Search Engine Otimization Class for Web Developers: Where To Start

By Scott Clark

Google's new Caffeine search engine mechanism is alive and well, and web developers have to remain vigilant to keep up with the latest Search Engine Optimization techniques. This class on SEO for web developers will teach you the basics and help you put some Caffeine in your website.

Search Engine Optimization has always been an important topic for web developers, and still tops the list of concerns for website owners. With so many different opinions on SEO coming from so many different directions, it's hard to know where to turn for tips that will help your site get to the top of the search engine rankings, and keep it there. Let's start with the basics and work our way to the top of those rankings right now.

Focus, Focus, Focus: What Message Is Your Website Trying To Convey?

The first thing you will need to figure out is your website's primary focus. If your site primarily sells black turtleneck sweaters, well, you shouldn't have a problem knowing what the focus is, however, for the rest of us, it's not so cut and dry. What if your site sells clothes in general, or a wide assortment of items? Or, like HTMLGoodies, focuses on a broad spectrum of topics (web development), in an area where there is already a lot of competition? Focus!

Recent reports point out that people almost exclusively use search engines to find what they are looking for on the web. And that usually, they won't go beyond the first page of results to find the sites they will visit. Search engine rankings are vital if you want your site to be found, and can be the key to your site's success, or failure.

Before you even begin the design and development of a website, you should know the message the site is trying to convey. Everything else revolves around that message, from the site's domain name, to its keywords, description, the site's content, images, titles--you name it. It is getting to be very difficult to get to the top of the search engine rankings if there are already thousands of other sites trying to reach the same audience segment.

Your Site's Keywords: How to Choose 'Em and How to Use 'Em

One way to narrow your target is to use tools such as the Google AdWords Keyword Tool. It shows you how many searches are conducted in a given month for a specific word or phrase. Be realistic--if the keywords you are using are getting over 50,000 searches within a month, that keyword isn't going to get you anywhere in your search engine rankings.

With Google's new Caffeine search engine mechanism, keyword usage is of vital concern. Keywords should be strategically selected for different areas of your site. They should be used judicially, not liberally, and they should be on topic for the subject of that specific page or section.

This applies to your site's name, title and even domain name. It's one thing if you are creating a website for a company with a well known name, such as K-Mart, an entirely different if you are creating a site for a new business, such as, in this tutorial, Ken's Discount Cutlery.

Now is the time to think like your site's visitors would when they use a search engine to find your site. What are they going to be looking for when they stumble across your site? Which words or phrases are they likely to use?

Using the Google Keyword tool, I was able to learn that there were only 1900 searches in the last month for the term "discount cutlery". That's great for people who know what the word "cutlery" means, and can spell it correctly, but what about folks who are just searching for "discount knives", which would be the more likely search term used? "Discount knives" had 12,000 searches in the last month. If a large portion of your site is devoted to selling buck knives, then we could narrow it even further....only 210 searches were conducted in the last month for the term "discount buck knives".

If I was developing a site for Ken, I would be likely to include the terms we have discussed above when deciding on the site's domain name, title, keywords and description. As an example, I would incorporate them into the site thusly:

  • domain name:
  • title: Ken's Discount Buck Knives - Buck Knives and Cutlery at a Discount
  • keywords: discount buck knives, cutlery, knives, buck knife, discount knives, ken's discount knives
  • description: At Ken's Discount Knives, we sell a wide assortment of buck knives and cutlery at discount prices.
I choose to use the word "knives" over cutlery because it is more likely to be searched for. I choose to not use the name "ken" in the domain name because visitors are less likely to know anything about Ken, and more about the item they are searching for, in this case, buck knives. I used the keywords most relevant to Ken's company in both the keywords and the description.

Duplication Counts...Against You

While it is important to use the keywords we have discussed above throughout your site, it is equally important not to abuse them through overuse. While it's fine to use the phrase "discount buck knives" in the title of the site, it shouldn't be at the beginning of all title, it should be at the end (except for the title of the homepage itself), even if those words are part of a Brand. Keywords for the a specific section or page should reflect the contents of that section or page, i.e. if I was on the Gerber page in the Buck Knife section of Ken's website, the title of the page would likely be: "Discount Gerber Buck Knives at Ken's Discount Cutlery".

Additionally, if there were several different models of Gerber buck knives listed, the page for each listing would also have its own unique title, keywords, description, etc. Repetition of titles and keywords should be avoided, as Google will count that against you---Google specifically mentions this on its Webmaster Tools suggestions page.

So now you know what your site's focus is, what keywords you will be using, a basic description for your site and what domain name you will use. You know not to use duplicate content in your site's titles and descriptions, and how to effectively create titles using your site's keywords. In our next class session, we will teach you how to use those keywords within your site's content, how to effectively use links and tags, and why your site's navigation menu should be carefully considered for SEO. Then, on to more Caffeine SEO specifics!

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