Search Engine Optimization

One of the problems new web sites face is search engine placement. If the public cannot find the site in a search engine, all your hard word to put the site up is to no avail. The marketing of a web site should be one of the central considerations in the decision to create the site. What do you want the site to do for you, and how do you achieve that result?

Brochure sites are the simplest. The site is a chance to include detailed and categorized information about your business that would usually be too cumbersome to include in a printed marketing handout, supporting your existing marketing efforts. All you need to do is include the web address (URL) on business cards, correspondence, your existing and future advertising, and, if you advertise the business on your vehicles, add the web site when you have the vehicles painted. When you are talking to a potential customer, tell them to "Check out my web site if you need more information, and email or phone with any questions". A local contractor is seldom interested in dealing with someone on another continent. The exception to this is if you provide local services or act as an agent for others who might not be based within your area.

If you intend to reach a wider audience, then search engine placement becomes important. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is not a one-time thing. It is an on-going endeavor to improve your visibility. Initially a few rules apply:

  1. Content
    You must have significant content to offer to the user. The content must be pertinent to your subject, and should be spread over several pages, each with between 100 and 1000 words. The pages should be categorized and the words you use to describe your business should include the desired search terms, preferably early in the page.
  2. Links
    Each link to your site from another site is a vote for you. Search engines count these links and determine your sites internet popularity based on them. If you are a member of an association, try to get links back from everyone else in the association to your site, and give reciprocal links from your site to theirs. Get your site listed in the major directories, and any niche directories you can. Beware of 'paid link' scams. A number of these directories will ask you to pay for the listing, and search engines like Google actually will penalize your pages for appearin in paid directories.
  3. Search Engine Submission
    The search engines cannot find what they do not know about. Make sure tha you submit your site to the major search engines, and to any new ones you learn about. This submission should happen once the site content has been established. you do not want the search engines to relegate your site to the bottomless pit because they found nothing when they visited.
  4. Sitemap
    A number of search engines respond to XML sitemaps. The sitemap is a list of all the pages in your site you want indexed. Submitting a sitemap is as simple as registering with the search engine, and telling them where to find to sitemap file.
  5. Activity
    An active site is indexed more frequently. A static site is eventually archived. Frequent updates and new content will keep the search engines coming back to see what has changed. Provide an RSS feed to syndicate your content, and give other sites permission to use your content provided they maintain a link back to your site and attribute you as author.
  6. Monitoring
    Set up a log analysis tool on your site. Keep an eye on your site activity, and pay attention to the search terms people use to find your site. Understand the subjects and pages they are interested in, and expand your content in their areas of interest.

As your site grows and your user base axpands, SEO will become more important. Good SEO is based in understanding where a site is weak, and in finding ways to improve.

SEO Content

Content, to a search engine, is text. The most important text is that visible to the user, and each page should have unique content.

Pick a topic for the page, and stick to it. If you are going to include lists of items, do so in a larger context of sentences and paragraphs, as you will see in this section. SEO will involve making sure your keywords are evenly distributed on the page but appearing early rather than being buried near the bottom of the page. Don't worry about getting it right the first time. Pages may be edited, and each edit is a change which tells the search engine the site is actively updated.

Search engines do not understand graphic images. Each image you use should be described in full within the context of the page, or at least in the alternate text which may accompany the image. Use of image captions (legends) is recommended.

Meta tags are not as important as they used to be. The page title (which appears in the top of most browsers) should reflect the subject matter of the page. This is also the title used on most search engine listings. Make sure that each page has a unique page title. The description meta tag will be used by the search engine for the teaser given in their search results. Including a description prevents the search engine from creating a teaser from your content which may not reflect the intent of the page. The keywords tag provides the search engine with a hint for what keywords to look for within the content. Make sure if you include this tag that every keyword is in fact on the page. Do not repeat words in this list. You will be penalized.

SEO Links

Links are votes.

From the early days of spiders simply following links from site to site, to Alta Vista and their 'Link Popularity' system, to today and Google's infamous 'Page Rank' system, external links from other sites to yours have always been considered important, and have affected a site's search engine position.

Popular sites quickly realized that they could sell links from their sites, and link exchange systems became popular about 2002. Suddenly search engine placement could be manipulated by those who could afford to pay, and the public was losing confidence in the integrity of search engine results. Alta Vista used to be the number one search engine. They stopped spidering the web, and now subscribe to the Open Directory Project at dmoz.org. Google implemented their 'undesireable neighborhoods' and will penalize a site for participating in paid link exchanges. Google requires that you include rel="nofollow" as an attribute in every paid link to avoid penalty.

