Complete Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Guide

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website for search engines to increase a website’s ranking in organic search engine results. This article will summarize how you can optimize your pages to get better rankings and will go over how search engines decide which pages to rank highest.

Internal Optimization

Here I’ll talk about doing internal optimization; this is anything you can do on your own website to optimize it for search engines.

Tags

Title – The title tag is the most important tag on your entire webpage. It is also the most important text you can have on your website. This is the text shown as the anchor text in search engine results. An optimized title is crucial to ranking well for your desired keyword. You should choose a title similar to the keyword you’re aiming for and similar to the content of your website. If you use a CMS (Content Management System) make sure the actual page title is the first thing that appears. The preferred format is Page Title – Site Name. You can use any divider between the page title and the site name, such as – or |. If you take out the site name the page should appear higher in the SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages) for a search on the page title.

Meta Description – The meta description is visible as the text below the title in search engine results. This tag is used to increase clickthrough rates because people will click on results they think are relevant. The description meta tag will not affect your rankings.

Meta Keywords – Many people still believe that they can rank higher if they place keywords in the keyword meta tag. This is incorrect; the major search engines have told us that they ignore the keywords meta tag because of abuse in the past. Sites which choose to include this tag do not rank higher than sites which don’t use the tag and this tag has no effect on ranking.

Meta Author/Other – These types of tags have no effect on your rankings.

Meta Robots – Search engines will treat pages as index, follow be default; giving this tag is not necessary. You can use nofollow or noindex to automatically mark all links as nofollow or  to restrict indexing of a page, respectively.

Geo Targeting

Search engines will try to return local results for some searches. Geo targeting is a website targeting people in a specific georgraphic area. Search engines currently allow webmasters to target their website to specific countries with meta tags or with the search engine’s Webmaster Tools or by using country specific TLDs. If a website is geo targeted it should rank higher for people searching from that area. Domains with country top level domains are targeted to that country and cannot be changed.

Website Load Time

Google recently announced that webpage load time could affect a site’s search engine rankings. This means that if there were two identical webpages and one loaded faster, the webpage with the faster load would rank higher. Having pages that load quickly is also nice for your site because visitors will have a better experience when navigating around the site. Google currently allows webmasters to see website load time in their Google Webmaster Tools; the information there is collected by the Google toolbar on visitor’s web browsers. You can read our articles about optimizing your PHP code and optimizing your site for ideas on reducing your page load time.

Markup Validation

It’s very important to have valid HTML code on your website if you want to rank well. Crawlers for search engines need to be able to be able to navigate around your website, and invalid HTML can cause errors in crawling and may cause your website’s ranking to be low. All SEO professionals should validate website markup; some free tools such as the W3C Validator make this task very easy. However, since many websites contain invalid code the major search engines don’t use valid markup as a ranking signal; this is to make sure that a major error doesn’t stop a crawler from indexing a page correctly.

ALT tags

These are tags you can use on your images to tell the search engines what’s in your images. These can help you improve your rankings if you add related images to your pages and tag them appropriately, but they should not be abused. Use complete sentences in your ALT tags.

To increase your chances of ranking well in image search, give your image files appropriate short names. Include image captions and text related to the image around the image.

External Optimization

Backlinks

Backlinks (also knows as inbound links) are links to your site from any other website. Types of backlinks can be divided into several categories such as nofollow and dofollow, editorial and acquired, whitehat and blackhat. Backlinks are very important to website rankings because links to a site or page tell the search engines that this page is trusted. Organic rankings are a mix of authority and content, and links are what give the authority to a page/domain.

Makeup of a Link

Below is the HTML which makes up a hyperlink.

<a href="http://www.example.com/">Example</a>

This is the simplest form of a hyperlink. There are more attributes which can be added to this tag to, for example, set where the new page will open (in the current windows or in a new window).

Anchor text is the clickable text in a hyperlink. In the example below, the URL is example.com and the anchor text is Tech Support.

<a href="http://www.example.com/">Tech Support</a>

The example above would result in: Tech Support

Anchor text directly affects ranking for organic results. This is because the anchor text of links is usually relevant to the page the link is pointing to.

Nofollow

Nofollow was introduced by Google in 2005. The attribute was created to fight web spam because search engines would exclude links with the nofollow attribute from ranking calculation. Google has said that their crawlers won’t follow the link at all, and Yahoo and Bing will follow nofollow links but won’t use them in rank calculation. Some webmasters feel that nofollow is destroying the web because it’s getting overly difficult to gain links from trusted sites. This is because nofollow is in use for outgoing links at some of the most accessed websites, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Wikipedia. Nofollow is also enabled by default on online content management systems, such as WordPress. Despite the seemingly large existence of nofollow on the web, Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, has told the public that a very small amount of websites actually use nofollow and because of this nofollow isn’t changing the way organic search results are ranked. In June of 2009, Matt Cutts also announced a change nofollow won’t be treated in a way which allows webmasters to shape pagerank flow around their websites.

