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SEO Basics in 45 Minutes

As most people who read this newsletter will know, Jill Whalen is a pioneer in search engine optimization. Nicknamed the First Lady of Search, Jill founded the site HighRankings.com in 1995. Today High Rankings has grown to be one of the pre-eminent SEO companies in the US. Jill’s company is dedicated to educating its clients and sharing its knowledge with the industry at large through the High Rankings Advisor newsletter, the High Rankings Forum and her in-house seminars.

In her presentation for Webstock 2008, Jill gave the audience a 45 minute tutorial in SEO Basics. First up, Jill discussed what SEO isn’t. Some of the most common SEO myths she exposed included:

PPC Myths:

PPC ads will help organic rankings
PPC ads will hurt organic rankings

Tag Myths:

you must have a keyword-rich domain
you must have keyword-rich page URLs
heading tags are necessary (H1, H2 etc.)
you need to use keywords in meta keyword tags, in particular you need to use keywords that are included in your page content.

Jill says that it’s actually better to use the keyword tag to include misspellings and other keyword varieties that you don’t have in your pages.
using keywords in comment tags will hurt your rankings.

Content Myths:

page copy must be a certain # of words. Jill actually made up the 250 word limit a few years ago and it’s stuck, but there is really no set limit to please search engines.
that you need to bold/italicize your target keywords.
that you must use a specific keyword density. Jill says that keyword density tools are ridiculous.
that you must optimize a page for a single keyword or phrase per page. Instead, try to optimize each page for 3-5 phrases that are related, so that your copy reads better than repeating one phrase over and over.
that you need to optimize for the long-tail searches. You don’t generally need to optimize for these – engines will find them on their own.
duplicate content will get your site penalized. There is not a penalty as such, but engines will filter out duplicates in lieu of the original copy (or what they think is the original).

Design Myths:

your HTML code must validate to W3C. Not even Google.com validates!
your navigation must be text links not images. Surprisingly, graphical navigation is fine as long as you use ALT tags.
you can’t use Flash. It’s fine to use Flash, as long as it is one element of your page, not a complete Flash site. Use a text-based site too if using a Flash site.
certain design techniques are black hat. Javascript code is legitimate, not just used by black hats.

Link Building Myths:

that Google’s link: command is accurate. It’s not a useful tool. Use Google Webmaster Tools or the Yahoo link command instead.
that reciprocal links won’t count. From the right site, reciprocal links are fine, even very helpful.
that pages are ranked in PageRank order in the search results. They’re not. Google Toolbar PageRank is not accurate anyway so ignore it.
you must be in DMOZ or Yahoo Directory to get good Google rankings. In Jill’s opinion, the Yahoo Directory is not worth the money these days.

Submitting, Crawling and Indexing Myths:

that you need to submit URLs to engines. Provided you have a link to your site, you will be found and indexed.
that you need a Google Sitemap. Not needed for the average site. It won’t change your site rank.
that you need to update your site frequently.
frequent spidering helps rankings. Not true.
that you need multiple sites. This won’t help in the engines and creates more maintenance work.
that you need doorway pages. Jill says this is so 1995!

SEO Company Myths:

that a #1 ranking will always lead to more traffic or sales. The good rankings need to be for keywords and phrases that people are actually searching for.
that the company can place pages in certain positions. Not possible, unless they’re using Pay Per Click or sponsored spots.
that your rankings will tank if you stop paying the company. Rubbish!
that they have a “proprietary method” of SEO. They’re lying!
that they have a “special relationship” with Google. Again, they’re lying. Google has no relationships with organic SEO companies that Jill is aware of.
that they can increase your rankings without doing any on-page work. Run away!

Next, Jill defined what SEO is. Her definition of SEO is “making your site the best it can be for your site visitors AND the search engines”. She made the point that search engines need to:

– Find
– Crawl
– Index
– Determine relevancy
– show results
So you should keep these top of mind when designing and SEOing your site.

Jill also made the point that search engines don’t know you. So you should disclose what you sell and who you are in plain language that naturally incorporates the keyword phrases. Dumb down your pages for users. What search engines want is good content. If you’re not getting good traffic from your pages, they’re broken, she says. In a nutshell, make sure your pages speak to your target audience and solve their problems.

Jill then discussed how to choose keywords to target on your site. She recommended brainstorming with friends, family and business colleagues and creating a seed list of keywords. Then take that list and run it through keyword research tools such as WordTracker or Keyword Discovery and even Google AdWords to determine the best keywords and phrases to target.

Jill says there are three types of keyword phrases:

1) General and highly competitive terms – not good choices.
2) Long tail – uncompetitive terms – generally no need to SEO for.
3) Relevant and specific terms, which are the best to choose because they highly searched, yet are targeted enough to bring qualified traffic.

Next, Jill explained where to put your keywords. She recommended putting them in:

– anchor text
– clickable image alt attributes (alt tags)
– headlines
– body text copy
– title tags (Don’t make your titles less than 10 words, she says.)
– meta description tags

Jill finished up by teaching the group how to measure SEO success. She said that high rankings are not the best measure of success because you might be ranking for phrases nobody is searching on. Instead you should be looking for increased targeted traffíc to your site and more conversions. Use your web stats to give you the clues as to whether your site and your SEO is working.

As for the future of SEO, well despite the rumors that SEO is dead, Jill doesn’t think that the big engines will switch to exclusively paid listings any time soon. In her opinion, there will always be some free ways to get listed so there will always be a need for SEO. In the same vein, a crawler-friendly site will always get good results and off page criteria (e.g. links) will always be important.

About The Author
Article by Kalena Jordan, one of the first search engine optimization experts in Australia, who is well known and respected in the industry, particularly in the U.S. As well as running a daily Search Engine Advice Column, Kalena manages Search Engine College – an online training institution offering instructor-led short courses and downloadable self-study courses in Search Engine Optimization and other Search Engine Marketing subjects.

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