A Yahoo! search on “seo best practices” delivers 17,700,000 results. It seems everyone has an opinion about search engine optimization these days, and it’s difficult to pick out the nuggets of good, solid information that will lead to increased web traffic and higher search engine rank. In my experience, bad SEO stems from the following three schools of thought:
1. I will submit my site to every directory available on the Web.
Search engines have come a long way since the time that every link to your site equated to an upward push in page rank. There are so many algorithms and calculations in existence now that simply having a link to your site out there somewhere won’t help you much. The key here is getting notable, credible, and related links back to your site. Make sure your site is linked from your-industry-specific repositories; for example, working for an enterprise software company, I have made sure that we are linked to from some of the most popular software- and development-related sites. Insist that your partners link to you from their sites, as their content likely compliments yours. And, above all, the best links back to your site do not simply use your company name as the link text; instead of using the words ABC Widgets to link back to your site, for example, linking to your site via text that says “enterprise-ready widgets” is much more valuable.
2. I will cram my <META> tags with every keyword I believe relates to my business.
SEO best practices suggest that eight to ten keywords is the ideal number to fit into your <META> tags, but don’t be exceptionally broad with these. While formerly <META> keywords were a valuable SEO tool, again, search engines have become much more sophisticated in their examination of web pages. It is imperative that your <META> keywords tie directly into the content of your web pages. The ideal situation here is for your keyword to match with a header, which is referenced in the content paragraphs. This sort of continuity helps search engines to realize that your site really is about what you say in the header, which is a boost in your ranking. But don’t overuse the keywords: mentioning widgets 24 times in the main paragraph of your copy can actually harm your ranking.
And, please, do not put a line of keywords on your site that is the same color as the background. This can immediately warrant removal from a search engine’s system; Google’s Webmaster Guidelines alludes to this.
If you’re having problems coming up with appropriate keywords for your site, there are a number of tools that you can use. WordTracker has been mentioned before; Keyword Discovery is another. But read your content first. In all likelihood, the acceptable keywords will pop out at you.
3. I’m going to develop my whole site in Flash, because it looks good.
It does look good. Unfortunately, search engines aren’t human and can’t see things the way we do. Too much content included in your Flash can actually be detrimental to your site rankings, because the search engines can’t see the content. Minimize the use of Flash on your site, and minimize the use of images to deliver key content. If you must use the latter, do make sure that you fill in the <ALT> tag with keyword-rich content; while it does not equate to having keyword-rich textual content, this is absolutely an improvement over simply having an image with no tags.
With regard to Flash, though, there may be a silver lining yet to come. Google’s Webmaster Central Blog reported on Monday that the behemoth has come up with an algorithm for its software to actually “read” the text contained within Flash files. Of course, this has yet to be seen, but it could spell the end for this final SEO problem.
The key to good SEO is keeping it simple. If you have keyword-rich, informative content that is useful to your visitors, you will rise in search engine rankings over time.