How can my web site do better with the search engines?

I get that question a lot. Luckily I have some answers – some of which I’ve talked about in previous Bytes – but I think it’s a question that comes up often so I thought I’d talk about it again over the next few weeks.

(For those who don’t have a web site – here’s a cool site to give you market prices of homes by neighborhood:  Thanks for Christy in St Paul for that tool. I just didn’t want to leave my non-web owning friends in the cold today.)

First I think it helps to think about how search engines look at web sites. The backend of the search engine is a database. The different fields track information on your web site – such as tracking all of the words used on your site and frequency of use. That info helps a search engine determine the topic of your site.

So if you mention on your web site 3 times that you “sell refrigerators in Minneapolis” and someone searches for “refrigerators for sale in Minneapolis” the search engine can show them your page – before someone who only mentions it twice and after someone who mentions “refrigerators for sale in Minneapolis” 3 times. Now it’s not really that simple – but it nearly is.

Some of the fields (or characteristics) that really matter to search engines include:

Words: how often do you use the keywords someone is searching on your page
One note – search engines cannot “read” images so don’t count any words you have in images. You will get partial credit for “alt” tags, which provide text alternatives to images – but only partial.
There are other nuances that I’ll get into in future weeks.
Title tags: the blue bar above the web browser that appears when someone is on your web page, search engines give you extra points for any words found here.
Freshness of content: when was the info on the page last updated and how often is it updated. You can train search engines to visit you more often by updating info more often.
Popularity: this is often determined by the number of web sites that link to you. Some links are worth more than others (a link from NY Times is better than a link from your kid’s blog).
There are other things that matter too – but I think these are the biggies. It helps to see exactly what a search engines “sees”. Here are some tools that will show you that:

1 Hit –
Spider Simulators –
SEO Toolkit –
Sim Spider –  I love this tool but it is not always available. If you get a page not found you can try again – but it’s really touch and go. I include it because it’s so darned good when it’s there.

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