In my last SEO post I tried to explain that SEO is not as complex and some would like you to believe. In this video posted April 29, 2013, Google’s head of webspam, Matt Cutts, explains the top five mistakes webmaster make on their pages.
Crawling is the lifeblood of search engines, it’s what they DO, they crawl! A search engine "bot" will visit your domain and look at the source code, that is, all the plain text markup that defines your page. They tend to begin this search on your home page, or the page of your root domain, such as example.com. In plain text, it crawls the page top to bottom. The bot notices how your page is structured by the use of proper HTML, for example it knows the <head> section, then the <body> section, it recognizes header tags, bolded text, and in HTML5, will see <article>, <aside>, <address>, <blockquote> and so on. Well formed HTML helps the bot know where your primary content is and what it is for.
As the bot crawls top to bottom, it notices any and all of your links. Some of your links may leave your domain, but any links that point to your own domain, it crawls those. What Matt is saying is that, if you have any content which is "hidden" in such a way that the crawler does not get a link, then that page and content will not be indexed.
Let’s say you created a special page all about your favorite documentary, you then linked to this page by "telling people" the address, maybe on Facebook or a chat client, etc. Since your own website does not have a link to this "secret" page, search engines will no find it or index it. They don’t simply know by magic where all your content is, they have to find it by crawling, and finding all your links.
Matt made a small remark about testing your site in a "text browser". This is a popular technique used by hard core webmasters to check exactly what he is talking about. A text browser, such as Lynx, lets you "see" your webpage just as a crawler does. You can verify your markup makes sense, the structure is sound, the links are all there, etc. Search engine bots are not the only critters that see only text, screen readers as well for the blind, because fancy pictures and other multimedia don’t matter.
Bottom Line: Make sure ALL of your website is crawlable by making sure all of your website is linked to and structured correctly. Frameworks and CMSes like WordPress and Joomla do this kind of stuff for you, but custom website designers should take care, and perhaps even use a text browser to verify the site makes sense to crawlers.
2) Include the Right Words
This is a point I stressed in a previous post, make sure you write in such a way as people would search. He uses the example of the height of Mount Everest. Don’t write "Mount Everest Height: ….", but rather use "How high is Mount Everest?". By forming your content in such a way, it is closer to what people actually search for. People tend to search by asking questions, "who, what, when, where, why, how, is, etc". You might sound very scientific to write an article on "The efficacy of consuming pizza for adipose metabolism", but nobody is going to search for that, instead try "Is eating pizza a good way to lose fat?". Or perhaps "can I lose fat and still eat pizza?" There are a dozen different ways to formulate your writing to better serve people who are searching.
Always ask yourself this question, it is the root of all SEO! Ask yourself "what am I writing about? If I were a person looking for this exact information, what would I search for?" It’s like a game where you tell somebody the answer, and they have to give you the question which results in that answer. You have to work backwards in this way, asking yourself what would a person be searching for if they were looking for my info, and then facilitate that search in your writing.
He also mentions not hiding content behind PDFs, images and other non-text forms. If you are a restaurant, list your menu not just in a downloadable PDF, but on the page as well. If you are a business, list your hours and other details.
Always remember that search engine crawlers cannot "assume" what your page is about, where you are, or anything else. Try to never write content in the assumption that the reader simple knows what you’re talking about. Everything should be explicit in terms of the subject matter. Especially if the subject matter is assumed based on pictures or graphs on the page. Pictures make sense to people, but the search engine still needs to know what is going on.
3) Content and Marketing, not Link Building
Matt says specifically if you think your job is to be a link builder, you’re off on the wrong track. Your "job" is to create compelling and useful content and then follow standard marketing principles to spread the word. He mentions news reporters, social media, billboards, advertising, guerilla marketing, community reach out. In other words, don’t make your whole website and life around capturing search engines, when there are many other ways to market and gain popularity. Even if you succeed in "tricking" the search engine to list you higher, a lack of compelling content will make people leave, complain, and in some search engines, mark you to be removed or mark you as a trickster or spammer.
4) Titles and Descriptions
This can be considered meta-tag information. Your page titles and descriptions are often used to describe the page within the search engine results themselves. Are these two small bits of text enough to completely describe what your page content is all about? Do this at least for your high traffic and most important pages.
Also be mindful of your links, these days we do not want to see links such as "example.com/index.php?p=341&pg=445". If somebody were to bookmark this, there is no way to tell what it is about based on the link itself. Make sure your site uses meaningful URLs such as "example.com/how-to-wax-your-car" or something like that.
5) Do Use Webmaster Tools
Use Google’s own Webmaster Tools as well as many other tools to check your ranks, keyword density, and much more. I will have to post later about some nifty SEO tools, but for now, he suggests Google’s own tools, as well as reading their blog, and watching videos such as this one.
As I’ve said before, the best way to do what search engines want, and what real people want, is to create useful, engaging, informative, helpful, quality content. Beyond that, there are no "tricks", there are simply helpful techniques to make sure search engine bots can get all the information they need from your pages.