Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Search Engine Objective
The objective of a search engine like Google is to deliver the most optimum pages for your search criteria. The problem is that there are search engine SPAMers who try very hard to show up in your search regardless of your search string, a lot like the SPAM in your inbox that you did not ask for. Google is considered the top search engine. Microsoft and others are trying to knock Google off the top. They know that you and others will flock to the search engine that serves up the best web pages based on your criteria. Millions are being spent on this objective, to serve you better, which includes pushing SPAMers farther down the page if not entirely out of your search results.
What this all means is that there are optimizations that used to work well, that SPAMers have abused, that no longer push a site's web pages to the top. The most effective long term way to perform well with the search engines is to properly provide lots of top quality content. Cookie cutter sites that copy/paste content from other sites don't perform as well as pages with the unique specialized content that somebody is looking for.
The < TITLE >Title Goes Here< /TITLE > entry near the top of each web page is the most important piece of text to optimize on each of your pages.
- This is the text used when somebody book marks a page.
- This is the text that appears in bold text in the search engine findings.
- This is the text that appears as the page title at the top of the browser page.
- There are words that Google indexes only when they appear in the title.
Most titles are too short, especially considering their high value. Most search engines display titles between 60 and 115 characters in length. Make better use of your < TITLE > text.
SPAMers hesitate to abuse it because it is so visible in search results. Expect that Google and the other search engines will give your title's text top priority for a long time to come. Spend lots of time optimizing it.
< H1 >Page Headings< /H1 > are also very important as the search engines make a point of looking for the <H> codes in your HTML. You may wish to use an H1 style for the site heading on each page. an H2 style for the page description heading and H3 to head up the sections within the page. You probably won't like the default attributes (e.g. font size) of these heading styles. Don't let that scare you off as you can easily change them on the page. Better still, control them with Cascading Style Sheets. A site or page heading done as a graphic won't get indexed by the search engine. Normal text won't rate nearly as well as heading text (e.g. H1, H2, H3 . . . H6).
Inbound Link Text
Inbound links are considered a vote of confidence and add considerable value to the pages they link to. Inbound link text is considered an important high ranking indicator of the content of the linked to page. Optimize the link descriptions that interconnect your site. In link exchanges, recommend the text that you want the other webmaster to use.
Meta Tags value ~ 0
One of the search engine priorities is to base searches more on what you, the user, will see and often enough entirely ignore what only the robots can see. Many experts now say that the Meta Tags are ignored by Google, largely because they were so seriously abused by SPAMers. Some of the experts suggest that since it takes very little time to fill in the Meta Tags, that you might as well. Perhaps some obscure search engine still evaluates them.
Content Is King
Quality content improves the Google calculated value of web pages for several reasons:
- Content attracts inbound links which drive up the PageRank™ value.
- Google also tracks the clicks to a page, how soon they hit the back key, number of unique visitors.
- Google uses increasingly sophisticated software to evaluate page content (e.g. for themes).
If you are looking for information about cats, then pages with a focused cat theme will list higher than a page about cats and dogs. Splitting your cats and dogs page into a cats page and a dogs page is also a good idea because adding pages works well for the PageRank™ value.
Unique/Niche VS Generic Ministries
Being unique with some sort of niche offering makes it much easier to rank at the top of a search. That works great if people know about your niche ministry or business and set about to find it on the web. A search for "MyTown Adventist Church" is likely to put your church site at or near the top of the list. But what if your ministry sells Christian books or health foods? Optimization can then be a challenge. Do select key words that will help your site show up for people looking more generically for your type of offering. The more generic your web page, the greater the challenge to get it ranked farther up the search page. Some pages on your site are simply support pages for other pages. They may be too generic to be worth optimizing much at all. The more important pages are the ones that deserve your closest attention.
Google's founding paper states that font size plays an important role. Contrast ratio is a related factor (e.g. white or almost white text on a white background gets ignored).
Companies spend hundreds and thousands of dollars on key word research. On a lower budget, you can brain storm the search strings that will likely be used by somebody looking for the content on the page you are designing. Develop a list of key words for that page. Prioritize the list. Have each of your key words show up at least once and more so for the more important words. Use appropriate synonyms. Consider your top priority key words for the page title text. Understand that Google indexes pages rather than websites. A key word on another page won't be of any help to the page you are currently optimizing.
Here is a useful key word selector tool.
Tapered Counting Scheme
Google tallies up the value of each word found on a page as a function of where it is found (e.g. the header vs body text), font size, etc. A tapering factor is applied as the particular word is subsequently encountered which rapidly reduces the value of repeating the word in a document. The accumulated value of the word is then factored against the PageRank™ value of the page. It would seem then that synonyms of your important words would be more valuable than overly repeating a key word.
Top Of Page Priority
Search engines love to find content on your site. Content boosts your score. Lots of graphics brings down the content ratio of a page. Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) help to increase the content ratio.
Up To Date
The search engines do reduce a page's rating as it gets older. Up-to-date pages score higher. Keeping a site current is what visitors want is why the search engines penalize stale pages.
Search engines are getting better at recognizing and awarding user friendly sites where information can be quickly found and the navigation easy to use.
Quoting John Metzler of Abalone Designs:
Don't use frames. Frames are a thing of the 90's (and in the Internet world that is eons ago) and are not even supported by some search engines. The search engines that are able to index your site through frames will most likely frown upon them. Whatever you are trying to accomplish by using frames can usually be done with the help of PHP includes or CSS. Some browsers are not frames-compatible, so there is the danger of some visitors not being able to see your site at all. Book marking of individual pages within a frame becomes difficult without lengthy scripts being written.
Many of the work arounds used to solve frame site problems look suspiciously like popular SPAMing techniques and risk getting penalized. Sending humans to one page while sending the robots somewhere else is one example. The robots may not be able to confirm that both paths furnish the same information.
The photographs and other images on your page need to be identified using Alt Tags. At least one author claims that Google no longer indexes the image Alt Tags. The image Alt Tags are still a good idea for the blind and vision impaired visitors to your site.
Having the right domain for your church or ministry does help in the search for you site on the web and can improve your search engine rating.
A content rich site will feature topics that other sites will want to link to. That is a very good thing considering how Google works. If your ministry sells whole wheat bread, then lots of interesting pages on vegetable gardens will bring good links and gardener's to your site, but probably won't help you sell much if any bread, unless you think that a high preponderance of gardeners like to buy whole wheat bread.
Contract An Expert
If a high ranking in the search engines is important to your ministry or business, then seriously consider contracting a Search Engine Optimization (SOE) expert. Some are not worth the bother, perhaps using out dated methods. Some won't hesitate to SPAM the search engines to the full extent they think they can get away with. Push it too far and your site can get penalized or even banished from the search engine. What you really want is visitors searching for the content on your pages rather than the SPAMer's objective of simply spinning your hit counter. Take the time to track down a really good up-to-date professional SOE expert who endorses your priorities.