Affiliate links also became popular a number of years ago. In most cases the target site will maintain a list of links to the sites with their links. Google considers these to be paid links. The idea that you can earn money by having someone do business with someone else was quite attractive, and many sites were set up as hubs doing nothing but providing affiliate links. Expectations were not met, and most have abandoned these programs. The single exception is Googles own AdSense system, which has been remarkably successful. Many high-volume sites actually are able to pay for their hosting costs, and sometimes more, through AdSense. If, however, yours is not a high-volume site, the negative impact of the ads will probably be significant, no matter how desirable your content might be. Perhaps the most significant problem with placing links on your site is the fact that users are taken away from you. Including a target="_blank" attribute will force the new site to open in a new window, leaving the user in place on your site in the original. Remember to let your users know the links will open in a new window, so they can expect the pop-up.

The best external links come from your peers, and from those who have found your site to be of value to them. Developing a network of such links can be painstaking and time-consuming. Communication usually must be direct, involving making the request by email, by phone or in person. It may not seem efficient, but it is a necessary effort. If you are a member of an association, mutual interest might make it easier to accomplish. Look for sites which match yours in intent, and which place well for the key words you are looking for. Offer reciprocal links to establish a neighborhood of friends. Links will be mutually beneficial, so do not be afraid to talk to other web masters.

Make sure that you have your site listed in as many directories as possible. Directories are classified, so choose the classification carefully. Check to see where similar sites have been classified, and apply to have your site included in the same section.

Participate in the various web communities. You might just find that viral marketing helps you incredibly. Mention your site on FaceBook, MySpace and any others you can find. Become a member, and set up your buddy list. Let them all know about your site. If they start to let others know, and so on, ... well you get the picture. However, never lose sight of the fact that content is king. If you do not present a quality site, the word of mouth will not happen. You have to give them a reason to talk about you.

If your site is active, set up an RSS feed to syndicate your content. As the feed is registered with various aggregators, your content might be picked up and included in other web sites. Each feed item they pick up will include a link back to your site and the original article.

SEO Links - Open Directory Project

The Open Directory Project at dmoz.org is the largest directory of web sites on the internet. How are they different? In their own words from their FAQ:

Other directories such as Yahoo! and LookSmart are developed and managed by small paid staffs. The ODP was founded on the premise that directories with small staffs can not scale to the growth of the Web, and still maintain a quality, current directory.

The ODP is developed and managed by a constantly growing community of net-citizens who are experts in their areas of interest. Given this vast community of subject expertise and the global nature of the directory, there is always someone working on the directory: processing submissions, resolving dead links, culling out the bad and keeping only quality information, and discovering new topics to add.

Unlike small paid staffs, ODP editors are Web searchers creating a directory for other Web searches. This kind of philanthropy and passion creates a directory that is directly relevant to what people are looking for on the Web, and how they search the Web for information.

The Open Directory Project is used by about 150 other directories in the English language alone, and spans numerous other languages.

Submission of your site to the Open Directory Project will involve selection of a category and description of your site. Each directory you submit to will require a description. Do not cut and paste. Make each description unique, and keep it within the guidelines for the directory.

Click here to begin your submission to the Open Directory Project. (Link will open in a new window.)

SEO Links - Yahoo Directory

The Yahoo Directory is the original web site directory. They now use the Open Directory Project.

Registration with Yahoo Directory Submit will cost you $250(US) per year ($600 if you have adult content). They conveniently exclude the instructions for free submission from their home page. To submit a site for free, go to their directory and choose your category using the left sidebar. When you have found the appropriate classification for your site, and click on Suggest a site in the top left corner. If the category is open for free submission, you will see a Suggest via Standard Consideration button. If not, you will only be given the option to use the paid submission.

The Yahoo Canada Directory works much the same way, but is a little more open.

SEO Links - AboutUs

AboutUs.org, is not technically a directory, but rather a wiki about web sites. You can create an account on the site, and add or edit information about your own sites, or any other sites you wish to comment on. It is a very powerful tool for relating sites to keywords, and every site you want to make more visible should be listed. First, check to see if it is already listed, then make sure the information is complete. Pay particular attention to the free-tagging list of topics. This should match your desired keywords.

Remember to record your login information, and to return often to maintain your listing. Because this site is dynamic, it should be constantly monitored.

