Choosing an Analytics Program

An important element in any SEO plan is analytics — the method by which you monitor the effectiveness of your web site. Analytics are the metrics that show you how pages, links, keywords, and other elements of your web site are performing. If your web host hasn’t provided you with an
analytics program, find one. Not having an analytics program is like walking around in the dark, hoping you won’t bump into a wall.

Many web-site owners shy away from analytics packages because they appear to be complicated as well as expensive. However, they don’t always have to be. You can find a good analytics program that’s not only easy to use but is also inexpensive or even free. But use caution about making ease
and low cost the deciding factors when selecting an analytics program.

The program will give you the power to see and control how your web site performs against your goals and expectations. You want it to show you everything you need to know, so here are some considerations when you’re evaluating analytics programs:

What reports are included in the tools you’re examining, and how will you use those reports?
 How do you gather the information used to create the metrics you need?
 How often are your reports updated?
 How much training is necessary to understand your application and the reports provided?
 Do you get software installation or is the product provided strictly as a web-based service?
 What is the total cost of ownership?
 What types of support are available?
 What is the typical contract length?

Many analytics programs are available to you. Google Analytics, AW Stats, JayFlowers, ClickTracks, and dozens of others all offer something different at a different price tag. If “free” is what you can afford, don’t assume you’ll get a terrible package. Google Analytics is one of the free packages available; it’s an excellent program and is based on what used to be the Urchin Analytics package (which
was quite costly). Other programs cost anywhere from $30 to $300 a month, depending on the capabilities you’re purchasing.

The cost is not the most important factor, however. Ultimately, your consideration should be how the analytics package can help you improve your business.

Using powerful titles

Page titles are one of the most important elements of site optimization. When a crawler examines your site, the first elements it looks at are the page titles. And when your site is ranked in search results, page titles are again one of the top elements considered. So when you create your web site, you need to have great page titles.

There are several considerations when coming up with your page titles. Here are some of the key factors to consider:

Unless you’re Microsoft, don’t use your company name in the page title. A better choice is to use a descriptive keyword or phrase that tells users exactly what’s on the page. This helps ensure that your search engine rankings are accurate.

Try to keep page titles to less than 50 characters, including spaces. Some search engines will index only up to 50 characters; others might index as many as 150. However, maintaining shorter page titles forces you to be precise in the titles that you choose and ensures that your page title will never be cut off in the search results.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) has determined that the outside length of a page title should be no more than 64 characters. Search engines will vary in the size of title that’s indexed. Using 64 characters or less is an accepted practice, however, that still leaves your
page titles cut off in search engines that only index up to 40 or 50 characters. For this reason, staying at or below the 40-character length is a smarter strategy within your SEO efforts.

Don’t repeat keywords in your title tags. Repetition can occasionally come across as spam when a crawler is examining your site, so avoid repeating keywords in your title if possible, and never duplicate words just to gain a crawler’s attention. It could well get your site excluded from search engine listings.

Consider adding special characters at the beginning and end of your title to improve noticeability. Parentheses (()), arrows (<<>>), asterisks (****), and special symbols like ££££ can help draw a user’s attention to your page title. These special characters and symbols don’t usually add to or distract from your SEO efforts, but they do serve to call attention to your site title.

Include a call to action in your title. There’s an adage that goes something like, “You’ll never sell a thing if you don’t ask for the sale.” That’s one thing that doesn’t change with the Web. Even on the Internet, if you want your users to do something you have to ask them to.

All your page titles should be indicated with the title tag when coding your web site. The title tag isn’t difficult to use. Here’s an example of such a tag:

<title>email list purchase</title>

If your page titles aren’t tagged properly, you might as well not be using those titles, so take the time to ensure that your page titles are short, descriptive, and tagged into your web-site code. By using title tags, you’re increasing the possibility that your web site will be ranked high within search engine results.

Creating great content

Web-site content is another element of an SEO-friendly site that you should spend plenty of time contemplating and completing. Fortunately, there are some ways to create web-site content that will make search crawlers love you.

Great content starts with the right keywords and phrases. Select no more than three keywords or phrases to include in the content on any one of your web pages. But why only three? Wouldn’t more keywords and phrases ensure that search engines take notice of your site?

When you use too many keywords in your content, you face two problems. The first is that the effectiveness of your keywords will be reduced by the number of different ones you’re using. Choose two or three for each page of your site and stick with those.

The other problem you face is being delisted or ignored because a search engine sees your SEO efforts as keyword stuffing. It’s a serious problem, and search engine crawlers will exclude your site or pages from indexes if there are too many keywords on those pages.

Once you have the two or three keywords or phrases that you plan to focus on, you need to actually use those keywords in the content of your page. Many people think the more frequently you use the words, the higher your search engine ranking will be. Again, that’s not necessarily true. Just as using too many different keywords can cause a crawler to exclude you from a search engine index, overusing the same word will also cause crawlers to consider your attempts as keyword stuffing. Again, you run the risk of having your site excluded from search indexes.

