A primer on better search engine optimization

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Marc Noët is CEO of Netherlands-based Lipperhey, a company that analyzes and evaluates the overall quality and searchability of Web sites. “Hands On: Search” recently asked Noët about some basic considerations in making sure a Web site is well optimized for organic search visibility.

HOS: You've written about mistakes that companies make in their search engine optimization, which hurts their ability to be found in organic search results. What are some basic things marketers can do to remedy this?

Noët: First, it's important to understand the types of search words and phrases that bring the right people to your Web site. These keywords, important for increasing Web site traffic and attracting potential customers, can be utilized to increase page rank and searchability.

Place these keywords in certain HTML elements so those keywords are featured prominently on the Web page. For instance, keywords can be placed in the Web address as seen in the browser, the title of the page, the title of a Web article and as paragraph and subparagraph headings. You'll also want to address such things as adding keywords to the meta-description tags in the head of Web pages, which define the primary keywords to provide search engines with ranking information. The more HTML elements a keyword is found in, the higher-ranked each word will be.

HOS: Any suggestions about things to avoid?

Noët: Avoid using dynamic URLs, and instead have static URL names. A dynamic URL is a page address that results from the search of a database-driven Web site or the URL of a Web site that runs a script. With a dynamic URL, variables are shown in the URL.

In contrast are static URLs, in which the contents of the Web page stay the same unless the changes are hard-coded into the HTML. Static URLs without variables and capitals are known as search engine-friendly URLs and are preferred. These URLs are easier to read, contain more information and can contain searchable keywords.

One of the great things about the Internet is that there is a lot of information just a mouse click away. But a lot of information also means that specific information can be harder to find. Make sure that every page has a unique title, so people—and search engines—know what it's about at a quick glance. The title of a page at the very top of the window must give a description of the content in just a few words. For search engines, the title of the page is always shown in bold in the list of results.

HOS: What about meta descriptions?

Noët: Let's say we compare a Web site with a TV program. You want to provide the TV guides provided by Comcast or Verizon with the most up-to-date and accurate information about the program you produce. For search engines, this information you supply is the meta-description tags.

The meta-description tag contains a behind-the-scenes summary of the content that can be found on the page and does not appear anywhere on the actual Web site. However, many search engines will display the description text under their search results. Because every page on your Web site should contain unique information, every meta-description tag should also be unique.

HOS: The Web is evolving rapidly, and good ideas from last year may not be good today. What advice do you have on this point?

Noët: Avoid deprecated HTML elements, which are older HTML tags and attributes that have been superseded by newer and more functional or flexible alternatives. These elements—designated as “deprecated in HTML4” by the World Wide Web Consortium, which develops Web standards—are likely to become obsolete, and future support by browsers cannot be guaranteed. Use of deprecated elements is strongly discouraged and will have negative effects on your Web site's SEO.

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