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Search Engine Optimisation Guidelines for Web Masters

Idea Inception
Know Your Audience
Know your audience and establish the keywords that you will target.
Find out what will interest them and what kind of search patterns they usually have.
Look at studies online for demographic information, and visit other sites, forums or communities that your target audience use.
Keyword Research
Once you have found the keywords your audience will be looking for you can find the optimal key phrases to optimise for, by using research tools such as KeywordDiscovery, Wordtracker, Google AdWords, and Yahoo Search Marketing data.
Compile lists of the most relevant phrases for your site. These will be used later on to decide the content, TITLE tags and possibly filenames of your web pages.
Grouping of the key phrases in a structured way will help to determine the architecture of your site. Look for descriptive terms like colour, size, model numbers or brand.
Choosing a Domain Name
Try not to use a new domain name. Although Google does not publicly admit that a sandboxing filter exists for new sites, for some reason, new domains can take 9 12 months to be included in the main index for any keyword phrases that are important to them.
Choose the correct TLD for your geographical location as SE’s sometimes localise searches.
Your domain name should be something short and punchy that describes the brand or product and conveys a message such as fun, music, adult or gaming.
Don’t worry about lots of keywords in the domain name. They hold little or know value with the SE’s.
Choosing a host
Make sure your host is in the audience’s geographical location as SE’s may localise their search.

Design & Content
Basic Principles
Design for the users not the SE’s in mind.
Talking naturally about the sites subject matter will identify what your keywords and phrases should be.
Write unique, quality content for your visitors. This is the most valuable way to get back links.
Take your list of key phrases and choose a few different ones for every page, ensuring that your site includes the words your audience will be searching for within it.
Structuring Your Site
Categorise your site architecture and navigation based on your keyword research. Lay out your site so that people will find the products they’re looking for. Are they looking for a price, size or a particular brand?
Your keyword research will show you that people are looking for your product in many different ways. Your job is to make sure that your site’s navigation showcases the various ways of searching. Make sure you have links to the price, size and brand pages.
Design the site with a clear hierarchy.
Try not to have folders too deep. The closer a folder or page is to the root of your site the more relevant it is.
TITLE and Meta Tags
Title tags are critical because they’re given a lot of weight with every search engine.
Your main target key phrase should be used in the TITLE tag of the home page. If your site is about Widgets then the TITLE should be something like “Get the best Widgets from the Widget Specialists”
oSub key phrases will be the names, and therefore the titles, of your sub pages i.e. “Blue Widgets” or “Large Widgets” would be sub directories or pages of “Widgets”.
The META description should be an extension (but not exact copy) of the keywords used in the TITLE tag i.e. “Get the very best in Widget design from the worlds leading online Widgets supplier. Specialising in Blue and Large widgets”
Try not to use punctuation or stop words (and, or, in, of etc.) in the TITLE tag as these are often ignored by the SE’s.
Try not to use the domain name in the TITLE as it uses up characters that could better me used for a call to action or more keywords.
Page Content
The first copy on the page should be an extension of the META description and be as close to the opening BODY tag, within the source code, as possible, without comprising the user experience.
Your keywords should appear as many times as possible on the page without it becoming nonsense for the human reader.
Your target key phrase should appear in H1 tags.
oSub key phrases on the same page should appear in H2, H3 tags and so on.
Search engines make a decision on the topic of the page based on the first 250 words. Try and make those words as relevant as possible.
Use keyword kerning. Use variations of your keywords in the body of the content. If your subject matter is “Racing” then talk about “Racing” but also “Races” you have entered and a particular “Race” you might be looking forward to.
Bold some of your keywords or phrases as this carries more weight with the search engines.
Some SEO’s believe a few keywords at the end of the page, say in a copyright statement or disclaimer, can aid the SE in determining the topic as it leaves the page. Bare in mind this must be useful to the user.
Don’t duplicate content. If all that changes on a group of pages is a few details then consider merging the information into one page.
Check your keyword density and ensure that it is approximately the same ratio as your competitors.
The content should make your site link-worthy. If your site is full of wonderful, useful information, other sites will naturally link to it without even asking and therefore increasing your rankings.
Page Graphics
Try to use text instead of images or flash where possible. Search engines don’t (this may change in the future) read the text in images or flash files.
If using AJAX make sure the initial load of the application contains the optimised elements such as TITLE and headers and is also reachable from a fixed address.
Where images are used make sure the ALT attribute of the IMAGE SRC tag is used to describe the image. Even if there is no description then ALT=”” is still necessary.
Using meaningful anchor text. Avoid non specific anchor text like “Click Here” as this tells the SE’s nothing about what is at the other end of the link.
Try and use the same keywords in the anchor text as is used in TITLE tag of landing page.
Every page should be reachable from at least one static text link.
Offer a site map to your users with links that point to the important parts of your site. If the site map is larger than 100 or so links, you may want to break the site map into separate pages.
Make sure none of your links are broken.
Consider using key phrases as folder or filenames i.e. www.example.com/widgets/blue.html or www.example.com/blue-widgets.html Avoid using the underscore character or spaces as these aren’t interpreted correctly by the spiders.
Only link out to trusted sources that will be relevant and useful to your audience.
Use the TITLE attribute of the HREF tag to describe where the link is going.
If using dropdown menus or search forms to navigate provide alternative methods i.e. text links, to find the same information.
Use the REL=”NOFOLLOW” attribute of the HREF tag to prevent the crawlers from accessing irrelevant/non useful information.
Try not to have over 100 links on one page.
If using dynamic URL’s implement a URL rewrite technology such as MOD Rewrite. This will make your query strings search engine friendly and get them indexed. Parameters like “&id=” may be ignored by the likes of Google.
Check which type of URL rewriting your server and programming languages support.
If using a content management system make sure the software exports the content to HTML pages so that the SE’s can crawl them.
Use the robots.txt file to tell the crawlers which pages and directories they can access and to make sure important content isn’t being blocked.
Try not to use frames or iFrames. Keep the content on the page.
Don’t use session id’s or other tracking id’s. These appear to the crawlers as unique URL’s when in fact they point to the same page, possibly resulting in an incomplete indexing of the site or worse, penalisation for supplicate content.
URL canonical issues. Make sure your server is configured so that users and crawlers are redirected to the http://www.example.com version of your site. Allowing users to access your site by either the http://example.com or the http://www.example.com version of your URL may result in the SE’s indexing both versions and thus penalising for duplicate content.
If you are using JavaScript consider placing it in an external .JS file.
Place your CSS in an external style sheet.
Validate your mark up language with a free validation service such as the W3C Validator.
Get back-links. The most valuable thing to get links is to write unique, quality content for your audience.
Submit to relevant, industry specific and trusted directories. Make sure all the relevant sites that should know about your site are aware that you are now online.
Submit to http://www.google.com/addurl.html.
Submit a site map to Google Sitemaps. Google Sitemaps uses your sitemap to learn about the structure of your site and to increase their coverage of your web pages.
Consider a Pay Per Click campaign to get the ball rolling. Not only will this give your site exposure to you audience but people may link to you naturally.
Post Launch
Use tracking software such as Google Analytics or WebTrends to analyse where your traffic is coming from and which pages are receiving the most traffic.
Keep validating your mark up language to ensure it complies with W3C Recommendations and other standards.
Use a Broken Link Checker to make sure all your links a kept in tact.
If you have to move pages make sure you use the appropriate server response codes. Don’t use 302 response codes for pages that have moved as this tells the crawler that the page has only moved temporarily. Use the 301 response code instead.
Link Equity. Try not to change URL’s or titles of pages especially with deep linked pages. Historical value of a page is of great importance to the SE’s. If you have to move a page then make sure you use the appropriate redirect response code.
Good Practice Guidelines
Failure to comply with any or all of these guidelines will significantly increase your chances of exclusion from the search engines.

