Yes, after all of these posts about websites and opinions on political matters, a “how to” post. The inspiration comes from a conversation with my friend Howard Greenstein, CEO of Social Media Club who just came from a lecture where he was a panelist on SEO/SEM. Funnily enough, what he told me has been second nature to so many sites that most people forget, and do not think to improve once they have it. So, to help in the discussion, let me give you my quick-and-dirty list of “to-dos” for improving SEO/SEM.
Site Specific Improvements
These are a few of the design rules my teams use when we code candidate sites. We try to make sure that they try their best to follow them so that the page is highly search-engine friendly.
- Separate out content from style
This sounds funny, but the techies out there hear this as “no tables unless needed” and “use CSS”. HTML stands for “hyper-text markup language” – which meant that the original purpose of HTML was to markup content/documents and identify what is what. For example, there is a TITLE, HEADING 1, HEADING 2, a form of quotation in BLOCKQUOTE and paragraphs (P).
The goal is to make the webpage machine readable rather than just pretty. Pretty goes into the CSS (if you look at Microsoft Word – there is something called Normal.dot, which is the source of what HEADING 1 and so on mean in your instance of Microsoft Word) not into the content. Make sure that this happens. The better you are at separating style from content, the more machine readable it is for google, Yahoo and so on.
- Make sure your tags have meaning
Huh? This means that if the page is your candiate’s bio page – make sure the TITLE tag says “Candidate Name – About Candidate”, not just a standard template that says “Candidate Name”. Additionally, your H1 and H2 tags should be appropriate (e.g. make the H1 tag be the major header “Candidate Biography” and the H2 tag be the subsections like “Candidate’s Early Years” or “Candidate in the State House”). Think like a person who goes to google and wants to search your candidate’s name and a particular aspect of the candidate. What would help stand out?
There are other tags to consider – but be sure to have your content in paragraph tags <p> rather than in tables with <br> tags.
- Use tables for tabular data
This one is a little simpler – whenever you have table data, use a table! Think of the idea – if you are writing a document, you use Microsoft Word. If you are doing something that requires consistent table format for the data to make it easier to read, use Microsoft Excel. Same concept in web sites.
- Use different metatags for each page
Again, something a little technical, but in each page, there are tags which look like <META> which are the description and keywords. Both of these meta tags are important and should be related to the content of the page they are in, rather than being the standard metatag for the entire site.
- Make the words that are being linked from mean something
This is a simple one, but is so often forgotten. Case in point: how many sites have the inevitable click here link? If it said biography or “candidate X’s position on global warming, the search engines would understand the relevant issue that comes after linking through. And with images that are linked onto, be sure that the alt value has relevant meaning to what will happen.
- Refresh the content – frequently
This one sounds like a lot of work, but it simply means make sure your home page and your blog is refreshed with relevant content. google and Yahoo are hungry for new content – which is why blogs and newspapers are very “tasty” for google in terms of search. But in changing your content, you must focus on staying on message to ensure that your entire site is drawing people for the candidate AND the issues that matter.
And, with a blog, all of the above rules apply as well – and since blog software is essentially guaranteed formatting, you should have these rules hard-coded in so non-technical people have not a worry in the world. But, for these pages, you need tags (see Wikipedia:tags for more) for your content to help increase machine understanding of the content that is associated with the post.
- Make a sitemap
This is a holdout from the past, where people used to manually build HTML pages with links to every page in the site. For the most part, few people go to the sitemap anymore – they still rely on the main navigation. But search engines are hungry for sitemaps – and go to where they are for better understanding.
For a better understanding of what they are and how to get one automatically generated for you, go to the Wikipedia:sitemap article.
Sounds funny to say, but these few steps will save you hundreds of dollars on your car insurance….oops, I mean to say on your SEO spend, and improve your ranking in the search engines immensely. Later on, I will discuss how to improve your site’s relevance with external actions (getting links back to the site).