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NATURAL SEARCH BEST PRACTICES

Tips on how to optimize your site for "organic" or "natural" search results with search engines.

There are two main search classifications: natural search and paid search. While paid search refers to all pay-per-click advertising such as Google AdWords, natural search refers to all unpaid search results based on relevance.

We have collected several easy-to-implement "Do's and Don'ts" to help you improve your natural search results rankings

Improving your natural search rankings will deliver significantly more traffic to your site (including increasingly pertinent and targeted users).

DO's

Highly indexed websites are designed to be both user-friendly and search engine friendly. Search engines periodically send "robots" or "crawlers" to scour every website; the following initiatives will make it easier for those crawlers to search, index, and output the information within your website, which will improve your natural search rankings.

1. Title Tags (Page Titles): Each of your website's pages should have a distinct 6-10 word title using relevant keywords found throughout that page. If,.for instance, your webpage provides advice regarding college entrance exams, your title might be "SAT Tips and Hints for Students".

2. Site Maps: Site Maps are crucial to improving natural search rankings precisely because they enable engine crawlers to access each of your website's pages. Your site map should begin with a brief description of your website's purpose or mission and then include text-links to all major site pages (maximum of 100 links). You should also include a brief explanation above each subset or category of links.

Each page within your website should provide a text link to your Site Map. Additionally, your Site Map should be stored in your root directory – making it easily accessible to all crawlers.

It is important to note that search engine crawlers have difficulty with drop-down menus, JavaScript, and search boxes; Site Maps are simple ways to attract crawlers to each page.

3. Utilize Your Error Pages: Too often companies forget about error pages (such as 404 errors). Error pages should always re-direct "lost" users to valuable, text-based pages. Placing text links to major site pages is an excellent practice.

4. Meta Tags: Make sure that 100% of your site is tagged with pertinent keywords found throughout your site. Beware, however, that excessively long tags with superfluous words will be interpreted negatively by the search crawlers

5. URL and File Names: Short, appropriately named files and URLs enable engines to easily crawl your site. Always keep the most important content at the root level and name directories appropriately (think keywords)! If possible, try to place pages at a maximum of two directories deep.

Additionally, when naming files or folders with two words, separate the words with either a dash or underscore. For example, name a directory /horse-racing/ rather than /horseracing/.

6. Page Size Under 75k: Always keep page sizes under 75k – most search engines stop crawling when a page exceeds this limit

7. robots.txt: Robots.txt is a text file that essentially speaks to search engine crawlers –effectively welcoming or prohibiting them to various parts of a website. Utilize your robots.txt file to ensure that crawlers are invited to your site and excluded from those areas with sensitive information (such as files contained within a CGI folder). If you are unfamiliar with robots or your robots.txt file, visit http://www.robotstxt.org/wc/faq.html for a thorough explanation.

8. Links: Strong linkage to your website raises your relevance and eventually your page rank. Improve linkage by contacting related websites and webmasters and kindly ask them to create a text link to your site. Forming strategic alliances with relevant sites and services also works well. Additionally, construct and submit related articles to online publications in exchange for linkage.

9. Page Content: Your page content should mirror all of the optimization you have performed within your page titles, meta tags, and file names. Make sure to place strong, relevant keywords throughout the page body and in text. Place pertinent keywords within your headers by using header tags (H1, H2, etc). Keywords can also be stressed by bold and italics formatting.

10. Submit Your Site to the Engines: Of course these best practices are useless if a search engines fails to find your site! Most of the search engines (Google, Yahoo!, Altavista, etc) allow you to submit your site for free; upon entering your URL, email contact, and other pertinent information, the search engine directs its crawlers to enter your site.

However, before submitting your site to the major search engines, submit it to www.dmoz.org. Dmoz.org catalogs over 3.8 million websites and distributes collected information to many of the major search engines and portals. Inclusion in the dmoz.org catalog typically has a beneficial impact upon page rankings.

The following are links to the site submission pages for several of the major search engines:

DON'Ts

In general, attempts to trick engine crawlers fail miserably and will usually affect your natural rankings detrimentally. Avoid all activity mentioned below… if you currently practice such activity, stop as soon as possible

1. Never Seek Quick Fixes: If a service promises too much, it probably will not deliver. Products that promise millions of unique visitors or services that email millions of "eager" recipients are anything but quick fixes – they are immediate problems. Subscribing to these services usually results in search engine banishment

2. Avoid Link Farms: Link farms are sites that link to numerous other sites with the hopes of improving page rankings. Beware: link farms spell immediate trouble – so avoid them at all costs! Engines like Google interpret link farms as spam and actually remove participating websites from search engine indexes.

3. Avoid Splash Pages: Flash and heavily graphic introductions prohibit engines from crawling your site. Because crawlers work best with text links, splash pages are very troublesome. A good rule of thumb: always keep your most valuable and compelling information up-front and in text

4. Avoid Frames: Never use pages with frames. Frames are too complex for the crawlers and too cumbersome to index.

5. Avoid Cookies: Never require cookies for website access! Search engine crawlers are unable to enter any cookie-required materials; similarly, crawlers are unable to enter or index secure pages (https, password protection, etc).

6. Avoid JavaScript when Possible: Though JavaScript menus are very popular, they disable crawlers from accessing those links. Most, well-indexed websites incorporate text-based links primarily because they are search engine friendly. If necessary, JavaScript should be referenced externally

7. Avoid Search-Box Navigation: Never rely on search boxes for site navigation; engine crawlers are incapable of entering text into search boxes and will be unable to find those pages

8. Avoid Redirects: Search engines frown upon companies that use numerous websites to redirect to a single website

9. Avoid Internal Dynamic URLs on the Homepage: Though many sites incorporate internal dynamic links, they should not incorporate those links on the homepage. Engine crawlers are currently ill-equipped to navigate dynamic links – which often pass numerous parameters using excessive characters

10. Session ID's: Do not leave URL session ID's on for engine crawlers; they will be unable to access and index your site.

11. Eliminate Pop-Up Ads: Search engines frown upon pop-up advertisements – especially when they occur on the homepage! Eliminating all pop-up ads will win favor with the engines and make your site more crawler friendly

12. Eliminate Hidden / Invisible Text: Search engines immediately recognize hidden text and consider such practices to be "cheating"

If you have further questions or curiosities, Google's webmaster page http://www.google.com/webmasters/ is a great resource for additional natural search best practices.

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