This article was a little dated but still attracted spammers so I've updated it, I suggest you read my more recent posts in my blog's SEO archive, or just subscribe to my blog or some other blog that focusess exclusively on search engine optimization such as Yoast. A lot of what I said below is probably still true, but social media plays a larger part in search engine optimization than it did in 2005. I eventually wrote the proverbial Top 10 SEO Tips blog post. But just what is the current state of search engine optimization in 2018, I assure you someone has already written that blog post, several someones...
First a little history, while I was working at GVC I continued to be interested in search engine optimization. And for the first time, it could be considered almost part of my job. I spent a lot of time reading forums such as Webmasters World. When I took over as webmaster at GVC, after cleaning up our source control system, I started improving our homepage. The HTML was far from tidy and the design relied heavily on images and had almost no text. The first thing you need to remember about search engine spiders is they index text. You can't expect to do well for keywords that don't appear on your page as indexable text.
Although search engine optimization can definitely help your site rank higher in search engines, something I proved again while working for BOB, it is not a substitute for having a website which people are actually interested in viewing. Thus before I provide some simple advice on search engine optimization I should preach the party line, content is king.
I almost forgot, since this post was originally written and before it became the target of spammers, I was actually involved in the largest most professional search engine optimization project of my career, consultants were hired, keywords were indentified in multiple languages, Screaming Frog was used, Google Ads were even bought. It was not a terribly large success as online travel is a very competitive vertical, but I did put a lot of working into improving CWT Vacations while I worked there. Apparently they just did a major website update, I texted my old boss to see if this has had a positive affect on search engine referrals and social media shares.
The one thing you have total control over is the text on your page. If you want to do well for a given keyword or phrase you should endeavour to have the keyword or phrase actually appear on your page. Some people take it too far, but if you are serious about search engine optimization you should have your keyword or phrase appear in the following five places:
Although they were abused in the past I would also recommend putting your keyword or phrase in the description and other structured metadata tags. Just by changing the title tag of GVC's webpage I was able to improve our rankings for certain two keyword searches, this illustrates how important it is to choose an intelligent title for every html page. Heading tags have been in the HTML standard since version 1.0 but many so called web designers didn't use them instead favouring pictures of words for their titles. Search engine spiders can not index pictures of words. Though Google and other search engines have gotten better at image search since I originally wrote this article. The third key area in which to have your keyword or phrase appear is inside the body tag, by using HTML markup intelligently you will make your page both easier to scan and easier to index.
I was going to make a test page illustrating my advice, but while thinking of the keywords to use I decided against it. It would also be too artificial, I'm an advocate of organic or 'white hat' search engine optimization. Instead I just used my existing website and the following phrases:
The first two I made a conscious effort to do well for and was on June 18th 2005 number one for both of those phrases in Google. The next two I was not number one, but was on the first page. I tracked these keywords for a number of months which you can read about in subsequent articles, the last of which was written on October 23rd 2006.
The average person does not use quotation marks when they search for stuff on the internet, nor do they use the other advanced features of Google available to them. If you use quotations you will get slightly different search results than if you do not. People are also unlikely to try multiple searches in multiple search engines, that is why it is so important to rank highly in Google. I get over 60% of my website's traffic from Google, even over a decade after I first published this article.
The rise of Google to prominence among search engines is largely due to the insight that each link to a web page is the equivalent to a vote for the content of that webpage. The other insight the founders or Google had was that not every vote was equal, some votes (links) counted for more as they were from respected websites. This system is known as PageRank.
There is much speculation as to how Google and its rivals work, Google was originally based on PageRank but now supposedly considers over 100 factors including the onpage ones mentioned above, none the less linking is still vital to the web and search engine rankings. Some SEO experts advocate no external outbound links, they see it as draining PageRank from your own site and giving it to another. Clearly I do not believe that. The web relies on linking. Some SEO experts advocate link exchanges or using other tricks to preserve PageRank. Google along with the major social networks have punished and outright banned bad operators for spammy behavior. The US government may be getting more involved after their election was hacked by Russians using Facebook and Twitter, so I have to recommend against any dodgy, spammy, link trading, link farming, follower building, automated cash for popularity schemes if you value your longterm reputation online.
Many people are concerned with acquiring incoming links and increasing their website's popularity. Numerous schemes have been developed. Including sending out mass emails which prompted me to edit this post on February 17th 2018. I do not advocate spam. If you build a good site, people will link to it of their own accord or they will share it on social media. You do however have total control over how you link amongst the pages on your website. This aspect of search engine optimization is often overlooked, but optimizing taxonomy is a major focus of content management systems. For less competitive keywords and phrases it can be very effective. Once you get to the top of the Google rankings not only will your traffic increase but people looking to link to a site on a given topic may choose yours.
Just by using internal links, with well chosen anchor text, as well as following the Rule of Five, I was able to rank number one in Google for many of the names of my classmates when I put up my MBA photo gallery. In June 2005 my most popular classmate at least in terms of Google was Ines Biedermann. Nothing special was done, this is an example of the benefits of adding new original content to your site. However to improve my rankings for say the term Gary Lau, adding an internal link to a page about Gary Lau should help. On the page I linked to the word Lau does not appear in the human visible text. If I was seriously trying to rank highly for Gary Lau I would have made sure the words "Gary" and "Lau" were both indexable. This paragraph is also a good example of how to satisfy the Rule of Five and still have readable text. To reiterate in addition to the Rule of Five, using key meta tags, and intelligent internal links with your chosen keyword or phrase will improve your rankings.
