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4 Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Essentials

Long-term SEO is iterative...meaning that it is an ongoing process. These critical building blocks help keep search professionals focused on the big picture.

Search engine optimization image

The search engine optimization (SEO) process consists of designing, writing, and coding web pages to increase the likelihood that they will appear at the top of search engine results for targeted keyword phrases. SEO professionals help both humans and technology discover, locate, and access desirable content. They also try to prevent and limit access to undesirable content.

Many so-called SEO experts claim to have reversed engineered search engine algorithms and use strategically created "doorway pages" and cloaking technology to maintain long-term search positions. Despite all of these claims, the essentials of a successful search engine campaign have not changed in all the years we have provided these services.

To get the best overall, long-term search engine positions, four components must be present on a website:

All of the major search engines (Google, Yahoo, Bing) use these components as a part of their search engine algorithms. Sites that have (a) all of the components on their web pages, and (b) have optimal levels of all the components perform well in the search engines overall.

Text component = keywords and labels

Since the search engines build lists of words and phrases on URLs, then it naturally follows that in order to do well on the search engines, you must place these words on your web pages in the strategic HTML tags.

The most important part of the text component of a search engine algorithm is keyword selection. In order for your target audience to find your site via search engines, your pages must contain keyword phrases that match the phrases your target audience is typing into search queries.

What both searchers and search engines are trying to determine is the 'aboutness' of your web documents. What is this HTML page about? What is this graphic image about? What is this video about? What is this PDF about?

How you label your website and how you connect website content helps both humans and technology determine 'aboutness'.

Once you have determined the best keyword phrases to use on your web pages, you will need to place them within your HTML tags. Search engines do not place emphasis on the same HTML tags.

For example, some search engines read meta-tag content and use it to determine rankings. Google generally does not use meta-tag content to determine rankings (unless the digital document is a video).

Thus, in order to do well on all of the search engines, it is best to place keywords in all of the HTML tags where it is most appropriate, without keyword stuffing. So no matter what the search engine algorithm is, you know that your keywords are contained in your digital documents.

Link component = architecture, navigation, design, and format

The strategy of placing keyword-focused text in your web pages is useless if the search engine spiders (and other technologies) have no way of locating, discovering, and accessing that text. The way your pages are linked to each other, and the way your website is linked to other websites, does impact your search engine positions.

Even though search engine spiders are powerful data-gathering programs, HTML coding, programming, and scripting can prevent or limit a search engine effectively crawling and indexing your website.

Here are some common technical problems within site navigation systems:

1. Poor HTML coding/formatting on all navigation systems

Browsers (Firefox, Chrome, Safari) can display web pages with sloppy HTML coding.

Search engines are not as forgiving as browsers are. Make sure your code is the best quality. Also be sure that the information being communicated to search engines is consistent.

2. JavaScript

Search engines can follow links embedded inside of JavaScript, including but not limited to mouseovers, arrays, and drop-down menus. But script-based navigation is still hit-and miss. Providing supplemental (but usable) means of navigating the website.

(Even though reputable designer resources claim search-engine friendly scripts exist, many of them are untested and unproven.)

3. URL structure (web address)

Pages that are generated via scripts, databases, and/or have a ?, &, $, =, +, or % in the URL structure can limit or prevent access to content.

Likewise, URLs that deliver the same information over and over again will often be filtered out of search results.

4. Lack of or an improper navigation system

Many sites do not contain a clear and consistent navigation system with appropriate labels. There are 5 types of website navigation:

  • Global
  • Local
  • Contextual
  • Supplemental
  • Utilities

As a site becomes larger (i.e. contains more content), the need for better contextual navigation and supplemental navigation becomes greater.

Work with a qualified information architect, rather than an SEO professional, to set up and maintain a high quality navigation system.

Popularity component = validation

The popularity component of a search engine algorithm consists of multiple sub-components:

  • Link popularity
  • Click-through popularity
  • Social signals

Attaining an optimal popularity component is not simply obtaining as many links as possible to a website. The quality of the sites linking to your site holds more "weight" than the quantity of sites linking to your site.

The major search engines are measuring how often end users are clicking on the links to your site and how long they are staying on your site (i.e., reading your web pages). They are also measuring how often end users return to your site. All of these measurements constitute a site's click-through popularity.

The search engines measure both link popularity (quality and quantity of links) and click-through popularity to determine the overall popularity component of a website. A goal is a large quantity of high quality links pointing to your website.

Social media, to date, is only a search engine signal, not a directive.

Searcher component = searcher goals and behaviors

In my opinion, this is the most boggling part of search engine algorithms for one simple reason: it is a known part of search engine algorithms. Yet most SEO professionals seem to ignore it.

When people use the commercial web search engines, they are trying to communicate:

  • Where they want to go
  • What they want to read (or know)
  • What they want to do
Navigation query icon

Go = navigational

Navigational queries are queries where the searcher wants to go to a specific website, or a specific web page (usually a home page) on a specific website. 10% to 33% of web search queries are navigational. These queries are common on smartphones.

Informational query icon

Read/know = informational

Informational queries are queries where the searcher wishes to read or view more information about a topic. Informational queries are the most common type of search engine query, comprising anywhere between 48% and 80% of web search queries.

Transactional query icon

Do = transactional

Transactional queries are queries where the searcher wishes to perform some interaction on the web, aside from reading. Approximately 10% to 24% percent of web search queries are transactional. It is the least common type of search engine query.

When hiring a design or marketing firm to perform a search engine optimization, make sure the firm addresses all known components of a search engine algorithm. Remember, searcher behaviors have been a ranking factor for many, many years.

Four elements are essential for obtaining long-term search engine visibility: keywords and labels; site navigation that both humans and technology can follow; validation; and accommodating known searcher behaviors.

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