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Search Engine Optimization Basics Bob Keating Search Program Manager FirstGov Technologies, GSA SEO Topics Search Visibility Factors Basics of Search Friendly Design Site Maintenance Resources Search Visibility Factors Basic Page Components Text (Keyword) Component

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search engine optimization basics

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Bob Keating

Search Program Manager

FirstGov Technologies, GSA


SEO Topics

  • Search Visibility Factors
  • Basics of Search Friendly Design
  • Site Maintenance
  • Resources
basic page components
Basic Page Components
  • Text (Keyword) Component
    • Words and phrases that match what your target audience types into search engines
  • Link Component
    • Site navigation and URL structure that search crawlers can easily follow
  • Popularity Component
    • Are sites link to you?
text keyword density
Text: Keyword Density
  • Choose one or two keywords or phases to optimize for each page
  • Do not over use - avoid keyword stuffing
  • Over use of keywords can result in being penalized or ignored
  • Incorporate other complimentary words and phrases
  • Check Keyword Density:

Text: Keyword Prominence

  • Search engines place “weight” on terms according to where they are used
  • Place Keywords in …
    • Title tags
    • Headings and emphasized text
    • Visible body text
    • Description meta tags
    • Alt text in images
  • Title and body tags are most important
  • Keyword in the URL is helpful, but not a significant factor in ranking

The Metadata Myth

Quote: “Metadata improves search relevancy”

False. Except for title and description tags, Web search engines ignore other metadata. However, Metadata does matter to enterprise search.

Quote: “Using standard metadata is a best practice.”

False. It is only a best practice if the metadata is used by your agency for specific applications (e.g. enterprise search or content syndication). It is not a best practice among professional web designers.


The Metadata Myth

Quote: “If more agencies were diligent about adding metadata, Google would pay attention”

False. Industry is focused on developing algorithms that determine relevancy based on content rather than what an author or metadata creator says about the content

Key points

  • Metadata is not the key to high rankings
  • Only use metadata if it is important to your agency’s mission
  • Paying more attention to keyword usage in other areas will have a greater impact on relevancy
link component
Link Component
  • Pages will not rank well if your site does not have a navigation scheme
  • Navigation scheme must please users and search engines
  • Create a site map, but also plan how pages link to each other
  • Avoid dangling pages
problem navigation schemes
Problem Navigation Schemes
  • Poor HTML coding
  • Image maps
  • Frames
  • JavaScript
  • Dynamic Pages
  • Flash
creating links
Creating Links
  • Keywords in links tell crawlers about the pages to which you are linking
  • Keywords in links influence relevancy of the page to which you are linking
  • Avoid “click here” links, instead create links like:
  • Bad: Click here for more info on famous admirals.
  • Good: Visit our naval history site for more info on famous admirals.
popularity component
Popularity Component
  • Based on the number pages that link to you
  • The more popular pages that link to you, the higher your popularity
  • All search engines have different popularity algorithms
    • Google’s algorithm is called Page Rank
  • Every page on the Web is given a calculation of it is popularity based on inbound links
popularity factors
Popularity Factors
  • Number and Popularity of Inbound Links
    • Get listed in Yahoo!, DMOZ
    • Network with other agency and industry sites
    • Make your site a link magnet
  • Anchor Text
    • Others’ use of keywords in a link to your site
  • Popularity is assigned per page, not for the entire site
    • Popularity is not inherited
    • Need to deliberately link internal pages to pass on PR
outbound links
Outbound Links
  • Your popularity is not determined by the sites you link to
  • Your outbound links affect the popularity of the sites you’re linking to
  • Internal links and inbound links have the most impact on your popularity
  • Outbound links help identify you with a hub
robots exclusion
Robots Exclusion
  • Meta-Tag Robots Exclusion

<head><meta name=“robots” content=“no index, nofollow”></head>

  • Robots.txt File
    • Place in server’s root directory
    • Two elements: User-agent, Disallow
    • Example:

User-agent: *

Disallow: /cgi-bin/

Disallow: /scripts/

Disallow: /images/

robots exclusion16
Robots Exclusion
  • Not all search engines pay attention to robots.txt instructions
  • MSN and Yahoo! obey robots exclusion more often than Google
  • Never exclude msnbot … you won’t have site search
  • Blocking bots is contrary to OMB’s guidance
case study noaa fisheries
Term: Fisheries

