If you want a high ranking in the search engines, don't fall into the most obvious traps. There are ways to make sure everyone finds - and browses - your website.
Here's a list of things you most definitely do not want to be doing if you want a high ranking in the search engines. There are five main things that literally hundreds of thousands of webmasters err on regularly. However, with a few small changes, they could make a big difference in their rankings.
Below are the five most common errors and their solutions - in no particular order.
The error: Trying to optimise a home page for all possible keywords. For example, you will often see <Title> tags loaded with 12-plus keywords. Here a webmaster is attempting to squeeze in all his or her keywords on the home page. A classic example of a little know-how is a dangerous thing!
What generally happens is not one of the 12-plus words ever reach a high ranking because individually they can never get the density or repetitions needed to rank highly. This is especially the case for popular terms.
I laugh when I see spammers hiding loads of keywords in long lists, knowing that rather than improving their ranking they just make it worse! Less can mean a lot more when it comes to search engine optimisation in this respect.
The solution: Use a maximum of three of your top keywords on your home page. If you have a particularly competitive field, then make that just one or two keywords. Concentrate on just those keywords on your home page and, of course, in your title tags.
On my home page, I concentrates on three keyword phrases that do very well in German searches (where my business is based): "Internet marketing," "Web promotion," and "Search engine optimisation."
A newbie would have added more keywords to the title tag and would have tried to optimise the home page for all the terms rather than spreading them throughout the site as I have done.
Summary: Focus on your top three keywords (hopefully researched properly) for your home page, keep them to a maximum of three. If you are really in a niche market with little competition, it is okay to go up to four or five. Try to keep your title tag to less than seven words and make sure your text copy uses the three terms at least three times each. Don't forget every page is a potential entry page from search engines, so there is no need to cram everything in on your home page.
Header area duplication
The error: It is human nature to be a bit lazy when developing a website. One of the most common, yet devastating for search engine traffic, mistakes is when a webmaster uses "save as" to work on a new content page but forgets to change the non-visible header area of a page in Dreamweaver or whatever content management system being used.
I think we've all seen these sites - a whole site with something like "widgets-for-sale.com" in the title on every page because the meta tags are identical on every page. Only the visible content is different.
Rarely, however, do separate pages have exactly the same theme or content. Every page can be optimised for different keywords, whether major or minor, and can be an entry point to your site from a search engine. It is such a waste and almost makes me cry when I see great sites using mydomain.com for a title on every page.
The solution: When developing a site, stick to a pattern. I will normally do the content first but I always make sure the last thing I do before moving on to a new content page is to make sure I have not only the content optimised, but the area as well.
You will not find an identical title tag on my whole website, or meta description for that matter. Never forget that each page is an entry page and optimise each one to the best of your ability.
Summary: Never repeat titles or meta descriptions in a website. Treat each page as if it were the most important and optimise it thoroughly. Don't be tempted to leave the head area without optimisation.
The error: It is now rare that I will see a framed website and believe that the use of frames in any way enhances the site or that it is a practical necessity for a webmaster. It isn't so much that framed sites generally rank lower, it is that few webmasters know how to optimise them correctly.
Most of those 536,000 websites require search engine optimisation. Not many of them are going to rank in the top 10 of anywhere. Just to have "browser+does+not+support+frames" in your noframe tag is a great way to never get your website found on a search engine.
The solution: Treat the noframe tag content as if it were a text version of your home page and optimise it as you would a normal website. Link to your framed pages from your noframe area.
<BODY onLoad="if (parent.frames.length==0) top.location='http://www.yoursite.com/frameset.html';" >
There are more complex and better solutions, which really wouldn't fit in the space I have here. Try a web tool site such as NetMechanic for a more complete solution.
You can achieve what a frameset does through the use of cascading style sheets (CSS) layer positioning, iframes and other methods. Only use frames if you really, really have to.
Splash / Flash sites
The error: I often see poorly ranked sites that visually contain a lot of text, but the text itself is not of the font variety but graphic. Great eye candy, but forget a high ranking and search engine traffic if that is the only text on a page.
I would say at least half my clients used to suffer from overdoing graphic text. The main webmaster culprits for this are (surprise, surprise) adult sites, and also those targeting young markets (games console websites, games software sites, etc.).
Of course, the worst of all has to be the Flash websites that offer no pure html alternative.
The solution: Integrate normal text where you can. You can make text and text links look great with a bit of CSS formatting know-how. You do not need graphic text to make text look attractive nowadays. At the very least, do not make your pages all graphic text. Leave something for the search engine spiders to find and index.
This also applies to Flash sites. Rarely does everything have to be a Flash object. You can quite often have text surrounding a Flash object without any negative effects.
Summary: Web pages without no normal text, or very little text, simply will not rank highly unless there is a very strong link campaign running. Mix graphics and objects with text. It is really this simple. Remember: No text = No ranking.
Keywords not researched
The error: Unfortunately, too many webmasters do not really bother using any of several keyword research tools - there are about four or five of them. Most, like the Overture keyword research tool, are free.
Many webmasters don't think they need to use them as they know what their site is about and don't need to research the top keywords. This is a big mistake.
Another big mistake is either optimising for too niche or too obscure a search term, or going the other way and going for a very broad term. You either get too little traffic because you optimised for terms that are rarely searched for, or you go for the terms with millions of competing pages but you don't yet have the experience or incoming links (one element of off-site optimisation) to be able to compete.
The solution: The balance is normally achieved through two- or three-word phrases in competitive areas. These are best found by cross-referencing the several keyword research databases to be found on my online tools page and through a fair bit of lateral thinking.
Summary: Don't guess your best keywords. Know them through taking the time to use the free tools out there.
Alan Webb writes for Darwin
This was first published in September 2003