When launching a website nowadays, keeping search engines in mind can be crucial to the success of the launch.
If noone can find your site, how will you get visitors? If you cannot get visitors, how do you get advertisers and generate revenue?
So naturally, you will need to do some work to improve your site towards search engines.
Unfortunately, the land of the search engines is a mysterious land, inhabited by misty swamps and shadows. What is real and what is myth? Your project manager and company executives will most likely have heard something or other "neat trick" that they think will bring the site to the top of Google's results.
I have had a personal experience with a manager, who said that while he did not know anything about search engines, he could prove what was important.
The proof? He did a search on Google and pointed out all the times that the searched word was highlighted in the results, thus stating that it was obvious that the words should be e.g. in the URL of a page. When I politely pointed out that it was just how Google presented the search results and not necessarily used in the search, he acknowledged that - but went on to show it to the people in Marketing.
Myth #1 : URLs
Borrowed from http://www.talltech.com
Some think that search engines such as Google cannot crawl sites with URL's like http://www.example.com/somefile.php?articleid=3432 - a filename with a querystring - or that they get a low page rank and therefore are low in the results.
I have performed many searches on Google and have yet to find a sure relation between the URL and the search results.
However, when it comes to the URLs, the manager has a strong argument: All the big sites use URLs without query strings.
The counter-argument is that yes, they do use them - but is it also fair to assume that it is the reason for their high page rank? I shouldn't think so.
Computerworld.dk had a fine page rank before October 3rd 2005 with URLs like http://www.computerworld.dk/Default.asp?Mode=2&ArticleId=22834 and has not seen a great increase in page rank or Google search result ranking since the new system was implemented, showing URLs like http://www.computerworld.dk/cto/34317
With the argument that all the big sites use this type of URL one can also make it a matter of the Chicken and the Egg - are all the big sites getting better search results because of the URLs? Or is it merely that the sites with the best search results all use them?
"Search engine friendly" URLs is a myth.
All major websites nowadays use "search engine friendly" URLs, but there are no real indicators that it makes any difference to the search rankings.
When I encourage people to use them anyway, it is because they are much prettier to look at, easier to remember and easier to pass on to friends. It is also much much easier to change the underlying system to a completely different architecture and/or platform that still supports this URL structure than with the filename.ext?querystring equivalent.
For that reason - and only that - do I endorse changing the URLs. But don't ever ask me for "Search Engine Friendly" URLs.
Myth #2 : Metas and page title
Borrowed from myword.info where you can also find a definition of the word "meta"
I have been approached by other departments wishing to get their websites into search results for completely different search phrases - primarily competitor names and products - by adding these words to the site's meta keywords.
Naturally, even if it was possible to manipulate with search results through meta keywords, I would never condone such misuse trickery. It is dishonest and misleading - when I search for IBM, I want to get results about IBM, not Sun or Microsoft.
As I hintet above, my trust in the search engines' capabilities go beyond the meta keywords and description. Once upon a time, I'm sure the search engines needed some way of quickly filtering through the content of the site and index it appropriately, but at our point in time, the search engines are both capable of crawling enormous amounts of information - and they have found out that letting marketing people describe the content on a page is less accurate than actually reading it.
When it comes to meta keywords, meta description and the page title, it hints to the search engine, what the page is about - but if the search phrases are nowhere to be found on the page apart from in metas and page title, the page will not be high on the list
Metas as a key to a high search result ranking is a myth.
Metas serve very little purpose today. It may help marginally if the site's meta keywords and meta description contain words that are also present in the page title and content, but the only reason why I use the meta description is because Google seems to grab that for the description of a search result.
The page title does have some significance. If the page title contains words that are also present in the content, it is a hint to the search engine that this page is really about these words. Not to mention that it is much nicer towards the visitors of a site to have a title on the page be significantly tied to the content.
Myth #3 : Meta content
A somewhat hidden myth is the myth that content about the content helps in search rankings.
I find that not only does it do that - it also brings a useful service to the visitors, telling them about what it is, they are looking at.
When they go to a category listing, it doesn't hurt to tell them what they can expect to find in that category. And if a searched word is both on the category page, in the article teaser AND feature heavily in the linked article, it really shows Google that it is an important word.
It is also a great way to get words onto the site - in a relevant context - without having to rely on articles containing it. Sometimes the best search results are not the ones that contain the word, but the ones that contain other words that define the first one.
Google - and most other search engines worth mentioning - are based on two things: Content and Relevance.
Lots of content = Frequent crawls by search engines
High relevance to searched phrases = high position in the search results
The conclusion is simple: Produce content of high quality with lots of relevance for the words for which you want your site to be found in searches and the search result ranking will make its way to the top by itself.
There is much to search engine optimisation that I have not covered, but getting to the bottom can only happen when you get the fluff filtered away so you can focus on the real stuff.
If you rely on tricks and tweaks to yield large results on Google, you may find yourself spending many resources with little effect.
There may be some that work, but you can be certain that if it brings an unfair advantage - i.e. searches yield results with little to no relevance - Google will find it and close down the trick, leaving you to spend more resources on finding the next trick, and so it goes on.
By relying on the content, you will not only make your site easy to crawl - you will also cater for the visitors... and that is still the important part, isn't it?