Full Web site optimization goes beyond search engine optimization. A thorough optimization program includes Web site speed optimization and an inbound link-building program. Unless all three components are given the same level of serious attention, your site may never achieve optimal results for your marketing campaign. Just like a three-legged stool, if any one leg of the project is missing or fails, your entire project fails to perform as intended.
The First Leg: Search Engine Optimization
The goal of search engine optimization is to position a Web page to achieve high rankings in the free listings on search engine results pages (SERPs). Higher rankings can usually be achieved by structuring the content and other elements of a Web page to focus on a keyword theme for the page, which in turn helps boost the ranking for that page for the targeted keyword phrases. This is, of course, a simplistic view of SEO, because there are many other factors that play a role in successful search engine optimization.
Search engine optimization is not a one-time affair. It is an ongoing project that requires periodic fine tuning. Search engine ranking algorithms change often and without warning, so a sustainable SEO campaign needs to include a periodic review along with the appropriate adjustments to your web site code and content.
One often underrated aspect of search engine optimization is the development of compelling HTML title tags and description meta tags. Traditional SEO practices call for the insertion of targeted keyword phrases in the HTML title tag, because this adds relevance to the keyword phrases and tends to elevate the page in the rankings for the given keyword phrase. The HTML title tag displays at the top of a browser and also displays as the Web site title on search engine results pages. Inserting keywords into a title tag is easy to do, but unless you construct the title tag carefully, you will miss a huge opportunity to draw visitors to your site. You need to develop title tags that satisfy both search engines and search engine users.
Most search engines use the description meta tag as the site description and display it along with the contents of the HTML title tag on search engine results pages. Google tends to grab segments of text that surround the search words on a Web page, but sometimes will use the description meta tag, particularly if there is little content on a page. Very few search engines actually use keywords from the description meta tag, but that does not lessen the important role it plays in attracting users.
High search engine rankings are relatively worthless if users fail to click on your links. The tile and description that displays for a Web site must therefore provide an answer to the user’s search and must be compelling enough to cause him or her to click on your link above all others. Both the title tag and the description must grab a user’s attention and pique their curiosity. See the article Developing Effective Titles and Meta Tags for more detailed information on this topic.
The Second Leg: Web Site Speed Optimization
The vast majority of Internet users still access the Web through slow dial-up connections. If you want your Web site to appeal to a wide range of users, you absolutely must take this into account, and should design your site to accommodate low connection speed users. If a Web page does not load in ten seconds or less on a 56k dial-up connection, you are probably losing lots of potential customers through abandonment. Even if you achieve high rankings, and write compelling title tags and meta tag descriptions, you may still lose visitors due to poor web site speed performance. When a user finds your site in search engine results, your competitors are only a click of the Back button away. Don’t give them a reason to abandon your site because of poor performance.
Code validation also plays an important role in speed optimization. Validation assures that a site’s code is compliant with industry standards and will render efficiently in any modern browser. Validation also assures that the code can be read by any search engine spider that visits your site. Poorly written or inefficient code is common and can cause a spider to abandon the indexing of a Web site. These problems are easy to identify and easy to fix through the use of an industry-standard code validator.
The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) maintains the industry standards for HTML and other Internet languages. Their validator is considered to be the gold standard for HTML validation. You will find the W3C Markup Validation Service here. Use of the validator requires the addition of a proper Doctype declaration at the top of each web page. A Doctype declaration tells the validator which version of HTML or XHTML you are using.
Many Web site designers and developers skip the use of the Doctype, but it should used on every page. The Doctype also tells a browser which version of HTML or XHTML you are using and helps assure proper rendering of the pages based upon the standard you set in the declaration. Without a Doctype, Web pages can sometimes display differently than intended. The W3C maintains Doctype standards, which can be found at the following location.
The Third Leg: Inbound Link Building
Inbound link building can be a very difficult task for a new site or a site in a competitive industry. Several search engines—particularly Google—may not give a Web site a good ranking until a number of inbound links (called “backlinks”) are established. Google uses a complex algorithm to calculate what it calls PageRank™ for each Web page in its index. There are a number of factors that make up PageRank, but it is primarily calculated based upon the number of backlinks to a site. Moreover, PageRank is partially inherited from the pages that link to a site, so a link from a page with a high PageRank is much more important than a link from a page with a low PageRank.
If you want to achieve high rankings in Google and other search engines, it is important to establish as many quality links to a site as you can. I mention quality links because there is a distinction between a high quality link and a low quality link. At best, low quality links are meaningless.
Building quality links to your site should be an ongoing process. Some of the best links come from sites run by leaders of your industry. These sites are typically very large and due to the fact that many other sites link to them, their PageRank tends to be high. These are sometimes called authority sites. A good link from an authority site, complete with a brief description of your company or its services, can be beneficial to your rankings.
One very good way to build quality links to your site is through articles and press releases posted on other sites. The article can be one that a journalist writes about your company, or it can be an article that you or one of your employees writes about your business, products, processes or services. The important part is to make sure that the article contains a link to your site. Better yet, the link could be to a particular Web page that provides more detailed information. Just listing your Web site address in the text of the article is not good enough; you do need to make sure that the article contains an actual hyperlink with hyperlink text that mentions your company, products or services.
While web site speed optimization can be a one-time issue to deal with, both search engine optimization and link building should be an ongoing process that becomes ingrained in your marketing program. Don’t let one leg of your stool collapse and minimize the results of your hard work and investment in Web site optimization.