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What is Search Engine Optimization (SEO) ?

There are only about 4 ways to get traffic on your web site:
• Word of mouth
• Advertsing
• Third Party Links
• Appear in search engine results

By far the best method is to appear in search engine results. When a search engine such as Google crawls your site, it adds the textual content of your page to it’s index. When somebody executes a search in Google, Google tries to find the best possible matching web page for that query. In order to find the best match, Google attaches “weight” to individual words or phrases on individual pages. Based on a myriad of information, Google decides which page best matches a particular query term or phrase. Google’s “Page Rank” algorithm is constantly evolving and being tweaked, but the basic principles have remained the same for many years.

This article examines some of the areas that we feel Google put extra emphasis on. Google matches web pages to queries not web sites. This means you can target different pages to different keywords or phrases. For example, this page is targeting the query term Search Engine Optimization, whereas the home page is targeting Website Design.

A Word of Warning Before We Begin

All SEO can do is make it easier for your site to be indexed by search engine’s like Google by creating Google friendly urls, and increase the probability of the page being seen as the most relevant for particular query term or phrase based on how the content is laid out. Beware of people who claim they can guarantee #1 spot in Google search results. NOBODY can do this. Ultimately, Google decide what is the most relevant result. See Google’s own article on how to SEO your website.

The following are ten golden rules for search engine optimization. The list is not exhaustive by any means, but if you follow these 10 rules you won’t go too far wrong.

Ten Golden SEO Rules

Rule #1: Be Honest!

This might sound strange, especially if you’ve been misled into beliveing that SEO can be somehow faked, but it is very important. Think about what Google are trying to do. They want to serve up the most relevant page for a particular query to their user. The day they stop doing that is the day Google go out of business. And news flash, Google ain’t going to go out of business just because you want your precious page at the number one spot for a query term. Try fooling search engines with SEO trickery and you’ll quickly find out that it doesn’t pay. So bear this in mind as you read the next 9 rules, be HONEST!

Rule #2: The title of the page.

This is probably the most important part of the page to get right. Your title should be short, targeted, and honest! By honest we mean if you have words or phrases in your title they had better appear at least once (most likely more often) in the text of your page. Repeat the words 400 times in the page though and watch your position in the search rankings plummet as this would be deemed to be a deliberate attempt to fool the search engine crawlers. So it’s important to get the balance right. If you view the title of this page (it’s visible in the very top of the browser window above the “File” menu – you can see the title reads : “Search Engine Optimization”.
Note: The order your keywords or phrases appear in the title is also important. Higher weight is given to those on the left, but the overall weight of the left most word is diluted by the length of the title.
Summary: Keep your title short, targeted and honest, and keep your important keywords to the start of the title!

Rule #3: Use “clean” URL’s.

Next up for mention is the page’s URL. Note the URL of this page also contains the query term “search engine optimization”. So the query term I am targeting now appears in both the title of the page and at level 1 of the url of the page – Level 0 is the base url itself, and an extremely powerful SEO component. The fact my target query appears in my URL is very important as it says the entire page must be about Search Engine Optimization.

Rule #4: META tags

“Keyword” Meta tag
No magic bullet (because of past dishonesty!), but this is your chance to tell search engine crawlers what you feel is important on this page. Don’t lie! If you put a keyword in here that does not appear on your page at least once you’re doomed. Don’t use more than 5 or 6 keywords. For popular search terms we recommend targeting just one phrase or word. Don’t put your website name as a keyword – it wastes this valuable space. Your base url is enough to find your website name. Place the keywords in order of importance, seperating keywords and key phrases with a comma..

“Description” META tag
It is vital to put in a good short clear description of what the page is about. Very often this is the text that the search engine will use as a teaser when displaying your page in the search results. There is little point in ranking high in the search results if at the final hurdle (getting the user to click on your link) the description is so bad that the user skips over it and clicks the link below yours. Two hundred characters is plenty for a description.

“Title” META tag
Believed to be not widely used any more, largely superceded by the html tag <title> but put it in anyway, match it to the title tag.

Rule #5: Image “alt” text

Pay attention to this. You’ll get a double pay off. If you tag an image with your targeted query term then the search engines will say “oh, here’s a page with a PICTURE of what my user is searching for. It should also mean you show up in the Image search tab of a search engine or the image module you sometimes see in regular web search. Finally it’s good practice for accessibility.

Rule #6: Query Term Frequency

This is a delicate one. Too much will be considered Search Engine SPAM. Too little and you won’t rank high enough. Really you have to play with this depending on your query target. I would recommend between 4 and 10 times but it depends on the amount of text in the page.

Rule #7: Choosing a query term to target

Put some thought into this, but it is not nearly as difficult as it may first seem. Pick words or phrases that you feel people looking for your business on the web would search for and target them. For example, if you’re a plumber in Dublin, you might target someone who searches for “Dublin plumber”. Equally you might be happy to target those is a smaller area. “Plumber Leixlip”. Don’t ignore “long tail” queries when doing SEO. Certain phrases might not be widely searched for in the world as a whole, but they might still be invaluable to you. If this is the case for you, well this is your lucky day. Less competition for the keywrod or phrase. The plumber in Leixlip does not want to be found by the little old lady way down in West Cork who wants a leaky tap fixed in the middle of the night!

Rule #8: Use tools

Tools such as and Google webmaster (google it!) can be invaluable sources of information. “Trends” lets you compare the volume of one query against another, by region. Webmaster will let you see what query terms are literally driving traffic to your site. Proof that your SEO strategy is working!

Rule #9: Font sizes

I said be honest! Here we’re bending rule #1 but only ever so slightly, so don’t panic. It is the only form of “cheating” allowed. Having the query term appear in a very large font size on your page will make it appear much more important to search engine crawlers. No – Google do not read your css file to determine what size font each bit of text is but including your targeted keywords or phrase inside say a “<h1>” tag (as I did on this page) and using css to scale the size back down to a more sensible size will make the search engine believe that the keyword you are targeting is very important without the text appearing overly large. However, in keeping with Rule #1, don’t scale it back so much that doesn’t look bigger at all.

Rule #10: Links from other sites

The theory behind this is based on “swarm theory” which deals with how colonies of insects interact. Ants are known to have hugely complex civilisations and yet no one ant is in charge – no one ant has the full picture of what is going on. However from the outside looking in, all seems to work perfectly. In the same way, search engines theorise that if a site has linked to one of your pages, then that page increases in importance. The more links you have to a page on your site the more important it is deemed to be. There are many ways the value of the link is determined so I won’t go into it here as this part of SEO is something you can only build on after your site has launched. Do encourage as many other web sites as you can to link to your site. Do NOT go near sites that say they can generate thousands of links to your site with no effort. See Rule #1!

Finally, SEO takes time

It can take some time for a search engine to index your site. Make sure you submit it to the main search engines and be patient. If you’ve followed the above rules, you’ll soon be able to see how you’re doing using the web master tools. If at first you don’t succeed, examine these rules again and the sites that come above you. Ask yourself why they could be appearing ahead of you. In most cases you’ll find the answer.

SEO is a huge area and the above rules are by no means an exhaustive list, but they should be enough to get you started.

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