The 3 Golden Rules of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Search engine optimization is a lot of work but certainly nothing you need to pay and an external -SEO expert- for. If you are running a web site you need be able to do the search engine optimization yourself. And all you need to do is keep the following three general rules of thumb in mind when you are designing your web site, developing code and especially when you are writing content for your web sites.
created by on 2010-10-19

First of all you need to understand that SEO (Search-Engine Optimization) is not some
Voodoo-trick you can apply
on your blog, company’s website or online-business in order
to make it rank higher on Google, Bing or Yahoo.

SEO is nothing more (and unfortunately nothing less) than common-sense!

So for starters my advice to you, trying optimize your website for search-engines, and for anybody else
creating web sites, is to:

So what do I mean with these three vague bullet points listed?

SEO Rule #1: Use your head!

Sounds harsh, but what I mean is that you should really contemplate what the overall goal of your web site is and which specific goals each and every web page within your site has. → Just think about what users are going to type to find a certain answer, product, business or article and put that text on your web pages.

Example: Possible goals of e-Commerce web site

Once you have defined clear goals for your whole web site you need work out a plan how every component of you site can help meet these goals.

The pages should fit into the overall concept of your web site; but it is not your abstract concept of your web site
which defines what your website is and what it is not – it is sum of all pages within your web site.
If you are running an e-commerce website you may have fancy landing- and category pages with a lot of marketing gibberish
and nice (but heavy) product-shots on it, but in the end it is the product-detail pages which fill your
web site with information that matters to customers; and search-engines.

Web users visiting a web site for the first time must be able to recognize at an instant (in that order):

Keep in mind: Humans are able to grasp this kind information just by looking at the images, text-blocks and design elements on the page – but search-engines are by far more primitive than humans;
they can only extract these bits of information from the text elements they “see” on the page.

Real-world-example:

I automatically generate an alt-attribute for all images on my blog which comprises of 1) the Type (e.g. “IMAGE JPEG”), 2) a description-text (e.g. “Screenshot of some application”) and 3) a list of Keywords/Tags (e.g. “Screenshot, Application XY”).

So an alt-attribute of an image on my blog always always looks something like this: "IMAGE JPEG: Screenshot of some application (Screenshot, Application XY)".

And the only really unnecessary bit of information I put into this alt-attribute led to the result that
Google thinks that my blog is most relevant to the keywords “IMAGE” and “JPEG” :doh:.
What did I think?! Everybody viewing the image on my blog knows its an image anyways! And clearly, nobody would ever search Google for “Image of Screenshot of Application XY”.

So my advice about unnecessary information on web pages is: Leave EVERYTHING out of your HTML code which is not 100% serving the goals of your website / web page.
→ Get rid of useless and redundant identifiers in your HTML code!

SEO Rule #2: Follow the standards and specifications

If you can’t even get your HTML right you can’t expect search-engines to understand what the point of your web page is.

(Although this is not quite true, search engines are pretty much used to reading invalid HTML code and are certainly capable of parsing everything that they find;
BUT unless you are not 100% sure that your content is absolutely unique, relevant and brilliant you should try to keep ahead of your competitors – starting with valid and significant HTML code)

HTML is great and simple language for creating structured, interactive and readable text-documents.
So use your HTML code to structure the information on your web page and don’t abuse it to shape the user interface of your web site.

Links about using the ALT attribute:

Links about using the TITLE attribute:

If you are mixing multiple languages on your page you should add a lang-attribute to the HTML elements containing the foreign language content. And if you don’t want to get that far, or you are only using one language, you should (at least) add a Content-Language Meta tag to your pages:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en"/>

Links about using the LANG attribute:

Links about using the REL attribute:

All other Meta-Tags are nice to have, but will not increase the traffic you get from search-engines.

Besides the meta-description element and despite their irrelevance for SEO I personally find these Meta tags nice to have on every web page:

Content-Type:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8">

Content-Language:

<meta http-equiv="Content-Language" content="en">

Last-Modified:

<meta http-equiv="Last-Modified" content="Sunday, 29-Aug-10 22:31:55 CEST">

Keywords:

<meta name="keywords" content="Andreas Koch,Checklist,SEO,Search-Engine-Optimization">

Author:

<meta name="author" content="Andreas Koch">

Links about SEO-relevant Meta-Tags:

Here are a few tips about using CSS:

Keep in mind: Web pages must be readable even without any styles applied.

But: Everything you do with JavaScript on your web pages is irrelevant for search-engines:
All data loaded via ajax, is invisible to search-engines. All changes to the DOM made by an JavaScript method, are invisible to search-engines. All images loaded via JavaScript, are invisible to search-engines.

Here are a few tips about using JavaScript:

Keep in mind: Web pages must be readable even if JavaScript is deactivated.

Rule of thumb: If you are able to read a web page and understand its structure even without its JavaScript and Styles, it is likely that your page is pretty SEO-friendly.

SEO Rule #3: Search engines are reading the text and the structure of your web pages – and nothing else.

Just think about what search engines actually do: They do full-text searches. And just in case you don’t know what a full text search is, here’s what the all knowing dump (Wikipedia) says about it:

Full text search refers to a technique for searching a computer-stored document or database. In a full text search, the search engine examines all of the words in every stored document as it tries to match search words supplied by the user.

source. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Full_text_search

Being remembered of the definition of the term “full text search” you suddenly recognize the simple truth, that many web developers, web designers and web site editors know – but tend to forget:

Search engines don’t give a damn on fancy web pages and interactive widgets – they only thing search-engines really, really care about, is content.

And this means text, text and again text.

Text is the meat to the bone that is your web page. Text means new and unique information. A long text creates hundreds of possible targets for search queries – every interesting combination of search phrases mentioned in your text might lead several web users searching for that exact combination to your page.
But on the contrary, if you don’t have much text on your web pages, don’t expect search engines to index your web page.

Conclusion – SEO Checklist

And if think these three rules are to vague and meaningless, than you can read my Checklist for Search Engine Optimization. This list can give some practical advice on how to optimize your web site for search engines.

Because in the end, search engine optimization is just a collection of best practices and common sense.

Mahalo
– Andreas Koch

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