Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals Part 4


It is time to put your keywords to good use and optimize your Web site. In this issue we will look at the criticial keyword placement areas of a Web page. Today, page content, page titles, and link popularity built on a quality Web site as a foundation rules the search engine world; however, with the recent changes at Yahoo! it is likely we will see resurgence in the need to pay careful attention to the lowly Keywords Meta tag once more.

Remember that the keywords you are going to incorporate in your Web site are the natural language terms your target market will be using to locate your business online. A key point to be taken from the last statement is to not obsess over jamming any keyword you can get your mitts on into a page just because you can – focus on being “natural” and speak to your target market as you would like to be spoken too. Drones of repetitive keywords that read like a laundry list is ineffective.

Tips & Techniques

There is no hard and fast rule on how many times to use a keyword phrase or how many keywords to use, but a good rule of thumb is to focus on 2 or 3 keywords phrases per page. A good method of determining the best fit on a page for a keyword phrase is to observe what the top ranked Web sites are doing. Look at your competitor’s use of keywords (where they use them and how many times), their overall word count on the page, whether or not they use headers, page titles, keywords in or around hypertext links, their link popularity and so on. Look for themes; to better the competition you must understand them.

That having been said, here are the most important areas on a Web page that you must address when performing organic search engine optimization:

  • Title Tags (Page Titles)
  • Keywords Meta Tags
  • Description Meta Tags
  • Alt Tags
  • Hypertext Links
  • Domain Names and Filenames
  • Body Text (Page Copy, Headers)


  • The page title, Keywords Meta tag, and Description Meta tag all rest within the <HEAD> area of the HTML source. An oversimplified version might look like:

    <HEAD>
    <TITLE>This is a Title Tag</TITLE>
    <meta name="description" content="This is a description meta tag. ">
    <meta name="keywords" content="This, is, a, keywords, meta, tag.">
    </HEAD>

    We begin our coverage with Page Titles.

    Title Tags
    It is extremely important that all web pages have titles. Title tags are viewed as the most important element of search engine optimization when it comes to keyword placement.

    Title tags are inserted in the header portion of your HTML document. The title identifies and describes your pages and is typically displayed on the top line of your web browsing screen, in your favourites when you bookmark a site, or as what your target market sees in search results in some of the major search engines. In the image below a typical search result consists of the title tag as the link to the Web site, a brief description of the web site, and the URL.



    Figure 1: The Title Tag of a Web site appears as the first line of information about a Web site.

    Every page of your Web site should have a unique title tag and each title tag should accurately describe the page content. Your target market should be able to read the title tag and understand what the page they are about to view contains.

    Keep your title tags brief; in the realm of 5 to 10 words. The longer your title tag is the more diluted your keywords become and the more likely your title tag is to be truncated by a search engine. Notice in Figure 1 that the last search result’s title ends in “…”. This occurs because Google only displays up to 66 characters. Yahoo! on the other hand will permit up to 120 characters for a title tag. Presently Google and Yahoo! are the two most important search engines so you can use their requirements as a proxy when designing your title tag.

    Include your most important keyword phrases first, within Google’s 66 character range. Overspill or less important keywords can run into the excess space Yahoo! affords. By including your most important keywords first you secure their position for use by the search engines. It is best to keep a nice flow to the choice of words as people are more likely to click on a flowing description for a page title than a list of words when selecting your site from the search results.

    The shorter and more accurate the title tag is, the higher the keyword density and relevancy for that title tag. Try to keep your use of a keyword phrase to a single instance if possible, unless the title tag truly warrants duplication. In the case of a hotel, the word ‘hotel’ might appear twice in a title as a formality for the hotel’s proper company name and in relation to a descriptive term such as a targeted geographic area.

    Keywords Meta Tag
    At one time the keywords Meta tag was used to tell search engines under which keywords to index your site. When a user types one of the words you have listed in your keywords Meta tag then theoretically your site should be displayed as a result. A majority of search engines no longer reference the keywords Meta tag; however, it still *may* serve a purpose for some search engines in that it *might* help leverage your rankings a bit on those engines that do still use it.

    If you are going to include the Keywords Meta tag on your Web site be sure to keep the content related to the page at hand, separate words with either a space or a coma, and do not be over-repetitious with keywords – in fact, around 15 or so non-repeating words is all you need as a guideline. You do have the option of using upwards of 1000 characters in your keywords Meta tag, but be wary of keyword dilution.


    Description Meta Tag

    The description Meta tag should be included on every page of your Web site. The description Meta tag is used to supply an accurate overview of the page to which it is attached. The description Meta tag can influence the description in the search engines that support them.

    It is best to keep the description Meta tag to somewhere in the realm of 200 to 250 characters in total. Be sure to use the same keywords applied elsewhere on the page being optimized in the description Meta tag for consistency and relevancy; however, do not duplicate your Title Tag in your description Meta tag or you may run the risk of being accused of keyword stacking. Also, it helps to include a call to action encouraging the target market to visit your Web site or some other action.

    Alt Tags
    Some search engines use the information within Alt tags when forming a description and determining the ranking for your site. Alt tags are used to display a description of the graphic it is associated with if the graphic cannot be displayed, such as in text only browsers. It is vital that your Alt tags contain descriptive keywords as opposed to generic words such as “company logo” or “banner”.

    An Alt Tag should look something like the following:
    <image src=”images/logo.gif” height=”50” width =”50” alt=”Travel Nation – Tourism Map Logo”>


    Hypertext Links

    A hypertext link consists of the description of a link placed in between anchor tags.

