SEO: Basic Search Engine Optimization


Search engines are powerful tools for people to find the information they are looking for. An entire industry has appeared that promises to increase your placement in the search engine rankings. People often spend way to much money on search engine optimization, often abbreviated SEO.

Never believe if someone promises that they will get you to the top of the the rankings for the terms you are interested in. That being said, there are many techniques that have been shown to improve your ranking.

Google, for example, does not disclose how their engine works. It is known that there are hundreds of factors that go into your ranking.

The purpose of this article is not to be all-inclusive, just to cover some basic techniques that can help your organic ranking.

Many people use Pay-Per-Click services like Google AdWords. This can be very expensive. The techniques mentioned here are designed to help your "organic", as in non-paid, rankings.

Think Like a Search Engine

It is important to be aware that just because your site looks "good" to humans when they view it, it may not appear as "good" to search engines.

Adobe Flash is a good example as it may appear great to the person visiting it, with cool theme music playing and things moving all around over the page. How would it appear with no images, colors or effects? It is doubtful that you could even tell what the content is given those limitations.

When a search engine looks at the page, also known as "crawls" the page, it does not look at it through human eyes. A search engine uses whatever techniques it is programmed with to analyze your content and index it appropriately.

Most people have never used a text-based web browser (most people have not heard of Lynx). Imagine the web with no pictures or colors at all. Visiting many modern sites would be extremely difficult in this manner.

Your site needs to be set up so there is logical organization and relevant text to allow the visitor, in this case the automated software from the search engine, to find the relevant information.

Clear Titles and Good Site Structure

Having a clear and consistent structure for the titles of your pages can help with your ranking. Include several relevant keywords if possible.

The title of your page is generally what users click on when they go to your site from a search engine.

Having a clear and consistent navigation structure for your site can be a major asset. Using techniques such as "breadcrumbs" to allow a user to know where they are within a site can help visitors and search engines.

Keeping your site well organized is important. If your information is too deep, it will be harder to find. If there is too much information per page it can be overwhelming.

Hiring a professional to help you create a quality site structure will lead to better returns in all aspects of your site.

Meta Tags

Meta information can be defined as information about information. When you have a file stored on your computer, other things are tracked besides the content of the file. Some of this information may include what day it was created, what day it was modified, who has access to it and so on...

You can provide "meta" information about the pages on your web site that may help improve your search engine ranking.

Back in the day, when the search engine Webcrawler was a big deal, people would fill up their pages with "meta" keywords. Before search engines were as powerful, they would use these keywords as a summary of the page content. The problem is people would put terms that were unrelated to their content in order to get as much traffic as possible, making this technique pretty much useless with modern search engines.

Most sites still have "meta" keywords for their pages, though I do not personally believe they are effective. From my reasearch, Google also does not recommend using them. Some more primitive search engines may utilize them though I do not recommend spending a great deal of time implementing them.

The "meta" description tag is important, as that can be the summary shown below the title of your page in the Google results. Providing a clear and concise description can help get a user to click on your link in the search engine index. Remember, making it to page one does not mean people will choose your site over others.


I am a firm believer that the content is the most important aspect of a site. Be sure to choose the words you use carefully and make sure to write things like item descriptions as carefully as possible to include the relevant words.

Friendly URL's

Adding relevant information about the content of your site in the actual address of the site has been shown to be effective.

You can pad the URL's with words as well. Using a tool like mod_rewrite, you can specially craft your URL to include relevant phrases. This technique has been shown to work, though many people pay way too much to implement it.

Sitemaps - HTML and XML

Most sites should provide at least two sitemaps. One is designed to help people find a page on your site. The other is designed to help search engines index it.

A sitemap can help show users and search engines alike where the relevant content is on your site.

Google, Yahoo and MSN Live search all allow you to submit an XML file that contains a list of all of the pages on your site. This is a good way to make sure that all of your pages are included in their index.

At this time, Google Webmaster Tools provides the best interface for feedback on your site and it will provide you with a lot of information about errors they have during crawling. They will also give you helpful suggestions.

Other Sites Linking to You

Some sites with no one linking to them can still rank high for certain searches.

That being said, other sites linking to you can be the most important aspect of your search engine ranking. If other sites relevant to yours link to you, then that can help your ranking for a particular search.

I suggest doing a search for the terms you are interested in. In the first few pages see if there are any sites that would be willing to link to you. Developing a relationship with these other sites can lead to excellent results.

Registering in free directories to increase the number of links to your site can be beneficial.

Analyzing Visitors

There are many tools to analyze the traffic to your site. I generally recommend using Google Analytics. This is a free service offered by Google that can provide insight into how visitors arrive at your site, where they are located and other characteristics of the visitor.

Using these tools, you can see what search terms people are using to find your site and optimize your site for such terms.

At the very least, you should periodically review the aggregate information collected about the visitors to your site and use that to improve your offerings.

Techniques to Avoid

There are many techniques that people use to try and increase their search engine ranking that can have a negative effect.

Many SEO companies will offer to have many sites link to your site and promise to improve your ranking.

Google strives to produce the best results when users search for a particular term. Google will identify sites that exist for the sole purpose of bumping up search engine rankings and may penalize you for it.

People may try to get traffic for search terms that are not relevant to their site. They will use some of the techniques mentioned here and try to put in too many keywords. Google will identify this and you may be penalized. Make sure that the people you hire to perform your search engine optimization use ethical techniques.

Ranking Changes Over Time

The ranking of your site will change over time. You can appear at the top of the results one day and be totally missing the next day.

Over time, with the proper techniques applied, and with increasingly more people linking to your site as they discover it, your ranking can gradually increase.

It also takes time to move up in the rankings. You can apply all of the known techniques perfectly and your site is not going to be number one overnight.

As part of the ongoing development of your site, check the rankings from time to time and see if you are moving up or down. If you notice a gradual decline, you need to do more work to maintain your ranking.


This article was by no means comprehensive. This was set up to only mention some of the basic techniques that every web site should be using.

Whether you are building a new site or making these changes to an existing site, you should be aware of these techniques and have a general idea what the person you are hiring is doing and why.

I recommend that you consult someone skilled in these practices to assess your current site and implement the above mentioned and other techniques.

About the author

Bob Lindquist is an expert consultant with extensive experience building web sites, databases and performing internet marketing work for his clients.  He has over 20 years of experience working with clients from a wide variety of industries along with a degree in Computer Science.  Bob is a professional member of the Association for Computing Machinery.

In his free time, Bob is a volunteer Firefighter / EMT and has served on the boards of several not-for-profit groups.

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