Basic SEO Tips Tricks and The SEO Format Skeleton

I've just finished another SEO project. After optimizing the website to not only be indexed, but rank well, I received the usual Why did you do this or that and I'm not sure I like what you did? (See the four B's) In my experience SEO has many trade offs. If you follow very simple formatting rules your pages can rank very high on the search engines. Don't over complicate the SEO process. It is really very simple. 

 

The following works for Interwebshop Internet Marketing Servicesand these rules will work for you too. I've always wanted to write about SEO and this last project is easy to relate to you. Take what information you need, and leave the rest.

 

Client Websites History.
The client started a personal skin care product store in July 07 using a low priced host that provides an online site builder and eCommerce package. This host also submits your web site to search engines and provide link generation programs. It looks great and is great for the person that knows nothing about creating websites, eCommerce or how search engines work. Most people will fail anyway, but she didn't fail and actually tasted a bit of success. Good for her, she beat the odds : ). These hosting companies prey on the internet novice who usually run into trouble very quickly. The site not only had duplicate content pages, but had used search engine submission programs and link generation software. After several months the site started falling in Google rankings. She started checking the forums and SEO information sites and tried all of the suggestions, good and bad. Folks, most of what you read is incorrect. From what I could see she had pretty much trashed her URL. There was no way to tell what real damage had been done to the sites URL, but I decided that it was best to start over with a clean slate. The site did have some good content and the site design was fine. I explained what was happening to the site and suggested a new domain and new hosting. What follows is the process from that point on.

A New URL
Choosing a new URL was simple. Considerations for me to choose a URL for a commerce site are; if its a single product, product name in URL. If its a product line, product line name in URL. There is allot of indexing power in your URL if it reflects your product. Next we copied the old site to the new domain, taking special care to block the spiders from indexing the new site by way of the robots.txt file and the meta "noindex" tag. Having a URL that is reflective of your site content is important, we are glad that we were able to work in the word skincare. As with many clients, the main pages were set up to index the unbranded company name. The company name is in the URL so this was not necessary. The brand in this case is each and every product, not the company name. A company name in a URL will always be found on a search for itself.

Simplified Coding
This is a big issue with the site building programs and some editors. We had to strip out all of the site builder code and simplify it with straight and simple HTML. In my opinion, the spiders were designed years ago and work best with what they were designed for, HTML I've found that the simpler the coding, the better the ranking. Just because you read that something is SEF, doesn't mean that the search engines ranking algorhythm was modified for it. When building your website you need to recognize that SEF is not SEO. That does not mean that you can't include java script or other types of code. Just don't expect them to help your ranking. Most of it will just be ignored. Also, although its the latest thing to build tableless pages, I recommend the use of tables to position all of your content, especially graphics.

The Basic SEO Skeleton Format

Skeletal Item Description Degree
Title Tag must be different for every page, create a keyword rich title relevant to the content of each page very important
Meta Keyword Tag must be different for every page, keyword must be relevant to the content of each page, each page is good for 2 or 3 keyword phrases only. low importance
Meta Description Tag must be different for every page, use the first 50 words of first paragraph or header of each page medium importance
Page Header includes your site name in text, a keyword laced slogan and a recognizable logo, be consistent and make it the same on every page. Don't confuse your site visitors by making your web pages look different than your main page. very important
Body Header Tag

top of each page, keyword rich, repeat the page title tag if possible. Do not use this to welcome your visitors, welcome is not a keyword. Do not use your company name unless it is descriptive of the product line. There is a big difference between "Welcome to Mike Smiths Product" website and "Anti Aging Skin Care Products For Younger Looking Skin" and watch the caps and bolding, don't shout at your visitors.

very important
Body Content Text at minimum 100 words, keyword or phrase 3 times, beginning, middle and end. relevant to page title. Link to product and information pages within your website. Here is an example. very important
Graphic Alt and Title Tags use them, each search engine uses the alt or title tag as needed and ignores the tag it doesn't need. low importance
Internal Links link each page to the next using the keyword of the next page in the link, very important
Content Links link products on content pages to the product pages DON'T OVER DO IT! medium importance
Footer Link in your footer link your copyright information to the root of your domain. format: http://www.interwebshop.com/, make sure you include the trailing slash for Google. very important

