What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO)?
At its heart, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is all about marketing your website. With search returns accounting for over half of the hits on most websites, there is no better way to market your page than making your pages easy to find on Google and other search engines.
Making sure users can find your site means making sure your site is on the first page of the search returns, preferably as close to the top as possible. Over 70% of search traffic comes from links on the first page, with up to 20% coming from the first link alone.
Google uses over 200 factors in analyzing web pages. Page content is the single most important factor in analyzing web pages and ranking them on the Search Engine Results Page (SERP.)
Google now places a great deal of importance on semantics and word relationships. That is, it tries to interpret the meaning of your entire page rather than simply looking for individual key terms. Therefore, you should write for your users and not for the search engine. If you build a page with good content that your visitors can easily use and understand, the search engines will also be able to understand what your page is about.
Additionally, search engines generally reward for freshness. Keeping important pages regularly updated is therefore important. Old content can be perceived as stale content. Similarly, a fresh burst of links pointing to a page can be a sign of freshness and thereby provide a rankings boost.
Choice of where to link, though, is important. If you have lots of links to sites that are perceived as “bad” then your page will actually be penalized. That’s why reciprocal link schemes are a bad idea for us. They gain from our trusted .edu domain, but we lose reputation by linking to them. Several links to important content resources, though, makes your site content more valuable and can even result in other sites linking to you.
Your page’s URL is its address on the internet. Having your keywords appear in a page’s URL is generally considered to be important in getting that page ranked in the search engines. While most of us click on links to navigate to a page now, and do not manually type URLs into the browser’s address box, the format of the URL is also important to determining search rank. Search engines use the content of the URL to help determine site structure as well as page content. Search engines here are no different from human users- creating a URL that is readable and concise makes it easier for the user to quickly understand what to expect on the page.
Heading tags – <hl>, <h2>, <h3>, etc. – are a vital part of SEO. They give structure to your page and help organize content. Think of them as a page outline. Headers, being the equivalent of section titles, summarize the meaning of important content blocks on the page. Search spiders therefore look for key words appearing in heading tags, giving the most weight to those in <hl>, then <h2> and so forth down the line.
Meta Keyword Tag
This was probably the most abused HTML tag in the early days of SEO. It no longer carries any significant weight in determining page rank. Keywords contained in this tag are fine, but past over stuffing has led all major search engines to discount what we put there. That does not, however, mean the spiders don’t read the content, they just don’t give it any added weight. One good use of the tag, then, is to include elements (like common misspellings) that would be beneficial for the search engine to see and index but which you don’t want visible in your main content.
Exterior SEO Components
While you probably have better control over on-page SEO, exterior factors are at least as important. Incoming links are a way of determining how popular your site is, and popularity implies trust. The more outside pages you have linking to your site the more weight the page will be given. As with everything else, all incoming links are not equal. Links from other trusted sights are much more important than others, and referrals from known link farms can actually penalize your score.
Google recognizes the importance of local searches. The majority of internet searches are done looking for something local to the user. This means that services like Google Maps and Yelp can greatly increase your score. Texas A&M has begun a project to claim, update, and manage Google Map locations on campus and it has led to immediate and measurable increases in site traffic and position on the search returns page.
Building up these external links to your audience is one of the hardest parts of optimizing your site. It is not something that generally has a technology based solution. It is therefore important that this effort involve the Marketing/Communications offices as well. Placing articles in trusted news sites, peer university sites, and other trusted locations will give credibility to your content and ultimately increase your exposure.