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How to optimize your HTML and improve your ranking

Stop Wasting Your Time
Forget the tricks and the gimmicks some experts tout for getting your web pages well ranked in the search engines. The placement algorithms are constantly being refined, the spiders are getting smarter all of the time. They recognize, and penalize, the latest spoofs long before the average web page designer is even aware of the trick.

Ultimately, trying to fool the search engine into a better ranking is a waste of time. So what is the key to getting well ranked in the search engines today? The answer is deceptively simple: Quality content and proper structure.

Content and Structure
I am sure you have heard it said many times before, but "Content Is King." There are no two ways about it, a page with quality content, focusing on the subject at hand will place better than a page that lacks focus. The subject of content can fill many articles such as this; therefore I will leave that discussion for another time.

Structure is the other element of getting your pages well ranked by the search engines. By structure, I am referring to the HTML tags that tell the browsers how to display the content of the web page.

Were you aware that badly structured HTML can affect your search engine ranking? It can. In fact, depending on the problem, badly formed HTML can even keep your pages from being listed at all. Make certain that your HTML is well formed, meaning it is coded to the W3C specifications. You can find the HTML specifications at: http://www.w3c.org

Additional Tips
Beyond making sure your HTML is well formed there are some more techniques you can employ to help improve your chance of a good ranking in the search engines. I've listed a few recommendations below.

Name Your Pages With Keywords
Some search engines give higher priority to pages with the keyword in the URL. Decide what keyword is the most significant for the page and name the page: significant_keyword.html This recommendation applies to every file on your site, even graphics. Be sure to name your graphics with keywords as well.

Immediately after the head tag your page should have a title tag. The title tag will display in the top bar of most browsers and is also used by many search engines as the title for your listing. Some search engines give preference to pages with titles containing keywords. Try to write a title for the page that is concise, compelling and keyword rich. Avoid titles like "Welcome To Our Home Page" as it is neither concise nor compelling and is not likely to be keyword rich.

Right after the title tag your page should include a description tag. The description tag is used by some search engines to provide additional detail to your site's listing. Just as with the title tag, some search engines assign a better ranking to pages with a keyword rich description tag. Just as before, you will want to be sure that your description is compelling and keyword rich.

Following the description tag your page needs a keywords tag. This tag is used by many search engines to get an idea of what keywords should be associated with this page. This tag is also the one that causes many people the most problems. Forget any of the folklore surrounding the keywords tag such as keyword over loading, repetition and the like. These tricks only cause your page to incur the wrath of the search engine gods.

A properly written keywords tag will contain words and short phrases that are related to the content of the page. Each word or phrase should be separated from the others by a comma, not a space. The keywords tag should look like this:

meta name="keywords" content=word1,word2,phrase words,word3

Not all spiders utilize the robots tag, but many do. The robots tag defines the behavior that the web site designer would prefer the spider to follow. In this case, the behavior we would like to specify is for the spider to follow the links it finds on the page. This way the spider can index the other pages of your web site. The robots tag should appear as follows:

meta name="robots" content="index,follow"

Text Links
Search engine spiders do not always arrive at your site from the home page. Always include a site map of links from each page to every important page on your site. Create these links using plain text, images and image maps confuse some spiders and are ignored by others.

ALT Tags
The alt tag is read and utilized by some spiders as part of the ranking algorithm. For a variety of reasons it has always been considered good HTML form to include alt tags as a part of the img tag. Search engine ranking is now another good reason for including this tag. Due to the fact that they are used for other purposes, make certain that your alt tags are meaningful first and keyword rich second.

Comment Tags
A few of the search engine spiders will read HTML comment tags. A comment tag does not affect the way the page displays but may be added by the page designer for various purposes. If you have the time, adding keyword rich comments may help your pages rank better in some of the search engines.

The recommendations listed above are just a few of the ways that structure can affect your page's search engine ranking. There are others, as well as the considerable effect of the content itself. By spending time to identify your keywords, creating quality content and employing the ideas contained here, you should be able to write web pages that enjoy better ranking in the search engines.

About the author
Copyright 1998, 2003 Tony L. Callahan All Rights Reserved
Tony L. Callahan, is a successful Internet Promotions Consultant with more than twenty years of industry experience and is president of his own Internet marketing company, Link-Promote. He also publishes Web-Links Monthly, a newsletter full of tips, tricks, tools and techniques for successful web site promotions. To subscribe, send e-mail to: Web-Links-subscribe@topica.com. For an online archive of Tony's articles available for reprint, visit: http://www.link-promote.com/articles

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