What is SEO?

When you get into designing and building web sites, you will quickly run into the term “SEO”. It stands for Search Engine Optimalisation. Even though the goal with it is to optimize a web site for search engines, currently it means to optimize the website for a better ranking in Google.

SEO is not really a technique like HTML or CSS. The rules are supplied by the targeted search engine (usually Google) and you adjust the website accordingly. So you could say it’s a skill and the trick is to keep up with whatever Google decides to do next to the algorhythms that make up their search results.

It’s not just about content

The thing about SEO is that it’s actually more content driven, so I can imagine you would want to leave it up to the editors to worry about, but still when you are developing a site you will be involved in the process. It is said, for instance, that the amount of scripting (or links to scripts) within your-element might influence the ranking in a search engine. So if your (client’s) goal is to attract visitors from a certain search engine to a web site, you might have to make the decision to move some of (the links to) Javascripts to the bottom of your HTML file if it doesn’t influence the site’s functionality.

Start with setting your goal

There are general SEO “rules” to keep in mind when you’re building a web site. However, SEO is all about marketing. It starts with determining on which keywords you would like your website to rank higher. Following that decision, it’s wise to look at what the competition is doing and discover why they are ranking higher than you are. Then it’s time to look at how to optimize your own site.

Domain name

The choice of the domain name is as important as can be when it comes to the ranking of the website. Of course if you have a company, you would probably want this to be your company name, but sometimes it could be of interest to you to register a domain name that ties into your services. Make sure you let every domain name land on a different page of your web site. Search engines, like Google, hate duplicate content. This is what happens when you have more than one domain name attached to one homepage. To make sure a search engine knows which domain name is the main one you add a <link>-element to your site’s <head>-section. This should be the URL they index. Suppose, the main domain name to follow, was “mygreatdomain.com”, then this is the code:

<link rel=”canonical” href=”www.mygreatdomain.com” />

Navigation and friendly URLs

Another major factor to take in account is the way the site is built up: It’s navigation as well as the URL’s that the website generates are of major importance. You want the navigation to be as clear as possible. The intention is to get your site’s navigation so well organized that your visitor should find what it is looking for in three clicks. It’s also vital not to constantly change your navigation, so it should also allow your site room to grow.

Search engines have no problems indexing dynamic URL’s, however they like static URLs better. What’s the difference? Well, when you’re using scripting to generate your web site, it will probably recall one file over and over again (like an index.php file). By supplying the file with values (index.php?pageid=1) the script will know which page to show. Any data you see after the question mark, is considered a value. These URLs are considered dynamic. It would look like this: http://www.domainname.com/index.php?pageid=1. As you can see, these URLs will never reveal any of the information (content) the page might have, ‘cos it will just show filenames and page IDs. Suppose, the page with ID 1 would show news headlines about New York City. A static URL could then be http://www.domainname.com/news/. This is considered a friendly URL. It’s easy for people to remember and it tells a search engine a little bit more of what the page is about. So this will strengthen any SEO goal you may have with your site.
When you have a web site that is using dynamic URLs you can automatically “translate” them to friendly URLs using the .htaccess file that most hosting account automatically get supplied with. Do your research before testing things out. Some errors in .htaccess files take time to restore. You can also use the .htaccess file to redirect visitors and search engines when you’ve reorganized your website’s navigation.

Titles

As mentioned in step 2 of my HTML5 course, selecting the right title to appear in the <head>-section is an important decision. Nowadays, chances are that the web designer doesn’t make this decision anymore, but when you’re building themes for open source software, you might want to keep this info in mind anyway. The titles have to be as clear as possible, and by prefence, they would repeat the words in the URL and in headers that are located within the page content. The use of <h1> to <h6>-elements in the page tells the search engine that the content within should be considered more important than other content. Use these elements wisely. Make sure the size decents: Start with <h2> for the most important headline and use <h3> for any following headline on the same page. Keep the text of the titles as to the point as possible.

Tables vs divs

They say the use of the <table>-element makes it difficult for search engines to index your site and therefore will influence your ranking. Use the <div>-element instead. Also avoid using frames or iframes.

Meta tags

The old meta tag that was used to tell search engines to which keywords the site matches are no longer used as much. Search engines look for matches within the page’s content. The meta tag that was used to provide a description are still used, so feel free to add that to your site.

Read more about search engines and SEO

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