Navigation
The menus were simplified. although drop downs and sliders are very nice, the menu bars make a great keyword link if formatted correctly. I recommend staying away from drop downs and sliders, as well as flash based and graphic menu systems. Give the spiders what they want, text. We did format the menu item hover over in the CSS (Cascading Style Sheet). I've seen this before where novices add multiple links in there menus that either go to a duplicate pages or the same page. One menu link per page. Your customers will find what they are looking for much easier. The site just left me confused when I first reviewed it. If you mention your products in the content of  your page, link to the product page mentioned in the text.

Catalog pages
Separate the products into categories. Each category page can be indexed using the above formula. Each product in each category should have a buy now and more information link. The information link for each product should go to a dedicated product page for detailed product info. If formatted correctly, each product information page should index on the search engines for itself. Then link each category page to the next category and each product page to the next product. For instance at the bottom of the first product page add a link such as, next product-product name. See the bottom right of her Copper Peptide page as an example. This will keep the spiders crawling your site.

Products
Next we added several top selling products to an include for each page. If your eCommerce, don't make your customers search for your products. Put what they are looking for right in front of them. When you go in to a store they put products that they what to sell right in front of you, out on the sidewalk, right in the aisle where you can't help but run into them. Do the same on your website. See my blog called "Why Can't People See It".

Use text, not graphics
Don't lock up your keywords in a graphic, use graphics to highlight or add accent to your site. Make sure your graphics include short descriptive title and alt tags. Yes you need both as search engines recognize the tags differently. Don't get carried away and start keyword stuffing your tags, remember that graphic tags carry very little weight.

CMS Systems
The client wanted to handle site updates and additions on her own, so we used a content management system and gave instruction on how to use it. Most CMS systems are Search Engine Friendly (SEF), but not Search Engine Optimized (SEO). There is a big difference between a site that can be crawled and a site that is optimized for ranking. The biggest item to watch out for in choosing a CMS is the URL format and how the meta tags are generated. Most will use a ? in the url or id numbers and the same meta tags on every page. Fortunately, I use a CMS that includes a SEF URL conversion program that changes URL's such as this http://www.adomain.com/browsecat.asp?cat=220&BAB=U&cart=521910230 to something like adomain.com/blues/blues-cds/B-B-King.htm thus adding rich keywords to the URL and making it search engine friendly and optimized with keywords. Although the search engines can index pages with question marks, they are obviously not optimized.

Search Engine Indexing
Never, never, ever, use a submission or link building program. The search engines detect them, defeat them and devalue your website accordingly. There are two ways to get indexed. Get a link from someone else's site or submit a sitemap.

The Sitemap
As for the sitemap, this CMS has programs that generate and update the sitemap on the fly. Get yourself a Google account and submit the sitemap. If the sitemap is properly formatted your site will be crawled and indexed within days. Recently the search engines announced that the sitemaps URL can be added anywhere to the Robots.TXT file in this format Sitemap: http://mywonderfulsite.com/allmypages.xml. This does simplify the process, but the as yet to be determined question is how will you know if the sitemap failed verification. The only way I know if the sitemap failed verification is to add the sitemap manually using the Google webmaster tools. Within a short time Google will report on the sitemaps validation. The sitemap will also give you a visual of how well organized your website is. Website layout and navigation is key to the usability of your website.

Inbound Linking
If you chose to get a link from another site, try to get links that are relevant to your product line or content. Relevant links carry the most weight for inbound links. Although you will read that these inbound links are critical, I don't believe that they are a deciding factor in the success of your ranking. There are other ways of linking and types of links that will work well. (See Next Steps). Don't stress over the linking program, it is just one part of the process.

