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I heard something on the radio a few weeks ago that stuck with me and made me think about the basics of SEO. The line went something like this, “You have to have the fundamentals down before trying any of the fancy stuff. ” So before you go out and try to do things like PR sculpting or any of the other advanced techniques you hear about, get the basics down.

SEO can really be broken down into three essential areas: Architecture, Content, and Links. These are the basics of SEO that you need to understand and get right first. Let’s take a look at some key points to understand in each of these main areas.

Architecture – Can Your Site Be Crawled?

One of the first problems that a website has to address is whether or not their site can actually be crawled by the search engine spiders. You can have the best content in the world, but if the search engine spiders can’t get to it you won’t reap the benefits! Here are some things you can do to help your site be more crawl-able:

  1. Avoid things like JavaScript or Flash navigation. Both of these kinds of navigation are not crawled very well by search engines at this time. This could change in the future, but for now it’s best to just avoid JavaScript and Flash navigations.
  2. Keep your site’s architecture as flat as possible. Don’t have tons of levels in your architecture. Keep pages as close to the root as possible. In other words, mysite.com/folder/product is much better than mysite.com/category/subcategory/other-folder/product.
  3. Stay away from parameter strings in URLs. By having parameter strings in URLs you could have multiple versions of the same content and will have to learn how to properly use the canonical element. You can avoid this by not using parameters. Instead, have a static URL for each page whenever possible. For example, mysite.com/productname.html is much better than mysite.com/?prod-id=abc123&cat-id=def456.
  4. Use internal linking appropriately. Whenever it makes sense, link to other pages in your site from within the content of the page. Don’t just rely on your navigation to get people (and search engine spiders) to where you want them to go. Typically the greatest missed opportunity for optimization is links to and from web pages within your own site. An example of internal linking for variations on the keyword “swimwear” can be found here, here and here. Notice how different uses of this phrase are linking each to the home page. This is a case where the website is clearly optimizing these phrases for the page linked to. (More about internal linking.)
  5. Sitemaps are your friends. Make sure your site has both an HTML and XML sitemap. (More about sitemaps).

Content – Is It Optimized?

Once you have your website’s architecture set up the right way, the next step is to make sure that your content is well-optimized to help your site rank for your main keyword phrases. Here are a few basic guidelines to follow:

  1. Don’t target too many phrases per page. You may have a list of 50 keywords you want to target, but you should only focus on 2-3 main phrases per page. Create other pages around additional phrases as needed.
  2. No spammy stuff! Don’t do any keyword stuffing, alt stuffing, meta spamming, or any other spammy techniques. They don’t really work well anymore anyway.
  3. Use your keyword phrases in titles, header tags, etc. By using your keyword phrases in your titles and header tags you can give them more emphasis.
  4. Use your keywords in your content. Don’t just rely on your titles and header tags. Don’t overdo it; make the text read naturally but make sure you include your keywords and variations of them in the content.

Links – Getting Juice from Other Sites

Setting your site up the right way is one step, but getting traffic to your website takes a lot more than just using keywords on your pages. The other big key to getting a good rank on the search engines is to get other sites linking to you. By getting these links you are showing that your site has credibility and is worth ranking well. Here are a few quick tips to keep in mind when you’re building links:

  1. Use a variety of techniques. There are a lot of things you can do to build links: directories, articles, social bookmarking, forums … the list goes on and on. Mix up what you’re doing and get a variety of link types coming into your site. (More about link building)
  2. Spread your links over a lot of domains. It’s important to get a lot of links, but it’s also important to get a lot of links spread over many domains. If you follow tip #1 this shouldn’t be much of a problem for you.
  3. Use keywords in your anchor text. One problem that I’ve seen over and over is that someone will build links to their site using either their name, their business name, or their URL. This is nice if that’s what you want to rank for, but if you want to rank for a keyword phrase you have to use that phrase as the anchor text of your link.
  4. Use a variety of anchors. Don’t just use the same keyword phrase over and over again. Mix it up so that you aren’t spamming one phrase too much. This will help your link building look more natural.
  5. The work is never done. Don’t think you can just submit to a bunch of directories and your work is over. SEO is an ongoing process.

While these tips don’t cover everything you need to know about the three main areas of search engine optimization, this is enough to get you started. Spend some time looking over your site to make sure that you are doing these basics. Then, if you want, you can try to get a little fancy.

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