Web U: Baby Steps: An SEO Refresher Course

It’s never too late to learn the optimization fundamentals

by Todd Friesen

Forgive me if some of what follows seems a little elementary, but I need to make sure everyone reading this column is on the same page (pun very much intended). In my travels, I’m often surprised to hear some of the misconceptions and false beliefs about search-engine optimization (SEO) and search rankings that persist even among intelligent and savvy businesspeople. This is serious stuff, folks. So serious that I feel it’s time to take a few moments and review the fundamentals.

Maybe my perception is colored by having had a new baby around the house the last year and a half. Too many businesses I see are trying to take on the online world before they’ve taken care of the basics — trying to run before they learn to crawl, if you like.

It constantly amazes me how many reputable companies’ Web sites miss key tactics in terms of search engine rankability. I can’t say it enough: Don’t complacently assume that the $1 million site redesign you did two years ago automatically puts you at the top of a search engine’s results. As soon as you act, the landscape around you that caused you to make that investment in the first place can shift. If you fail to follow up and do the maintenance that’s required, your bottom line can end up battered.

Whether you’re in the middle of a link baiting/buying campaign, a 404 overhaul, or scrambling to learn the ropes of SEO, your site needs to address three key areas before it can start rising to the top of the search engines’ rankings.

>Title and Meta Tags: These not only describe your pages to Web users, but to the search engines as well. It rends my soul when I see a major company using identical or no Title and Meta tags when they could be using these tools to attract surfers. It’s really quite simple: The Title tag appears as a link and should briefly describe the page. The Meta tag below it should draw the click with another short sentence about what users will find once there. The antithesis of a good Meta tag is ONE THAT GOES ON AND ON FOR MILES AND MILE IN ALL CAPS. (Oww — my eyes hurt just looking at that.) Both users and search engines like accurate and succinct Title and Meta tags. If you haven’t got ’em, go out and get ’em!

>Content: It’s a truism, but it’s also true, that content is king. Search engines love fresh content. It’s the stuff of life to them. They crawl the Web relentlessly, night and day, in a never-ending struggle to make their search index the most current on the planet. The key here is to make it as easy as possible for search engine spiders to find your content. Flash animation and client-side content creation have just the opposite effect: They hide your content from the spiders. In the search engine world, the coin of the realm is easy-to-find, text-based content in HTML. If you build it, they will come.

And while you’re at it, remember to stay accurate, stay informative, and stay current.

>Clean Navigation: If you’ve got links that lead to pages that don’t work, or if you have pages that link to other sites that don’t work, or if you’ve got pages with no links at all, then your rankings are going to suffer. Your site needs to be easy to navigate, bottom line. You need to facilitate the user’s search, not frustrate it.

These three elements are really just the baby steps of SEO. I didn’t even get to Alt tags, H tags, externalized CSS, JavaScript, or any of the other tactics we use daily to ensure SEO success. The important thing to remember is that while many of your competitors have employed SEO to great effect, there are many more that are only now beginning to take their first toddling steps in the arena. Remember the fundamentals and help your site deliver on its potential for you, your reputation, your boss, and your bottom line.

Todd Friesen is director, search engine optimization, Range Online Media. (

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