Web U: Learn To Walk Before You Run

Optimize your site before you get  "clever" with search

To date, I've written articles about fancy redirects, advanced linking, complex site relaunches, and duplicate content management for "clever" (read: not so clever) server setups - all decent articles on good topics. Lately, though, I've been struck by how often I find myself explaining basic fundamental search engine optimization to clients and in-house SEO "experts."

With many marketers, there's a prevailing tendency to try to run before they can walk. The clever redirects and stealthy link purchases are all well and good - once you have the fundamentals covered. But what good is buying a bunch of keyword-rich text links when the page they're pointing to hasn't been properly optimized? So this month we're going to cover the basics briefly. Next time we'll get back to the sneaky stuff. I promise.

>Title Tags. These are a key part of proper site structure. They are your first point of contact with a potential visitor. Quite simply, title tags are the first things that should be fixed on any Web site. They are extremely high on the priority-ranking list for search engines, because they show in the search results and tell the user what information they can expect to find on the target page. The No. 1 rule for title tags is: Put your keywords and phrases in the tag. Do not stuff them. Check out the Google listing for The Sharper Image's Ionic Breeze in the graphic (below) on this page. That is the top page-specific result for the search "ionic breeze." Not only does the title tag scream relevancy, the occurrences of the search phrase are bolded to draw the surfer's eye and help get the click-through.

A nice rule for a title tag could be "Company + Category + Product" or "Product + Category + Company," depending on the relative strength of the brand, as an aid to click-through.

>Meta Tags. These are only marginally useful for ranking purposes in today's search landscape, but they're a vital part of improving your click-through on existing listings. Now that surfers have been drawn in by a well-structured title tag, it's imperative to convince them to click on the listing and ultimately buy the product they are looking for. Moving on.

>Those Other Tags. A variety of html tags exist that are not only part of proper page structure, but also fantastic SEO tools. The important ones to focus on for real SEO results are "Alt" and "H."

"Alt" tags add additional information about the images on the page. If the page is about a running shoe, it certainly makes sense to tell the search engines that the image on the page they can't see is about a running shoe as well. This is a nice relevancy boost. "Alt" tags are also a great substitute for link text when a Web site uses images for navigation.

"H" tags are headings. They range from "H1" (most important) to "H6" (least important). Remember that running shoe page? It would be nice if that page had "running shoe" in an "H1" tag to further define the relevancy of that page for the term running shoe.

See? Nice and simple. I'll sum it up this way:

 >Todd's SEO Formula: Keyword links + keyword in title + keyword in meta description + keyword in "H" tag + keyword in "Alt" tag + unique thematic content = RELEVANCY.

Now go forth and rank. 

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

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