By now, most web site owners appreciate that optimizing for search engine visibility can have a real impact on both their site traffic and online profits. Still today, a large percentage of websites are found through search engines.
Web Designers and SEO Marketers may have different opinions on how to best design and promote websites. One thing about SEO that is sure, it's not the quick and easy solution it once was a few years ago. Nonetheless, by understanding the evolution from 'old to new' SEO rules, you can position your site for the search engine visibility you're seeking.
Search Engine ranking algorithms are usually secret mathematical formulas. These engines test for many different factors before indexing and ranking a web site.
Though algorithms (or rules) can and do change, there are some things that remain fairly constant. Here is a sampling of important things to consider when optimizing your site:
Age of site
Length of time domain has been registered
Age of content
Regularity with which new content is added
Age of link and reputation of linking site
Uniqueness of content
Related terms used in content (the terms the search engine associates as being related to the main content of the page)
Key word driven internal links identifying primary source of search information
External links, the anchor text in those external links, and in the sites/pages containing those links
Depth of document in site
Use of 301 to redirect moved pages
Whether the site serves different content to different categories of users (cloaking)
Broken outgoing links not rectified promptly
Search Engine Optimization: Then and Now
By comparing how the internet and SEO have changed over the years, you can identify how and where you need to roll up your sleeves just a bit more in order to get found by the engines:
Add all applicable Keywords to your Meta Tags.
Research keyword phrases that best define your business, products and services - study competitor sites and use key word tools (e.g. Word Tracker or KeywordDiscovery) to find further key word niches with fewer competitors. Choose a handful (at the most) of the best niche keywords and use them in your site links as well as your titles and meta descriptions.
In 2000, a few hundred to the lower tens of thousands of competitors was normal for the number of websites that would show up for a search on a 'competitive keyword phrase.'
Today, several hundreds of thousands to several million is the standard number of web sites that appear in a search result for a given competitive keyword phrase. One way to learn who your primary internet competitors are, is to do a search for your products/services and see who is listed in the top 10-30 positions.
The more incoming links a web site had, the higher it ranked.
Links to your site still help to determine your search engine ranking but the quality and click-through-rate of links to your site have gained in importance. Build quality external links to your site via engine/directory submissions, affiliates, and high quality web sites within your own theme area (good: DMOZ (Open Directory); bad: link farms and 'less popular' sites). Add links to your site on a regular ongoing basis and pace these conservatively (i.e. 1-2 a week not 400 a day!).
Dynamic Database-driven Web Sites
CMS driven web sites were not search engine friendly and they often did not get indexed at all.
Today, though search engines can generally crawl and index database-driven sites, the presence of query strings in the URLs of the pages can still block the likelihood of engines indexing all of the pages on a CMS site. And because of this limitation, dynamic sites still face a visibility disadvantage that simple HTML sites enjoy. The good news however, is that there are tools available to rewrite the URL strings so that your database-driven website can be fully search-engine friendly.
Most searches were done with the major Search Engines.
There are now many local search engines, directories and databases that are used for searches, e.g. Google Local and Yahoo Local. If your business is local in nature then you should register with local search engines, databases, and directories.
In the earlier days of the internet, many website owners assumed they would receive plenty of targeted traffic as soon as their site was built and online. In the early days of the web you actually could 'build a site and they would come', just by implementing targeted keyword phrases in titles, meta tags and site content then submitting to the main search engines. This was largely due to the lack of web sites around at the time and search algorithms were simpler - thus top positions were that much easier to secure.
With the enormous online growth over the last few years, just getting indexed has become more complex, particularly if you are using a brand new URL address. Researching your target audience, competitors, keyword selection and building good links is now more important than ever. Think of your site as a shop and a search engine as a shopping mall. Your shop is not visible in the mall without a sign, and well distributed marketing information to inform your online market where you are and how you can meet their needs.
Here are some best practices that are relevant today:
Build clean, standards-compliant websites that load fast, have rich content, and are regularly updated
Follow basic conventions like short descriptive titles, easy navigation, no disabling of browser buttons, no keyword stuffing or other unethical SEO methods
Build links naturally; do not manipulate (buy/sell) links, and do not use outward links to less reputable sites