Every few months it is a good idea to review SEO techniques in light of changes in the ranking algorithms used by the major search engines. As of today, there are only two major organic search tools we worry about, Google, and Yahoo. Both of these search tools look at different elements of your website when considering where to rank the site in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). While considered one of the “Big Three”, MSN continues to receive results from the Yahoo/Inktomi database with LookSmart listings being displayed from time to time. MSN is likely to release its own algorithmic search engine in the coming months. What works for Yahoo tends to work with MSN. Please note, these basic rules for rankings may change at any given moment. That’s one of the things that make this job so much fun…

Google continues to be the most popular search engine in terms of user visits and the number of queries each month. Feeding organic results to AOL, Netscape, Iwon, Go.Com and Excite, as well providing onsite search tools for webmasters wishing to include a search function on their websites, Google is said to drive just under 50% of daily search traffic. Google was founded on a basic algorithm known as PageRank. PageRank is fairly basic in explanation but extremely complex in its application. In as few words as possible, Google checks the number of incoming links directed to each site in its database. The larger number of incoming links from relevant sites, the better chances of achieving strong placements.

According to reports from the Search Engine Strategies conference held last week in London, Google is basing much of its ranking formula on incoming links. There are other factors or elements that Google examines but the real power at Google is in the strength and phrasing of incoming links. There is a great deal of power in links however all links are not created equal. For Google to consider a link as a reflection of the validity of the site in question, that link needs to meet a few basic standards. First of all, the link needs to originate on a page that is relevant to the topic of the page being linked to. Next, the anchor text of that link should be phrased to be relevant to the topic of the site being linked to. We tend to use our main target keyword phrases when acquiring links for our clients’ sites. Finally, links from pages that are considered “authorities” such as directories, non-profit organizations, or sites with high PageRank (6/10 or higher as shown in the Google Toolbar), tend to produce stronger results than links from non-authority sites. Other site elements that need to be considered include the TITLE, DESCRIPTION META TAG, BODY TEXT and ONSITE NAVIGATION. With the TITLE, be sure to include your strongest keyword phrase in the title of the website. You should use unique titles on each page of the site, making the title specific to the topic of each page. The DESCRIPTION META TAG is important as it helps Google determine the topic of the website. Keep the DESCRIPTION short and highly focused, weaving your strongest keyword phrases into a well written sentence. The BODY TEXT should also be highly focused with incidents of keyword phrases appearing as near the beginning of the text as possible. Lastly, be certain Google’s spider can travel through the entire website from point “A” to point “Z”. You can do this by using a text-based navigation map, generally appended to bottom of each page in the site. It is important to understand that Google works by having its spider follow every link it comes across on the web. You don’t even need to submit your site to Google if there are links from other sites leading to your site, Google will find it on its own.

Google at a Glance:

– Incoming links from relevant websites

– Keyword enriched anchor text for all incoming links

– Keyword enriched titles (unique for each page in site)

– Well written Description meta tag

– Topical and focused body text with main keyword phrases appearing early in the text

– Easily followed text-based internal navigation

Yahoo has made major improvements on their search tool over the past months and is seen by many as providing more relevant results than Google currently does. Yahoo provides results for, MSN, Overture, HotBot, Excite, and thousands of other websites using Yahoo as their onsite search tool provider. Yahoo’s spider (a version of Inktomi’s Slurp) works the same way Google’s does by following every link it finds on the web. This is the primary way Yahoo populates its database. Like Google, Yahoo does place some weight on the value of incoming links, just not nearly as much as Google does. Yahoo seems to be more interested in the actual site content, which may be why the results shown at Yahoo seem to be more relevant. In order to vie for a strong ranking at Yahoo you should concentrate on extremely well written site content and pay attention to the following site elements: TITLES, DESCRIPTION META TAG, KEYWORDS META TAG (yes, you read that right), BODY TEXT, INTERNAL NAVIGATION, and the number of keywords that appear within your body text.

TITLES should be topical and should include at least one incident of the target keyword phrase. You should write page-specific titles, using different internal pages to promote different keyword phrases. The DESCRIPTION should be short (99 characters or less if possible) and contain as many incidents of the keyword phrase as you can write into a proper sentence. Yahoo seems to be giving some weight to the KEYWORDS meta tag so it is wise to take a bit of time preparing this tag. The BODY TEXT is extremely important at Yahoo, more so than at Google. Be sure you use your keywords and keyword phrases wisely and place them as close to the beginning of the body text as possible. At this point, you need to consider the number of keywords and keyword phrases in comparison with the total number of words used on the page. You want to shoot for a density of approximately 1 keyword for every 20 words found on the page. Please note, this is an approximation. Check your competition to see what their keyword density ratios are as the optimum ratio is often different from one business sector to the next. Lastly, it is important to provide a roadmap for Slurp as it travels through your site by providing a text based navigation map at the bottom of each page in the site.

Yahoo at a Glance:

– Keyword enriched titles (unique titles for unique pages in the site)

– Short keyword enriched Description meta tag

– Keywords meta tag

– Well written, keyword enriched body text

– Easy to follow internal links phrased in standard text

– Keyword Density (ratio of keywords vs. non-keywords) conforms with average from competitors’ sites

If you make your website meet the basic standards for the search engines, your site has a much better chance of seeing strong search engine placements. Another essential element for any website is a text-based sitemap listing every page in the website. This provides the ultimate roadmap for search engine spiders and also adds another level of navigational assistance for live-human visitors.