Search engine optimization (SEO) is often shrouded in mystery and complicated by the extensive use of jargon. Let's look behind the curtain.
What is Search Engine Optimization?
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to make the most of "organic" search results - in other words, developing and maintaining your website in such a way as to maximize your rank in the results returned for a given search phrase. (As opposed to paid advertising which is a whole other specialty and one we don't deal with.)
If you make blue widgets and sell to blue widget users in northern Westchester County, where do you show up when someone searches for "blue widget dealers in Mt. Kisco"? The answer is, in a nutshell, your page rank; where you show up relative to all the other websites out there.
So what are the elements of a good SEO strategy to help you improve your page rank?
Keywords are the words or phrases that people are using to find the information THEY are looking for. Remember, they aren't looking for you. They are looking for specific information.
You want to incorporate these keywords and keyword phrases into your content so that the search engines and ultimately your human readers know what your site is about.
Links - internal, inbound, outbound
Links are another way that the search engines decide what you're about.
Internal links are the links within your site; the links that help visitors navigate your site, links from text on one page to related pages elsewhere on the site, etc.
Inbound links are great if they are from other related sites especially when the text anchor - the words the link is coming from - are your keywords. This shows the search engines that others think you are relevant too.
Outbound links are the links from your site to other sites. This tells the search engines what you think is relevant to your readers.
These are things like the page title, keywords and keyword phrases and page description that are included not on the page itself but in the page header. (The page header is for the search engines and browser only. Your human readers won't see these.) Metatags should not be generic but rather specific to the content on the page.
This is what most people think of when they think about their website. It's the written material, photos and such that make up the website. It's what your visitors see and read when they arrive. If your site is about making and selling blue widgets in northern Westchester County, you should be talking about blue widgets and Westchester County and related subject matter.
Writing for specific keywords helps you to break up your content into manageable pieces for your human visitors and it helps the search engines determine what that page is all about. Cramming too much information onto any one page is confusing all the way around.
So rather than talking about all the various widgets you offer, break it up so you're talking about the blue plastic widgets and what they are used for on one page, and the blue epoxy coated widgets used for something else on another page. It will keep you from watering down the content.
Graphics and Images
Images should employ alt and title tags. It helps the search engines determine what the content is and, say it with me, what the site is about and complies with accessibility best practices.
And while Flash is, well, flashy, it doesn't give the search engines much to go on. (See our post on what happens to Flash sites in a mobile browser.)
Navigation should NOT be done with images. Make use of your navigation menu to build internal links with keywords. Images can be set in the background if necessary. CSS can do the rest.