Search Engine Rank
Alan Garfield, 1-23-04

<This note was written, as you can, a long, long time ago (web time that is). It is, unfortunately, mostly wrong. Yet the items that it deals with are still appropriate, somewhat at least, to consider regarding the entire issue of Search Engine Optimization - how to do it and how to get it. That's why it's still here.  ag, 8-27-05>

Search engine rank is based on a simple mathematical formula. A ranking algorithm looks for page elements A, B, C, and D and assigns points to web pages that contain those elements. Keywords are one of the most important page elements because virtually all search engines use them to rank pages and list search results.

Here are five keyword strategies that I use and I think they will go far in giving your site a boost in the search results.

1. Build With Keywords In Mind

Your HTML code is similar to the framework of a house. It provides support and structure for all the page elements that define your layout and content. Without the HTML code, a browser can't display your images, menus, colors, and content.

Because HTML code provides important structural information to the browser, many search engine algorithms give greater weight to keywords that are part of structural elements. Structural code gives you great opportunities to display your keywords more prominently to human visitors and search engines.

  • Header tags: These serve as an outline of the major page sections. Keywords in your H1 and H2 tags are particularly valuable because they're used in code that defines the page's major topics. Think of header tags like the main section headers in a term paper outline. The major points go in larger text while subheadings appear underneath in smaller text. Here's a sample of header text size:
    html codes affect your page.


  • Ordered and unordered lists: The reason you're listing things is to make them stand out visually on the page, so obviously they must be important. Lists make your keywords more obvious to visitors and to search engines.

2. Remember The Attributes

Even beginning webmasters know this, but it's easy to forget during the stress of coding. Attributes that describe a page element's content are great places to add keywords and keyword phrases:

  • ALT text on images: "Picture of cat" may accurately describe an image, but be more descriptive. "Photo of calico cat for sale" uses the keyword phrase "calico cat" and also more accurately explains why the image is on the page in the first place.

    Search engine spiders like the second example better and so do visitors with disabilities or visitors who surf with images turned off in their browsers.

  • TITLE text on images and links: Use the TITLE attribute on links to describe the link's destination and also to add more descriptive information to images. Browsers handle ALT and TITLE text differently, so pay attention when you add those attributes.

Both of these attributes help you promote your site to search engines. They also increase the accessibility and usability of your site for human visitors. They aren't hard to add and they help your site in many different ways.

3. Get The Names Right

Names are important on a Web site. Choose them carefully because they affect promotion and site maintenance!

Try to include keywords inside your file names (including image files), directory names, and even your domain name if possible. Remember that the search engine algorithms try to determine how important a keyword or keyword phrase is relative to a page's content. A page named "buy-used-dvds.html" scores higher than if the same page were named "buy.html" or something less descriptive.

Be careful though if you decide to start renaming image and page files or change your directory names! You'll also have to update your navigation links and any other pages that use the image files or link to them.

Also, remember to check your backlinks and alert other webmasters to changes in your site. That way, you won't lose incoming visitors from those sites or the goodwill of the site owners!

4. Use Descriptive Navigation

Both humans and search engine spiders rely on hyperlinks to move from page to page inside Web sites. Try to include your targeted keywords and keyword phrases inside your navigation system buttons or text. That raises the relevancy score for the keywords on the current page and gives the destination page a boost too.

For instance, suppose you're running a site that sells used DVDs. Currently, your main navigation system contains this text:

| Home | About Us | Buy | Sell | Contact Us |

Make the text in these options more descriptive and add descriptive TITLE text. That helps human visitors navigate directly to the page they want and gives search engines important information about your major pages and topics:

| Home | About Us | Buy Used DVDs | Sell Used DVDs | Contact Us |

The keyword phrases "buy used DVDs" and "sell used DVDs" are more descriptive and likely to match the search phrases entered by people wanting to either buy or sell.

5. Keep Keywords In Context

Now that you have your files named, your outline created, and your navigation system in place, it's time to consider the most important page element: your text content.

Humans come to your web site looking for information, not a snazzy design or pretty pictures. Search engine spiders can't see either one. Be sure your pages contain good, relevant text content that's easy to read and understand. It should also contain your targeted keywords and keyword phrases. It's particularly important to pay attention to the content surrounding your keyword phrases. In most search engines, it's easy to create a good TITLE or description META tag to look good in search results. Not so in Google.

Some search engines pull the information from the META description tag and display it in search results. But Google pulls out the first instance of the search phrase from the page and displays it with some of the surrounding text.

Think about how your page might appear in Google's search results when you use keywords in page content - particularly the first time they appear! Make sure that human visitors will understand what they're going to see when they get to your page.

Naturally, now that I've talked about all these great places to stick keywords in, I have to warn you - don't use them too much. That's a spam tactic called "keyword stuffing."