If you maintain some blog or website of some sort, you’ve most likely heard about Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at one point or another. It’s not totally required that you fully understand the whole inner workings of SEO and how it works but if you want to drive more readers and visitors to your website, than you’ll want to learn about how to best optimize your site to comply with SEO rules. When I first chose Blogger as my blogging platform for Anotherwindowsblog, I never really cared about any of the SEO stuff. But that’s before I realized that almost 90% of visits to my blog came from Google’s search engine. I only got interested in this whole “SEO” thing from watching a couple of TechEd videos which explained what SEO actually is and what it does. After watching the presentation (which I’ll provide links to in just a minute), I felt that it can’t hurt to at least try and optimize my blog for SEO. If I want more visitors to my blog, then I’ll have to put in some work as well.
I want to make it super clear right now that this article is for bloggers or website owners who only have the slightest clue to what SEO actually is. Since I am a beginner to this topic as well, so is the material presented here. The main point of this article is not to really teach you all the things you should do to optimize your blog for SEO but hopefully instead to get you a little interested in it. You can then decide whether you want to optimize your website for SEO or not.
If you’ve just started out with a new blog and whatnot, it’s usually wise to start optimizing the site for SEO in the beginning stages. You don’t want to be like me and only figure out that the website you’re maintaining has a lot of SEO violations when you have a hundred and more posts. Wait, did I just say violations? Am I going to be in trouble if I don’t follow SEO rules? Like I said earlier, I don’t believe that SEO is required for your website. If I left my blog exactly the same now without making any SEO optimization tricks, my site would still be accessible as before, and I’ll still be able to write and post new articles. Well, here’s the problem with that. Unless my site was mentioned on another popular website, say CNN or something, the Internet citizens will most likely not know of my website’s existence. If they don’t know my blog exists, then they can’t visit it can they?
What Exactly is SEO?
There are two things I can do to attract visitors to my blog. That is to either promote it on other popular websites/blogs in hopes to “lure” in readers or perform SEO optimization so that my site will be advertised in the front of the search engine results page. Since millions of users use Google on a daily basis, if my site is listed near the top or within the first or second page of the search results, there is good chance the users will see it and therefore click on it. Makes sense? At it’s core, this is what SEO is mainly about.
A web crawler is basically a type of program or code that automatically travels around the Internet (World Wide Web) and indexes the websites it finds. In other words, a web crawler will land on your website or part of your website and automatically collect information about it using various techniques. The information collected by the web crawler will then be stored and used by the actual search engine itself. As you can probably see, what the web crawler actually see’s on your website is very, very important. Because the process is automated, the crawler cannot collect every piece of information on a given website or webpage. It only collects a partial set of information and here is where SEO matters the most. By correctly optimizing a website for SEO, the information collected via the web crawlers will be more meaningful and that in turn will help drive more traffic to your blog as your website will be referenced more often when users search for a specific term that relates to your site or articles you may have written.
How SEO Works
Search Engine Optimization can be a topic worth a whole book alone. A simple search on Amazon would lead you to many of these said books if you are interested. SEO basically, from my limited understanding, revolves around rules. Break some of those rules and you’ll lose points or credibility. Break a really severe rule and you might get ignored totally by the web crawlers. For example, if a web crawler notices that your site hosts malware (whether you intended to or not), you might get blacklisted and the web crawler will then totally ignore your website from then on. Didn’t use the “Alt” attribute in your image files? That’s definitely not good as well but the consequences are that severe when compared to the malware example. A web crawler will look for specific information, if present, on a site and collect them for future reference. The more information supplied, the better. However, the quality of that information is equally important. SEO optimization isn’t just all about following rules and whatnot. It can also be about tips and tricks. One major example is configuring your blog articles to show up in search results as article/post title first and then followed by your actual blog title (even the title is optional). Just by doing this simple tip can make a big difference on whether a user will visit your site or not. For example, rather than Google displaying “Anotherwindowsblog ~ Introduction on Optimizing Your Blog for SEO, it would display instead “Introduction on Optimizing Your Blog for SEO ~ Anotherwindowsblog”. You have no idea how simple yet highly efficient this trick can be!
There are many different web crawlers out there and the Googlebot crawler is just one of them. I’m sure that many of them can behave differently from one another but there also should be many similar tactics they all use to crawl a website.
To get a even more better explanation of what SEO really is, I suggest you go over these two Microsoft TechEd presentations.
If you don’t have Silverlight installed and don’t plan on doing so, simply click on the WMV option. If the video still won’t load in Windows Media Player, then you’ll have to right click on the WMV option and manually save the video to your computer and then view it that way.
Search Engine Optimization Toolkit
A very neat tool was developed by the Microsoft’s IIS (Internet Information Services) team that allows you to easily see how to best optimize your website to comply with basic SEO rules. You might be reading up to this point in the article (and if you haven’t viewed the presentations already) and still not really know how or what SEO really does. By using this freely available tool from Microsoft, you get to sort of query a given public website/blog and see how nicely it plays along with SEO. If you want to see a video demonstration of how this tool works, watch either the first video presentation I listed above or view a quick demo from the tool’s main website. You’ll need to have Silverlight installed to view the video. If you want to install the SEO Toolkit, then I’ll go over how to do just that right here so you can follow along.
