White Hat SEO Fundamentals

FUNDAMENTAL WHITE-HAT SEO TASK LIST

It’s been over a year since I created this page, so it’s time to be updated. Just about everything in the original post still applies, yet it’s important to address my direct experience in optimization on client sites of all sizes and shapes and reflect my findings here as a result.

I provide here a list of what I believe to be the top factors. Other SEO specialists might have a different list. Get ten experts in any field into a room and you’re bound to get ten different opinions. Mine come from my own experience providing search engine optimization to a vast number of clients across a wide spectrum of markets and industries.

_______________________________________________________

So what works best for one may not work best for another, because every industry, every set of keyword phrases, is different. While one site might end up in 1st position at Google after you seed your top keyword phrase 45 times on the home page, while having zero back-links, another might need only one repetition of that phrase while having 3,500 back-links.

The amount of time and energy you expend on any one of these is up to you. It also needs to be reviewed on a regular basis, and compared to actual SERP results. By having a long-term SEO initiative mentality, you can, over time, find what best works for any given site.

__________________________________________

1. Keyword Selection

2. Three Phrases Per Page

3. Page Title Tag

4. Page Meta Keywords field

5. Page Meta Description

6. Web URL

7. H1,H2,H3 tags

8. Bold, Strong call-out

9. Bullet Points

10. Navigation Link Titles For Main Pages

11. Navigation Link Titles for Secondary Pages

12. Hyperlink (No Followed)

13. Plain Text in content

14. Image Alternate Attributes

15. Image Caption

16. Charts

17. PDF Documents

18. Cross Page Linking

19. Footer Text

20. Out-bound links

21. robots.txt file

22. Sitemap.xml file creation

23. Search Engine and Directory Submission

24. In-Bound Links

__________________________________________

A NOTE ABOUT SPECIAL CHARACTERS

This can be a contentious point between me and my team every once in a while. Personally, I like consistency of methods, and always want to ensure the absolute best possible results across as many search engines as possible. To do so, I prefer to never include apostrophes, commas, or special characters in any of my Page Titles or description fields. Instead, I only use plain text letters and numbers, and either the pipe symbol ( | ) or hyphens. Yes, I have seen top position ranking when commas are used in page titles. It’s also about the visual aesthetics for site visitors as much as whether it harms or helps in the search rankings though, and that’s just my preference as much as anything.

__________________________________________

1. KEYWORD SELECTION

Before I begin any SEO initiative, I do extensive research to determine the best key word phrases for use on a particular site.This is such a complex process and requires serious understanding due to the fact that it’s the single most important aspect of the optimization process that I have recently devoted an entire advanced lesson blog article to it.

2. Three Phrases Per Page

While you can get found for many longer phrases on any given page or more phrases than your top three, that requires having your site powerfully optimized and having many links back to your site.

At the same time, size and repetition constraints for various aspects below mean that you can typically only get away with three or perhaps four keyword phrases that you focus on for any single page. Trying to optimize for more phrases is more often than not a losing battle – much better to focus on high quality and let the natural process give you bonuses of additional phrase recognition.

_____________________________________________________

PAGE HEADERS:

Page Headers are not part of the main content however they set the stage for how a web page is processed. For Search Engines, everything starts with page headers being properly seeded.

_____________________________________________________

3. Page Title Tag

This is the single most important and vital aspect of a web page for Google – all other attributes below are compared first against the page title. If the page title is not properly seeded, Google is essentially hindered from knowing exactly what the page is about.

 

Company Name | Keyword Phrase | Keyword Phrase Keyword Phrase

 

Title Length – 60 – 105 characters including spaces (Google only displays the first 60 to people doing search) – most important keyword phrases should be up front.

Never repeat any single keyword more than three times – with creativity you can often combine keyword phrases for the page title but only if you do a lot of on-page work to bolster it – otherwise have the phrases in sequential order.

_____________________________________________________

4. Page Meta Keywords field

This field is not used by Google at all – it is, however, used by Yahoo and MSN so it’s worth it to seed this field with your page’s keyword phrases.

 

Never repeat any single keyword more than three times

_____________________________________________________

5. Page Meta Description

This page is not used to determine your page ranking, it is, however, presented to people doing a search – but if Google thinks it’s not really describing the page content, Google will ignore it and grab a snippet of text from your page, not always choosing anything that makes sense!

 

Only the first 150 characters are displayed by some search engines though some others allow up to 200 characters including spaces.

_____________________________________________________

6. Web URL

While the web URL is not critical, it is becoming more important as more web sites come online and more content becomes indexed. It used to be that you could get away with URLs that could be interpreted by programming scripts but didn’t make sense to site visitors. While you can still do that, having a well formatted URL that incorporates a limited amount of keyword seeding ensures one more match to the page title’s phrases.