Anything that can be deemed as artificial inflating rankings is known as spamming the search engines.
Design your site for your audience not the search engines. If it doesn’t help your audience then it’s probably not a good idea.
Avoid tricks. The more a ‘trick’ is discussed, the more certain you are that the search engines know about it. Be very wary of any technique that the search engines wouldn’t like, because if you can read about it, you can bet they have too. As soon as anything is more often abused than used, the search engines will stop paying attention to it and may even penalise.
Don’t participate in link exchange programmes or any PageRank purchasing schemes.
Don’t use automated software that submits to search engines, directories, forums or blogs.
Don’t steal other peoples content. Duplicate content is frowned upon by the SE’s and may get you excluded.
Don’t get links from nearly-hidden sections of websites listing hundreds or thousands of off topic sites.
Don’t link to off topic sites.
Don’t stuff your pages with either irrelevant or relevant keywords.
Don’t stuff your folder or filenames with either irrelevant or relevant keywords.
Don’t stuff your domain name with either irrelevant or relevant keywords.
Don’t use cloaking, page jacking or any other dubious redirecting methods.
Avoid “doorway” pages created just for search engines, or other “cookie cutter” approaches such as affiliate programs with little or no original content. If you are building an affiliate site make sure there is some original, interesting and unique content for your audience.
Don’t waste effort looking for loopholes you can exploit. Spend your time on understanding the current technologies and where they are heading.

Chris Phillips

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