As you may have already learned the hard way, there is not much point in having the best prices or services and all around coolest website on Earth if nobody knows it’s there! A fundamental oversight can easily be avoided by taking the time to ensure your website is search engine friendly. I’ll talk more about that later in this article. Right now, allow me to share a college story with you. I had an English Writing class and the Professor was an older gentlemen. He also served as the local newspaper Editor. He was a straight forward man with only a few rules to always follow. The most important rule was very simple; no more then two clichés per paper. He hated clichés and made a great effort to get this across to his students. I detected this ‘not so subtle’ deeply rooted hatred of his, and attempted to submit papers without a single cliché, every time. I would sometimes be shocked to find a red circle around a cliché which had inadvertently found its way past my fingers to the keyboard. The Professor would do this to flag them, making for an easier final tally of clichés, ensuring he would miss none. He would even circle ‘carefully disguised clichés’ which I had word-smithed to say the same thing, using different words (this technique failed me).
I often attempt to put myself in the search engine spider shoes when optimizing a web page. A search engine spider’s mission is simple; it goes out there and follows every link it encounters and reports back with its findings. Spiders take the path of least resistance and are not interested in anything that slows them down. That’s being overly kind, actually, spiders hate things that slow them down or attempt to deceive them. It occurred to me they are not unlike my old Professor, but perhaps a bit less lenient. A red circle on a web page translates to ranking loss, which translates to traffic loss, which translates to… you get the point. At least my old Professor would clearly identify the “errors of my ways’ (hope he’s not reading this). A search engine spider is a passive-aggressive creature. It will leave its footprints all over a websites log files, allowing us to know it has in fact ‘graded’ the pages. Nothing will be said, no red circles to ponder and correct, no grades to reflect upon, nothing but little spider footprints in the web logs. These footprints are saying “hey, I’m a spider and I just crawled your website, thanks for having me over, I’ll come again sometime, crawl ya later…” That’s what you get to see – do not forget about the “aggressive” nature of a passive-aggressive. Meanwhile, the spider is back at search engine headquarters hanging out around the water cooler trading horror stories with all his little spider buddies. “Man, this one website had SO many nested tables my head was spinning. I never did find any relevant content, just HTML, blah, blah, blah… I was nearly lost three times, so I just left – geesh!” This ‘spider smack-talking’ gets recorded and is used in determining how your website is ranked (the position in which your website is returned in the search results).
I am going to make this as straight forward as my old Professor would have: If the search engines do not like what they see, your website will not be ranked well in search results. If your website is not ranked well in the search engine results, nobody will know about your website. Less then 10% of all Google.com users ever see past page 3 of search results. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) should be taken very seriously, after all, exactly what IS the point of a website if nobody finds it? There are some SEO basics, which unfortunately are often overlooked and/or underestimated. Search engine spiders (robots) visit websites, and report their findings back to the search engine database. These spiders are looking for basic information about your website, which can be found in the code (example; page title, page description, page keywords, etc…). Much more goes into search engine ranking algorithms, (keyword density, domain registration properties, inbound links, consistency, etc…), but the basics play a significant roll and cannot be overlooked by serious websites. These basics can be programmatically handled with SharePoint 2007 (MOSS), leaving more time to be spent on content and other very important SEO criterion. More on automating the basics later…
A word of caution; do not try to ‘trick’ the search engines. Attempting to fool a search engine can get your website blacklisted, therefore, fully nullifying any SEO efforts performed in the past and future. This is a counterproductive practice which will do more harm than good. So, what do I mean when I say ‘trick’ or ‘fool’ the search engines? You know exactly what I mean! When ideas of placing a bunch of keywords in a real small font size and color matching the pages background so the spiders see it in the code, but users don’t see it – that’s what I mean. Or, word-smithing your page to the point of absurdity, so the keyword density will be high for a specific word or phrase – that’s called ‘keyword stuffing’. Or, using pages that serve no true purpose other than to rank well with search engines – called ‘doorway pages’. The list goes on and on, but the one common denominator is attempting to deceive the search engines.