Going Live
The old site was still indexed and we had to deal with this so that we wouldn't receive a duplication penalty. Unfortunately, because of the hosting system, we did not have access to FTP and the htaccess file, so doing a 301 redirect to the new site was out of the question. The solution was to make a static page that reflected the look of her website with a link to the new site and a few text links to products. We added the meta robots tag "noindex,follow" so eventually these old pages will fall out of the search engines. For now the old site will remain in the search engines but will be relegated to the secondary SERPs for up to a year. This will also give the new site time to age and gain in the rankings before the old site rankings are totally lost. The new site should take up to 6 months to settle into the rankings. Another step to take while waiting for the site to age is to use paid search engine listings such as Google Adwords, but that is another project and discussion.

Indexing Next Steps
The following steps are recommendations that we made to improve search engine saturation with relevant product information. This method will increase the number of keywords your website can be indexed for, the number of indexed pages, and create relevant inbound links.

  • Add more text to your pages, why an item works, how to use an items, information is key. etc.
  • Add an article section and start writing about your product, include links to your product pages and pictures of your products in the articles. Submit to article sites
  • Create a blog section where your readers can comment on your postings, include links to your products, submit to blog sites, (technorati, google, etc)
  • Start writing press releases and submit to the free press release sites and a few cheap ones, ( they have a few for less the $20.00 a pop). A press release can be about a new product or product line.
  • Create a discussion forum where questions and answers can be posted, this will get your customers involved in your company and products and encourage peer to peer product recommendations.
  • Use tagging options such as Digg, Technorati, Spurl, Fark etc.

Please Note: The difference between a blog and an article. A blog is a comment, observation or opinion that users can post comments to. An article is informative and factual and generally does not have a comment section..

All of the above will populate the search engines, one well submitted article, blog or press release can return thousands of links to your website and if properly SEO formatted, they will increase the number of keywords your products can be found for.

Remember, one webpage is only good for 2 or 3 keyword phrases. This is why you need to start adding them to your website. The more pages, the more keywords and phrases you can target. I recommend keyword phrases, you can not compete in generic keywords. I once had an account for a naturopathic practice who wanted to be indexed for health and medicine. These are too generic and were not targeted to his website. "Connecticut Naturopathic Doctor" would have been the better choice. Try to find out what your potential customer are searching for and target those keywords. Use keyword phrases that are specific to your website.

Use a bit of discernment when reading about SEO on the Internet, most of the information is inaccurate. Avoid using submission programs, link generation software, and any tricks such as hidden text and keyword stuffing. There are no promises or givens in SEO as all of your competitors are optimizing and making changes to get ahead of you, and they will. No one holds a ranking for long. Its like playing the stock market, you win today, lose tomorrow, make an adjustment and win again another day.

Last Steps
Make changes to your site often, the search engines will see it as activity and they will update your listings often. Websites are not static, they are almost living entities. If you do not make regular updates and additions to your websites the search engines will see your website as inactive and you will be penalized in the rankings as more active sites get preference. Lastly, maintain and update your sitemap often.

Final Comments
I finish my project with basically the same statement I start my projects with.

Dear Customer
My part of this project is complete. I will not play what we call the four "B's", (Bigger, Brighter, Bolder, Better). The four "B's" are items that will compromise your success due to what you read or what a friend told you. You hired us for our experience, expertise and knowledge. If you knew what we know, you would not have needed us. Bear in mind that we did everything for a reason based on twelve years of accumulated knowledge. You may have heard an old saying "The customer is always right", this is simply not so with websites. As I want to succeed, and we want for you to succeed, you need to trust us as that our team has taken into consideration the many trade offs that need to be considered in Search Engine Optimization. If you have a question as to why we did anything, just ask and we will explain. The website is yours and you are free to make any changes that you would like. Bear in mind that the changes you make to the work we've completed thus far may compromise your search engine success and our company will take no responsibility for the results of the edits that you make to the site as of today, our completion date. There is really nothing new in search engine optimization and indexing, its the same now as it was ten years ago. No tricks, just a simple SEO skeletal format to follow.

And now, why is this a blog and not an article? Because there are no definitive's in search engine optimization, these are my tried and true concepts, ideas, techniques and opinions. This is a field where everyone claims to know better and a field where no one can guarantee 100% success. There are simply to many variables in the dynamic world of SEO and not enough constants. We wish everyone all the success in the world.