Saturday, June 28, 2008

Search Engine Optimization-- eXtension conference

Andrew Barnett from Fleishman Hillard gave a thoughtful presentation about how to manage your website in ways that effectively take advantage of people's use of search engines. Here are some highlights:

Write for four audiences on the web
1. Readers
2. Editors (including bloggers)
3. Google

Barnett suggested that Google uses keywords, relevance, the authority of the website and links from other websites as a basis for ranking the results on a search. A critical first step in writing for search engines is using keywords. Keywords are those words and phrases that a person in likely to use if they are searching for information. Barnett suggested that web authors need to examine their work to see what words would likely be used by others. He also suggested using software tools like Google Trends, Wordtracker, Google Adwords, to see how the keywords you select are being used by the search engines. Google Keyword will search on a specific URL (webpage) and analyze the likely keywords that would be used to find this page.

Once the keywords are identified the next step is using the keywords in the title, subheads, and text of the article. Barnett notes that using keywords should not be done in ways that distract from the reading or overused. He also suggests that no more than 2-3 keywords be connected to each page. (this suggests that short articles may be better.)

Additionally, using keywords to create links to other information makes the keyword more attractive to search engines. Take a look at Wikipedia and how keywords are linked in it.

Links are also important in search optimization.

A link is an editorial endorsement suggesting that this article/page is worth viewing. Links are more difficult to fudge than keywords so they have more "power" in searches. For keywords that many other websites are also using, the "number of links" make a difference in whose page gets listed higher in the search results.

So how do you build links? First, you make sure your pages are linked by all the people and websites that you know. You also will be linked by providing good content! Other ways to build links is by using feeds to distribute your content, publishing unique content and citing content from other relevant sites.

Participating in various forums, listservs, social networks, blogs and so forth are other ways to get the word out about your website and engage others in linking to your website.

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