#1 on FirstGov

#1 on MSN

#2 on Google

#3 on Yahoo

Term: Fish

Doesn’t show up on the first page or subsequent pages

Case Study: NOAA Fisheries
case study noaa fisheries19
Case Study: NOAA Fisheries
  • Text Component: page is well-optimized for “fisheries” but not “fish”
  • Link Component: Fly-out navigation may be a problem for some crawlers. Add search friendly navigation (e.g., site map)
  • Popularity Component: Lots of inbound links using “fisheries” (not “fish”) in anchor text
basic concepts
Basic Concepts
  • Page Content: using content and text that target your audiences; and attract search engines and links from other sites
  • Navigation: giving users and crawlers easy access to content
  • Design Considerations: make sure bells and whistles don’t undermine SEM efforts
  • Page Rank: link popularity
types of pages
Home Page



Site Map






Product pages

Shopping cart

Search Results

Types of Pages

How you write, design and optimize a page depends on the type of page

text to include
Text to Include
  • Keywords
    • Use language of your audience
    • Use keyword selection tools
      • Yahoo!/Overture:
      • Google:
  • Page Content
    • Make content appear focused
      • Title tag, headings, contextual links, cross-links
      • Body text should be visible, i.e., should not have to do any action to view main page text
primary vs secondary text
Primary Text

Title tag

Body text

Text near the top of the page

Text in and around links (e.g. anchor text)

Secondary Text

Alt text

Description tag

Domain name and URL elements

Primary vs. Secondary Text
what kind of content to include
What Kind of Content to Include?
  • Write your own
    • Pros: Original, unique content
    • Cons: Time consuming, bureaucratic process
  • Use someone else’s
    • Pros: Easy way to bulk up content
    • Cons: Still need to worry about how to add value in order to attract links
use syndicated content
Use Syndicated Content
  • Tends to update frequently
  • Crawlers visit frequently-updated pages more often
  • Combine syndicated content to create a unique resource
  • Syndicate your own content (e.g. RSS)
    • Increase site visibility and attracts traffic
    • Another opportunity for inbound links
site navigation scheme
Site Navigation Scheme
  • Text Links
    • Very search engine friendly
    • Use for primary or secondary navigation
  • Problems with Text Links
    • Can negatively skew keyword density
    • Crawlers tend to read text links first
site navigation scheme30
Site Navigation Scheme
  • Navigation buttons
    • Okay as long as you include alt text
    • Avoid JavaScript, unless you can provide navigation crawlers can follow
    • Recommendation: use alt text and text navigation at the bottom of the page – allows you put keywords in multiple places
site navigation scheme31
Site Navigation Scheme
  • Image Maps
    • Crawlers ignore links inside image maps
    • User text links or navigation buttons elsewhere
  • Pull Down Menus
    • Generally not crawler friendly because they need JavaScript or a CGI program
    • Always provide two forms of navigation: one for your users, and one for your crawlers
help crawlers navigate
Help Crawlers Navigate
  • Create a site map
  • Subscribe to Google Site Maps
    • A crawler enabling tool to assist the Google crawler
    • Analyzes information about your site’s architecture to improve crawling
design considerations34
Design Considerations
  • Bells and whistles (Flash, JavaScript, animation) enhance user experience but can hurt search visibility
  • Implement features carefully in order to keep search engine ranking
  • Ensure design team understands SEM concepts
use external javascript and css
Use External JavaScript and CSS
  • Using JavaScript on site navigation can greatly decrease site crawlability
  • Crawlers do not follow links embedded inside JavaScript code; or they limit the types of embedded links crawled
  • JavaScript in <body> can decrease page load time
  • Long download times may indicate the site is spam, and crawlers could ignore
use external javascript and css36
Use External JavaScript and CSS
  • External files decrease page load time for visitors
  • External files decrease download time for crawlers
    • Remember to disallow crawling scripts in the robots.txt
  • External scripts are easier to re-use
  • Do not design in frames
  • Crawlers have trouble getting from the frameset page to the actual web page
  • Frameset does not provide crawler with keyword rich text and links
  • Each page is indexed separately, so pages that only make sense as a frameset will be indexed individually in search engines
  • <no frames> tag is ignored due to spam
frames workarounds
Frames Workarounds
  • Add Navigation
    • Give all pages unique title and description tags
    • Put navigation links on your pages
  • Add Java Script in your <head> tag

<script language=“javascript”>

<! –

if (top == self) self.location.href = “index.html”;

// 


    • This will force the browser to always load the frameset
    • However, browser will always load the home page, not the indexed page
    • Back button will be disabled
  • Few search engines crawl links embedded inside a Flash navigation scheme
  • Flash sites contain little text
  • If you include Flash …
    • Include a “Skip” link so both the user and crawler can go to the real homepage
    • Include title and description meta tags
dynamic pages
Dynamic Pages
  • Database-driven, created on the fly by asp, cfm, php, jsp or cgi scripts
  • Dynamic sites are comprised of templates, but usually without original content
  • When a page is viewed, the template loads the content from the database
  • Parameters are added to the URL, which tells the template to load specific content
dynamic pages41
Dynamic Pages