SEO Links - Alexa

Alexa.com is unique on the web as an accumulator of web site ranking information from the widespread use of the Alexa browser toolbar. They have been collecting information and analyzing web site usage since 1996, and a site's Alexa rating is an indication of the strength of its user base.

As a site owner, you are able to edit your own site information by going to the Alexa Site Edit page and entering the URL of your home page. Alexa will add your site if it is not already listed, and will show you the information it has about your site. You may then update/correct anything they have, and they will send you a confirmation email. (You MUST have an email address based in the domain name you have just edited.)

When you receive the email, click on the confirmation link, and the changes you made will be committed.

Site widgets are available to incorporate Alexa information into your web site if you wish. Technically Alexa is a search engine, not a directory, but links from Alexa search pages will count heavily toward your rating in other search engines.

SEO Links - General Directories

Don't let them kid you. Most of these directories are vying for attention just like you are. The paid submissions promising rapid inclusion will get you listed more quickly. However, if you have a quality site, it is in their best interest to include you if for no other reason than to improve the quality of their own content.

We test all of the links on these pages to ensure that they will not be flagged by Google as 'Bad Neighborhood'. Wherever possible, avoid reciprocal links. Be patient, and wait for your site to be listed. If you must give a reciprocal link, include the rel='nofollow' in the link as soon as it has been confirmed by the Directory.

Backlinks are very important, but these directories are only the starting point. If you use a 'cut and paste' method to submit the information, search engines will flag the directory entries as duplicate content, and the effectiveness of your hard work will be destroyed. Take the time to make each description unique. A few unique Directory entries will be much more effective that 100 identical entries. Remember to include your desired keywords in your descriptions.

SEO Links - Standard Directories

The directories listed here require you to navigate to the category that best suits your site.

This is actually good, as you will be able to see what other sites are in that category, and make the decision if the category best suits your site. If so, you will find an Add Your Site link somewhere to use.

SEO Links - Standard Directories with Login

These are standard directories with a difference.

Each site either permits, or requires, you to create a user account on the site to submit or to maintain your listings. Remember to record login information along with the sites you list. This type of documentation is absolutely necessary if you are ever to be able to re-enter and make changes.

SEO Links - Single Step Submissions

Each of the following links takes you directly to the submission page. You can choose your classification during the submission process. This allows for a more efficient submission process to multiple directories, but be very careful choosing a category. If they do not think your site belongs in the requested category, most reserve the right to block any submissions from you in the future.

Read the submission guidelines carefully before you submit your site.

SEO Links - Deep Links Directories

Directories with deep links allow you to feature a section of your site, rather than just the home page, in the directory. If you are looking to feature a small portion as a showcase item, list the deep links with some of these directories.

Just the links to the home pages are listed here in most cases. Find the appropriate category, and click on Suggest Listing to submit. Be careful here, as most of these sites carry lots of Google ads, and you have to be sure you are not clicking on one of the AdSense links. A lot of these directories are small, but take the time to add your site.

SEO Links - Canadian Directories

A number of niche directories cater to a single country.

Canadian niche directories include:

CanLinks
A general directory, with a Canadian emphasis. Add your paid listing here.
LocalSites
A strictly Canadian directory, with the option of adding a site to a Province, or at National scope. Add your free listing here.
Web World Index
A Canadian Directory accepting international listings. Based in British Columbia. Find your category, and click on Submit Free at the bottom. Looks suspiciously like Open Directory and may be based in dmoz.org.

SEO Links - Niche Directories

A number of niche-market directories are also available.

You are probably familiar with directories that cater to your own business niche.

2.0 Websites
A directory of sites using Web 2.0 technology. Good niche for viral marketing efforts.
Automotive Directory
Automotive Directory bringing you the best in websites about the automobile and automotive industry.
Agricultural Directory
Directory strictly limited to agricultural sites. Mainly British, but significant international content.
UK Content Only

SEO Links - Social Networking

So called 'Social Networking' is a valuable source of backlinks once you have an established user base. Setting the site up to take advantage of from the beginning means that the networking will grow with the site.

Users must have a reason to come to your site, and to return. They must also have a reason to refer their own community to the site. Content and function are paramount. Make sure that your content is desirable to your users. When your users bookmark your site, the backlinks are counted by the search engines and improve your overall rating.

Get the process started by signing up with the various services and creating your own bookmarks. As always, record your login information as part of the system documentation for your site. We have provided links to the major bookmarking sites for your use.

