What can you tell me about Search Engine Optimization?

I am looking at applying for a job in an SEO department. When I talked to them on the phone, they said experience wasn’t necessary, but I might want to do some research on the subject so I know a little about it when I go in for an interview.

I am reasonably comfortable on computers and I am always interested in learning more about how these things work. Even if I don’t get this position, I would like to know more. It seems really interesting.

So, what can you tell me about it. How does it work? What are some common methods used? Whatever else seems interesting about it to you, I would like to hear it.

Oh, I would also appreciate any good links to sites discussing the topic.

There are two approaches to search engine optimization. The first is to organize your information well, so that it’s easy to find and to know what it is. This is hard, but it would be a good idea even without search engines, and is sure to pay off in the long run.

The second approach is to try to trick the search engines and/or the people using them. Back in the 90s, for instance, I saw a serious article suggesting that one of the keys to making a good webpage was to put “Pamela Anderson” in the meta tags, because that’s what a lot of people search for. The problem with this, of course, is that it might get people to your page, but it won’t get the people you’re looking for to your page. Plus, of course, Google’s folks are working very hard at not being tricked, and they’re probably better at it than you are, so even if you do manage to come up with a trick that works, it probably won’t work for long. The primary skill involved in this sort of SEO is not the optimization itself, but in convincing customers that your system works (even though it probably doesn’t).

I suspect that this is the approach this particular company takes, since they have a pretty specific client base. So basically, find out what words or methods people are using to search for your service and then use that information when building the page. Neat. So, this is mostly a process that takes place during the building of the site and not after the site is built? I am just trying to understand it a little better. Thanks for the help!

I do this for a living (part of my job, anyway).

How well you do is based on ‘pagerank’, which is calculated using a mysterious secret algorithm that changes regularly. However, you can elevate your pagerank by being ethical, well organised, and by building your site in a particular way.

The first part Chronos says is best practice and will win out in the long run. Don’t do the second bit, it’s skeevy and will ultimately fail.

But there is an equally important piece, which is to get other sites to link to you using the correct keywords. The more relevant and the more prestigious the site, the better. There are underhand ways of doing this, and overhand. I recommend the overhand: make the information on the site good enough that other people will want to link to it. Push it out via blogs, twitter, Digg, comments on sites, press releases on newswires, etc. etc. Google indexes these incoming links and it elevates your site’s pagerank.

I recommend you do some reading of the help files at Google webmaster tools (just google it!) - the recommendations there are the bare minimum that should be done to a site - and also have a look in at http://forums.digitalpoint.com/ and http://www.webmaster-talk.com/

Search Engine Optimization nowadays is largely based on the Google model, Google being the number one search engine. The problem is that Google algorithm is secret so a lot of the work SEO people do is trying to find what kind of weight Google gives to your text and mark up. There are a few prevailing theories:

1: Google seems to give less weight nowadays to the keywords listed in your meta tags because of the practice of “keyword loading.” That is, putting hundreds of keywords into your tags in the hopes that someone who is actually looking for someone else will chance upon your site in the search returns. Porn sites used to be especially guilty of this.

2: Google does seem to pay a lot of attention to keywords in the title tag, the H1 and H2 tags, and the first line of each paragraph. It also pays to have your keywords mentioned in the alt tags for each of your graphics. The alt tag should be as descriptive as possible. For instance, instead of just “table” for a picture of a table, it should say something like “Example of the hobbit sized table manufactured by Whatever Table Company of Anytown USA.” Or something like that.

3: Google also used to gauge the validity of a site by how many inbound links it had, the theory being that the more other people linked to a site, the better it probably was. This led to the black hat SEO trick of using “link farms” which were websites set up strictly to link to a certain site, or a number of sites. Google seems to have taken this theory one step further now and is gauging not only the number of inbound links you have, but the validity of those sites themselves.

Those are just a few things off the top of my head, but you can see that there’s a lot that goes into it. The other thing to be concerned with is social networking, and the potential for that to figure into your SEO. There is the feeling around that Facebook might someday overtake Google as the primary search site, the feeling being that the more people “like” a page, the more valid it is. I’m not sure I totally agree with that. but seems to be what Facebook is shooting for.

Thanks Eutychus! That is exactly the kind of basic information I was looking for.

