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A Search Engine Optimization Primer

A Search Engine Optimization Primer describes for the layman the various methods and requirements to make a Web site “search engine friendly.” What is the point in spending time and money building a Web site if no one can find it doing a simple search using Google, Yahoo!, MSN, or any number of other search engines? With Internet searches quickly replacing traditional methods of locating products and services (like the Yellow Pages), companies today have to ensure that their Web store front is as visible as possible to potential customers or users. Read on to find out how you can make sure that your Web site is optimized for today’s search engines! A Definition Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a complex topic with a fairly simple definition: SEO is the science and art of designing a Web site and its content in such a way as to give each Web site page the best chance of being listed and highly ranked by search engines. I describe it as both a science and an art. The Science of SEO Like a science, specific, known design techniques can be used (or not) by Web designers to improve a search engine’s ability to “read” the content of a Web site and its pages. Wonderful and complex Web sites can easily be created without using any SEO techniques, or by using techniques that directly interfere with a search engine’s ability to “read” the content of a site.

If you want to determine whether your Web site has a fighting chance of being highly listed by a search engine, you need to be aware of these known and non-mysterious techniques. The Art of SEO Like an art, scientific techniques have to be employed in reference to a Web site’s purpose, audience, message, aesthetics, and contents. The “look and feel” of a Web site can be critical, and a balance must sometimes be struck between the artistic qualities of the Web site and its adherence to search engine requirements. Many “artistic” design elements actually interfere with or prohibit a search engine from reading a site. For example, a popular design element used today, Flash movies, is invisible to search engines.

If your Web site is created with Flash, you can forget about getting noticed by search engines for the simple reason that Flash is not textual content, and search engines feed off of content, not graphics, photographs, or Flash movies. It is important to know that any words contained within a Flash move, photograph, or graphic is invisible to search engines. Just because you can see words displayed on your Web site doesn’t mean that a search engine can. The Flash movie that serves as my Web site’s banner provides a good example of “invisible words.” Although the site visitor sees the following in the banner, GRDavis Media Services ****** Web Site Development Technical Writing Sales and Marketing Collateral the search engine sees none of these words. Why? Because the words are actually part of a Flash movie. If you are to look at the underlying Web page code, you will not find this particular collection of words; you will only find a reference to the Flash movie that projects the words on the Flash movie screen. It’s the projection of the words that is visible to you and me. Since search engines cannot see what movies, graphics or photographs contain, any words they contain are invisible. This is an important lesson to learn and understand.

The Importance of Textual Content Rich, pertinent, textual content is red meat to a search engine. Period. If your Web site does not contain good, solid text describing your products, services or offerings, then your hope of receiving a natural high listing – for important search terms – within the most important search engines is nil. Textual content is the foundation upon which all other Web design techniques must build if you want a good chance to naturally be listed high by search engines like Google, Yahoo! or MSN. That is, unless you want to pay for page 1 or page 2 listings through potentially expensive pay-per-click ads or sponsorships. Textual Content Defined Let me be clear by what I mean by textual content. Textual content means letters, words, phrases, sentences and paragraphs that can be “read” by a search engine’s robot program called a “spider.” It is the search engine’s spider that “reads” your Web pages. If the spider cannot see something, it doesn’t exist as far as the search engine is concerned. Search engine readable text may not be visible to you, but it is visible to search engines if the text is included as part of the Web page’s underlying code.

More about that later. Search engine spiders do not “see” what you see when viewing a Web site. You may see pretty pictures, graphics, text, movies, and animations. The spider may see – nothing! – at least nothing that it can search and index. Search engines see the special code behind the Web site, not what is displayed in your browser window. To see what a search engine sees, display your favorite Web site. Then, with your mouse, perform a “right click” on the Web site page to pop up a menu. If you are using Internet Explorer, look for “View Source” on the menu and click on it (for Netscape, look for “View Page Source”). (If you don’t see “View Source” as one of the options in the menu, then click again on another part of the Web site. Stay away from menus, flash movies, graphics, photos and the like.

) The resulting window displays what the search engine sees, which, of course, looks like a bunch of code to you and me. How to Make Sure Textual Content Works for You The best way to make sure textual content is usable by search engines is to focus on the effective use of keywords or keyphrases within well-written text. A keyword or phrase is any search engine readable text that indicates the focus or topics covered by a Web page. Keywords and phrases work best when they are repeated several times in different ways on a page. For example, the key-word “doo-hickie” can be repeated in several different places within the underlying page code: Domain name. Ideally, your Web site’s domain name should contain your most important keyword. For example, if you are in the business of selling doo-hickies, a great domain name would be “www.doo-hickies.com.


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