22 Considerations for Improving Natural Search Performance
From a strategic and tactical standpoint, it is important to note that natural optimization is not a one-time fix, and should rather be regarded as an ongoing process The reason is simple: search engines are constantly changing, and if you're doing something right, then you, too, are constantly changing and altering your own Web presence on a regular basis. Both considerations have an impact on how findable -- or unfindable -- your assets will be in the search engines.
This article is not intended to address all of the how, what and why of a comprehensive search strategy, but to serve as a brief checklist of key areas for re-examining your own natural search presence. Consult your search agency, in-house search optimizer, independent consultant or favorite Webmaster forum for additional information on developing detailed plans for implementing the strategies and tactics below.
Title element development: This is basic optimization that can dramatically improve your search visibility for targeted keywords and phrases (referring to the "" HTML element, not the on-page title). Develop unique keyword-relevant titles for all relevant site pages -- whether it's 10 or 10,000,000.
Content strategy: The depth of research and development applied to your content strategy will be directly proportional to the quality and quantity of traffic you receive in natural search. "Content" includes the written word, applications, widgets, tools and other digital assets.
Copywriting and content refresh: Adding one word or phrase in the right place can increase visibility for a particular keyword. Be careful in your approach, and consider the human element, no matter how tempting it is to over-tweak.
Address canonicalization issues: Start the process of cataloging multiple redirects and campaign URLs now, and set up permanent redirects to make it easier for the engines to find the "real" URL.
Assess your search equity prior to site redesign: Step back and take a look at everything you are getting now from the natural search engines in terms of traffic, rankings and bottom line revenue. Your analysis should serve as a guide to the potential impact of any future site changes or redesigns, and will help you make a business case for natural search optimization, if needed.
Round up and optimize digital assets: Be on the lookout for digital content currently available within your organization (video, images, PDFs, etc.), and get it optimized and online when it fits your Web and natural search strategies.
Optimize PDFs: Approach this as more of an educational effort with your content creators to ensure that future production of PDF documents will be search-friendly.
Optimize press releases: Similar to PDFs, promote search education to your PR and communications teams, and ye shall reap natural search benefits.
Remove common barriers to natural search planning and execution: As simple as some of these issues may be, they can become a tremendous obstacle to your overall natural search presence.
Link development and directory submission development: Understand your link networks, tweak existing links, seek new links, and make sure your site is in important directories, such as DMOZ, Yahoo, and Business.com. Get your best minds brainstorming new ways to make people want to link to your site -- without even asking them.
Feed submission: Determine which feeds are most relevant to your business (products, maps, etc.) and take steps to provide data to the engines. With placements like Google Maps, a feed could be a quick ticket to a No. 1, No. 2, or No. 3 natural ranking.
Make sure your analytics software has what you need, or get a new provider: If you are not getting enough detailed search data, then it will be difficult to make educated strategic and tactical decisions for your campaigns. If your analytics program does not measure simple metrics, such as revenue from natural search, or keyword referrals broken out by engine, then go find a new solution.
Meta tag development: Spend some time and tweak your site's meta keyword and description tags to be unique and relevant.
Create a balance between text and images on your site: If your valuable keywords are hidden as text-rendered in Flash or images, then work out a solution for rendering text in a way that is both visually appealing and visible to search engines. (Of course, always playing nice within engine Webmaster guidelines.)
Remove session IDs: If your URL strings have session IDs, create a plan to remove them for search crawlers.
Create a clean URL structure: A flat, user-intuitive and keyword-based URL structure can be an advantage for your site, particularly over a URL structure that contains multiple value pairs, session IDs and deep folder structures.
Enable crawler paths throughout your site: If your site contains any data that requires a query-based entry point for access, then you could be hiding a goldmine from the engines. Work to enable a crawler path into that data, or make the content available in a way that engines can crawl and index it.
Clean up broken links: Find, remove and permanently redirect broken internal links to a similar content page, the home page, the site map, or a properly configured 404 error page to improve crawling performance that lets engines know that the old link is history.
Address Flash crawling and indexability issues: There are many options for balancing out Flash-based content to make it more searchable, including creating an HTML version of the site, using hybrid Flash and HTML, and SWFAddress for creating crawlable link structures within Flash files.
Conduct research to better understand your target customer: Natural search takes much longer to implement and see results, but the returns are also longer lasting. Performing detailed and focused research on the front end will make your efforts more worthwhile in terms of attracting the right person in natural search channels.
Assess your company's strategy for using secondary domains or subdomains: Take a look at future search plans and decide if your chosen URL strategy -- be it the use of a subdomain, use of the primary domain, use of campaign URLs, or use of a new domain -- is the best fit for your desired natural search outcome.
Of course, these are just a few basic considerations for natural search in 2008. But it should give many of us enough to consider for months or even years to come. Feel free to post your additional natural search considerations in the Search Insider blog.