SEO Links - RSS Syndication

RSS Syndication is a way to get your site noticed, particularly if you have frequent new content which users might like to follow. Many sites use RSS feed to keep fresh content on their sites (For example, our own Weather page), and each feed item will carry a link back to your site. If your content is popular, the number of links back to your site will improve your search engine rating.

If you have user-contributed content, allow their content to be syndicated as well. Submitting their feed to various aggregators is a way to get your site noticed. Some of the top aggregators are:

To aggregate content from this site, simply click on the little orange icon in the footer, and follow the instructions for subscription in your RSS Aggregator.

SEO Submission

Search engines might find your site on their own if they find a link to you on another site while crawling the web, but you can hasten the process by leting them know you exist. Become familiar with the major search engines, and submit your site to them as a crawl request.

We have included a list of the major search engines.

Add Website to Google
Google has become the leader in search engines on the web. Your site must be listed with Google if you want any traffic at all. Submission to Goole includes AOL who use data from Google.
Yahoo Submit
Yahoo populates its indexes through the crawl process. Notify them about your home page and they will discover all of your other pages by following the links you have included, either on the pages or in the menus for your site. Yahoo also allows you to submit any pages which have links back to you. Any backlinks you discover should be submitted to Yahoo to accelerate the benefits to your site. If you have syndicated your site, register your site feed with Yahoo as well. Submission to Yahoo includes Alta Vista who use data from Yahoo.
Bing
MSN has become a major player in the Microsoft OEM niche, and your site should be submitted to their crawler.
Ask.com
Ask.com (formerly AskJeeves) indexes sites by discovery only, the way it used to be done in the early days. They do not accept requests to add a url. They do, however, support the xmlsitemap protocol, and you can inform them of your site using a sitemap.(Update: It appears that Ask.com no longer accepts submissions for external websites.)
Jayde
B2B search engine.
Scrub The Web
One of the first to offer SEO tools.
Exact Seek
Sign up for a user account, and list your site. Exact Seek handles searches for several others, including Aesop.

There are very few actual search engines. The vast majority have contracted to use someone else's indexes, and claims of SEO's offering to submit your site to hundreds are actually primarily directory submissions. In some cases the SEO 'Professionals' maintain a number of them themselves so they will have a lot of verifiable submissions to charge you for.

When you talk about real search engines, what you see on this page is pretty well it.

SEO Sitemap

Producing an xml sitemap file for your site, and making it available to the search engines, is the best way to make sure the pages you want indexed are found.

Click here to view the current xml sitemap for k-it.ca.

SEO Activity

An active site is a desirable site. The more often your existing pages are updated, or new pages are added, the more frequently the search engines will index your content.

The simplest, and most time consuming, method is for you to spend every waking minute adding or updating the information you present to the user. If the site is your business, that may be fine. However, even in such a case there is an easier way. Have your users add content.

One of the simplest methods is to permit users to add comments to what you have written. Encourage discussions. If your site is suitable, let your users create accounts and log in to create content. Set up page syndication or email notifications that the users leaving comments can subscribe to. That way they do not have to keep checking back to see if someone has responded to them. They will be notified.

Set up a Frequently Asked Questions or Ask an Expert function where users can ask you a question and the questions are posted with your answers. Allow the users to create their own discussions with a Forum. Create a Wiki that the users can share in the development, or permit your users to post to their own personal blogs. All of these methods keep fresh content appearing on your site, with little or no effort on your part.

Above all, give your users the ability to invite their friends to view the site. Set up a Tell A Friend block in your sidebar. The more users you have, the more will post, and the more active your site will be.

Do everything you can to grow your site.

SEO Monitoring

Monitor your site. Make sure it is up and running. Check your user activity. See what pages they are viewing, how many pages they see, and how long they stay on your site. Keep abreast of your search engine position, and try to improve your performance when you discover weaknesses.

AWStats
AWStats is perhaps the mostly used log analyzer for a reason. It is good. Get a log analyzer to monitor the logs for your site. Understand the access patterns of your users, find what keywords are being used to reach your site, and track your site accesses daily. If you are hosted by an ISP, have them set up a log analysis on your site. If you manage your own servers, make sure you add this important piece of software. Without log analysis, you are blind.
Google Webmaster Central
Create an account with Google and use their Webmaster Tools to monitor your site as Google sees it. Any indexing problems will show themselves here, and the reports Google gives you will guide your corrections. You can also monitor things like average page generation times to see if there is a server problem developing. As your site becomes busy, you may begin to experience server overload.

Many other webmaster tools are available. Do a search, and choose the ones that best suit your needs. But make sure you take advantage of these two.