How to write articles so that search engines find them

There's a few things you can do to control links coming from other sites, but there's a lot you can and should do on the pages you write yourself. Search engines are computer programs that scour the web analyzing and ranking the content they find. Because they are computer programs and not people, they rely heavily on the semantic information available on your pages.

Semantic Approach to Web Development

One of the most important developments of the modern web is the current approach to design pages in which the content is separate from the layout. In modern web pages, the content is marked up with HTML and the layout is controlled by CSS (see my article on the Structure of HTML). One of the reasons to work this way is that search engines are confused and unable to "see" layout code such as tables and images. The most important thing to a search engine is the text.

HTML should help to describe the structure of your pages in addition to the content of the pages. It should also be structured like an outline, with a hierarchy of content that helps to describe the importance of the order of the content. HTML tags like <h> and <p> and <li> tags are meant to describe the structure of the information. For example, <h1> tags are considered higher in importance than <h2> tags.

The Importance of Page Titles to Search Engines

The most important text in your pages to a search engine is the Title of the document. The title is displayed in the <title> tag of your document and it's what the browser displays in it's titlebar when you visit a page. The title is also the most relevant thing to a search engine, so it's the best place to put the keywords your visitors might search for. Every page in your website should have a unique title that is descriptive of the content.

The Description Meta Tag

Another important tag is the Description Meta tag (<meta name="description" content="" />) that can appear on the <head> tag. Although it doesn't make as much of an impact as the title tag, the description tag is what most search engines will use as a description of the page when search engines display the results.

URLs

The URLs that you create to your websites are also very relevant. This is where pages that are dynamically generated by databases miss out. A URL page like: http://arts.com/components/mypage.php?id=8897 is less relevant than a page like: http://arts.com/graphic/design/Typography_Tips.html. The second link has keywords which are a lot more descriptive and relevant to a search engine than the first. The second link also has a clear directory structure with more keywords.

Google and other search engines also like a single URL to get to a page. Sites with two URLs to the same page are also at a disadvantage. This sometimes happens when sites pass a bunch of variables. So this page: http://arts.com/content.php?id=8989 and this page http://arts.com/content.php?id=8989&channel=typography might lead to the same page, but will be looked at by search engines as two different pages. The traffic will be split and reported as two separate pages on metrics tools.

If you do have dynamic sites, make sure you use Google's Webmaster Tools to help Google understand your dynamic variables and help the robots ignore your variables in your links.

Sitemaps

It's always important to remember that what is indexing sites is a series of robots, so in order to help them understand the structure of your site, you can create a special Site Map page that describes your links' hierarchy. The SiteMap format is a special version of an XML page that needs to be placed and submitted to search engines through places like Google's Webmaster Tools.

Site Navigation

It's a good idea to keep the navigational structure of your website simple.

  • Don't make it too deep. Since Spider Robots (the programs search engines use to index webpages) can't see them, it's best to use text navigation instead of images.
  • Another device that is useful to visitors and search engines is cookie crumbs. Cookie Crumb Navigation are hierarchical links within webpages to the previous channels and to the homepage. A cookie crumb might look something like this:
    planetoftheweb.com » Internet » Key Online Metrics

Heading Tags

When writing content on a web page, make sure that you're organizing text as if you were writing an outline.

  • Use the different heading tags to indicate the importance of the content on pages. <h1> is for headers that have the most relevant content, followed by <h2> and the rest of the content.
  • Avoid using to many head tags and use them only when they make sense.
  • Make sure that your headlines are keyword driven, with the important words that you expect people to find your site with in the headings.

Working with Images

Images are a really great way of breaking up the content on your website. They provide a visual break to your visitors. The problem is that search engines can't see images. There's a few things you can do to make images more meaningful though.

  • You should use the ALT attribute in all of your images to give a description of what the image is about.
  • Remember to include important keywords in your ALT attribute. Use brief, descriptive keyword driven filenames. So graphicdesignlogo.gif is more meaningful to a search engine than logo.gif.
  • It's also better to consolidate images onto a single images folder on your website. Don't try to spread them out throughout your site to gain more keywords, it's not worth it.

Writing for the web is more than just about the content. It means targeting keywords for search engines and thinking about how the hierarchy and tagging of your content can lead to better results.

In the introduction to this series I talked about how searches work and things you can do to improve your ranking. In part 2 of this series I looked at how to get relevant inbound links to your site.

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