Search Engine Optimisation for People with a Conscience

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 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

  1. there’s only so much you can do, and this may change at any time
  2. don’t try and trick the search engines, just be honest
  3. use web standards and clean code
  4. use css for styling and layout
  5. 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
  6. choose page titles carefully
  7. use meta tags, but only if they’re accurate
  8. use robot meta tags, and robots.txt
  9. use structural markup, especially headings
  10. give anchors sensible text (“click here” does not qualify as sensible)
  11. use link titles and alt text
  12. give files and folders meaningful names
  13. provide default pages in directories so people can hack your URLs
  14. forge meaningful (human) links with other sites, and make technical links accordingly
  15. encourage inward links to your site
    • make urls readable and linkable to
    • don’t break links (at least give redirects)
  16. don’t use javascript for links/popup windows that you want to be indexed
  17. avoid links embedded in flash movies
  18. never use frames
  19. never use cookies to power navigation
  20. give example searches or browse trees to open databases to search engines
  21. maximise the content richness of pages
  22. avoid leaf node pages (always create links back to the rest of the site)
  23. limit the use of PDFs
  24. take common typos into account, or spelling variations (optimisation vs optimization is a good example)
  25. update the site regularly
  26. don’t use hidden text or comments to try and convey spam words
  27. don’t embed text in images
  28. avoid writing out text using javascript
  29. don’t use browser detection to alter content or restrict access
  30. provide meaningful error pages
  31. be realistic about what you can achieve optimsation-wise
  32. establish a traffic baseline
  33. 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.

1 Response to “Search Engine Optimisation for People with a Conscience”

  1. » Taking a Break from the Spammers

    […] may have noticed that Revyu has recently taken a bashing from the seedy end of the search engine optimisation brigade – people intent on abusing the site’s high ranking in the search engines to try […]