    Here is an example of an absolute link, where the link includes the total path to where the document can be found:

    <a href=”http://www.susansweeney.com/samplepage.html">This is a sample link</A>

    Here is an example of a relative link:

    <A href="samplepage.html">This is a sample link</A>

    The text inside of a hyper link, or anchor text, is increasingly important for search engine optimization. The major search engines give weight to content in and around text links because Web sites typically link to other related Web sites that the target market is interested in so there is a strong relevancy pattern. Good places to use links include the primary and sub-navigation aspects of a Web site as well as to external resources from within the page copy.


    Domain Name and Filenames

    Use of keywords within your domain name and file names can arguably help with search engine positioning.

    Domain name examples:

    1. www.thisisadomainname.com

    2. www.this-is-also-a-domain-name.com

    Filename examples:

    1. www.thisisadomainname.com/samplepage.html

    2. www.thisisadomainname.com/samples-page.html

    Some professionals argue that including dashes to separate keywords makes it easier for search engines to distinguish keywords, which can help boost your rankings. Personal experience leads me to believe that if it actually does make a difference, the difference is so little that you are better off spending your time optimizing your Web site in areas that really count. This also applies to filenames.

    If you have specific documents such as an image you want to be found in an image search then be sure to name them accordingly with appropriate keywords. Likewise, it does not take much effort to give your Web pages meaningful names.

    Body Text
    The body text of a Web page consists of all the visible text between the <body> and </body> tag, such as headings and the page copy encased in paragraphs. Body text and Title Tags are the two most important areas to focus your search engine optimization efforts so this is where you want to spend the bulk of your time.

    Headings - <H1>Header Tags</H1>
    Use your HTML <H1>headers</H1> effectively to indicate the subject and content of a particular page. Most people use them only as a method of creating large fonts. Some search engines, including Google, use the content included within the header text in their relevancy scoring. The H1 tag is the most important followed by H2. Include your most important keywords in your header tags. If you can, work a couple of H2 tags into your page to sort content and improve the relevancy of your page.

    An example of a <H1> tag is:

    <H1>This is a header tag</H1>

    An example of a <H2> tag is:

    <H2>This is another header tag</H2>

    Page Copy
    You want to ensure that the keyword you have assigned to a specific page appears in the first 200 characters on that page as close to the beginning as possible. The higher up on a page the greater the keyword prominence. Search engines tend to lend more weight to page content above the fold. The fold is where your browser window ends and where vertical scrolling begins, if necessary.

    The assigned keyword should appear at the beginning of the text on the page, in the middle and at the end. You want to build a theme on your page and to do so you have to spread your keywords throughout the page, not just focus on the first paragraph.

    Always have a descriptive paragraph at the top of your Web page that describes what can be found on the page for your target market and for the major search engines. Search engines will weight this as their source for a site description and keywords on your site. In addition, search engines will use the content found within the opening paragraph in influencing the ranking of your site among search results. Again, be sure to use the most important keywords first, preferably within the first two or three sentences. This is hugely important. Make sure that the keywords you use flow naturally within the content of the opening paragraph and relate to the content and purpose of your site. You don’t want the search engines to think you’re trying to cram in words where they don’t fit.

    As you can tell, textual HTML content is extremely important to the search engines, which brings me to my next point. Never create a page that is excessive in graphical content. For example, don’t display information that should be displayed in text as a graphic file. I’ve seen this done numerous times. A site may have the best opening statement in the world, but the search engines can’t use it because the information is presented in the form of a graphic. No matter how great it looks, the search engines can’t read your graphics for content.

    Do not make your home page excessively lengthy. The longer your page is, the less relevant the information on the page becomes to the search engines. I recommend that you keep your home page short and to the point. A page consisting of between 250 and 800 words will provide the major search engines with the information they need.

    Little things like how often you update your site can have an effect on how well your site places in search engine results. Spiders can determine how often a page is updated and will revisit your site accordingly. This may lead to higher rankings in some of the major search engines. Fresh content is good for your target market and for search engine rankings. After all, who wants to view stale content?

    As a final note, before you submit your site, be sure the content on the page you are submitting is complete. Yahoo!, for one, will ignore your submission if you have an “under construction” or similar sign on your page.

    Do not get too muddled down in the science of search engine optimization. No two search engines are identical so if you spend all of your time tailoring your site for just one engine you may have many missed opportunities on your hand. You will generally do just fine if your application of relevant keywords is related to your page at hand, tied together with the different elements that make-up a Web page, and are used consistently and creatively enough to build a theme. A tool such as Web Position Gold (http://www.webposition.com/) can assist you in analyzing your pages for keyword density and relevancy.

    Search engine optimization is not all about where you place keywords on your Web site. In the next issue of this series I will cover what not to do (e.g. frames, Meta refresh) when optimizing your Web site as well as cover other techniques (e.g. applicable of Robots.txt) that can help you with optimizing your Web site.

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    Tools & Resources

    For a refresher or if you missed the first two newsletters in the Search Engine Optimization series you can view them in the archive on by Web site at:

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 1
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue7.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 2
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue8.php

    Search Engine Marketing Fundamentals – Part 3
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue9.phpl


    Link popularity is a closely related topic and I advise you to review the article on my Web site at:

    Link Popularity Tips
    http://www.susansweeney.com/newsletter/hottopicvolume2issue4.html

    Visit my Web site at http://www.susansweeney.com