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Search Engine Strategies Chicago 2006

Last week I attended the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo in Chicago. It was four days of sessions devoted to search engine marketing and optimizing websites for search engines. There were two keynotes during the event. The first featured Jason McCabe Calacanis and the second featured Danny Sullivan, a world-renowned search authority.

It was really nice to get to talk to representatives from Google, Yahoo!, MSN, and Ask about how their spiders crawl the web now as compared to just a few years ago. In the past, the position of text on the top of the page was considered more important than the text on the bottom of the page. The same for hyperlinks in the past; the first link on the page was considered to be more important than the last one. Those methods are long gone. Now the spiders index the whole page and use their algorithmic logic systems to process the entire page, thereby determining the overall relevancy of the content on the page. It was also nice to hear from some of the major SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) firms too. With all the information that I learned in four days, it’s going to take four months just to mentally process and implement it.

11 Tips for Search Engine Optimization

Here are a few search engine marketing and optimization tips that stuck out to me during the conference. They are listed in no particular order.

  1. Usability – If your site is easy for visitors to navigate, it will be easy for the spiders to index. A site built using only CSS will not rank any higher than a site built with tables.
  2. Content is key – Within a 250 block of text, use 2-3 keyword phrases 3-4 times each.
  3. Meta tags – Yes, they still matter. Use keywords in the tags. Title tags should be 50-75 characters long, description tags should be between 150-250 characters, and keywords should be 150-250 characters. These limits can change often. Do a search and count the number of characters in the title and descriptions of the organic results.
  4. Sitemaps – Google, Yahoo!, and MSN have agreed on a standard for sitemaps and you can submit them for free.
  5. Search engine friendly URLs – Use search engine friendly URLs to identify the focus or main topic of your page. Ideally your URLs should reflect the title of your page or the name of your products.
  6. No search engine spam – Don’t write specifically for the search engines, write for your visitors. Avoid shady black hat tricks, it will get you banned from the search engines.
  7. Analytics – Use analytics software to monitor your site. Start with Google Analytics which is free.
  8. No miracles, don’t believe the hype – No one can guarantee you top organic (natural) search rankings, so avoid anyone that tells you different. Google has a good list of tips to consider when shopping for an SEO.
  9. Search engines can’t index flash – Well maybe a little, but not very well. Websites written in flash are nearly invisible to search engine spiders. For example Nike.com, a beautifully designed site in flash, yet Google sees it as a blank page. If you must have a flash site, provide a HTML version too.
  10. Search engines can’t read text in images – Avoid putting keywords and keyword phases in images. Use the alt tag to describe the image; don’t stuff it with keywords.
  11. Use PPC to get traffic – Of course you want visitors to come to your site through organic listings, but if you have a new site or a site that hasn’t climbed to the top of the SERP (search engine results page), then PPC (Pay Per Click) can help bring traffic to your site. The major search engines, Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Ask, all have advertising programs and your ad will display on either their SERPs or on a site relevant to the keywords in your ads.

These are just a few things off the top of my head. For the latest news and information about search engine optimization and search engine marketing check out Danny Sullivan’s new website Search Engine Land and his daily podcast, the Daily Searchcast.

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