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Search Engine Optimization Tips

Search engine optimization can be difficult and confusing. Knowing this we decided to put together some tips to help you with the process. They cover everything you need to know about optimizing your web pages for the search engines quickly and easily.


Search engine optimization tips listed in order of importance:

  1. Potential site design/set up problems.

  2. Selecting the correct keywords.

  3. Your title tag.

  4. Your copywriting.

  5. Your meta tags.

  6. Your images "alt" attribute.

  7. What you should not do....

  8. How long it takes to get listed.

Additional search engine optimization tips:

These tips are here because they can be useful to those that can implement them on their web site, but they are not necessary to achieve good listings in the search engines.

  1. Hyperlinks.

  2. Headings.

For further reading:

Need more information on optimization? If so, we recommend reading Shari Thurow's new book Search Engine Visibility. It covers everything from search engine friendly design and keyword selection to link popularity and much more.

Potential Design/Set Up Problems

If your site does not use Frames, Flash, Javascript, Image Maps, or Dynamic URLs you can skip to the next tip, or go back to the main search engine optimization tips page.

Unfortunately for some of you there are some site design/set up issues that can make it very difficult for the search engines to list your web pages no matter how well you optimize and submit them. We list them here, before you get into all the optimization tips, to hopefully save you from trying to list a site that that will be very difficult to get listed. Almost everything can be fixed or worked with one way or another before you submit. The most common problems are:

  1. Sites that use Frames.

  2. Sites that use Dynamic URLs.

  3. Sites that use Flash.

  4. Sites that use Image Maps for navigation.

  5. Sites that use Javascript for navigation.


Optimizing for the Correct Keywords

To get listed correctly in the search engines each page of your site that you want listed needs to be optimized to the best of your ability. Since the keywords that you decide to target will be used throughout the optimization process choosing the right keywords is essential. If you choose the wrong keywords you will not be found in the search engines. If you are not found in the search engines how will anyone find your site?

Since the keywords you choose to optimize your pages with are so important we have put together some tips to help you make sure that you make the right choices. You should utilize these tips when selecting keywords for each page that you plan to submit to the search engines.

  1. Think "specific keyword phrases" not "keywords". Why? Due to the extreme amount of competition for general terms in the search engines, if your keyword phrases are too general it is very unlikely you will rank well in the search engines. You stand a far better chance to rank well for specific phrases where there is less competition. The resulting traffic, since it is more highly targeted, should also be much higher quality too!

    Here's an example for a site selling shoes:
    Much Too General Much Better!
    1. shoes

    2. men's shoes

    3. women's shoes

    1. imported italian shoes

    2. men's leather penny loafers

    3. women's aerobic sneakers


  2. Try to think like your target audience. What would they search for when looking for the page you are optimizing? It is very easy to fall in the trap of coming up with a short list of what YOU would search for, but what about everyone else? They will not necessarily use the same keywords as you. You should try to come up with as many keyword phrases as you can think of that relate to the page you are optimizing. Try asking a few friends and family what they would search for when searching for a site like yours.

  3. Check out your competition for ideas. Do a search using keywords that you already know you want to target and click through on the top sites that come up. Once on the site view the source HTML code and view the keywords they have in their meta tags - this should give you many more ideas! Make sure to only use keywords that relate to YOUR site or page. To view the HTML code simply click the 'View' at the top of your web browser then select 'Source', or 'Page Source'.


  4. You should develop a list of keyword phrases, following the tips on this page, for each page that you optimize for the search engines.


Optimizing Your Title Tag

Without question the title tag of your page is the single most important factor to consider when optimizing your web page for the search engines. This is because most engines & directories place a high level of importance on keywords that are found in your title tag. The title tag is also what the search engines usually use for the title of your listing in the search results.

What it looks like:

Here's the title tag of this page:
<TITLE>Your Title Tag - learn to optimize your title tag</TITLE>

Where it belongs:

The correct placement for the title tag is between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags within the HTML the makes up your page.

Tag limits:

We recommend that your title tag be between 50-80 characters long - including spaces! The length that the different search engines accept varies, but as long as you keep within this limit you should be ok.

Tag tips:

  • We recommend that you include 1-2 of your most important keyword phrases in the title tag, BUT be careful not to just list keywords. If you just list keywords you risk being viewed as a spamming the engines which can ultimately lead to you being blacklisted by the search engines. Your title tag should include your keyword phrases while remaining as close to a readable sentence as possible to avoid any problems.

