Search engine optimization is a popular topic among websites that claim to have the ability to optimize your web pages to obtain a higher ranking in the search engines. The truth is that optimizing web pages for Google is no secret. It all involves attention to detail. However, now Google itself helps webmasters to optimize their pages by removing errors and correcting suboptimal pages.
Basic Google SEO
Those who have ever used the Google search engine learn pretty quickly that most top-ranked pages have almost the same titles as the phrase one uses to search. So, obviously, one needs to have a page title that one would expect search engine users to be looking for. For popular topics, simple search terms work better than technical ones. For example, this website's primary emphasis is Christian apologetics. However, the mission of the organization is to reach skeptics with Christianity. Therefore, the page titles reflect the kind of topics and phrases skeptics would use to find support for their unbelief. Of course, like most other people, they are curious to see arguments that challenge their beliefs. So, the titles of my pages use terms and phrases that skeptics, but not necessarily Christians, would use (other than those that are specifically written for Christians). For instance, the page that addresses arguments against God's existence contains the phrase "God does not exist," which would be something a skeptic, but not a Christian, would search for. So, you must target your audience specifically with the title of your page.
These days an RSS feed is essential to getting your pages spidered by search engines. This is because the search engines check your feed often and scan new pages immediately as they become available. Most blogging software/blogging sites automatically create RSS feeds. Since my site is a custom design, I hand code the RSS feed (which is okay, since I produce only a few pages per month). For the technically challenged, there are a number of free online RSS generators that will create code for you.
Google webmaster tools
Finding errors on your site used to be a difficult procedure. However, Google has now released Google Webmaster Tools. Google has used their vast information database to tell you where you have messed up. Here is Google's list of crawl errors:
- Errors for URLs in Sitemaps
- HTTP errors
- Not found
- URLs not followed
- URLs restricted by robots.txt
- URLs timed out
Each type of error can be displayed on its own page, and a CSV (MS Excel) file can be downloaded. The great advantage of the CSV file is that it can be sorted in multiple ways to help the webmaster deal with fixing the errors. I found that my site had been poorly linked to hundreds of times by numerous websites. One offending site was some new bot that didn't pay attention to subdirectories, resulting in hundreds of bad urls. So, I banned it using my robots.txt file. I contacted some bad linkers directly to get the links fixed. Others I have redirected using my .htaccess file.
Custom 404 page
Even though Google probably doesn't use the meta description tag to rank websites, they usually present the meta tag on their search results page as the description of the page. Apparently, this tag can be either too long or too short. Anything less than 50 characters is classified as being too short. I am not sure how long is too long, but several pages of mine have descriptions that are two sentences long. Anything in excess of that isn't useful. In addition, Google cuts off your meta description display at 100 characters. So, it is best to design a catchy description that is 50-100 characters in length. Remember, Google's visitors are going to decide to visit your site on the basis of your title and your meta description. Design your description so that visitors are drawn to it and want to read more. These are the kinds of meta description and title tag errors that Google Webmaster Tools lists:
- Duplicate meta descriptions
- Long meta descriptions
- Short meta descriptions
- Missing title tags
- Duplicate title tags
- Long title tags
- Short title tags
- Non-informative title tags
In analyzing my site, I found a few duplicate titles and dozens of duplicate meta descriptions. Since I tend to copy pages as a template to produce new ones, sometimes the meta descriptions never got changed (especially pages created 10 years ago). As a result, almost all the duplicate meta descriptions were bad. These are now fixed. With some attention to detail, you can optimize your site's use of title and meta descriptions.
Last Modified December 10, 2008