Recently, and on more than one occasion, questions about SEO have come to us and we’ve taken the opportunity to inform the questioners about benefits and pitfalls regarding this trend in web strategy. The brief description below shares our thoughts and experience with everyone who might consider making their site easier for search engines to find and rank higher in search results.
Search engine optimization is not a new trend. In the late '90s and early naughts, web developers began gaming search engines to increase the likelihood that their pages would appear at the top of search lists. If someone searched "potato farmers in Tucson", for example, a developer could easily add keywords “potato,” “farmer” and “Tucson” to a page's meta data, hidden information that tells search engines what a page is about. In the early days search engines were not sophisticated enough to distinguish if the meta data and page content actually agreed. In other words, it didn't matter if the page was actually about potato farmers in Tucson, the page would still appear in search results for those search terms. Because this shady practice provided no value to users, search engines started getting smarter. Between 2004 and 2006, search engines started getting really smart. When users searched for information, they got the most relevant information for their effort because meta data and page content were consistent. This is the trend that continues and the greatest SEO rule of thumb is also very simple to put into words: If it adds value for users, it's better for search engine optimization. Therefore the focus of SEO should never stray from adding user value and generally falls into three categories: content, technology and user engagement.
Content is king. Page content – copy and keywords, images, lists and links – need to be concise, relevant and directly related to one another. If not, users become disinterested or confused quickly. When they do, they tend to move on without making an effort to process the information presented because someone else has better considered and satisfied their need for information. Content should be written for people, not SEO. This is the biggest and most easily avoided pitfall when people begin writing for the web. Writers consider a list of keywords and cram as many as possible into a small space. The result is keyword rich, but meaningless content that nobody cares to read. To make content the most useful, organize it. Headings and subheadings, easily scannable lists and consistent page formatting are simple examples of ways to improve content for people. Fresh and exciting CONTENT gives visitors a reason to return to your site, which keeps traffic counts high.
While meta data has taken a back seat to content in the modern age of search engine optimization, it's still an important part of SEO. URLs that help people remember pages they've visited and match content also increase usability and therefore SEO. Who among us can remember http://www.marktwain.com/#box=xfgieslcshu?id=2359612454? We are people, not machines and remember things based on language and experience: the better URL is marktwain.com/life-and-times. A well constructed site architecture and navigation similarly make finding information easier for visitors, and increase usability. Lastly people use different browsers and search engines. Trevor prefers the Safari and Google mix while Jon's mom likes searching AOL with Internet explorer. Making sure sites are constructed to hold together in multiple browsers and also appeal to different search engine sensibilities requires technology and people who know how to use and adapt it for unique situations.
Sometimes it's called Web 2.0. We prefer to call it creating opportunities for visitors to interact with brands, sites and each other. Minimally you can give users an easy way to share content on social network sites or through email. Using a free service like AddThis gives users the chance to advocate for your brand. Other types of user engagement include RSS feeds, blogging, user-created content and insider-only member areas. Because search engine algorithms weigh value-adding user features, sites that utilize them generally rank higher than sites that do not.
Space2Burn offers free SEO consultations. Contact us to get started.