Links to your site that have nofollow as the value to the rel attribute on the link won’t be countent.

Editorial Links

The number of links to your site isn’t important in ranking. The quality of the links is the ranking signal. Editorial links are the links given to a page by article authors and these are the highest quality links because they are merit-based. When a search engine finds a link like this they know that the link was reviewed by a human and they thought the content was so great that it should be linked to. The search engines can detect editorial links and they give these links a very high authority.

Acquired Links

Acquired links are links given to a website when someone intentionally creates these links from other websites. For smaller websites, this is usually done when the webmaster visits other websites and posts the link there. This is not always considered spam; some whitehat ways to gain acquired links are commenting on blogs and pasting the link into a forum signature. Acquired links usually count for much less than editorial links.

Blackhat

Blackhat backlinks are links created with the intent to manipulate search engine rankings in a way prohibited by the Webmaster Guidelines. Examples of this are hidden links created with javascript, hidden links which blend in with the background so they can’t be seen, and links hidden in areas of text, such as periods. Blackhat SEO can also involve webspam, hidden redirects, pagerank cloaking, and hidden website mentions (usually in the form of spam).

Blackhat SEO is against webmaster guidelines and will get your website blocked by the major search engines. It can earn you some free money, but blackhat SEO won’t help you create a successful long term website.

Trust Rank

Trust ranks is a way to assign a rank to a domain to separate reputable websites from other websites. The process starts when human editors select the most valuable sites on the web that contain no spam. The sites that these reputable sites link to are just a bit less reputable and will have a bit more spam; and this is called the second ‘level’ or second ‘step’. As you go down the steps, the theory is that quality content decreases and spam increases. Trust rank is like a pyramid; it assumes that if websites from higher steps link to another site then your website must have quality content and the trust rank of it;s domain should be increased.

We can assume that Google uses some model for trust rank. We can guess that universities with thousands of research papers are on the first step, and we could guess that sites on the second step would be sites like Wikipedia, which would put many quality websites on the third step (because these sites would be encyclopedia references), and we could guess that most websites are on the fourth level. You can clearly see why Google would be interested in using this to rank websites and separate spam from search engine results.

PageRank

Pagerank is something all SEO articles talk about. It’s visible, it’s very easy to understand, and it shows how websites rank well. Pagerank is a number on a scale of one to ten (Google’s internal pagerank is much more specific, but we only see integers) which shows the trust of a page. Google’s internal measure of pagerank changes all the time and we see a snapshot of the pagerank updated on our Google toolbars approximately four times a year. Pagerank is passed equally through all links on a page, and a page with higher pagerank can pass more than a page with a lower pagerank.

One common myth about pagerank is that it can flow out of your webpage. That is false; no matter how many links you have on a page, that page will always keep it’s pagerank. It can not  ‘flow out’ of a webpage. Another common misconception is that pagerank alone determines a website’s rank in organic results. This is not true, and webmasters have been told over and over by Google that there are more than 200 factors which determine rank in organic results. Another common misconception is that pagerank is tied to a domain. This is false; pagerank is assigned per page only. Trust Rank (discussed above) can be through of as the pagerank of domains.

Still have questions? Come by our forum’s SEO section to ask a question!

This page was edited on 12/23/2010 to correct errors.

  1. Guest03-13-2011

    Hello Techie,
    First of all I want to say that you did include mostly all the possible SEO Technique here. I have one question about backlink and I am very aware about that. suppose if some one ( means our competitors) creates a lot of backlinks for my site(it is obvious if they want then could be) from the bad neighborhood sites then, will it effects to my site as SERP positions and downgraded PR. We know the previous story of JCpenney and a my friend told me that "someone added about 4000 garbage .edu links pointing to my site. My PageRank went down to PR3 form PR4.". But Google has been changed the algorithm of searching the content but my question is that, could bad neighborhood linking penalize the site? in the present time?

    • Techie03-23-2011

      Bad neighborhood linking can count against you but if your competitors are doing it against you it shouldn't be a big deal. When Google looks at the link history of a site and sees a huge spike in bought spammy links they can assume that it's a competitor or trashy listing. It won't count for you but it shouldn't count against you, unless your competitors are constantly buying more and more spammy links with optimized anchor text and stuff (that would make it look like you were the person buying the links or spamming, but that would be very expensive for your competitors).

  2. powder coating valley forge02-01-2014

    Admiring the persistence you put into your site and
    in depth information you offer. It’s awesome to come
    across a blog every once in a while that isn’t the same outdated rehashed material.
    Excellent read! I’ve saved your site and I’m including
    your RSS feeds to my Google account.

Leave a Reply