Oct 252010

In my Part 1 discussion of how to improve your search engine rankings, I discussed website content. In today’s Part II of III posting, I will be discussing how to improve your search engine rankings through website code.

Website code is the text behind the scenes that the search engines views and crawls. In a nutshell it is really quite simple: correct code will help improve your website rankings and more importantly it will give people viewing your website a more user friendly experience.

First a Little SEO History
Although the terms are not used as much today, SEO techniques can be broken down into two categories – whitehat and blackhat. Whitehat refers to using known search engine guidelines to increase your rankings, recognizing that although this method will take longer, it will also result in long term improved search engine results. Blackhats use tricks and backdoor techniques to improve search engine rankings very quickly with the understanding that the website could lose those rankings and even be banned at some point if the search engines detect the “tricks.”

I will be discussing whitehat SEO website coding techniques only, but to give you an idea, one of the tricks in the early days was to use hidden text which was quite simply using the same color for the text as the background. So if you were discussing a particular topic, such as widgets, on your web page and you wanted to improve your rankings, you would have listed the word widgets multiple times but using the same color as the background. The redundant listing of widgets would have been invisible to users browsing your site, but the search engine crawlers (spiders) would have picked up the listings. As I said I will only be discussing whitehat techniques, and I recommend that you stay away from the blackhat shortcuts and instead work for the long term gains.

An easy way for you to get started in monitoring your website is to sign up and validate it through Google Webmaster Tools. Using Google Webmaster Tools will allow you to easily check for errors on your website, such as broken links or duplicate title tags.

Now let’s discuss examples of using “clean” or correct code to improve your search engine rankings

  1. As mentioned in my note about signing up for Google Webmaster tools, you want to check for broken links, duplicate title tags, or duplicate content. For example with duplicate title tags, you may inadvertently copy of over the same title tag from one page to another.
  2. Meta tags – Title tags, keyword tags, and description tags. Meta tags tell search engines the content that should exist on each web page. As I discussed in the first example, you do not want to have duplicates, but you also want the tags to match the content on the page only. For example if you are discussing a review of laptop computers, then the title tag should say “Review of Laptop Computers.”
  3. Alt image tags – If you have images on your page, you want to name them with an alt image tag so that when a user scrolls over an image, the alt image tag provides a description of the image for the search engine spider in addition to the user.
  4. Header tags – Header tags are used to define the html headings. So once again if you are discussing a review of laptop computers, then Review of Laptop Computers would be the first heading on your webpage, and you would use an H1 tag. Next you might break your discussion down into different brands, and for each brand heading you would use an H2 tag. This gives the search engines, as well as the user, a hierarchy of what is the most important content on a particular webpage.
  5. Duplicate content – Remember my example of the early blackhat trick of using hidden text. This is a simple example of duplicate content, but a larger problem may exist just with the setup of your website. Search engines consider http://wilkins-consulting.com and http://www.wilkins-consulting.com to be two different websites so some search engines might consider this duplicate content. On a side-note you may also have the issue of splitting your website’s link popularity which we will discuss in Part III. The solution is to permanently 301 redirect your secondary url to your primary url (ex. non-www to www), and depending on the type of server you are using to host your site, there are different ways to do this which I will discuss in future blog postings. You can also validate both website types in Google Webmaster Tools, and instruct Google on which website is your primary site.

These were just a few examples of using clean code, but by using these simple techniques, you will be well on your way to improving your search engine rankings. In Part III of my series, I will discuss link popularity.