Most webmasters have visited Google’s Webmaster Help Center: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters. Many of the suggestions are obvious: Don’t use frames; Don’t employ cloaking techniques or scripts designed to trick search engines; Create a search engine-friendly site map; Get incoming links from other quality web sites. But us webmasters can be a cocky bunch and will let our own pre-conceived notions get the better of us sometimes.
This refresher is for all you (ie. us) webmasters and search engine optimizers who have a set method of designing and/or promoting web sites and who consider yourselves experts in your field. Experts you may be, but it is never a bad idea to review the basics from time to time.
– Make sure your pages have less than 100 links. This won’t be too difficult unless you display product lists without breaking them up into separate pages (which should be done for your visitors let alone search engines!) or have a link partners page or a site map. If you have more than 100 outbound links, you may want to review your linking practices unless you have compiled a comprehensive list of high quality and relevant resources for your visitors.
– Dynamically-generated content can create session IDs and URLs that contain a “?” character. Check your database administration settings to make sure that you aren’t forcing search engine spiders to begin a new session each time they visit your site. Note: Preventing spiders from starting a session on your site may have negative effects if you use a third party for web site credit card processing. Always check with these services before making any changes of this nature.
– Web designers still utilize images as a way of displaying headings or other important areas of text instead of simple HTML simply because they think the Book Antiqua font with a drop shadow improves the aesthetics of the site. While branding and clarity are always paramount, keep in mind that multiple fonts used on the same page can have a negative impact on readability. And the more text written in HTML that can be read by search engine spiders, the better. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) also provide a way of attaining the look you want while keeping the code clean and in search engine-readable format.
– “Make sure that your TITLE and ALT tags are descriptive and accurate.” Most webmasters assume that by using keywords in the page title that are relevant to the page’s topic, that they are adhering to the rules. But that last word in quotes is the most important: Accuracy. It is standard practice for search engine optimizers to make sure that if a word is used in a page title, that it also shows up in the main body of the page as well. Not doing this means that Google may be interpreting your page titles as inaccurate or at worst, trying to manipulate its algorithm.
– Use 301 redirects to let visitors know if a URL has changed. Many people still use the “meta refresh” command. This is an outdated command that has been utilized in the past for unethical purposes. While visitors can be directed to the new page the same way with either method, Google specifically mentions using a 301 redirect. More information on how to implement this redirect can be read at http://knowledge.freshpromo.ca/seo-tools/301-redirect.php
– Google suggests you submit your site to the Yahoo! directory. Why would Google urge its users to pay a direct competitor of theirs $299 USD a year? It is safe to say that web sites included in the Yahoo! directory are not trying black hat SEO techniques such as free-for-all link exchanges, cloaking, multiple domains showing duplicate content, and so on. Companies that spend money promoting their web site should receive a vote of legitimacy from search engines. As difficult as it might be for some small business owners to bite the bullet with Yahoo’s yearly cost, having Google recognize that you have paid for directory listings will increase the chances that your site will rank well.
– “You should never have to link to an SEO.” If you are hiring a search engine optimizer to help you with your site’s rankings, be careful they do not insist on linking your site to theirs. The only reason for this is to help the SEO’s own link popularity. If anything, it will detract from the SEO efforts. Not the most brilliant suggestion from a company claiming to help you, is it?
It is recommended that you read Google’s entire webmaster guidelines if you are developing a new site. The above points are ones that a lot of webmasters may have overlooked, and if you’re included in that group don’t worry: just fix the issues and remember them for next time you work on a web site.
Written by: John Metzler
About the Author: An expert at organic SEO, John Metzler has held executive positions in the search engine marketing industry since 2001. His web site, FreshPromo.ca, features more of his search engine optimization articles.