I’ve spent a fair amount of time recently cleaning up spammy reviews on Revyu, the Linked Data/Semantic Web reviewing and rating site. The main perpetrators of these spammy reviews seem to be self-appointed Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) “experts” (who even advertise themselves as such on LinkedIn). Their main strategy appears to be polluting the Web with links to fairly worthless sites, in the hope of gaining some share of search engine traffic.
Getting a piece of the action I have no objection to per se. This was exactly my aim with chiip.co.uk my (currently somewhat on ice) shop window to Amazon – visitors could find products via search engines and, if desired, buy them through a trusted supplier, earning me enough commission on the side to pay my hosting bill for a month or two. The difference here is that I just tweaked the site layout to show off the content to search engines in its best light. I never polluted anyone else’s space to gain exposure. People that do this are getting me down.
Revyu has become somewhat popular as a target, presumably due to its decent ranking in the search engines. The site didn’t gain this position through spamming other sites with backlinks, but by having some simple principles baked into the site design from the start. They’re the same basic principles I’ve used on any site I’ve created, and have generally served me well. A few years ago I wrote down the principles that guide me, and I share this first draft here as a service to people who want to optimise the exposure of their site and still be able to sleep at night.
Before you read the tips though bear this in mind: there is something of an art to this, but it isn’t rocket science, and it certainly isn’t black magic. If you can create a Web site then you can optimise pretty well for search engines without paying a single self-appointed “expert” a single penny. This is bread and butter stuff. These approaches should be part of the core skill set of any Web developer rather than an afterthought addressed through some external process. The tips below are not guaranteed to work and may become defunct at any time (some may be defunct already – does anyone ever use frames these days?). However, follow these and you’ll be 80% of the way there.
Search Engine Optimisation Tips
- there’s only so much you can do, and this may change at any time
- don’t try and trick the search engines, just be honest
- use web standards and clean code
- use css for styling and layout
- put important text first in the page; let this influence your design, it’s probably what users want too, especially if they’re on non-standard browsers
- choose page titles carefully
- use meta tags, but only if they’re accurate
- use robot meta tags, and robots.txt
- use structural markup, especially headings
- give anchors sensible text (“click here” does not qualify as sensible)
- use link titles and alt text
- give files and folders meaningful names
- provide default pages in directories so people can hack your URLs
- forge meaningful (human) links with other sites, and make technical links accordingly
- encourage inward links to your site
- make urls readable and linkable to
- don’t break links (at least give redirects)
- avoid links embedded in flash movies
- never use frames
- give example searches or browse trees to open databases to search engines
- maximise the content richness of pages
- avoid leaf node pages (always create links back to the rest of the site)
- limit the use of PDFs
- take common typos into account, or spelling variations (optimisation vs optimization is a good example)
- update the site regularly
- don’t use hidden text or comments to try and convey spam words
- don’t embed text in images
- don’t use browser detection to alter content or restrict access
- provide meaningful error pages
- be realistic about what you can achieve optimsation-wise
- establish a traffic baseline
- use monitoring tools to track your progress
At some point I hope to provide evidence backing up each of these claims. In the meantime you’ll just have to trust me, but it won’t cost you anything.