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What do Search Engines want?

Some readers may be thinking that this is the wrong question. Many webmasters focus on the question “How do I get as much traffic as possible from search engines?” It turns out that for “real businesses” (as opposed to Spam sites) that are looking to grow their business for the long term that you need to understand the answer to both questions.
The key lesson is that tactics that are designed to trick search engines come with substantial risk. They may even work in the short term, but in the long term, they will stop working, and may even result in your site being banned from one or more of the search engines. Doesn’t seem worth it, does it? Leave the process of tricking the search engines to the Spammers, and learn how to excel in doing what the search engines want you to do, and you will be well on your way to short, medium, and long term search engine success.
There are 3 major things that search engines want webmasters to do with their sites:

  1. Design the content of your site for users (not search engines)
  2. Market your site the way you would if search engines did not exist
  3. Implement a search engine friendly design that makes it easy for search engines to crawl and understand your site

Let’s examine in detail why this makes sense as a basic SEO strategy:

  1. Design content for users: If you design content for users, chances are that you will lay your site out in a clean, easy to understand manner that is keyword rich. Turns out that these are the types of things that help you develop good search engine rankings. In addition, you can use one of the popular keyword tools, such as Wordtracker to find the most commonly searched on terms.Guess what? Even if you had no possibility of getting search engine traffic, keyword data from search engines would be incredibly valuable intelligence into the thinking process of users. Even as you design sites just for users, using keyword rich content that uses the terms that your potential customers use is exactly what you would want to do. Learn The Art of Keyword Selection.
  2. Market your sites as if search engines didn’t exist: What are the basics of linking? You would probably contact other web sites that are directly related to yours and ask them to link to you. You might even develop content targeted at making this more attractive for them to do. There are many great link gathering strategies that are basic web promotional techniques that you would use even if there were no search engines.Guess what? This is great SEO marketing in action! Search engines evaluate incoming links to your site to help determine what your site is about, and to evaluate the importance of your site. The single most important factor in evaluating these links is the relevance of the link. If you can obtain links from many sites that are closely related to yours, it tells the search engine that your site is an important site in your field.
    As an interesting side effect, you will get relevant and useful traffic from the sites that have linked to yours.
  3. Implement a Search Engine Friendly Design: Last, but not least, it does make sense to understand the technical needs of search engines. This is not the act of figuring out how to game the engine, but how to communicate clearly and efficiently with them. There are a few key things they need:
    • A simple easy to navigate hierarchy. Make it easy for the search engine to understand your site. Simple tree hierarchies are the best. Also, provide a simple text-based global navigation system.
    • Keep it flat. Don’t have pages that are 4 or more clicks from the home page. The search engine uses this type of information to understand the importance you attach to a page. If a page is important to you, why would it be 4 or more clicks from the home page?
    • Eliminate any duplicate pages from the site. Search engines want to rank only one copy of a piece of content in their index. When they see multiple copies, they choose one over the other. Having duplicate pages wastes the search engine’s time crawling pages that they won’t even index. If you consider that search engines crawl a limited amount of pages on your site at any given time, having them crawl pages that won’t be indexed means that they crawl them instead of other pages on your site. You can think of this as wasting your “crawl budget”.
    • Don’t build your site using technologies that search engines won’t even attempt to read. The main culprits in this arena are Javascript and Flash. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use these technologies at all, just use them sparingly. If you do use them, make sure that any links that you implement in them are also implemented in text as well.
    • Design clean short pages. If you use Javascript or have complicated menu systems, use include files to make them external to the HTML, or use CSS to push this type of stuff down to the bottom of the HTML, so that your unique content on every page can rise to the top.

Of course, there are many other details to consider in search engine friendly design, effective content design, and savvy Internet marketing. But if you make sure that the three principles outlined above guide your decision making, you will be ahead of many other webmasters in the business.

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Eric Enge

Eric Enge is part of the Digital Marketing practice at Perficient. He designs studies and produces industry-related research to help prove, debunk, or evolve assumptions about digital marketing practices and their value. Eric is a writer, blogger, researcher, teacher, and keynote speaker and panelist at major industry conferences. Partnering with several other experts, Eric served as the lead author of The Art of SEO.

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