The term used to describe the number of times a keyword is used on a page is keyword density. For most search engines, the keyword density is relatively low. Google is very strict about ranking sites that have a keyword density of 5 to 7 percent; much lower or much higher and your ranking is
seriously affected or completely lost.

Yahoo!, MSN, and other search engines allow keyword densities of about 5 percent. Going over that mark could cause your site to be excluded from search results.

Keyword density is an important factor in your web-site design, and is covered in more depth in Chapter 4. But there are other content concerns, too. Did you know that the freshness and focus of your content is also important in how high your web site ranks? One reason many companies
began using blogs on their web sites was that blogs are updated frequently and they’re highly focused on a specific topic. This gives search engines new, relevant content to crawl, and crawlers love that.

Consider implementing a content strategy that includes regularly adding more focused content or expanding your content offerings. It doesn’t have to be a blog, but news links on the front page of the site, regularly changing articles, or some other type of changing content will help gain the attention of a search engine crawler. Don’t just set these elements up and leave them, however. You also have to carry through with regular updates and keep the links included in the content active. Broken links are another crawler pet peeve. Unfortunately, with dynamic content links will occasionally break. Be sure you’re checking this element of your content on a regular basis and set up some kind of a userfeedback loop so broken links can be reported to your webmaster.

Finally, when you’re creating your web-site content, consider interactive forums. If you’re adding articles to your site, give users a forum in which they can respond to the article, or a comments section. This leads to more frequent updates of your content, which search crawlers love. The result?
An interactive relationship with your web-site users will keep them coming back, and give an extra boost to your search engine ranking.

Maximizing graphics

Images or graphics on your web site are essential. They’re also basically ignored by search engines, so what’s the point of putting them on your site? There’s a good reason that has nothing to do with SEO. Without images, your page is just boring text. You’re not going to be happy with using plain text instead of that cool new logo you had designed for your company, and neither are your users. They want to see pictures.

If images are a must on a web site, then there should be a way to use those images to increase your web-site traffic or at least to improve your site ranking. And there is.

One technique that will help your SEO make use of graphics on your site is to tag those graphics with alt tags inside the img tags.

Alt tags are the HTML tags used to display alternative text when there is a graphic present. Your alt tags should be a short, descriptive phrase about the image that includes the keywords used on that page when possible.

Img tags are the tags used to code the images that will appear on your web site. Here’s an example of what an img tag, with an included alt tag, should look like:

<img src=”pic1.jpg” alt=”alternative text”/>

Here’s how that tag breaks down: <img src=”pic1.jpg” is your image tag, alt=”alternative text”/> is your alternative text tag. The alternative text tag is where your keywords should be included if at all possible.

You want to tag your images as part of your SEO strategy for two reasons. First, crawlers cannot index images for a search engine (with an exception, which is covered shortly). The crawler “sees” the image and moves on to the text on the page. Therefore, something needs to take the place of that image, so the crawler can index it. That’s what the alternative text does. If this text includes your keywords, and the image is near text that also includes the keywords, then you add credibility to your site in the logic of the crawler.

The second reason you want to tag your images as part of your SEO strategy is to take advantage of image-based search engines, like Google Images. These image-based search engines are relatively new, but they shouldn’t be undervalued. Just as a search engine can find and index your site for users searching the Web, image-based search engines find and index your images. Then, when users perform a search for a specific keyword or phrase, your image is also ranked, along with the text on the pages.

Image searches are gaining popularity. So crawlers like the one Google uses for its Google Images search engine will gain momentum, and image searches will add to the amount of web-site traffic that your SEO strategies help to build. But while not discounting the value of images, don’t overuse
them on your web pages either. As with any element of a web page, too much of a good thing is just not good.

Painful portals

The use of portals — those web sites that are designed to funnel users to other web sites and content — as a search engine placement tool is a hotly debated topic. Many experts will start throwing around the word “spam” when the subject of SEO and portals comes up. And there have been serious problems with portals that are nothing more than search engine spam. In the past, portals have certainly been used as an easy link-building tool offering nothing more than regurgitated information. Sometimes the information is vaguely reworded, but it’s the still the
same information.

Search engine operators have long been aware of this tactic and have made every effort to hinder its usefulness by looking for duplicate content, interlinking strategies, and other similar indicators. Using these techniques, search engines have managed to reduce the usefulness of portal web sites as SEO spam mechanisms.

However, because search engine operators need to be cautious about portals that are nothing more than SEO spam, your job in optimizing your site if it’s a portal is a little harder. As with all web-site design, the best objective for your site, even for a portal, is to help your visitors achieve a desired
result, whether that’s purchasing a product, signing up for a newsletter, or finding the desired information. If you make using your site easy and relevant, your site visitors will stay on your site longer, view more pages, and return to your site in the future. Portals help you reach these goals by acting as excellent tools for consolidating information into smaller, more manageable sources of information that users find easier to use and digest.