So for example a well formatted URL might look like:

www.PrimaryKeyword.com/2ndKeyword/3rdKeyword/

_____________________________________________________

ON PAGE CONTENT:

This is a process that requires finesse because whatever you do here must be weight against maintaining quality content and readability.

_____________________________________________________

7. H1,H2,H3 tags

Most Important

Second Most Important

Third Most Important

Having text on your page wrapped in header tags like H1 where that text includes the page’s keyword phrases tells Google – this page’s emphasis really is about these phrases… It’s best to do this in an opening sentence or paragraph at the very top of the page but if you do your other seeding work well, the H1 or H2 or H3 text can be anywhere in the content area and still be of value.

_____________________________________________________

8. Bold, Strong call-out

Keyword

Keyword

Having sections of content highlighted by a few keyword seeded words in bold above each section helps the visitor visually see breaks in the content and quickly scan what they want to read. Using Bold or Strong emphasis tells Google “important text”…

You can also use bold, strong, and italics on keywords within the paragraphs as well.

_____________________________________________________

9. Bullet Points

Text with keyword or phrase

Text with 2nd keyword or phrase

Text with 3rd keyword or phrase

_____________________________________________________

10. Navigation Link Titles For Main Pages

Hyperlinks can have a title attribute, yet another opportunity to seed.

Keywords in Anchor Text
_____________________________________________________

11. Navigation Link Titles for Secondary Pages

Same syntax as main pages but slightly less weight is given to them

_____________________________________________________

12. Hyperlink (No Followed to tell search engines not to follow the link)

Sometimes you don’t want Google to follow a link in your site – perhaps you don’t want a page or section of your site indexed at Google at all, or perhaps you point to sites that Google frowns upon and you don’t want Google to penalize you for those.

Or perhaps you have a blog and visitors can leave comments – if they do, they may leave links in their comments back to their sites or to 3rd party sites – this is a very common way people try to spam Google. If this is something you want to avoid, you may consider using the “nofollow” attribute:

Anchor Text

_____________________________________________________

13. Plain Text in content

Needs to be embedded in natural sounding paragraphs – write your content to speak to your site visitor. (If someone reading your pages is not motivated to contact you or buy your products, then all the SEO in the world is useless!)

While you are doing this, include some entries that have an entire keyword phrase in sequence and other entries that have individual keywords split out of phrases. Having too many instances of keywords both makes the content unintelligible and it’s a red flag to the search engines… So this is a balancing act.

_____________________________________________________

14. Image Alternate Attributes

(having images on the page adds weight because Google sees this as richer content than plain text).

(For pages created in html)

”Photo

(For pages created in xhtml)

”About

NOTE – Best Practices require the alternate attribute of every image be filled out with information that helps visually impaired people know what the image is for, regardless of whether you use these fields to also add keywords

_____________________________________________________

15. Image Caption

Just below the image you should have a short caption that includes at least part of the keyword phrase most relevant to the photo

_____________________________________________________

16. Charts

If you can legitimately have a statistical chart related to a page’s content, do so – it can be an image or a spreadsheet but if it’s an image, use the same file name, alt attribute and caption rules – if it’s a spreadsheet in HTML, you may want to embed keywords as column or row names if that makes sense, or have a caption…

_____________________________________________________

17. PDF Documents

Having a PDF document related to the page’s keyword focus linked from within the page is also a good move – but it has to be an actual PDF with copy-capable text, not a screen-capture of something that was saved as a PDF because Google has to be able to read it. The more high quality content that’s properly seeded with keywords the better. That’s why this article can be downloaded in PDF format here.

_____________________________________________________

18. Cross Page Linking

Having a paragraph in one page’s content that can make reference to the content from another page and having a keyword phrase in that paragraph link to that other page – this tells Google that important related and supporting information can be found “over there”.

_____________________________________________________

19. Footer Text

As the very last content within the page or down in the footer area, hav your page title repeated exactly as it is in the title tag. Ideally this will be H1, 2 or 3, or at the very least “strong” or “bold”.

_____________________________________________________

20. Out-bound links

Within your content, just as you have links pointing to other pages on your site, on your most important pages have links pointing out to 3rd party web sites that again relate to that paragraph’s / pages keyword phrases. Sites to point to should themselves be highly authoritative and highly positioned at Google for that phrase.

__________________________________________

21. ROBOTS.TXT FILE

Okay – so like every other “rule” to SEO, this one is something that really isn’t “100% mission critical to getting your site indexed. I include it in the top tasks however, because a properly designed, formatted and supported web site is sure to always get better results for a whole host of reasons than one that is not.

