SEO Class for Web Developers: Linking, Tags, Navigation and Caffeine

By Scott Clark

Last week we showed you how to determine what your site's focus is, which keywords you will be using and how to effectively create titles. In this 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 should be carefully considered for SEO.

Linking for SEO: Not All Links Are Equal

Profile updates, blogs and status updates from the leading social networks such as MySpace, Twitter, Yahoo! Answers and Facebook began appearing in Google's real time results in December of 2009. These real time search results usually show up in the top rankings for the keyword or phrase that is searched. That's right, your site's SEO practices should include the idea of social media...having a Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or LinkedIn profile can help to bring your site up in the search results--if you do it correctly.

With Google's Caffeine, linking counts. But not just any links will do the job--Google is looking for links from sites or users that have a valued reputation, similar to Google's PageRank Technology. Google describes PageRank, a term they have trademarked, as a search technology that "relies on the uniquely democratic nature of the web by using its vast link structure as an indicator of an individual page's value."

With social networking sites and real time search, Google uses that same concept, taken a bit more literally. It looks for a social networking member's friends, followers and fans. As established members follow (link to) other members, the value of that "link" is taken into account by Google's ranking engine, which leads to the linked site being listed higher in the search engine's results pages.

Along with social networking links, links from sites with little or no traffic won't do you much good--but a single link from a popular site like Slashdot can bring your site up several notches.

Tags: How Can They Help My SEO?

Before we get into HTML tags, let's discuss hashtags. Hashtags are used as a way to track live updates real time using Twitter and search engines. They were commonly used as a way to get the latest updates from conferences and other live events, but began to be overused in 2009, to the point where now their use, or misuse, will cause Google to penalize your website. #This-is-a-hashtag. It gets your attention, true, but it also can cause problems with many web development tools and software. Additionally, too many sites began to overuse it, trying to get to the top of the search engine results page, by hashing topics or events unrelated to their site's core focus. This devalued hashtags, and as a result, it's better to just not use them at all in regards to SEO.

Now we can discuss the use of HTML tags for SEO. Search engine optimization is all about getting someone's attention. H1 and H2 tags are also about getting someone's attention. Google knows this, and accordingly, looks to see what those tags are saying about your site and its content. Remember your site's keywords? Use those keywords within the H1 and H2 tags within your site, but do so appropriately. Overuse of keywords will also cost your site's rankings. Walk a fine line between using and overusing your site's keywords. Narrow the topic, use tags to bring attention to your content, and Google will show its appreciation by moving your site up in the search engine results.

Why Is My Site's Navigation Important to SEO?

Your site's navigation, and where it is located, is important to search engine optimization because it's a method of determining your site's content--quickly. Visitors to your site will often have a look at your site's menu to see where, and what content, your site contains. The Google bot will do the same. If your menu is on the bottom of the page, well, it will read a lot of irrelevant information before it gets to it. Studies have shown that having the menu for your site on the top of the page, or the left side of the page, often improves the usability of your site, as well as your site's SEO ranking.

As far as SEO goes, the Google bot first reads the keyword and description meta tags from the page it is visiting, then the title of the page, then it works its way down the page, hopefully getting to your site's menu, all of the sub-menu links, then on to the content on that page. Hopefully you have done your work on the metatags and title, and what the bot finds in your menu will solidify the keywords it has found within them. Use your keywords within your sites menu, when appropriate (i.e. don't spam your site's menu--if your site is primarily about reptiles, don't try to slide more popular keywords, such as "dogs" into your menu just to get SEO results--because it won't work).

Caffeine: How is it Different for SEO?

Most of what we have discussed has applied to search engine optimization for the last few years--so you may be wondering how Google's use of its Caffeine technology change things.

First, as we have mentioned, Google now considers social networking and media to be relevant to search engine results. The use of blogs and social media by news agencies has underscored the value of this medium, and Google agrees. It would be wise for the website owner and developer to use social media when appropriate to bring attention to their site, and even better to have their site mentioned or linked to within popular social media sources. Remember, links are good, popular links are even better.

Second, your site's loading speed can either make or break its search engine rankings. This means just what you are thinking: the faster a website loads, the more likely it is to get in the top listings in the search results. The idea is, as far as page loading goes, "minimize the site". The use of optimized code and images, smaller resolutions for images, and reduction of the size of the image in general all helps to speed up the loading of the page, as does the reduction of use of Flash, Java applets and other slow-loading applications.

Google's Page Speed Firefox extension is a valuable tool which can highlight the parts of your site that can be improved through better coding practices, smaller images or both. It evaluates the page's performance from the client's (visitor's) point of view, which Page Speed measures as the page's load time. Load time is measured as the time it takes for the page to completely load, and it starts when a user requests a new page and ends when the page is fully rendered by the browser.

What's Next for SEO?

SEO tips and tricks are circulating around the web like wildfire, with each "expert" offering different advice when it comes to getting and keeping your site among the top rankings in the search engines. Optimizing your site for the search engines is extremely important, because if nobody can find your website, it won't do you any good to even have one. Recent trends point out that people almost exclusively use search engines to find what they are looking for on the web, and they usually won't go beyond the first page of results to find the sites they will visit. SEO is vital, as is staying informed about the latest search engine trends

SEO is a tough game to keep up with, but by using the tools that Google provides, along with the tips that we have recommended, you can keep your site relevant and well ranked in the search engines, which in the end, is good whether you run a website, or just rely on the web for vital information. We'll continue our series on SEO next week by providing you with a list of useful SEO tools, websites and software that you can use to increase your website's popularity and search engine visibility.

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