Searching for Answers

This post is from an upcoming issue of Identity Marketing magazine

Talk about a moving target. Every time I sit down to write a column about search engine optimization, the game changes right under my feet. Rules change, tactics get refined, best practices evolve and entire strategies become worthless or worse – even damaging. The dynamics of search engine optimization are exactly that: dynamic, sometimes beyond any rational comprehension.

We do quite a bit of search engine optimization for our customers these days, and it’s almost a full-time job staying on top of the latest strategies and tactics. For those customers who invest heavily in search engine optimization and pay-per-click advertising, a dedicated expert is sometimes the best option, and we refer them to companies that focus exclusively on these areas. Their services are expensive, but their results are often impressive.

For the rest of our customers – and, I’m sure, for many of you – a little bit of basic optimization can go a long way. I’ve covered the basics of search engine optimization in a previous series in this magazine, and many of those methods continue to produce good results. For the next few posts, I’m going to revisit search engine optimization in light of current best practices and knowledge. No big secrets here or nefarious tactics – just the good stuff that works right now.

Back to Basics

Nearly all basic search engine optimization is done in the form of keywords; these are the words users type into Google to find something, like “promotional mug” or “golf shirt.” The most important thing you can do on your own is optimize your content by making sure the words on your web pages are words that your customers are looking for. That sounds fairly straightforward, but there are nuances.

It may be tempting to cram your pages full of keywords that are relevant to your target audience’s search, but this tactic can backfire. Search engines are smart enough to look for natural language and they can detect excessive repetition of keywords. Always use keywords placed in natural language that a human being can read.

In sites with many products or topics, you also want context and specificity. Unless a page lists both mugs and golf shirts, you don’t want to load it with both sets of keywords. Use keywords relevant to the particular product you’re highlighting – avoid shotgun approaches.

If you do want to express something about your company or products common to every page, keep it brief. For instance, if it’s very important – regardless of which product a user is viewing – to have keywords related to your location or services on every page, add this to the footer (bottom part) of your web site template. Basic search engine optimization often includes a simple, keyword-filled sentence or two at the bottom of every page describing a company’s services (to see an example, go to and scroll down).

Always remember that search engines focus mainly on human-readable content to determine the relevance of a page to a particular search. Old standbys like meta tags (keywords, descriptions) have much less impact on relevance than the actual readable content on the page. Meta descriptions still offer value in providing a short description of the page to the search engines for display purposes. But neither meta keywords nor meta descriptions matter much to relevancy, especially if they don’t match the readable content on the page. In any event, meta descriptions should not exceed 155 characters.

Finally, don’t forget the page title (or title tag) – it’s the most important small bit of text on every page. Your title tag should contain your most important keywords but should also be simple, readable and descriptive, because the content of the title tag is also the title of your listing in the search engine results. In all, the words in the title should not exceed 70 characters.

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