Optimizing your Site for Search Engines

by ethanm and kirupa |  29 August 2003 (updated on 21 October 2010)

  Have questions? Discuss this tutorial with others on the forums.

Creating a good looking site, making it usable, and filling it with content people care about is important in helping your site become successful. In parallel, you also need to make sure people can find your site. A large portion of visitors many sites receive comes from search engines. This site is no different:

Given that search engines play an important role, it seems like a good idea to make sure your site is easily indexed and understood by them. This article will help show you how.

The Meta Tags
The meta tags are what you see towards the top of your HTML pages where information about the page itself is stored. This information is no longer as important as it once was, but it is used in conjunction with your body's content to help give search engines a clearer picture of what your site is. In other words, ignore the meta tags at your own peril :P

The Title Tag
The Title Tag is very important. It displays in the browser's title bar and is also used when naming bookmarked sites. Most importantly, the Title of your page is shown prominently on search engine results:

The recommended maximum number of characters for this tag is 60.

The Description Tag
The Meta Description Tag allows you to enter your own page description for the search results:

<meta name="description" content="A technical resource that provides easy-to-understand tutorials for Flash/ActionScript, Windows Phone, Silverlight, and more!">

 Though, keep in mind, not all search engines will use your description for ranking your site in their search results. While your description may not directly be used for ranking, it is often displayed as the description accompanying your search result.

The recommended maximum number of characters for this tag is 150.

The Keywords Tag
The meta keywords tag allows you to provide additional text for crawler-based search engines to index along with your body copy. How does this help you? Well, for most major crawlers, it doesn't. That's because most crawlers now ignore the tag.

Despite that minor detail, this Tag should contain keywords and keyword phrases that are important to your site. When it comes to keywords, make sure they are both concise as well as relevant to the page you are describing as best as possible.

The following is the keywords used on this site:

<meta name="keywords" content="Flash, Silverlight, WPF, Blend, Windows Phone 7, tutorials, ActionScript, forums">

Beyond the META Tags.
The meta tags you learned to modify in the previous section act as an introduction to the main content of your page. In other words, make sure your content is representative of what you claim the content is in your meta tags. Beyond just making sure words from your title, description, and keywords tags are there in your main content, there are a few other things you need to set. Let's look at those things in this section.

Linking Pages
You should create a page to list sites that link to you. Link trading is very popular and the more sites link to you, the greater your placement on the popular search engines.

ALT Tags
While this isn't always discussed, alt tags are indexed by search engines. Therefore, treat your Alt Tags like you would any other tye of content that you wish a search engine to know about.

The reason, as you probably can guess, is that search engines can't actually understand an image by looking at it like you or I would.

Heading tags should be used to make certain phrases stand out on your page. Robots place higher importance on <h1> tags. Near the top of your page you should use a H1 tag to highlight some text, and this text could be the same as your page title.

Using Links
Robots put a great deal of importance in the text between your <a> tags. This means that the more descriptive your link is, the better a search engine will be able to associate relevant text with the link.

Avoid using generic text like "click here":

To fill out our flash site form click here.

Besides being outdated when many devices don't have the concept of a "click", search engines won't know what "click here" actually is referring to based on what is provided.

Instead, make your links inline with your descriptive text:

Fill out our flash site form.

Content Relevance
While this was mentioned earlier, it can't hurt to repeat it again. Make sure that the words you use in your title and description are used in the content of that page. There is an art to this as using keywords too many times will make your content saturated and robots will ignore it.

Page naming
If you really want to use all your cards, name your pages with relevant words. For example, if you have a page about Flash Tutorials, name it Flash_tutorials.html.

Don't be sneaky
At the end of the day, do the right thing and don't be sneaky. Making some text the same color as your background color or trying to sneak keywords into comment tags will just get you booted from the search engines.

Hope these helped...if not, post them on the forums and we'll discuss it!




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