Too often people optimizing web sites focus on the spiders and forget about the visitors. The sites you are developing have to appeal to the visitors and provide them with the information that they’re looking for, or all you’ll get at the end of the day is hosting bills and low conversion rates. Portal web sites enable you to create a series of information resources giving full information on any given topic while structuring a network of information covering a much larger scope.

Though the visitor is of significant importance when building a web site, the site itself is of primary significance, too. There’s no point in creating a beautiful web site if no one’s going to see it, and portals are a fantastic tool for increasing your online visibility and search engine exposure, for a wide
variety of reasons.

Perhaps the most significant of these reasons is the increase in keywords that you can use in portal promotion. Rather than having one web site with which to target a broad range of keywords, portals allow you to have many web sites, each of which can have its own set of keywords. For example,
instead of trying to put “deer hunting” and “salt-water fishing” on the same page, you can create a hunting portal that allows you to have separate sites for deer hunting, salt-water fishing, and any other type of hunting activity that you would like to include.

On one page it is much easier to target the two keyphrases “deer season” and “Mississippi hunting license” than it is to target two keyphrases like “deer season” and “marlin fishing.” Targeting incompatible keywords or phrases — that is, keywords or phrases that aren’t related to a larger
topic — makes it harder to have both readable, relevant content and to reach the keywords that you need to use.

There are other advantages to creating web portals, as well. Having a portal allows you to have multiple home pages, which can give you the opportunity to create sites that consistently appear in top ranking. You also have more sites to include in your other SEO strategies, and more places to include keywords. However, there is a fine line between a useful portal and one that causes search engines to turn away without listing your portal on SERPs.

Don’t link all your sites to all of the others within your portal using some link-farm footer at the bottom of every page. You may not even want to link all of them to the others on a site map or links page. Instead, interlink them in an intelligent way. When you want to lead visitors to
another site in the portal, or when you want those users to be able to choose which site is most useful to them, you can create intelligent links that have value for the site user. This value translates into better rankings for your web site.

As with most issues in web design, keep it user-friendly and attractive. If you have any doubt that the actions you’re taking with your site or the design methods that you’re using could lead to negative results for the SEO of your site, don’t use them. If you’re feeling that a strategy won’t work, it probably won’t, and you’re wasting your time if you insist on using a design you’re not comfortable with.

Fussy frames

Some web-site designs require the use of frames. Frames are sections of a web site, with each section a separate entity from the other portions of the page. Because the frames on a site represent separate URLs, they often create display issues for users whose browsers don’t support frames, and for search crawlers, which encounter the frames and can’t index the site where the frame is the navigational structure.

You have a couple of alternatives when frames are essential to the design of your web site. The first is to include an alternative to the framed site. This requires the use of the noframes tag. The tag directs the user’s browser to display the site without the framed navigational system. Users may see a strippeddown version of your site, but at least they can still see it. When a search crawler encounters a site made with frames, the noframes tag allows it to index the alternative site. It’s important to realize, however, that when you use the noframes tag, you should load the code for an entire web page between the opening tag and closing tag.

When you’re creating a noframes tag for a framed site, the content of the noframes tags should be exactly identical to the frame set. If it’s not, a search crawler could consider it spam, and then your site would be penalized or even delisted.

Another problem with frames is that search engines often display an internal page on your site in response to a search query. If this internal page does not contain a link to your home page or some form of navigation menu, the user is stuck on that page and is unable to navigate through your site. That means the search crawler is also stuck in that same spot. As a result, the crawler might not index your site.

The solution is to place a link on the page that leads to your home page. In this link, include the attribute TARGET = “_top”. This prevents your site from becoming nested within your own frames, which locks the user on the page they landed on from the search results. It also makes it
possible for crawlers to efficiently crawl your site without getting stuck.

That link back to your home page will probably look something like this:

<a href=”index.html” TARGET = “_top”>Return to Home Page</a>

Frames are difficult to get around when you’re putting SEO strategies into place, but doing so is not entirely impossible. It’s a good idea to avoid frames, but they won’t keep you completely out of search engine rankings. You just have to use a different approach to reaching the rankings that you desire.

Cranky cookies

Cookies are one of those irritating facts of life on the Internet. Users want web sites tailored to them, and cookies are one way companies have found to do that. When users enter the site and customize some feature of it, a small piece of code — the cookie — is placed on the user’s hard drive. Then, when the user returns to the site in the future, that cookie can be accessed, and the user’s preferences executed.

When cookies work properly, they’re an excellent tool for web designers. When they don’t work as they should, the problems begin. So what constitutes a problem? The main issue with cookies is that some browsers allow users to set how cookies will be delivered to them. And some source code prompts the user to be asked before a cookie is accepted. When this happens, the search engine crawler is effectively stopped in its tracks, and it doesn’t pick back up where it stopped once the cookies are delivered. Also, any navigation that requires cookies will cause the crawler
to be unable to index the pages.

How do you overcome this issue? The only answer is to code cookies to ensure that the source code is not designed to query the user before the cookie is delivered.