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How Does SEO Work?

SEO is an acronym for Search Engine Optimization. The definition of SEO is the process of utilizing a number of methods to enhance the relationship between a website and various search engines. Other forms of search engine marketing (SEM) target paid listings. As you may have witnessed, when you search for something using a search engine, different search engines render different results. This is because each search engine uses various algorithms to rank the pages that they scan and can be a combination of heuristic and deterministic scenarios, aggregating as many as 200 different variables against the criteria you enter. Some of these variables can include:

Domain Type

Domains are divided into groups of letters number and hyphens by periods. The area between each period is called a "namespace". From Right to left, each namespace limits the use of the name until finally, in some instances, a domain is only used in a local zone. Search engines sometimes rank based on the rightmost namespace or "extension". Certain namespaces are considered Top Level Domains or "TLDs". If your site's primary domain is a TLD, then SEO may lean in your favor. The TLD list includes, but is not limited to the following:

Extension Application Status
.biz Business Open
.com Commercial Open
.coop Cooperative Open
.edu Educational Institution Restricted
.gov Government Restricted
.info Informational Open
.museum Museum Restricted
.net Network Open

Domain Syntax

Domain syntax also plays a role in ranking, as search engines scan the domain name along with the other criteria when qualifying a site. If you domain name contains the actual keywords, you may score points in your ranking. The only punctuation that is permissible in domains is a hyphen. Hyphens can help as well, because hyphens help the search engines determine the actual words. An example of this would be This domain contains the key words snap and tools, the words are discernible and the domain is a TLD.

Length of URL

A URL or Uniform Resource Locator is a technical term for a standard web address. The maximum length of a URL varies, Explorer 2,083 characters, Firefox over 100,000 characters and Safari around 80,000 characters. Web servers have their limits too. Search engines like URLs around 200 characters or less.

Key Words and Syntax of the URL

Search engines, especially Google tend to drop off reading the URL also after around three to five hyphens. A good practice is to name your actual pages with the keywords imbedded. An example might be:

Keywords and H1, H2, H3 Tags

Your visible page should contain at least a title and should be organized with sub-titles. These titles should be HTML and surrounded by H1, H2 or H3 tags. These tags are recognized by the search engines as the subject for the page and some of the ranking algorithms compare the textual content against these tags for relevance. Solid concordance between the subject and the content equals better ranking (and a better experience for the viewers).

Keywords in Tags and Tag Syntax

When displaying images on an HTML page, you have the option of placing text in an "alt" tag. Originally, these tags were used to describe the images and some web browsers even displayed the alt tags as tool tips. Later, we noticed that the search engines were reading the alt tags and factoring them into their rankings. Using the Alt tags for key words is a very common practice, but there are rules. You cannot inject redundant key words in to the tags or the search engines may penalize you for this. Also, some pages will generate HTML errors if the tag content does not follow the guidelines of your HTML version.

The Age of a Page and Site

The older the site, the better. However, new pages with fresh content rank high as well. Search engines consider more permanent sites against temporary sites. This is because businesses tend to establish long term relationships on the web, while marketing and promotional sites may be short lived. Your best bet is to rotate the content on an older site than to create a whole new site. If you must create a new site, it is best to ask your SEO expert about "ghost pages".

The Purpose of your Site

Search engines actually categorize the sites they scan before they queue them for ranking. Informational sites and "expert" sites are priority. Promotional and E-commerce comes somewhere after that, while all the others, the content may play a larger role.

The Size of a Site

Larger sites tend to get higher ranking for two reasons: (a) A larger site has more content to rank and a larger site may again, be a more established business because sites do grow over time.

HTML Version and/or Language Confluence

A site should be built using clean HTML, while scripting and other imbedded languages should be read from external files. This keeps the pages free of "code debris" that may impede the search engines from ascertaining a clear picture of what the site is about. Scripting languages and sub routines may contain confusing and ambiguous terms that convolute the page.

Code Density

Newer pages, using the newest techniques, will have styles, fonts and page form defined outside the page using CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and external includes (PHP). This will help keep the page well formed and not only increase readability for the search engines, but the developers as well.

Site and Page Structure

Site and page structure plays a major role in ongoing maintenance for the developer and for faster assessment by the search engines. Bear in mind that search engines read the page like a script; from the top down. Write your content so the most important and relevant information is toward the top, and in order of priority down the page makes more sense to readers and search engines alike. Site title and slogans should be first, and then navigational menus should be towards the top or left, linking to the rest of the site. Then page titles, subtitles and then finally the content.

The Page HEAD

In the HTML code, before the page is even displayed, there is a hidden area called the HEAD. This area is reserved for setting parameters for the site and page, which include the title of the site, the description of the site, search key words and many other instructions for the search engines and your browser. There are many rules here, which are subjective depending on the business and the developer, so it is best to research Head Tags on your own.

Site Title and Description

When you search for a website, the search results that are rendered show up as a site Title and Description. This title and description are defined in the head section of the site. The Title should be at least the introduction to the site, like: Welcome to Snap on Tools! The description of the site should be a brief, say, 50 word description of what the site is about. A typical example would be: Snap on Tools ~ Manufacturing Snap on Tools since 1984, snap on tools creates plastic snap on tools for industrial use and bicycle repair and racing throughout the planet! The title and description can be a mixture of content and keywords.

Internal Link Syntax

Internal links can be part of your navigational menu system, side menus (like features items) and peppered into your content. Internal links should contain keywords. Internal links should vary in tense and plurality for maximum gain.

Total External Links (no link farming)

It is a good practice to have external links on your site. This shows everyone (including the search engines) that your site bears relevance to other sites around it, again, establishing a relationship with the web. It's good to restrict the number of external links somewhere below 200 on a page. Also, some marketing companies create over linked pages called "link farms". These link farms are eventually penalized for their abuse of the system. Do not create too many external links that need to be maintained, as broken links can cost you in your ranking.

External Link Syntax

External links should be phrases containing keywords used in a tasteful manner.

Textual Content

Textual content on each page that you want ranked should be comprised of 250 to 500 words. The content is read by search engines and put through several tests, assessing the relevance, redundancy, subject, color, font style and size and finally its position on the page. Content should contain as many instances of the keywords as possible, while still making good grammatical sense. Content should be sensible, relevant and visible (unless it is part of a spry system on the page).

Rotation of Content

Periodically, you should rotate the content or "freshen it up" to let the search engines know that your site is alive. If the search engines repeatedly scan your site and find no change, your ranking will slowly be pushed down by other sites that do refresh their content. Besides, your readers will appreciate up to date information.

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