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Theoretically, search engines should find all the best Web sites and rank them at the top of their search results. Unfortunately, due to the gap between artificial and human intelligence, this doesn't always happen. Users have the ability to alter the rankings by doing search engine optimization (SEO) -- a two-edged sword that can either be beneficial or harmful, depending on whose hands it's in. You can improve your site's search-engine rankings by using free or open source software (FOSS) tools for SEO.
Using different combinations of keywords can help optimize your site for search engines. For example, if you're optimizing a site about chemical fiber, you can add alternative keywords, such as "man-made" for "chemical," or "fibre" for "fiber." You can use Ontology Finder or Synonym Dictionary to find more relevant keywords.
Be sure to list all possible combinations based on permutations of your selected keywords. You can use a tool such as Free Keyword Phrase List Generator to help you. For example, the generator may list "chemical fiber," "man-made fiber," "chemical fibre," and "man-made fibre." If you're curious about how this utility works, or want to alter its behavior, you can download or recode the source code of this tool.
Use SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool to evaluate each combination of keywords. The tool lists the number of times each keyword phrase has been searched on Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. For example, your list might show that the monthly search volume of "man-made fiber" is 487, "chemical fiber" is 130, and "man-made fibre" is 123. Yahoo!'s Keyword Selector Tool can give you more ideas for relevant keywords (SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool combines it too). You can revise your keyword phrases if you find better ideas here.
You can also get links to Yahoo! Suggest, Wordtracker, Google Traffic Estimator, and others from the SEO Book Keyword Suggestion Tool. You can do further analysis on the keywords by clicking the links.
Next, begin studying competing sites. Find sites that are using the same keyword phrases as you are in their title by typing
allintitle:keyword in Google. Find the number of backlinks for each competing site by using the command
link:http://www.competingsite.com in Google. The number and quality of backlinks are crucial to SEO success. They indicate how difficult it will be to obtain a top position. For example, when you search for
allintitle:man-made fiber, the top site is http://composite.about.com. You can type
link:http://composite.about.com into Google and see how many Web pages link to it.
Top 10 Analysis SEO Tool is a free tool that can help you evaluate your competing sites more efficiently. It analyzes each site's Yahoo! rank, number of pages indexed, backlinks, .edu backlinks, and more. C Class Backlink Analyzer can help you better evaluate the backlinks. Backlinks coming from the same C-Class IP addresses are most likely hosted by the same company, which usually doesn't help your site's search-engine ranking. The higher the ratio of unique C classes to the number of backlinks, the better.
Compare the results and find out which competing sites you can surpass, then decide on your final keyword phrases. For example, if you find that the monthly search volume of "man-made fiber" is higher than "chemical fiber" while the competing sites with that term are not too much stronger, it would be better to optimize for "man-made fiber" than "chemical fiber."
After you determine the best keyword combinations and check out the competition, you may find that you've gone from tens of combinations to three or five final keyword phrases.
You can do a few more simple things to increase your page ranking. Start by using your final keyword phrases in the content of your Web site. Also, create appropriate metatags for your Web site using Advanced Meta Tag Generator. Metatags can help increase your ranking in some search engines.
Create a site map for your Web site. Site maps help to better index your site and improve your search-engine ranking because they help search engines find all your content more easily. Use XML Sitemaps to generate a detailed site map. You can also ask others to link to your Web site. The more links to your site, the better your search-engine ranking will be. Getting your site listed in directories and exchanging links with other Web sites are good ways to get more links.
Broken links can lower your search-engine ranking. Mend all your broken links before submitting your Web site to search engines and directories by using Free Broken Link Checker.
Find out how your linked pages may be penalized by search engines with Text Link Checker Tool, which scans the links on your Web site and on the pages that your site links to, then flags possible problem areas to help you to avoid these "bad neighbors" which lower your page ranking.
You can also choose a search-engine-friendly open source content management system (CMS) such as SEO-CMS or Joomla! to help automate your SEO more easily. Finally, submit your site to as many good search engines as possible.
You can use SEO to be honest when describing your Web site, or lie to try to get a better page rank. For those who choose to be honest, keep perfecting your site so that it's the same as what you've told the search engines. Keep offering more valuable, unique, or professional information and let other Web sites link to your site, pages, and content. This way, you can continually increase your backlinks and visitors, giving you a better ranking.
You could also fool search engines by creating numerous low-quality Web sites full of keyword phrases. Some tools can even create a series of search-engine-friendly trash Web sites automatically. This can give you a good return on investment (ROI) because trash Web sites can collect more ad income at low cost or work as pawn sites to link to a king site to offer backlinks. However, this approach harms search engines and their users, and in the long run, harms the webmasters too. By fooling others, you may hurt yourself in the end.
Chen Nan Yang is a Chinese freelance journalist and former IT director in the Chinese government.