peoples websites to your own. These help to provide search engines like Google, with an idea of how popular your website is on the Internet. With Google this is commonly referred to as your websites PageRank. If you want to find out your websites current PageRank, there are plenty of websites dedicated to this floating around, just search for them on Google. You can also download Google's toolbar, which includes a PageRank metre that updates as you visit websites.

A word of advice, if you are thinking of joining any link farms where you exchange links with other people. Be very careful about the people with whom you exchange links with. If for example you were to have an inbound link to your site, from a web site or owner who is a known spammer, you will find that your website is penalised for it. In some cases you site may be dropped from Google entirely. My advise is to stay away from exchanging links with websites containing any of the following; adult content, casino's or gambling, pharmacy including viagra and weightloss products. I am sure you probably know the kind of sites already, as like me you probably receive a shed load of spam from them daily! - Probably the best kind of inbound links you can hope for are those from other peoples blogs, or sites which are updated frequently.

Well I think that about wraps up this document, and I hope we have answered your question Dave.

Did you know

Google are widely known for regularly making changes to their data mining algorithms. It is possible for the number 1 search result one month, to be on the last page of 40 results the next. As you can imagine these kind of changes can really upset people who depend on high search rankings to make a living. Our advice is to make sure you always keep up to date with the latest SEO technology.

This article on Search Engine Optimisation or Optimization is copyright 2005

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