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If you have ever searched for a product, chances are you have used one of the three most popular search engines.
Google, Yahoo and MSN account for over 84% of all internet searches and provide thousands of search results that, more often than not, go unexplored.
Getting listed as close to the top of the search results can be a tricky business but the process of getting you there is called Search Engine Optimization or SEO.
A highly complex and secretive series of algorithms hidden from public view make it extremely difficult to determine exactly what search engines are looking for, but assessing certain characteristics from sites that rank in the first few pages can be done with reasonable accuracy.
By using key strategies like the domain name, keywords, meta tags, indexed pages, internal and external links, page-link alignment and ranking--SEO can significantly help your website respectively place among the top pages.
Domain Name The domain name is the unique identifier for your website, e.
g.
, 'my-site.
com' is the URL and 'my-site' is the domain name.
Studies have shown that containing keywords in your site's URL can boost your search engine ranking.
This boost is most significant when your site is very new and has not yet established a good page rank.
As your site grows and becomes more efficiently structured and linked, the URL becomes less important.
There is also, growing evidence that website URLs will become less important in the future.
Keywords While keywords are a more traditional form of search engine optimization, they are regarded as a significant consideration amongst the top three search engines.
Google, Yahoo and MSN look at the location and frequency of keywords within your pages' text.
Simply having a high percentage of keywords will not increase your ranking but having your keywords in the right location can be far more effective.
For example, words in the page title and header text can be more effective than in the body of your website.
However, this is not to take away from the significance of adding keywords in the actual text on the page.
Remember, never sacrifice the quality of your content for your customers to achieve page ranking.
Another factor to consider when adding keywords is the type of words you should use.
For example, the words 'gift basket' are searched almost 500,000 times a month but the words 'food gift basket' are searched 300,000 times a month.
Gift basket companies that use 'gift basket' have greater competition than those companies that use 'food gift basket'.
Surprisingly, adding more descriptive words like 'food' or 'Paris' or 'baby' have the potential to move your site up the page because there is less competition and fewer search results.
Meta Tags Meta tags are another way for search engines to find and learn about your website, provide information about your page, how current the information is, what the page is about and which keywords represent the page's content.
Typically, search engines display your site's meta tags under your page title in the search results, and a well-written meta tag can help convince customers to choose your website from the list of search results.
Meta tags should be included in all of your web pages; if left blank, the search engines simply pull search result descriptions from the top of your web page.
While the SEO benefits of meta tags are discounted compared to a few years ago, including relevant quality meta tags should increase your search engine rankings.
When writing your meta tags, you should consider these points: oUse meta tags with care, do not repeat keywords oDo not include words that are not present on your pages oFocus on creating an enticing website description Indexed Pages An indexed page is a page that has been "spidered" or searched by a search engine.
Search engine spiders travel around the internet by following hyperlinks and build a searchable index of content as they go.
Search results are the product of indexed pages that have been copied and "cached", or stored by search engines.
The more indexed pages you have, the greater the likelihood of being indexed and appearing in search results.
In addition to your homepage, it is possible to optimize other pages of your site using niché keywords.
For multi-page sites, a site map can be an efficient way of insuring all of your pages are found and indexed by search engine spiders.
Internal and External Linking The benefits of linking are not quite as black and white as outbound = bad and inbound = good.
The name and quality of inbound and outbound links can determine your site's reputation and can provide a substantial boost in search engine ranking.
Quality inbound links can allow your site to significantly increase its search engine ranking.
It is preferable that inbound links point to the pages you wish to optimize and provide a logical navigation path; this typically means linking to your site's homepage.
A link connecting to your page from a different domain name that is hosted on a different IP address is considered an external link.
External linking can provide significant opportunity but can also be risky when it comes to your site's search engine ranking.
Having too many outbound links can decrease your sites overall ranking.
As well, search engines consider outgoing links to be under your control, so if you link to penalized sites, e.
g.
, link-farms, you can be penalized by search engines.
While search engines continually try to gather the most accurate search results as possible, recently there has been a shift towards assigning external links a significantly higher ranking than internal links.
The shift in external versus internal is based on the idea that internal links can be controlled and manipulated by webmasters, whereas external links are from an unrelated IP address and much harder to control.
As interesting as this development is, outgoing links continue to play a much smaller role in your site's search engine ranking.
Page-Link Alignment To make matters more challenging, simply having links structured properly does not result in success.
The link text needs to be in alignment with the text found on the linked page.
The text found on the page is considered to represent the topic of the page and the link text represents the reputation of that page.
Confused yet? Wait, there is more.
Properly aligning the topic and reputation is considered one of the easiest ways of creating a top ranked website.
Achieved by insuring that the name of the link pointing to your site is not simply 'Click Here', instead it contains your site's keywords.
An example of a link-page alignment modification recently done by Giftporto.
com
was to change the 'Home' link found on all pages to the more keyword rich 'Gift Basket Home'.
PageRank (PR) Throughout the article, I have been referring to ranking or Page Rank without really defining the significance of it, well here goes.
The PageRank is a measurement of how important a search engine like Google thinks your site is.
Over the past few years, the importance of a website's page rank has increased as the importance of site's text and domain names have decreased.
PageRank, created by Google founders, is determined by the number of inbound links to your website and the quality of the sites providing those links.
Google has decided that important pages usually have more inbound links and therefore measures these links on a scale of 0 to 10.
The theory, as defined by Google itself, is that high quality sites receive a higher PageRank based on visitors and traffic to your site.
PageRank is a "vote" by all the other pages on the internet.
In theory, how much that link increases a site's PageRank is calculated by using the following formula: PR page A= (Importance of page B)x(# of links to A from B) / (# of links on B page) Any page that has a link can be considered a site and you are allowed to vote for other pages (sites) you control, therefore, how you structure the link network within your site can increase the PageRank of your homepage or any particular page you wish to focus on.
The structure of your internal links is helpful in providing certain optimized pages.
By using different linking structures, the PageRank can be shifted to sites that are more important.
In most cases, a website wants its homepage to have the highest PageRank allowing it to appear in the search engine results.
To achieve this, the homepage should be the center of your website's linking network.
An example would be to have all product pages link to catalogue pages, and then have all catalogue pages link to the home page.
Simply having a Gift Basket Home link on all pages should help shift PageRank to the homepage.
As the trend towards assigning a higher value to links continues, internal linking structure should be designed around user navigation as well as search engine optimization.
Successfully optimizing your website is an incredibly diverse and ever changing process.
From mathematical calculations of algorithms to keywords and PageRank, the benefits of learning the SEO process and incorporating them into your website can be highly rewarding.
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