New visitors land on to a website often by searching for some content. A good search engine rank increases the visibility of the website in a search. A search engine rank also reflects the quality of the website. A website that is well structured will be parsed well by the search engine crawlers and hence be ranked better in relevant searches.

Search engine optimizaion (SEO), thus is a set of practices that, if followed, gives your website the visibility it deserves. However, SEO makes sense only when you need quality traffic flowing into your website. Hence, SEO is always accompanied with other techniques to attract and retain visitors. And all these activities are generally considered SEO.

Here we’ll explore a few SEO techniques with a few illustrations on how we did SEO for our site. The examples maybe wordpress specific, however, the concepts are applicable to all websites.

Basic Optimizations

Search engine listings are created by crawlers (or spiders) of the search service, say Google. These crawlers read the html rendering of your pages and indexes it to match some phrases, called keywords. Your website scores with this crawler, if what the crawler understands is what the website says. Here are a few things that you can do to achieve this:

  • Permalink
      If a word is closer to the beginning of a URL, it gets better attention. For example, consider the search term “IRCTC”. And the links http://securityresearch.in/index.php/articles/irctc-captcha-flaw/ and https://www.irctc.co.in/. Most likely, it’s the second one you’re looking for. So, it makes sense to cut off all fat and put the keywords as close to the beginning of URL as possible. As a side effect, this might also give you short, pretty and easy to remember URLs. For most websites <category-name>/<page-title> puts things at the right place.Tip: If you are planning to trim your existing URLs, don’t forget to put 301 redirects from the old URL to the new one.
  • Title and Description
      The rule for permalink also applies to the page title. Put keywords towards the beginning of the title. If you are writing the path in the title, order it so that you go from specific to general as you go from left to right. Moreover, search engines show only the first 60 to 70 characters of title. If the length is very close to the upper limit or more, the title is truncated with an elipsis. To read more, here’s a link about SEO Friendly Titles.A meta description gives the search engine a description to be shown in the search engine listing. Give a brief description of about 150 characters that tells briefly what your page is about. A meta description looks like <meta name='description' content='Learn how a hacker can get unauthorized access to your website and how you can prevent it, with examples from security research website.'/> Without meta tag, the description will be a phrase from the website, chosen by the crawler.
  • Tagging
      Don’t leave it to chance and intelligence of search engine crawlers, tell them explicitly what are the keywords for you page. Tag your page with keywords. The crawlers will analyze your page with respect to those keywords to decide the quality of your page. For example, a page on IRCTC Captcha Flaw, will have little information about IRCTC and maybe a little about Captchas, and we don’t want the page to be shown when someone’s searching for IRCTC. However, adding a keyword “by-passing” will score highly with the contents of the page and will drive a traffic that will be interested in the contents of the page. As an illustration, the keywords for a page that describes various methods of gaining unauthorized access may have the keywords set as follows:<meta name='keywords' content='escalation of privileges, hacking, security, session hijacking, unauthorized access'/>
  • Breadcrumb and sitemap
      An intuitively structured website is easy to navigate – for a human as well as a search engine crawler. Breadcrumb is a line at the top of the page telling where the current page is, relative to the homepage. This helps a crawler understand the site structure and decide on how keyword importance is inherited. Also, we can have a list of pages of the website in a document called sitemap. Sitemap helps a crawler reach all pages of the website within a few hops.
  • Semantic HTML
      HTML has tags defined for different tags for different types of text. We have the usual heading (<h1>, <h2>,…,<h6>), paragraph (<p>) types. Also, in HTML5 we have more tags like <section>, <output>, <samp>, <details> etc. Using these tags appropriately will help the crawler understand the semantic structure of a document.On the other hand, the style text and javascript in an html page is likely to confuse the crawler and it’s best to keep these in separate files.
  • Speeding up page load
    The load time of a page is gaining more importance in the quality measurement of the pages by the search engine crawlers. Better load time also makes browsing comfortable for visitors. This can be done by caching html pages of dynamically served pages that does not change very frequently. Also, loading the basic skeleton first and then loading the frills asynchronously later on.

Advanced Optimizations

Once you have your website developed properly, it’s time to look more closely at how a crawler works and how to retain the visitors you’ve got.

  • Avoid Duplicate Content
      More often than not, your website may be serving the same page in with different URLs as date archives, author archives etc. For the web crawler these are different pages with duplicate content. Indexing all these URLs will depict a wrong site structure to the crawler and duplicate content lowers the quality score of a page.To care of this, you can ensure that only the necessary URLs are indexed by a crawler by using the no-index and no-follow meta tags to an href tag, like <a href="http://link-to-archive" rel="nofollow"> . “nofollow” tells the crawler not to follow the link and a “noindex” tag tells the crawler that it may crawl the link but not index the page.
  • Subscription
      Well, a person visits your site, he likes your content and makes a mental note to come back later to check on new content. After two weeks when you post new content, the person has already forgotten about your site.To avoid this, give your visitors sufficient subscription options to choose the one that suits them best. Let them follow you on twitter, like you on facebook or just get alerts posted to their mailbox.
  • Facebook Social Plugins
      Facebook has quite a few social plugins that you can add to your website to let your visitors interact with your site. A few popular ones are like button, share button and the recent facebook comments box. Facebook comments API now lets you access the comments and add them to the native comments section of your page.
  • Backlinks
      Most of the ranking algorithms, and especially Google’s PageRank, ranks a page on the number of backlinks a page gets. A backlink is a link to your page on another page. Of course, it counts only when it doesn’t have a nofollow or noindex tag. To get backlinks, the first and obvious thing you should do is create content worth referring to. Also, contact people who write popular review blogs to review your site.
  • Stalking
    Is your website just a blob of text or does it engage your visitors and talk to them? Follow back the people who follow you, comment on your pages or interact with your website in any way. Talk to them. Tell them what you’ve got and find out what they’re looking for. Make them your regular visitors. Also, if you come across people who might be interested in your content, let them know. Who doesn’t like some attention?

These are a few optimization techniques you can follow to get you site a good visibility. But these are not all. As the indexing algorithm evolves, certain practices become more relevant than others. To keep your place in the search engine and to keep the traffic flowing, adapt to these. You might also come across various means to trick the web crawler and other people to get a better rank than what your website warrants. One such method would be to collude with webmasters other websites in same domain to write mutual reviews and then give a nofollow tag on all links on your review. Another method is to generate clicks on a search query and make the search engine believe that your website receives a lot of search traffic and improve your search engine ranking. Most of these methods, if detected, will be penalized by permanent degradation of ranking or removal from search indexes. If your SEO technique does not improve how people interact with your website or the quality of your website or it in some way, it’s most likely an unfair practice. Above all, use your judgement.

Get good traffic and stay safe.

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