Search Engine Optimization (SEO): Advanced Techniques

By Curtis Dicken

Introduction

Search engine optimization is ever changing and evolving, so it's important to keep up with optimization trends and techniques. In the previous articles in our SEO series we dealt with the basics of search engine optimization as well as some tips & tricks of the trade. In this article we will explore more advanced techniques and discover why they are important. Be warned though, this is the stuff that can get very time consuming and the results are likely to be less dramatic. However, the effort may bump your ranking just enough to move you off the second page to the always coveted top ten and first page.

Be Social

This may seem like a no-brainer but not everyone realizes the power of the social networking sites. If you want to drive traffic to your site then social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook are excellent places to go. Not only do you receive the benefit of "getting the word out" about topics on your website, you also get the immeasurable bonus of having more unique links to your website which we all know is a great boost to rank. Power to the people!

Mapping the way .. XML style

In our previous article on SEO we discussed briefly the importance of having a sitemap page to make it easier for search engines to crawl your website. Now we'll take it a step further by showing you how to generate an XML sitemap file.

XML sitemap files provide search engines a much greater insight into how your website is structured so that they can determine how to catalog your pages, how often to crawl them for updated content and how you prioritize your pages. If you have never seen or used an XML file don't be frightened, they really are not that complicated and you can create them in any simple text editor such as Notepad. The most important thing to remember is that every tag in and XML file must have an accompanying close tag.

When creating your XML you first need to define the basic structure. That basic structure is really very simple:

  <?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
</urlset>

That's it. You are now ready to define your sitemap. Just remember to keep everything between the <URLSET> and </URLSET> tags. You will now need to include the following elements for each page that you want in your sitemap (they are both required):

  1. <url> - This tag simply defines the start of a new URL definition. All of the specifics for the URL are inside the opening and closing <url> tag.
  2. <loc> - This tag defines the location of the page. It must be a complete page path such as "http://www.MyDomain.com/index.html". Relative paths like "/index.html" may not be understood by search engines and therefore get skipped. The limit here is 2048 characters.

An example of a complete basic XML sitemap file would look something like:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
  <urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
     <url>
        <loc>http://www.MyDomain.com/index.html</loc>
     </url>
     <url>
        <loc>http://www.MyDomain.com/aboutus.html</loc>
     </url>
  </urlset>

Pretty simple, right? Now for the more interesting options, and they are all optional:

  1. <changefreq> - This one is short for "change frequency". It defines how often the content changes for the given page. The valid options for this tag are: always, hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly and never. The definitions are pretty obvious with "always" meaning the content changes every time the page is loaded all the way down to "never" which means the page has been permanently archived. Understand that this tag defines a suggestion not a command on your part and search engines are in no way obligated to crawl your page according to what you define here. Also, be smart about what you choose. If you're thinking "always" or "hourly" will in some way improve your rank, it won't.
  2. <lastmod> - This stands for "last modified". Using the date format YYYY-MM-DD you indicate the last time the page was updated. You can also tack the time onto the date if you like but it is not required.
  3. <priority> - This is an interesting option. Here you can define the priority of your page in the overall grand scheme of your website. Search engines can then use this to determine which pages to crawl first when they return to your website. Valid values are 0.0 to 1.0 with 0.5 being the default. Of course, 1.0 is the highest priority and 0.0 is the lowest. Again, don't simply put 1.0 on every page thinking it will help your rankings, be logical.

An example of a fully defined XML sitemap file would look something like:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<urlset xmlns="http://www.sitemaps.org/schemas/sitemap/0.9">
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.MyDomain.com/index.html</loc>
      <lastmod>2009-08-25</lastmod>
      <changefreq>weekly</changefreq>
      <priority>1.0</priority>
   </url>
   <url>
      <loc>http://www.MyDomain.com/privacypolicy.html</loc>
      <lastmod>2009-01-03</lastmod>
      <changefreq>yearly</changefreq>
      <priority>0.2</priority>
   </url>
</urlset>

Once you have completed your XML sitemap file upload it to the root directory of your website and name it sitemap.xml. Search engines can now find and use your sitemap file. In many cases, such as with Google, you can also submit your XML file directly to the search engine and they will send a crawler out to your website shortly after your submission.




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