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  1. Search Engine Optimization Basics Bob Keating Search Program Manager FirstGov Technologies, GSA

  2. SEO Topics • Search Visibility Factors • Basics of Search Friendly Design • Site Maintenance • Resources

  3. Search Visibility Factors

  4. 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?

  5. 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: • http://www.webjectives.com/keyword.htm • http://www.keyworddensity.com/

  6. 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

  7. 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.

  8. 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

  9. 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

  10. Problem Navigation Schemes • Poor HTML coding • Image maps • Frames • JavaScript • Dynamic Pages • Flash

  11. 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.

  12. 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

  13. 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

  14. 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

  15. 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/

  16. 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

  17. 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

  18. 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

  19. Basics of Search Friendly Design

  20. 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

  21. Managing Page Content

  22. Home Page About Contact Site Map News Forms Galleries FAQs Catalogs Product pages Shopping cart Search Results Types of Pages How you write, design and optimize a page depends on the type of page

  23. Text to Include • Keywords • Use language of your audience • Use keyword selection tools • Yahoo!/Overture: http://inventory.overture.com/ • Google: https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordSandbox • 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

  24. 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

  25. 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

  26. 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

  27. Managing Site Architecture

  28. 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

  29. 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

  30. 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

  31. 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

  32. Design Considerations

  33. 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

  34. 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

  35. 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

  36. Frames • 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

  37. 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”; //  </script> • 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

  38. Flash • 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

  39. 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

  40. Dynamic Pages Example:http://smithsonianstore.com/catalog/product.jsp?productId=14273&parentCategoryId=3151&categoryId=3152 • 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

  41. 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

  42. 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!

  43. 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

  44. Managing Page Rank

  45. 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

  46. 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

  47. 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

  48. 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

  49. 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