Basic SEO: The Oz Behind the Web Design Curtain

November 23, 2011 •

The following is one of the best-of from students in David Toliver’s Georgetown School of Continuing Studies Interactive Marketing class. The following post is by Stephanie Spano, Marketing and Communications Manager at Engility Corporation.

Web design is one of the aspects of marketing I enjoy the most. Working closely with graphic artists to develop new banners and graphics is a creative and fun way to visually promote company capabilities. Updating and creating new content keeps a website fresh, grabs the viewer’s attention, and ensures frequent re-visits. The creative side of web design lets the imagination run wild, like a seven-year-old kid pretending to live in Oz, not Kansas.

Since my days starting out as a Newbie Marketer, I have learned that there is a whole other side to web design besides creating engaging graphics and content. Sadly, it is not the actual Wizard of Oz behind the web design curtain. It is Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Read on for a basic overview of the key ways to get this hidden force to work for your business.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is a broad discipline of Internet Marketing used to promote websites. A popular and well known strategy within this discipline is SEO. Ever wonder why the results are displayed in a particular order when you conduct a search in Google, Yahoo! or Bing? SEO is the answer. SEO will help you promote your business by increasing your website’s visibility in search engines.  There are three basic “behind the curtain” aspects of SEO to keep in mind that will help you develop more effective graphics and content for your website to improve its ranking.

1. Not So Creepy Crawlers (Think Charlotte’s Web, not Arachnophobia)

Search Engines operate by sending out millions of bots, commonly known as “spiders,” to crawl the web’s 30+ billion pages and index its content. Information gathered by the spiders is stored in gigantic datacenters all across the world. When you conduct a search query, the indexed information is pulled from these datacenters in fractions of seconds. Impressive, one would agree. Once a website is up and running, it is important to update it continuously so that these spiders index the most recent information.

Let’s imagine that a jewelry store, Emerald City, Inc., is spotlighting a new collection of emerald and pearl cufflinks, but they do not post this information on their website. The spiders do not index the data, and someone searching for such an item does not come up with Emerald City, Inc. in a search engine results page (SERP). It is not only important to keep a website up-to-date with what a business has to offer, but also to update a website with a company’s knowledge, involvement, and participation in key industry trends through publishing content such as a thought leadership blog. If your company is taking an active part in a certain topic or issue within its industry, but your website does not reflect this involvement, key visibility in search engines will be lost. Feed the spiders with fresh content to stay in tune with your industry—and the rankings.

2. It’s Just Like Magic…Content, Invisible in a “Flash”!

Graphics are visually stimulating and part of the greater story your website tells. However, graphics not coded or developed properly could greatly impact a website’s search engine visibility. Say Emerald City, Inc. decided to update its website with an image slideshow showcasing its new emerald and pearl cufflink collection—on sale, too! Great, right? Well, not if these images are contained in Flash, a technology used to make websites more interactive. Flash is invisible to spiders, and thus invisible to search engines, meaning key information presented in Flash will not be indexed.

There are two primary ways to ensure spiders “see” your images. First, provide each image on your website with descriptive rather than generic filenames, such as “Emerald_Pearl_Cufflink.jpg” rather than “Image12345.jpg.” The spider will pick up on the filename when it scans your website’s source code, or HTML. Second, you can also include an “alt tag” along with each image. An alt tag is a very short description, in code, attached to a specific image. The spiders will find this information and index it, and those in the market for sparkly new cufflinks will find Emerald City, Inc.

If you have a great idea for a new graphic for your website, fantastic! However, make sure the graphic contains an accurate alt tag, otherwise the fruits of your imagination will prove to be ineffective. It is also worth exploring new opportunities for interactivity with HTML5 as an alternative to developing images in Flash.

3. Keywords, Content, and SEO, oh my!

They say “Less is more.” Well, that is not the case with content, keywords, and SEO. The more content on your website, the better. Why? If your website has a large amount of diverse content, it is more likely to rank in search engines because there are more unique keywords from which to rank. For example, Emerald City, Inc. sells ties and scarves in addition to jewelry and cufflinks. Their website, however, focuses more on the latter. If Emerald City, Inc. were to create a page on their website dedicated to ties and scarves, they are more likely to rank in search engines.  Of note here, though, don’t sacrifice quality for quantity. Your content should never lose sight of the people reading it to please the spiders indexing it.

Along with content, another rule of thumb is the more specific a keyword, the better. There are a whole lot of companies that sell jewelry, cufflinks, ties, and scarves. Trying to rank with one of these keywords will be a tough battle even The Lion isn’t courageous enough to fight. If, however, Emerald City, Inc. wrote about “sterling silver diamond shape cufflinks” on their website, someone who is in the market for this item will most certainly find what they are looking for when they see the SERP.

If you’re interested in how specific keywords rank in your industry and want to sharpen keyword usage on your website, you can conduct manual research yourself in search engines or use one of many great tools to assist in Keyword Research. Google AdWords, Word Tracker, and Word Stream are a few to help you get started.

When developing content and graphics for your website, let your imagination run wild and free. Creative, diverse content will generate interest and tell a story. However, keep in mind the SEO behind the web design curtain to optimize your website’s search engine visibility. You don’t have to click your heels together three times to boost your website in the rankings. You just have to remember three things: Crawlers, Content, and Keywords.

A special “Thank You” to SEOmoz, HubSpot, Google Webmaster Tools Help, Sean Elkin, and David Toliver for their wealth of knowledge that assisted with the development of this blog post.

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The Marketing Trenches blog provides thought leadership from actual marketing practitioners, not from professional thought leaders. Designed to help business leaders make more educated marketing decisions, our insights come directly from our experience in the trenches.

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