SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Page Rank, and PageRank™

Why are your website's page rankings so important? Well, first of all, nobody types in that URL you have printed on your business card. They Google/Yahoo/Bing your company name and see what happens. In fact, chances are that 80% (or more) of your website's traffic comes from a link appearing on a Search Engine Results Page (SERP). And in most cases, people looking for information you have on your website won't make it past the first page of search engine results. Oh. You're not on that first page? Too bad.

There are literally thousands of websites (with thousands of pages each) dedicated to helping neophytes achieve better search engine rankings, and we're not going to try to compete with them. Instead, we're going to offer a few tips that have helped us get on the first page of SERPs. We'll even provide links to some free internet tools that can speed up your development of HTML that search engines adore.

First up, let's make sure your code is clean.

You Kiss Your Mother With That HTML?


Sure, your web pages display properly in Firefox and MSIE, but unless you're some kind of infallible HTML wizard, your website is loaded with invisible errors that most browsers skip over. Search engine spiders are good at this, as well, but why give that cute little GoogleBot headaches? Here you are trying to romance him, and yet you're throwing obstacles in his way. Enough obstacles, and he's gonna move on to a website that treats him better.

There are a number of

Markup Validators

(the M in HTML stands for Markup) but the best we've found is the W3C Validator Service. Just tell the validator what page you want to examine, and push a button. Then prepare for a jaw-dropping list of errors on your page that you not only didn't know existed, but weren't even aware were errors.

Common Errors the Validator Will Find

Missing ALT information in img tags
ALT is used in <img> tags to provide text to display if the browser has images turned off. For instance, if you have an image tag for a product you're selling (e.g. <img src="images/importantproduct.jpg">), but don't have an ALT text specified, nothing will display—a serious problem if you have that image embedded inside a hyperlink (because, ahem, the hyperlink won't be visible, silly). Tip: Always include ALT text in your img tags (e.g. <img src="images/logo.jpg" alt="important product everybody needs">).
Poorly constructed URLs in hyperlinks
A URL that passes parameters (e.g.: homepage.html?State=California&City=Irvine) must be encoded properly. Some characters are reserved in URLs, such as the ampersand (&), which does not mean what you think it means. Instead, use the code for ampersand: &amp; (e.g: homepage.html?State=California&amp;City=Irvine).
Unclosed tags
Oh, No! You deleted that <font size="2"> tag, but forgot to delete its closing </font> tag! This can happen with all paired tags, i.e. those that need both an opener and a closer to function correctly, such as <H1></H1>, <u></u>, <i></i>, <p></p>... well, you get the idea.
Unopened tags
Oh, No! You deleted that </font> tag, but forgot to delete its preceding <font size="2"> tag!
Inapproriately nested tags
Those dang paired tags strike again! You probably already know that you can nest tags (eg., <i><u>italicized and bolded text<u><i>), but did you know they have to be nested correctly? We mean, of course, that if you open a group of paired tags in a specific order, you need to close them in exact reverse order (see or earlier example for the proper way; see this example for the improper way: <i><u>italicized and bolded text<i><u>). The difference is sublte, and in this example, a browser would probably still interpret it correctly, but what about more complex nestings that contain important information you want the search engines to notice? Is that cute GoogleBot gonna hang around trying to figure out what it is you're getting at, or is he gonna run off to the first easy webpage he finds?


Heading Tags: The Secret to Great Organization


Remember that "outlining" thing you learned in elementary school? Turns out, it's pretty dang useful in real life (unlike knowing that the major exports of Lima, Peru are oil, steel, silver, zinc, cotton, sugar and coffee). On the internet, in fact, outlining is imperative. Lucky for us, it's also easy: Use <H1>, <H2>, <H3>... <H6> tags.
Just like outlining in school, outlining in HTML starts with the general and progresses toward the specific (not, as some people think, from most important to least important). Let's use the page you're reading now as an example. The title for this page is
•SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Page Rank, and PageRankô
Okay... But don't we break that page into subtopics?
SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Page Rank, and PageRankô
    •You kiss your mother with that HTML?
    •Markup Validators
...And don't we further break some of those subtopics into sub-subtopics, and then into examples?
SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Page Rank, and PageRankô
    You kiss your mother with that HTML?
    Markup Validators
        •Common Errors the Validator Will Find
            •Missing ALT information in img tags
            •Poorly constructed URLs in hyperlinks
Now, the way to organize stuff in HTML is with an <H> (or heading) tag. H tags are numbers 1 through 6, and the higher the number, the deeper that tagged item is in the organizational chart. As mentioned earlier, H tags are not there to assign varying levels of importance; they are there to establish the relative position (or connection) of one heading to another. Let's take a look at our example from above, this time organized with H tags:
<H1>SEO: Search Engine Optimization, Page Rank, and PageRankô</H1>
    <H2>You kiss your mother with that HTML?</H2>
    <H2>Markup Validators</H2>
        <H3>Common Errors the Validator Will Find</H3>
            <H4>Missing ALT information in img tags</H4>
            <H4>Poorly constructed URLs in hyperlinks</H4>
Easy as π, huh.


Why Are <H1>, <H2>, and <H3> Tags So Important?

Search Engine spiders didn't just transport to Earth from some planet in the Lesser Megellanic Cloud. They are computer programs written by humans for the specific purpose of interpreting and grading information produced by other humans. Sure, a GoogleBot can probably make at least some sense out of a poorly-written and disorganized page of HTML, but what grade will the GoogleBot give such gibberish? Garbage-in, in this case, results in poor SEO grades, Oh, if only there were some way to make GoogleBot's job of interpreting our webpage a lot easier. But what, pray tell, could that way possibly be? (spoiler alert: It's H tags!)


Checking Your Organization Skills

There's always a place on the internet to find what you're looking for, and the best place to check your tags is the Semantic Data Extractor over at W3C (those guys oughtta do this for a living!). Just tell the Semantic Data Extractor what page you want to check, and push a button. You won't have to worry about jaw-dropping error lists, but unless you've already followed our suggestions above and organized your webpage with H tags, you may discover your page is so devoid of useful information that it actually has an echo.

Other SEO-Related Resources

  • Google's SEO Starter Guide (pdf, 22 pages)
  • mywebtronics: SEO Header Tags

    Previously: Web Faux Pas: The Strategery of Web Page Design

    Previously: Marketing your business on the Internet


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