Thank you for those links. I am going to spend quite a bit of time looking through these.

The idea of using social networking is really interesting to me. It has a “power of the people” feel to it that definitely appeals to me.

When you search for information on SEO techniques, make sure you note the date of the article you’re reading. SEO tactics change all the time, so anything that’s more than a year or two old will have outdated information and you’ll look like a rube trying to pitch the outdated ideas.

Good to know. After reading this post, I noticed that a couple of articles I had waiting in my “to read” tabs were from 2006. I guess I will pass on those.

Google, in fact, completely ignores the KEYWORD tag. The DESCRIPTION tag is, however, pretty important. Not only does it help the keyword count, it is also the thing that appears in Google results under the name of the page/site.

Also, start the TITLE tag and DESCRIPTION tag with the keywords you want to emphasize - if you want to sell widgets: “Acme Inc. Widgets” will not perform as well as “Widgets - by Acme Inc.” Each title and description should be different from every other, too, throughout the site - it needs to describe the page it’s on, too.

Please also remember that you are SEOing pages more than your site. Google’s aim is to send people to relevant places, not corporate entities. Therefore prepare each page and its description as if nobody has ever heard of your company or seen that page before. Too many of us web managers treat the old tree diagram as if everyone starts at the homepage.

‘Power of the people’ may sound great in theory but it is a system which is open to abuse via Google Bombs.

Thanks for the help everyone! I got the job, in no small part thanks to the information you gave me. After almost a year of being basically unemployed, you have no idea how grateful I am. Thank you!

Congratulations. Let us know how it goes and maybe divulge any info you are allowed to give out.

The site you want to go to is Search Engine Watch (dot) Com

Anything anyone tells you is correct, for the moment, then it changes.

When you deal with companies and SEO the hardest thing to get through to them is this fact.

One of the hardest things for companies to get through their heads is the low click through rates and even lower converstion rates. For instance, Amazon and eBay have the highest click through rates of any Internet sites. Amazon is in the high 20 percent and eBay in the low 20 percent. That means when you see ads or even come to Amazon through a search engine, less than 30% of all visitors will click.

The conversion factor (meaning an actual sale from that click) is even much lower.

A sucsessful Internet campagin is measured in tenths of one percent. But sales people are used to MUCH higher numbers.

Most web desginers are artists and woefully lacking in SEO. SEO depends on words and meanings of such.

The other key thing to understand before you dive in is page rank. It’s really not all it’s cracked up to be. I know from small sights I run, it isn’t always what you think it is. Google definately has gotten away from it.

Furthermore you have to understand EACH PAGE on your site has a rank as well as the overall site. And the two ranks are independent of each other.

Also page rank doesn’t count proportionally as you go up. And no one but Google (or whatever search engine) knows for sure.

For instance, if you have a page rank of 5 let’s say. That may be worth 100 points (I’m making this up for an example to show you)

A page rank of 4 may be worth 500 points, but a page rank of 3 may be worth 50,000 points and a page rank of 2 may be worth 325,000 points and a page rank of 1 may be worth 1.2 million points.

Now again, I made those numbers up to show you how you can be fooled by page rank. Since no one really knows it leads to what many call an undemocratic process.

Let me give you an example. Your keyword is Markxxx. Because I’m so famous everyone searches for me :slight_smile:

Let’s say the Straight Dope has a page rank of 2. So a link to my site FROM the Straight Dope would be worth 325,000 points. But let’s say the New York Times also puts a link to my site. And the NY Times is a page rank of 1. This would be worth 1.2 million points.

So you could have three greats sites linking to me. If each of those sites had a page rank of 2, I would only have 975,000 points. Whereas a single link from the NY Times would give me 1.2 million.

This is why Google is often called “undemocratic,” because an established link from a page rank 1 site can be worth more than three others combined.

Finally remember page rank is based on keyword or key phrase and changes. My above example is for the keyword Markxxx. But the NY Times could have a page rank of 1 for the keyword Markxxx and a page rank of six for “light bulbs”

So start at Search Engine Watch and read through the forums. Remember Google and Yahoo and others don’t want you to know what they are doing, so SEO is going to be a constant thing. You change the site as Google (and others) change their methods