SEO Best Practices

Friday, July 18, 2008

As anyone familiar with iData’s products knows, one of the key features of our Synapse Publisher Content Management System (CMS) is the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) toolkit. The SEO Toolkit allows content authors who are subject matter experts in their field (but not SEO experts) to optimize their own content, as they create it, to be found by engines like search engines like Google® , MSN Live Search® and Yahoo!®.

Using the SEO toolkit is pretty intuitive, and we don’t get many questions about it. Even so, there are some important best practices, basics of search engine marketing, and ethics of SEO that uses of the SEO toolkit should be aware of. I won’t go into details in this post of how search engines rank pages --- that information is available in our SEO Basics article in the resources section --- but I do want to reiterate that search engine rankings are all about providing the best, most useful results to the searcher. In other words, search engines really don’t care that you or I want our sites to be ranked highly for a given keyword, they ruthlessly evaluate every site to determine which pages are most likely to be relevant to what they user searched for.

This key point --- that search engines care most about helping people find what they want -- drives the philosophy behind not only iData’s SEO Toolkit and the SEO-friendly features of our CMS, but also the whole white-hat SEO industry. In other words, to be successful long term in attracting high search engine rankings and --- more importantly --- conversions and happy users, the focus has to be 100% on helping people find something that will be useful to them. This means that your SEO efforts can’t be about trying to drive traffic to pages whether or not those pages are really relevant. Your efforts are much better spent creating lots of relevant content and organizing it in such a way that it is easy for engines to index than they are in trying to über-optimize a few pages to move up a space or two in the results.

The benefits of a user-centered approach are not just about feeling like you’re doing the right thing --- it’s less work and more effective in the long run. The reason for this has to do with keyword effectiveness and how people search. We know that a keyword will drive more traffic to your site if there are lots of people searching for it, but we also know that ranking well on a keyword is harder when there are lots of other folks also trying to rank well for the same keyword. So, a good practical approach is to find keywords that have at least some search volume, but not a lot of other people are optimizing for. These are likely to be longer keyphrases and odd word combinations. The search volume for any one of these phrases is by definition likely to be lower than the short, highly competitive keywords, but they are much easier to optimize for. Finding and optimizing for a lot of these phrases can lead to large amount of traffic.

Here’s where search behavior comes in. Web searchers, as they get more experience with search engines, increasingly search using phrases that reflect exactly what they are looking for rather than broad terms that will potentially return lots of irrelevant results. When they get results that exactly match their long, specific phrase they are very, very likely to click those results. This means that a broad rather than deep keyword strategy usually makes a lot of sense.

But who has time to research and track all those idiosyncratic phrases? The answer is that you don’t have to. If you create enough interesting content and make it easy for engines to index all of it, you will get lots of traffic on phrases that you never thought of. The screenshot below from Google Analytics for our site,, illustrates this point. A couple of weeks ago, I did a slightly out of character blog post with some details of how to use CSS to style an HTML input box. Within a couple of days, we were getting lots of new traffic from Google users who had searched for a whole variety of terms related to CSS and HTML input boxes.

Google Analytics Keyword Results

Note that this post was not optimized at all --- just some content that I thought might be interesting to share with others. Suddenly, it’s driving lots of traffic without me really trying for that result. The lesson here is that if you create interesting content, and publish it in a way that is easy for engines to understand, then you will get traffic. If you do some optimization around words that are important to you, then you will get more. In most situations, you really don’t have to spend lots and lots of time trying to optimize to the nth degree.

Which brings me back to doing SEO using the SEO toolkit. My advice would be to focus on creating content and doing the obvious things (title tags, human readable URL with keywords, keywords in the text, and alt tags). The screenshot below is the SEO Toolkit optimization report for a page on a content site that iData runs. As you can see, the overall optimization score of the page is 80%, but the page ranks # on Google for our main keyword, and for several variations. They message? 80% is probably good enough, and our efforts are better spent creating new content than continuing to tweak this page to try to get it to 100%. 

Synapse SEO Toolkit Optimization Report

Posted by: Mark Reichard at 8:21 AM
Tags: Search Engine Optimization


Blog comments