  • URLs such as this are difficult for search engines to index because they do not know the parameters that define a unique page
  • The more parameters, the less likely pages will be indexed
  • A database may continually feed data, crashing your server and scaring off the crawler
search friendly dynamic pages
Search Friendly Dynamic Pages
  • Create static HTML pages
  • Modify URLs so they don’t look like dynamic pages, fewer parameters
  • Use URL re-write trick using mod_rewrite
session ids
Session IDs
  • The kiss of death if left unmanaged
  • Same content is delivered to the crawler but as unique URLs
  • Crawlers will ignore web pages with session IDs
  • Omit session IDs if the requestor is a crawler … but no cloaking!
optimizing pdfs
Optimizing PDFs
  • Make sure PDFs contain actual text, not images of text
  • Same rules for use of keywords and phrases apply
  • Put the most important text in the title, headlines
  • Minimize document size (> 100K)
  • Create optimized HTML pages for PDFs
understanding page rank
Understanding Page Rank
  • All search engines assign a value to your site based on inbound links
  • Google calls this relevancy factor “Page Rank” (PR) - synonymous with popularity ranking
  • An inbound link is a vote for your page
  • An outbound link is a vote for the page you’re linking to
understanding page rank47
Understanding Page Rank
  • A page is assigned PR as soon as it’s indexed
  • Make sure all your pages have at least one link back into your site
  • The page receiving the most inbound links gets the highest page rank
  • You can pass PR around to pages on your site
can you leak page rank
Can You Leak Page Rank?
  • Controversial topic among SEOs
  • Supporting View: PR leaks in the sense that a page’s outbound links will decrease that page’s available PR for redistribution throughout the site
  • Opposing View: Search engines analyze inbound and outbound links to determine your authority as hub. No site is an island
outbound link strategy
Outbound Link Strategy
  • Do not create pages with mostly outbound links
  • Link to quality, related sites – helps to establish you as an authority or hub
  • If a page contains several outgoing links, also include links to other pages on your site
  • Don’t be afraid to link to sites with low page rank, but quality content
getting links to your site
Getting Links to Your Site
  • Links from Yahoo! and DMOZ
    • Impact on popularity may vary
    • Helps to get noticed by crawlers
  • Establish reciprocal link arrangements with agencies covering similar topics
  • Reach out to state and local agencies
  • Syndicate your content
  • Reach out to professional communities of interest
links that aren t links
Links that Aren’t Links
  • Link has been created in a manner that search engines can’t understand
  • Link actually points elsewhere, and not directly to your site
  • Example:

    • Link passes through a JSP program that logs the click and re-directs the browser to
    • Search engines read this as an internal link to FirstGov, not an outbound link to NOAA
    • A listing on will not help boost your search ranking
re designing your site
Re-Designing Your Site
  • Plan BEFORE you embark on a re-design
    • Will the site architecture change?
    • Static to Dynamic?
    • How is the content changing?
  • Add SEO review as an activity to your project plan
  • Make sure your contractor has SEO skills
  • Poor planning and execution can kill your search rankings
  • Do not wait until after you re-designed!
  • Do not ask the FirstGov Search Team to re-crawl your site!
changes to site architecture
Changes to Site Architecture
  • Try to keep the same filenames and directory structure when redesigning
  • Follow MSN’s “What to do when your site moves”:
  • Recommended: Set up HTTP 301 redirects that point to the new site or pages
  • Not Recommended: Add a meta-refresh tag to your page header. This won’t remove your original page from the MSN index, and thus your site’s search engine.
removing content
Removing Content
  • Avoid using default 404 pages
  • Custom 404 pages are more user-friendly
  • Submit all 404 URLs to the search engines using their Add URL form – quickest way to get the 404 pages out of the index
  • Remember to change the HTTP status code on custom error pages from 200 to 404
  • Do not ask the FirstGov Search Team to re-crawl your site!
  • Read Industry Forums

Webmaster World:

Search Engine Watch:

Digital Point Forums:

High Rankings:

  • Go to Industry Events

Search Engine Strategies:

recommended reading
Recommended Reading
  • Battelle, John. The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed our Culture. New York. Penguin, 2005.
  • Kent, Peter. Search Engine Optimization for Dummies. Hoboken, NJ. Wiley, 2004.
  • Moran, Mike, Hunt, Bill. Search Engine Marketing, Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ. IBM Press, 2006.
  • Thurow, Shari. Search Engine Visibility.Indianapolis, IN: New Riders, 2003.

Contact InformationBob KeatingSearch Program 208-1047Susan FarissSearch 219-1437