I’m currently doing a follow-up project on a search engine optimization report I composed last year during my co-op. The site I’m analyzing is a corporate website – the company’s primary web presence. The following advice is most useful for similar sites. As my readers can tell from my normally annoyingly ambiguous article titles, I ignore all of the following advice in my blogs.
First of all, who are you trying to attract and what content do you offer them? Do you want to draw in “passers-by” who are roaming Google for information on the topics covered by your content, or are you trying to snatch the business from your competitors? You may want to start out by drawing up a list of key words and phrases that you think people will utilize, and running them through Google to see what comes up. If and when you do this, take a look at your competitors’ sites and consider how you can do better. Compile a list of the best aspects of each page and incorporate them into your own!
I should mention here that Google is, by an overwhelming margin, the most popular search engine. Several search engine scour Google for results, and in turn incorporate those very results into their own. The website I am analyzing gets more Google results than 7 times all the other search engines combined. Thus, it’s not “internet suicide” to customize your page just for Google (as I am).
This being said, you have to design your page so that it is readable by Google. Google is blind to images (but sees ALT tags – write one for EVERY image to generate more searchable text) as well as Flash and some scripting languages, so try to make pages with searchable content free of “toys”. The best way I’ve found to see a web page as Google does is to use the LINKS text web browser. You can download it free here (for Windows): http://artax.karlin.mff.cuni.cz/~mikulas/links/download/binaries/win32/links-0.98.exe
and here’s the manual: http://links.sourceforge.net/docs/manual-0.82-en/index.html
The next order of business is to consider a descriptive “snippet”. A snippet is the bit of text between the blue hyperlink and the green URL in Google searches, and is the first and\or only thing the web-searching public will see about your site. The snippet is generally taken from the first viewable sentences on your webpage (verify this with LINKS) but will sometimes be a random excerpt from your page depending on the search query. This is perhaps the single most important aspect of your Google optimization so make your blurb descriptive but concise.
With a snippet in place, it’s time to write prose optimized for search engines. Unfortunately this writing style goes against your every intuition as a writer. Google loves repeated words, but only words that are repeated “naturally”. This means that instead of varying your wording to keep the reader interested, you must convert synonyms to the same repeated word wherever possible. This informs Google that your page is more relevant to those keywords than other pages that mention the word less frequently. Do your best to write prose in a fashion that will showcase the keywords you came up with in your initial searches of competitors. I instructed the marketing department here to compose individual pages, each with a focus on a certain keyword, and to repeat that word ad nauseum as naturally as possible. I don’t envy Marketing for having to write prose that is readable by machines but enjoyable by people.
**Do NOT repeat words over and over in hidden text at the end of your page, as you may have seen on other pages. Google may consider your page to be “spam” and will remove the entire site from its index. This IS internet suicide. **
Google prefers websites and pages that have been linked to by other websites that are already indexed. My company contacted some of its partners and organized a “link exchange” where both parties agree to link to the other’s website. This symbiotic solution is your best bet to fasttrack your way to the top 10.
Pages that are not changed every so often are flagged as “stale” and will lose clout. Usually only the home page needs to be changed regularly to keep the entire site fresh in Google’s books. Adding a news ticker to the front page is an easily maintainable solution from a writing and design vantage.
Finally, be a diligent webmaster and monitor your web access logs. Be aware of your readership and mold your site to pander to them. My analyzer of choice is Google Analytics – a free software application that records data on each visitor including how they got to your page, at which page they left your site, which pages they viewed and for how long, the search engine keywords they used to get there, their geographic location, their web browser, operating system, screen resolution, and much much more. Analytics is free but is currently an invite-only (by Google) beta. I signed up for an account at http://analytics.google.com about 2 months ago and received an invite recently. I can’t recommend it enough, but there are other similar and free options such as Analog – http://www.analog.cx/
Google Analytics requires a few lines of code be inserted into each page you want to track, while other analyzers usually require access to the server logs. Consider which best suits your needs, web host, and techncial abilities.
This isn’t the whole picture but it’s the broad strokes. Design and write better than your competitors, track your readers, and change accordingly. You’ll reach that coveted top 10 in no time.