  • Make your title enticing! Don't forget that even if you get that #1 listing in the search engines your listing still needs to say something that makes the surfer want to clickthrough and visit your site.

  • Since the length of your title tag could be a little long for some engines we suggest placing the keywords at the beginning of the tag when possible so that you do not risk having them cut off.

  • Each page of your site should have it's own title tag with it's own keywords that related to the page that it appears on.


Optimizing Your Page Copy

The copy on your page is also very important in order to achieve better search engine listings. Actually, it is very close to being as important as your title tag so make sure you keep reading! By 'copy' we mean the actual text that a visitor to your site would read.

Did you know that just like a visitor to your site would read the copy on your page to figure out what you have to offer, the search engines do too? And what do you think the search engines are looking for when they 'read' your page copy? Keyword phrases, of course! 

Page text tips:

  • For best results we recommend that each page you submit has at least 200 words of copy on it. There is some cases where this much text can be difficult to put on a page, but the search engines really like it so you should do your best to increase the amount of copy where you can.

  • This text should include your most important keyword phrases, but should remain logical & readable.

  • Be sure to use those phrases that you have used in your other tags (i.e. metas, alt, headings, title, etc.) during the optimization process.

  • Add additional copy filled pages to your site. For example, how-to articles, tips or tutorials. These types of content pages not only help you in the search engines, but many other sites will link to them too.

  • Don't ignore this tip! Seriously, optimizing your page copy is one of the most important things you could possibly do to improve your listings in the search engines. So, make sure you have plenty of it even if you need to redesign your site to work it in!


Optimizing Your Meta Tags

Meta tags were originally created to help search engines find out important information about your page that they might have had difficulty determining otherwise. For example, related keywords or a description of the page itself.

Many people incorrectly believe that good meta tags are all that is needed to achieve good listings in the search engines, which is entirely incorrect. While meta tags are usually always part of a well optimized page they are not the be all and end all of optimizing your pages. In the early days of the web people were able to get great listings from optimizing just their meta tags, but the increasing competition for good search engine listings eventually led to many people spamming the search engines with keyword stuffed meta tags. The result is that the engines have changed what they look at when they rank a web page.

The search engines now usually look at a combination of all the best search engine tips to determine your listings, not just your metas - some don't even look at them at all! What this means is that your page should have a combination of all our tips implemented on your page - not just meta tags. That being said, there are two meta tags that can help your search engine listings - meta keywords & meta description.

What they look like:

Description Meta:
<META NAME="description" content="This would be your description of what is on your page. Your most important keyword phrases should appear in this description.">

Keywords Meta:
<META NAME="keywords" content="keywords phrase 1, keyword phrase 2, keyword phrase 3, etc.">

Where they belong: 

The correct placement for both meta tags is between the <HEAD> and </HEAD> tags within the HTML the makes up your page. Their order does not really matter, but most people usually place the description first then the keywords meta.

Tag limits:

  • We recommend that your Keywords Meta not exceed 1024 characters including spaces.

  • We recommend that  your Description Meta tag not exceed 250 characters including spaces. 

Meta description tips:

  • Make sure you accurately describe the content of your page while trying to entice visitors to click on your listing.

  • Include 3-4 of your most important keyword phrases. Especially those used in your title tag and page copy.

  • Try to have your most important keywords appear at the beginning of your description. This often brings better results, and will help avoid having any search engine cut off your keywords if they limit the length of your description.

Meta keywords tips:

  • Aside from what we mention in the other tips below you should only use those keyword phrases that you also used in the copy of your page, title tag, meta description, and other tags. Any keywords phrases that you use that do not appear in your other tags or page copy are likely to not have enough prominence to help your listings for that phrase.

  • Don't forget plurals. For example, a travel site might have both "caribbean vacation" and "caribbean vacations" in their keyword meta tag to make sure they show up in both searches.

  • If you know of a common misspelling of a popular keyword that could be used to find your site you should enter it in your keywords meta tag. For example, a travel site might use "caribean " in their keyword meta since it is a common misspelling for "caribbean".

  • Watch out for repeats! You want to include your most important phrases, but when doing so it can be difficult not to repeat one word many times. For example, "caribbean vacation" and "caribbean vacations" are two different phrases, but the word "caribbean" appears twice. This is okay to do in order to make sure you get the phrases you need in there, but becareful not to repeat any one word excessively. There in no actual limit, but we recommend that no one word be repeated in the keyword meta more than 5 times.

