24 July 2006 in Google, Search Technology | Comments enabled

Search Series

The challenge
Now that your site has been indexed and is appearing in search engine results you’re finding you are not rating very well. You might be the 10th result, the 20th or the last. You ideally want to be the #1 result for the search terms you deem as important to your organisation.

A solution?
You know a wee bit about how search engines work and think that perhaps you could manipulate your position with a few clever tricks. You know that search engines examine the words on the page and the meta tags. Two very common manipulation tactics that I’ve witnessed are:

  • Keyword Stuffing: This is where your title contains about 50 keywords, so does your description and keyword meta tags.
  • Invisible Text: This is where you place certain terms in your page but set the font colour to match the colour of the background, effectively making the text invisible. If you notice a large blank space at the bottom of pages and select that region you usually find this type of trick in use and see text gets selected.

What a lot of people who use these tricks don’t realise is that they are widely known about and the big three search engines can identify web pages using these techniques. When you’re identified as somebody who uses these tricks you’ll often find that your search position slowly slips because you’re getting penalised for trying to manipulate your position.

There are many other ways that people try to use to increase their position however these two seem to be the most common.

The real solution
The first thing to do is ensure that you are not utilising the techniques listed above. Following that, some ways to make your content work harder at getting you a good position are:

  • Use HTML elements for headings and important content. For example, rather than using <span class=”heading1″> around a heading use <h1>as search engines can identify these tags as meaning the content within them is a heading. This is important because normally the terms in a heading give a strong indication of what the content is about. So if you’re a hotel, having a heading with “The best hotel in Wellington” would result in those terms being weighted more highly than if they appeared in the general content of your site.
  • Ensure that the content on your website has a good rate of change. It’s not uncommon for search engines to penalise websites that never change their content or websites that change their content constantly. Having a policy to update 20% of your site content every six months is useful for ensuring your site feels fresh with web users as well as letting the search engines know your site is being updated.
  • Use meta tags intelligently. Each meta tag has a specific purpose so if you are setting the Description meta field don’t fill it with 500 keyword terms that are comma delimited. That isn’t a description, a description is a sentence or two about the page. You should ensure that you use the terms that are important to you that are relevant to that page in all fields however. In this example, our Hotel home page may have:
    • Title: hotel_name – The best hotel in Wellington, New Zealand
    • Description: Welcome to the website of hotel_name, the best hotel in Wellington.
    • Keywords: best, hotel, wellington, New Zealand, hotel_name, north island
      These are all just examples but it shows how the meta fields should be used. It is important to remember not to put too much content in your meta tags, they are supposed to be short.
  • Update your meta data. A common occurrence is that a content manager changes the body content of a webpage but forgets to update the meta data. This is especially important for Intranet search engines that place much more emphasis on meta tags.
  • Don’t use broken HTML. This point item isn’t the most important but you should make sure that your website contains valid HTML. While browsers and search indexers usually handle some broken HTML gracefully I have read several times that some search engines will penalise slightly if HTML isn’t valid (mostly because it doesn’t show much “care” in your website and if you do not care about your site why should others?)

There are many more ways to ensure that your content will work well with search engines which I will go into with future posts on the topic.

Always an exception to the rule
Wow, the second post and I’m already regretting using the word “Always” because the really isn’t an exception to this rule. You should never try and be “clever” in trying to change your search position. It never pays to try and fool the search engines. If you apply the tips listed here you should find that over time your search position closes in on that valuable #1 spot.

- JD

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