One of the most important things you can do to improve your rankings in the search engines and directories (Google, Yahoo, Bing, DMOZ, et cetera) is to ensure your website is optimized in accordance with the keywords and key phrases you are looking to target.
To “optimize” a website for search engine relevancy means going over it with a fine-tooth comb and seeking out ways to make the website more targeted toward the topic it incites. There are a number of ways to do this.
Does your domain name carry with it “maximum information per square inch?” As in, is your product or service in your name? While this can help your rankings, it is not the end all, be all. After all, do a search in Google on “fast food” and you will notice McDonald’s and Wendy’s sites come up to the top and their domain names are not mcdonaldsfastfood.com or wendysfastfood.com.
Each web page on your site should have its own distinct title. A web page title should tell the user and the search engines what the page is about and you want to make sure to work in a couple keywords relevant to your website and specific to that page. Recommendation: Resist the temptation to place your company name first in the title—your keywords are more important to both humans and bots, so they go first.
Add keywords and key phrases into your website’s metadata. Every web page has the capacity to have within it a hidden description and set of keywords. Whether web designers make use of this feature is another matter. Besides your domain name and page titles, this is one of the first things the search engines use to determine where in their indexes your site should be placed. While the importance for metadata has been greatly reduced over the years, it is still something you want to address as it's the meta description that shows up in the search results.
Your copy (the text you write,) your links and the images you choose can all be constructed to give the search engines a greater idea about your website’s singular reason for being.
When you seek to “keyword optimize” your website, you begin by knowing the keywords you want to target. Once you have a list of 20 to 30 keywords or key phrases, you may then begin to craft your message to your public, sprinkling in those important words along the way. A good rule of thumb here is to focus on a few keywords per page, rather than trying to stuff them all onto every page.
Tip: Write for humans, but optimize for search engines. Do not pack your site with your keywords. The top search engines have algorithms in place that will penalize for “keyword stuffing.” (Keyword stuffing is considered to be a “black hat” search engine optimization technique and is wonderful way to get your website banned from the search engines. Not recommended.)
Descriptive links are another great way to tell the search engines what your site is about and they carry a good amount of weight and should be used wisely. If you are merely stating “click here” or “read more” you are missing an opportunity. Instead of stopping at “read more”, build a little more information into the link by saying “read more about online marketing” (or whatever your topic.) Assuming “online marketing” was one of our key phrases, we just gave that search engine a little more reason to promote our site when someone searches on online marketing.
Even the images you use can build relevancy for your website. For example, if you have a dog grooming company, abstain from putting up pictures of your clients that still carry the same filename as the day they were pulled off the digital camera. “DC3459.jpg” tells the search engines nothing about the subject of that image. Since search engines cannot actually see the image to interpret it (yet,) they can only rely upon the filename you give your image (and an “alt” tag, which we will discuss later,) balanced against the rest of the page on which it resides. A better filename might be “dog-grooming-service.jpg” or “pet-grooming.jpg.” This same principle holds true for every filename you use on your site (.doc, .pdf, .gif, .htm, .php, etc.,) including even the pages of your website.
Does it sound like we are catering to the search engines? We are. Search engines and directories are large conduits into your website. Without them, there would be considerably less traffic on your site, so you want to make it clear to them you are 1) an authority in your field, and 2) your website contains great value to those who will find it.