  • If your site has content of interest to a specific geographic location be sure to include the actual location in your keyword meta.


Optimizing Your Images "alt" Attribute

Did you know that any images on your page can help your listings too? Each image on your page can include a keyword phrase or two that relates to the image. This text will also show up & help those that may have their images turned off when visiting your site. This does not work for all engines, but it certainly does not hurt so we recommend you give it a try where you can.

What it looks like:

<IMG SRC="SubmitItLogo.gif" width="10" height="10" alt="Submit It! Web Site Submission Service">

Where it belongs:

You can add the "alt" attribute to any image on your page.

Tag limits:

We do not recommend using more than a brief sentence or two to describe an image.

Tag tips:

  • Be sure to use the keyword phrases that you also used in the copy of your page, title tag, meta description, and other tags.

  • Do not try to cram a bunch of keywords into the "alt" attribute. We recommend using no more than 2-3 per image.

  • Describe the image - do not just list keywords.

  • The "alt" attribute is also a good place for misspellings and plural keyword phrases that you may not have used elsewhere.


What you should not do. . . (spamming the search engines)

There are several things, considered "spamming", that you can do to try to get your page listed higher on a search engine results page. Basically, you should never try to trick a search engine in any way, or you risk being blacklisted by them. Since the majority of your traffic will come from search engines the risk far outweighs the benefits in the long run. Below is a list of the more common things we recommend that you never do when trying to achieve better listings.

Do not:
  • Do anything to trick the search engines into listing your site better. If what you are doing is not listed as one of our search engine tips the search engines will likely view it as spam and penalize you.

  • List keywords anywhere except in your keywords meta tag. By "list" we mean something like -  keyword 1, keyword 2, keyword 3, keyword 4, etc. There are very few legitimate reasons that a list of keywords would actually appear on a web page or within the page's HTML code and the search engines know this. While you may have a legitimate reason for doing this we would recommend avoiding it so that you do not risk being penalized by the search engines.

  • Use the same color text on your page as the page's background color. This has often been used to keyword stuff a web page. Search engines can detect this and view it as spam.

  • Use multiple instances of the same tag. For example, using more than one title tag. Search engines can detect this and view it as spam.

  • Submit identical pages. For example, do not duplicate a page of your site,  give the copies different file names, and submit each one. Search engines can detect this and view it as spam.

  • Submit the same page to any engine more than once within 24hrs.

  • Use any keywords in your keywords meta tag that do not directly relate to the content of your page.


How Long Does it Take to Get Listed?

Here's the length of time it currently takes to get listed at each of the major search engines once you have submitted your web page.

MSN Up to 2 months
Google Up to 4 weeks
AltaVista Up to 1 week
Fast Up to 2 weeks
Excite Up to 6 weeks
Northern Light Up to 4 weeks
AOL Up to 2 months
HotBot Up to 2 months
iWon Up to 2 months


Optimizing Text Hyperlinks

Did you know that text based hyperlinks can help improve your listing in the search engines? The search engines basically figure that if you are linking to something from your page whatever it is you are linking to is likely to be closely related to the content of your page. For that reason some of the engines actually look for keywords in the hyperlinks and any text immediately surrounding the hyperlinks. What this means to you is that if you can you should include your most important keyword phrases in the link itself and possibly the surrounding text.

What it looks like:

A text based hyperlink is a standard HTML hyperlink like this one

Tag tips:

  • Try to include your most important keyword phrases within the hyperlink itself.

  • Try to include your most important keyword phrases in the text that immediately preceeds, or follows the the hyperlink.

  • Becareful not to keyword stuff! Make sure your links and surrounding text are still readable and make sense after you include a keyword phrase or two.


Optimizing Heading Tags

Although they are not used very frequently any longer HTML heading tags can help improve your listings in the search engines too. Since they are "headings" the search engines figure that they are very closely related to the content of the page that they appear on. So, just like with all of your other optimization efforts you should include your most important keyword phrases in heading tags on your page if you can.

What they look like:

HTML heading tags have 4 different sizes and are formatted as you see below.

<h1>Heading Size 1</h1>

<h2>Heading Size 2</h2>

<h3>Heading Size 3 </h3>

<h4>Heading Size 4</h4>

Where they belong:

Headings can go anywhere within the HTML of your page.

Tag Tips:

  • Try to include your most important keyword phrases in heading tags on your page if you can.

  • Consider rethinking your page content. It is often very easy to take an existing page full of copy and find ways to break it up into separate sections with headings.

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