The basics of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) are really quite simple. If you build a site that is both readable and understandable to the search engines, you’re halfway there. We’ll call this the on-page half. The other half of SEO involves other sites on the web linking to your site. We’ll call this the off-page half. Through a combination of on and off-page factors Google and the rest of the search engines determine how relevant your site is to a user’s query, and serves the most relevant in its results.
I’m going to detail some of the SEO mistakes that you simply cannot make if you’d like your site to succeed. If you know nothing about SEO, this list is for you. Make sure you’re not breaking any of these rules with your site, and you’ve got a leg up on the competition.
As I mentioned earlier, crafting a site that the search engines understand is crucial to building search traffic to your site. Since the search engines have gotten pretty good at reading all kinds of web pages across the internet, there are only a few mistakes you can make here, but they’re big ones:
Use TOO MUCH Flash
Flash has become the whipping boy of the SEO industry because search engines have a really hard time understanding it (or can’t at all), but the truth is that not all Flash is bad. Where Flash leads to SEO issues is when a site’s navigational elements are primarily through Flash, or when a significant portion of text is found in a Flash element. There are some exceptions, but most of the time it’s safe to assume that all content found within a Flash element on your page is completely invisible to the search engines.
So, go ahead and include that Flash movie on your home page, but just make sure you’ve got plain text on-page and links to other areas of your site outside of the movie.
Ignore the Title Tag
Put simply, there’s no stronger signal to the search engines about the content of your page than the title tag. Every page on your site should contain a unique title tag containing a short (70 chars or so) description of that page. For bloggers, nothing works better than the title of your post. For others, try to put your main targeted key phrase as early as possible in your title. You should also avoid littering your title with synonyms and variations of your keywords, as the practice of ‘keyword stuffing’ could lead to penalization from the search engines in the form of lower rankings.
Blocking/Hindering the Search Engines
There are quite a few advanced methods to controlling the search engine’s crawl path through your site; the robots.txt file, ‘rel=canonical’ tag and ‘meta noindex, nofollow’ are a few examples. The robots.txt file is a text file placed in the root directory of your site (see http://www.yelp.com/robots.txt) that can be used to block the crawlers’ access to certain pages (or all of them). Most sites on the web do not even need a robots.txt file, so unless you really don’t want the crawlers seeing a page it is best to avoid getting involved at all. I have seen far too many sites accidentally block all search engines from crawling by incorrectly applying some of these advanced methods.
Of course, these crawler control methods wouldn’t exist unless they were necessary in some situations. So if you do have a need, make sure you’re implementing them correctly.
The popularity and strength of your domain is decided by a combination of both the amount and quality of the links pointing to your site. That is, 1 link from nytimes.com likely provides more value than 50 from neglected blogs. At the same time, the greater the diversity of websites that your links come from the more value will be provided. Now that we’ve covered the good, let’s look at some of the off-page mistakes you simply can’t make:
Assuming Directory Links Are All You Need
Directory links are the easiest links to get. Whether they’re free or paid submissions, they’re links that your competition can easily emulate. The best links you can get are the ones your competition can never attain, so spend time to develop really great content. That does lead us to our next mistake:
Assuming Great Content Is All You Need
Conversely, even the best content in the world won’t acquire links without some promotion. This is where a solid network can really help. A strong seed of ‘sharers’ should be available to retweet, stumble, like, digg, and upvote, so that your wonderful content stands a chance of grabbing some links.
Paid links are the subject of a never ending debate in the SEO world. The fact is that they CAN work to increase rankings, but can also lead to severe penalties. Engaging in link buying, especially automated links part of a greater link-selling network, is inherently very risky, and most legitimate long-term focused businesses should steer clear of the strategy.