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SEO Must-Know Basics: The Hows and Whats

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In this article, you'll learn...

  • How keyword management relates to content
  • What metadata and tags are, and how to handle picture tagging and ensure "friendly" URLs
  • Some linking strategies you should use

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a common theme of website-redesign projects these days. Many RFPs dedicate an entire section to the topic, which can be quite confusing to those who do not completely understand it.

Let's walk through a few steps to understanding and approaching SEO... The major work needs to be done by the owners of your website's content, and your search rankings depend on your adhering to a few well-established rules.

Keyword Management and Content

In a world where content is king, keywords are the power behind the throne. A basic rule of thumb to follow is this: No more than two keywords per page, and no more than three pages per keyword. Confused? Let me explain.

First, a keyword is not necessarily a "word." It can be several words that appear together and are subject-based, such as these: "Record of the English Language," "Online Dictionary," or, simply, "OED."

Second, use your keyword, in context, within the text of your page. Write for the reader, not some unknown bot, and focus on that keyword within the content. Yes: repeat the keyword, in context, throughout the text. No, don't simply repeat the keyword over and over again. Bots are made and programmed by engineers at places like Google—you're not going to outsmart them, so don't even try.

Third, build your list of keywords, and develop pages around them. Always think about the Long Tail and remember not to forget about less popular and slightly obscure keywords.

A note on content: Write your page content for the people who are reading it. Your content should...

  • Be roughly 500 to 1,500 words
  • Include images, titles, and well-structured paragraphs
  • Be relevant to the keywords
  • Include links to other pages within your site, or to other sites

Meta Data

Think Twitter here. You have 140 characters to summarize the topic on the page. Don't simply repeat the page keyword; rather, tell people what's on the page and why they should read it.


In your HTML, you should have the ability to tag your content (H1, H2, etc.). You want to have your keyword in your H1 tags.

Pictures, Meta Keywords, URLs

The next few items are often controlled by your content management system (CMS). Hopefully, your CMS is robust enough to help you with the following items, especially since they truly affect SEO. If, however, you are managing your templates directly within the HTML, you need to remember to do these important steps.

  • Picture Tagging. Every image on the page should have a filename that matches the keyword of that page. The ALT text should be the same as the image name and should, therefore, have the keyword in its name.
  • Meta Keywords. These don't matter to Google, but they might matter to other, smaller, search engine bots. So make sure you use them.
  • Friendly URLs. Some CMSs are behind the times; but, if possible, your URL should contain your keyword.

    A good URL:

    A bad URL

    Unfortunately, if your CMS does not allow keywords in the URL, there is little you can do (except get a new CMS!).

Linking Strategy

The most difficult part of SEO is often your linking strategy. The theory is simple: If many sites link to yours, then you must have something relevant to say; therefore, your ranking improves. Obviously, the converse might also be true.

I am not going to address your outside linking strategy in this article; that is for another time. However, you do need to have an internal strategy for linking, so consider the following:

  • Internal links. Anchoring text off of keywords within the header is always wise.
  • Inter-site or cross-linking. Your reader is likely to want to move around your site quickly, and cross-linking enables them to do that.
  • Outside links. There is nothing wrong with linking to other sites if it makes sense to do so, such as linking to additional resources for your readers. Ideally, you'd want to keep your readers on your site, but if there's an opportunity to guide or direct them to relevant material—take advantage of it.

(A version of this article first appeared on the iFactory's interActivity blog.)

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Sean Sweeney is interactive sales executive at iFactory's PubFactory online publishing platform.

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  • by James Mishreki Mon Mar 7, 2011 via web

    This is a really helpful resource, just skims over things but its useful for someone like me who is newish to seo, so can see at a glance whether or not I am doing everything or not. Your newsletter is about the only one I ever read!

  • by Patrick Zuluaga [PMZ Marketing] Mon Mar 7, 2011 via web

    I particularly like the comment on search friendly URL's - "Unfortunately, if your CMS does not allow keywords in the URL, there is little you can do (except get a new CMS!)." Business owners need to ask their web developers about the CMS they are providing with their web presence.

  • by Milka Pejovic Mon Mar 7, 2011 via web

    You shouldn't cut it short when it comes to links. Without a decent number of backlinks, search engines like Google will very probably not put your website on page 1, or page 2, or even page 3 of search results. And this is the case no matter how relevant your web content is and how good the keywords are.

  • by Judy Seiler Mon Mar 7, 2011 via web

    Could you comment on "no follow" tags? What's your view?

    I see mixed messages around do/do not follow (e.g. SEJ has an article on why no follow tags suck, albiet a rather old post). I've always been under the impression you give away your sites authority (if any exists) if you don't include "no follow" tags.

  • by Allek Tue Mar 8, 2011 via web

    I always thought that the meta keywords play a big role, i try to never go more than 8 keywords per page mainly just broad or exact keywords. Thanks for this it is really helpful, will be book marking this for future refernce.

  • by Rajasekar Raju KS Tue Mar 8, 2011 via web

    Very simple ethical seo tips. Write quality content for the reader, make it easy to find and promote it on social media. The rest will follow.

  • by Ferris Stith Wed Mar 9, 2011 via web

    Great info! I'm going to apply this data to all our social media content!

    Ferris Stith
    Social Media Manager, PostcardMania

  • by Nick Stamoulis Thu Mar 10, 2011 via web

    I disagree about the two keyword maximum. I think it's acceptable to have up to five targeted keywords per page, provided there is enough content to support them and they are relevant. You don't want to limit yourself with eliminating common variations of your chosen keywords.

  • by Jose Tavares Fri Mar 11, 2011 via web

    Approaching content creation by using two keyword phrases per page on up to just three pages seems to be counter intuitive to writing natural organic content that can rank.

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