1. Before you can install the SEO Toolkit, you’ll need to install the IIS Management console because that is the platform the tool will run on. Head over to Control Panel and open the Programs and Features applet. Once inside, click on the “Turn Windows Features On or Off” link. Once it finishes loading, drill down to Internet Information Services and then to Web Management Tools. Place a checkmark next to the IIS Management Console option. Hit OK and the installation will then proceed.
2. Now we can proceed to install the SEO Toolkit itself. Download it if you haven’t already. Make sure to download the right version (x86 or x64)! The actual installation is pretty straightforward. If you haven’t already installed the IIS Management console, you’ll be presented with an error message.
3. Open up the SEO Toolkit by either looking for it in your Start Menu or by searching for it. Once inside the IIS Manager console, click on your computer link under the Connections window. Under Management, you should see the Search Engine Optimization icon.
Double click on the icon to launch it. Since we want to review a website for SEO optimization (or violations as you’ll see later), we’ll need to create a new analysis. Click on the “Create a new analysis” link under Site Analysis. Give the report a name of your choosing and type in the URL for the public website/blog. Before hitting OK, head into Advanced Settings. Here you can configure some additional options. Most notably, you’ll want to limit the number of URLs the SEO Toolkit will return back. Leave too high and a number and the results will take longer to generate but will give you a better overall picture of the site. Use too low a number and the report will not be as detailed but will be faster to generate. Hit OK once you are done and the SEO Toolkit will begin gathering the information.
4. One of the main benefits of using the SEO Toolkit is how it views your website. The behavior it enacts is similar to how other web crawlers would behave if they landed on your site. Therefore, we get to use the SEO Toolkit as a way to see what a web crawler itself would see. By doing so, we know what we can do to improve our website for SEO optimization. The toolkit gives us a lot of information on what violations have occurred. So, once the site analysis report have completed, it’s time to see what violations have been detected. I simply used Anotherwindowsblog as the example here.
In the Report Summary, it gives us the overall picture of what happened. The main thing to look at here is the number of violations that have been detected by the SEO Toolkit. As you can see, my blog didn’t do too good!
Click on the Violations tab next. Here in the summary, you’ll get to the meat of things and see what specific violations have occurred. Simply double click on a specific violation to view more detailed information about that violation and where it has occurred. I’m not going to lie. If you don’t know too much about HTML, it’s hard to diagnose exactly what went wrong and how to remedy it. Some violations are pretty straightforward such as “The title is too long” or “The link text is not relevant”. Others however, require you to have a deeper understanding of how HTML coding works in order to correct the violation. Sometimes, I don’t even know why there are so many errors on a given article! Everything works perfectly and the links are all intact and working and yet the toolkit tells me that there are numerous errors on it.
The Content tab can be very useful, particularly the Content Not Found tab. Here, you’ll see a list, if any, of broken links. This is useful because you don’t not want a reader to click on a link only to be taken to a error page that says Page Not Found! If there are broken links, fix it immediately.
Next up is Performance. Here the most important category is Slow Pages. If a page or article takes too long to load, readers will get irritated and will most likely lead to them going elsewhere for information. Not good is it? Luckily for me, I pass this test.
The last category is Links. Here you’ll see information like which pages have the most links and which links are blocked from web crawlers.
Using the SEO Toolkit can be done very easily but interpreting the information given back might not be so. However, it’s still a fun and easy way to see how web crawlers and SEO works should you become interested in SEO optimization. Another good resource to begin your SEO journey is from the one and only, Google! Since they are the world’s biggest online search providers, I’m pretty sure they know a thing or two about SEO optimization tactics. The Official Google Webmaster Central Blog is a very good place to start learning about SEO. The other Google resource to check out is their Webmaster Tool’s help page. Here you can learn about what actually is Googlebot, what and how to create sitemaps and all the other good stuff.
In the End…
Although not necessary a requirement for many small website creators and owners, SEO does help drive more visitors to your site. If you’re not operating and maintaining a multi-million dollar website, you really shouldn’t have to go all out and learn everything about SEO. Rather than spending too much time worrying about SEO optimization for your site, it would be best in my honest opinion to instead focus all that time and energy on the actual content of your blog instead. How can I further improve my site? What content are readers generally more concerned about? What search terms are users using that leads them to my site? How can I further promote my blog to attract even more readers besides relying on just search engine results?
As for me personally, I’m sure I’ll spend some extra time here and there learning about SEO but I definitely don’t want to go overboard with it. It feels like a major conflict because the main reason I created Anotherwindowsblog in the first place is to hopefully educate readers out there about basic computer security and whatnot. Everything else I could care less about. The dilemma here is how will I actually get readers to visit and read my blog if they don’t know about it? Therefore, I have to strike a balance between working on the actual content of my site while making sure that said site can be easily found on the web. Like I said earlier on, most of my blog visitors came from a search engine result page so, making sure my site stays near the top is very important as well.