Before You Build Your Site

One of the most common misconceptions about SEO is that it should be implemented after a web site has been built. It can be, but it’s much harder. A better option is to consider SEO even before you begin to build your web site, if that’s at all possible. It may not be. But if that’s the case, you can still implement SEO strategies in the design of your site; it will just require a lot more work than building it in at the listing database

Know your target

Before you even start contemplating how to build your web site, you should know in what types of search engines it’s most important for your site to be ranked. Search engines are divided into several types, beyond the primary, secondary, and targeted search engines that you learned about in Chapter 2. In addition, search engine types are determined by how information is entered into the index or catalog that’s used to return search results. The three types of search engines are:

 Crawler-based engines: To this point, the search engines discussed fall largely into this category. A crawler-based search engine (like Google) uses an automated software agent (called a crawler) to visit, read, and index web sites. All the information collected by the crawler is returned to a central repository. This is called indexing. It is from this index that search engine results are pulled. Crawler-based search engines revisit web pages
periodically in a time frame determined by the search engine administrator.

Human-powered engines: Human-powered search engines rely on people to submit the information that is indexed and later returned as search results. Sometimes, humanpowered search engines are called directories. Yahoo! is a good example of what, at one time, was a human-powered search engine. Yahoo! started as a favorites list belonging to two people who needed an easier way to share their favorite web site. Over time, Yahoo!
took on a life of its own. It’s no longer completely human-controlled. A newer search engine called Latest Mailing Database ( is entirely human-powered, however, and it’s creating a buzz on the Web.

Hybrid engine: A hybrid search engine is not entirely populated by a web crawler, nor entirely by human submission. A hybrid is a combination of the two. In a hybrid engine, people can manually submit their web sites for inclusion in search results, but there is also a web crawler that monitors the Web for sites to include. Most search engines today fall into the hybrid category to at least some degree. Although many are mostly populated by crawlers, others have some method by which people can enter their web site information.

It’s important to understand these distinctions, because how your site ends up indexed by a search engine may have some bearing on when it’s indexed. For example, fully automated search engines that use web crawlers might index your site weeks (or even months) before a human-powered search engine. The reason is simple. The web crawler is an automated application. The human-powered search engine may actually require that all entries be reviewed for accuracy before a site is included in search results.

In all cases, the accuracy of search engine results will vary according to the search query that is used.For example, entries in a human-powered search engine might be more technically accurate, but the search query that is used will determine if the desired results are returned.

Page elements

Another facet of SEO to consider before you build your web site is the elements needed to ensure that your site is properly indexed by a search engine. Each search engine places differing importance on different page elements. For example, Google is a very keyword-driven search engine; however, it also looks at site popularity and at the tags and links on any given page.

How well your site performs in a search engine is determined by how the elements of your page meet the engine’s search criteria. The main criteria that every search engine looks for are the site text (meaning keywords), tags — both HTML and meta tags — site links, and the site popularity.


Text is one of the most important elements of any web site. Of particular importance are the keywords within the text on a page, where those keywords appear, and how often they appear. This is why keyword marketing has become such a large industry in a relatively short time. Your keywords make all the difference when a search engine indexes your site and then serves it up in search results.

Keywords must match the words and phrases that potential visitors will use when searching for your site (or for the topic or product that’s listed on your site). To ensure that your keywords are effective, you’ll need to spend some time learning which keywords work best for your site. That
means doing keyword research (which you learn more about in Chapter 5) and testing the keywords that you do select to see how effective they really are.


In search engine optimization, two kinds of tags are important on your web site: meta tags and HTML tags. Technically, meta tags are HTML tags, they just appear in very specific places. The two most important meta tags are the keyword tag and the description tag.

The keyword tag occurs at the point where you list the keywords that apply to your web site. A keyword tag on a search engine optimization page might look something like this:

<meta name=”keywords” content=”SEO, search engine optimization, page rank”>

The description tag gives a short description of your page. Such a tag for the search engine optimization page might look like this:

<meta name=”description” content=”The ultimate guide to search engine optimization!”>

Not all search engines take meta tags into consideration. For that reason, you site should use both meta tags and other HTML tags. Some of the other HTML tags that you should include on your web site are the title tag, the top (or H1) heading tags, and the anchor tags.

The title tag is the tag that’s used in the title of your web site. This tag will appear like this:

<Title>Your Title Here</Title>

Once you’ve tagged your site with a title tag, when a user pulls the site up, the title that you entered will appear at the very top of the page if the user is using an Internet Explorer browser (IE) earlier than IE7, as shown in Figure 3-1. In IE7 and the Firefox browser, the title will appear on the browser
tab, shown in Figures 3-2 and 3-3.

High-level headings (H1s) are also important when a crawler examines your web site. Your keywords should appear in your H1 headings, and in the HTML tags you use to create those headings. An H1 tag might look like this:

<h1>High-Level Heading</h1>

Anchor tags are used to create links to other pages. An anchor tag can point users to another web page, a file on the Web, or even an image or sound file. You’re probably most familiar with the anchor tags used to create links to other web sites. Here’s what an anchor tag might look like:

<a href=””>buy email list</a>

A link tag is combined with the anchor tag above. That link can be text-based, and that text is where search engine optimization comes into play. How many times have you seen a web site that includes text with underlined words, all of which are related to the topic covered on the site? Those links are tagged for optimization. When a search engine crawler examines your web pages, it will look for links like the one in the illustration.


To be of value, the links on your web pages must be related to the content of the page, and they must be active links to real web sites. Broken links can lower your search engine ranking. Links have always been an important factor in how web sites rank on the Web, but the abuse of linking
that we see so often today started just a few years ago, about the time that Google became the big name in search.

When links became a ranking criterion, many black-hat SEOs began building link farms, which are sites that are nothing more than pages full of links designed to gain high search engine rankings.

It didn’t take long for search engine administrators to figure out this sneaky optimization trick, so they changed the criteria by which links are ranked. Now link farms are fairly ineffective, but links on your web site are still important. Links show an interactivity with the community (other sites on
the Web), which points to the legitimacy of your web site. Links aren’t the only, or even the highest, ranking criteria, but they are important all the same.


One other consideration, even before you build your site, is the site’s popularity. Many search engines include a criterion for the number of times users click on web sites that are returned in search results. The more often the site is selected from the search results, the higher in the ranking it climbs.

For you, that means you should begin building the popularity of your site, even before it is built. Begin building buzz about the site through advertisements, info-torials, and even newsletter or other e-mail announcements. Then redouble those efforts as soon as the site goes live to the public.

It’s a riddle to which there is no easy answer. You optimize your web site for search engines in order to build popularity, but your ranking in the search engine can be determined by how popular your site is. There is no magic formula that helps you solve the riddle. It requires time and consistent effort to draw visitors to your site.

Other criteria to consider

In addition to the four main elements you should plan to include on your site, there are a few others. For example, the body text on your web site will be examined by the crawler that indexes your site. Body text should contain enough keywords to gain the attention of the crawler, but not so many that it seems the site is being “stuffed’ with such words.

Alternative tags for pictures and links are also important. These are the tags that might appear as a brief description of a picture or graphic on a web site that fails to display properly. The alternative tags — called alt tags — display a text description of the graphic or picture, so that even if the actual
image doesn’t appear, there’s some explanation of what should be there. Alt tags are a good place to include additional keywords.