During the halcyon days of the 90s, people registared all sorts of domains, either to get rich through profiteering, or to stake out territory on the web. Search engine optimization was embroiled in all this and gave rise to a lot of domains being registered that went www.keyword1-keyword2-keyword3.com as they believed it was advantageous. One of the students in UVIC engineering had registered Beer.com and later sold it for a tidy sum, but Beer.com is currently not number one in Google for "beer". Think of the big successes on the internet and you'll find domain names like yahoo.com, google.com and amazon.com. This proves you can have a very successful site without having a keyword domain.
That said you should still choose a domain that is relatively short and easy to spell. Muschamp.ca although my middle name, fails in this regard. I always have to spell Muschamp and even the .ca causes some confusion. If you have a business you should endeavour to get a .com domain.
For file names and directory structure I think one should have a
naming system and
set up your website for ease of updating. Some SEO experts try to cram keywords in everywhere they can. This leads to URLs like this:
I use file names which start with a lower case letter and capitalize each word. For directories I have a capital first letter. Or at least that is what I try to do, iPhoto's generated HTML does things slightly different as does WordPress.
Although this particular webpage, and all webpages were originally handcoded in HTML, those days are gone. Now any website of just about any size should have a content management system or CMS. The one that I use was originally created for blogging, it is open source, has an active community of people using and extending the product, and now has more than enough features for most websites. I've developed custom content management systems in the past, and for some larger websites that can be worth while. However the ability to just add plugins or snippets of code or take advantage of other people's efforts to improve the CMS are factors in favour of using an "off the shelf" system. If you use WordPress, it has always been search engine friendly, but there are lots of things people advocate doing to make it rank even higher in the search engines.
In addition to text searches, the major search engines are working on many new features including image searching. As the spiders can not truely 'see' the image they largely go by the file name and the text around the image, or at least they did in 2005. Here is a picture of some of my MBA classmates taken at the official end of the year party which for personal reasons I could not attend. It should be noted that I also use the alt attribute intelligently which helps both with usability and in search engine results.
I cropped the original photo so that just Marlene and Gary were in the picture. I then renamed the file from mbaClassmates.jpg to marleneAndGaryLau.jpg. All this seems so unimportant now... They both used to be my friends, I never really understood why we aren't friends now. It must have been something I said or did, or more accurately something Marlene thinks I said or did.
Previously it was thought that end users wouldn't scroll and thus webpages should be short. This led to a strong desire to have important information appear above the fold. This is espescially important in the placement of banner ads and in internal debates on the relevant importance of content, some SEO experts believe you should have your keywords appear at the very top of the file. Or at least immediately after the opening body tag, the size of the file is not considered a large factor in search engine rankings nowadays. However the more words you have will affect your keyword density which is a factor in search engine rankings, though apparently less than it once was. End users have also shown a willingness to read longer web pages if they are interested in the topic.
Another important thing to keep in mind when doing any search engine optimization is the importance of patience. It takes time for the spiders to index your site. Google generally indexes faster and more frequently which gives it fresher results than its rivals. This is one of the reasons Google is the most popular search engine. This webpage was uploaded to my webserver on June 19th, 2005. Although I placed a link to it from my home page, it still took considerable time before it appeared in the search results.
Once you get a webpage or site into the search engine's index that is not the end of SEO. Even if you magically appear as the number one result for your chosen keyword or phrase through careful search engine optimization, there is no guarantee you will stay there. Other sites who are competing for the same keyword or phrase will tweak their site or new pages will be indexed. This is why I just spent all morning updating a decades old article on search engine optimization that I wrote during a very painful period of my life, I've never recovered from, because I take website maintence more seriously than most.
Another thing to keep in mind is you are dealing with a moving target or a collection of moving targets. The search engines are also tweaking their algorithms in an attempt to provide more relevant results to their users. They also change their algorithms to penalize what they consider to be spam. As a result, if you are truly serious about dominating the results for a given keyword or phrase you must monitor and review your websites performance using web analytics, I've made a custom dashboard for this purpose.
The easiest way to improve your rankings once your page is in the index is to add new content which links to and is linked from your already indexed page. There is a whole school of thought about link building and sending unsolicited emails to random people online telling them to change their website to link to your website. There are also link farms and bot networks and other spammy underhanded tactics I have to advocate avoiding, it could even result in a lawsuit.
As a web surfer search engine optimization can help you find interesting and relevant information, or at least that is what SEO types will tell you. It can also prevent you from finding the information you are looking for and instead direct you towards an irrelevant page. Since search engine optimization is not going away you should be aware of it. If you have a website, even a hobby website, it can benefit from search engine optimization. If you are selling anything on the web or in anyway involved with branding or marketing even self marketing, search engine optimization could be vital to maximizing your success.
Places on my website where I make productive use of search engine optimization techniques include my resume but I've also spent way too much time improving my website and my WordPress blog in particular in an effort to leverage it positively and have a post-MBA career.
I spend valuable time and effort monitoring the performance of this website, my blog, and several keywords. A lot has changed online in the last decade or so. If you are thinking of hiring a SEO consultant simply Google or use another search engine for the phrase "search engine optimization" to see how fierce the competition is.
Although this webpage was uploaded to my webserver on June 19th, 2005 it didn't appear in Google until well over a month later. It officially appeared in Google on August 2nd, 2005. I've written several additional followup articles, though this article seems most popular with spammers so I updated it on February 17th 2018 when I should have been studying for the CFA® Level 3 exam. You can read the next article on search engine optimization or some of the links I collected below.