So this one is about what you want the search engines to index and what you don’t want them to. If you don’t have this file, the possibility of having something you otherwise might think is hidden from public consumption turns out not to be.

So – Each site needs to have a plain text file in that site’s root directory that instructs search engine “bots” (the automated site scanning software that scours the web to gather information for the search engines) which pages or directories on the site are off limits. As a standard rule, we do not want search engines indexing anything inside a site’s design or development assets directories, or any test or “private” pages.

Example robots.txt file:

User-agent: *
Disallow: /design
Disallow: /visitor-logs
Disallow: /about/myprivatepage.html

__________________________________________

22. SITEMAP.XML FILE CREATION

Every site is better served in having an XML based file placed at the root directory level called sitemap.xml

Unlike traditional HTML based site maps, this is a specially formatted file that once created, is then submitted through the Google webmaster program, Yahoo Site Explorer, and also through the MSN Live system. This file tells the search engines how to better index the site’s pages. This work is presently handled through our in house SEO engineer.

If you can not generate an xml version of this file, a plain text version is acceptable, however the plain text version carries less power when telling the search engines about your pages. Google Sitemaps

Some people will tell you it’s not necessary to have a sitemap.xml file. My own experience has shown that when I have one on a new site, more of that site’s pages are indexed sooner. When I have one on a site that changes regularly or where pages are added regularly, by going to Google’s Webmaster Tools page and Yahoo’s Site Explorer page, I can instantly tell them to re-index the sitemap file and I see faster results in those new pages being indexed. At the same time though, if you’ve got your site indexed, new pages and more pages will be indexed eventually.

__________________________________________

23. SEARCH ENGINE & DIRECTORY SUBMISSION

Once everything above is addressed, we need to submit the site to all the top search engines and directories. After you’ve submitted the site’s sitemap.xml file as described above, it’s very good practice to then submit it to as many other quality directories as possible. Not only does this help due to the number of people who search at those locations, it also helps toward the next step below, getting links back to your site.

The trick is that while there are some standard places every site should be submitted to (the Yahoo Directory and the Open Directory Project (DMOZ) for example), but to any web directory that either specializes in your industry (such as a Trade Association’s business directory or a Chamber of Commerce membership directory), or lists web sites for a particular region (such as a county or town specific business listing directory) if some or all of your customers are local and you have a physical store or office.

Some people will tell you that search spiders are so good that you don’t even need to submit your site – that it will be picked up anyhow. Well, my opinion is that I don’t want to wait around and hope that’s going to happen. I want to be proactive.

__________________________________________

24. LINKS BACK

One of the most important aspects of a pages ranking value at the search engines is now “how many sites link back to our site?” It’s all good and fine to create a pleasing site that is of value to site visitors, yet if no other sites on the Internet provide a link back to this site, the top search engines consider this site of little importance. As such, submitting the site, after all of the above work is done, to as many other web sites for inclusion in their “links” or “resources” section, is vital.

The more web sites that provide a link back, the better, however the ideal goal is to have as many of THOSE links come from web sites that are established, popular and/or authoritarian in nature. For example – having a link back from www.cnn.com is given more value than a link back from

www.petuniajonesjuniorhighschoolgigglespage.com

This process is still a challenge because many sites today are designed specifically to attract high ranking in the search engines, so they can then sell link listings. More often than ever before, Google is considering this a bad thing. They see sites listed at such places as potentially attempting to artificially gain ranking just by mere association. So Google now “frowns” upon paid text links.

LINKS TO AVOID

A word needs to be said about obtaining links from web sites that are or might become red-flagged from Google. This can include sites where the sole or primary purpose of the site is to charge web site owners for paid inclusion but where the site is filled with very low quality links, countless sponsored links that are clearly spam (if you see the key words repeated in text links over and over and over again without any sense of variety, that can be an obvious sign – like “online phramacy discount drugs”.

Also – what is the policy of the site? Do they have “quality submission standards”? Is there anything on the site that just looks like it’s a shady site? Sometimes this is a judgement call. My personal policy is that if you have to pay for submission, and if all they do is claim to be a link directory, to avoid the site altogether. Read more about link building at my blog post Five Link Building Strategies for SEO.

__________________________________________

While the fundamental tasks outlined on this page are generally considered industry standards, SEO and SEM experts will always have differing opinions about some of the specifics contained here. What has been provided here is based on my own personal experience over many years and across several quite divergent industries and market focuses. As with any complex topic, take what works for you, and leave the rest.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *