We do a lot of work on our sites to ensure that our readers can find our content through search engines, particularly Google.
Over the 10 years we've been publishing media Web sites we've successfully avoided pitfalls that could damage referrals from search engines. We've also made some significant mistakes - from which we've recovered!
Consequently we thought we would share the experience we've gained by putting together our definitive top ten list of mistakes that can damage your referrals from Google (we'll let you guess which ones we were guilty of).
Mistake 10. You Didn't Submit Your Site
You've spent weeks or months getting your site together. You've made sure the design is friendly to search engines and that when the traffic load increases the infrastructure will scale.
So don't forget to submit your site to Google and other search engines. If you haven't done it ... do it now. Don't delay.
Mistake 9. Ooops, what have I done with the Image tags
Google doesn't just index text, it does images as well. Get the most out of your indexed site by ensuring the alt tags for your images are descriptive.
For example on GoodGearGuide and PC World we tag our images with the product name and the photo orientation. This gives results like those for the Samsung D600.
Mistake 8. I Didn't Include Important Tags
There's no sure fire solution to getting a good ranking. Ultimately our desire as a publisher is that search engine users find the content that they need on our site. Consequently our fundamental goal is to generate useful, timely and relevant content.
We like to think we do a pretty good job at creating that content and we want as many people as possible to find it. Ensuring that content is well structured through tags including <title>, <h1> and <h2> that accurately reflect and explain the content will help search engines and users alike get to our site.
Mistake 7. Content is added Once A Month, Year ... Decade
Don't let a day go by without some form of new, relevant and useful content. Content will get picked up by Google and other search engines and great content will get referenced from Blogs and community sites such as DIGG. (We highly recommend top ten lists!)
Mistake 6. I Don't Have HTML links to Every Page
Mistake 5. Ignore Cross Linking to other Web sites
When Tim Berners-Lee came up with the idea to combine the idea of hypertext - the linking of one page text to another - and the Internet, the World Wide Web was born. The beauty of the concept is that by interlinking multiple sources of content knowledge and learning can only benefit.
Larry Page and Sergey Brin created a ranking system for search engines based around the concept of assigning a weight to a page based on many factors, including the number and value of links to that page. In Google's implementation this is referred to as PageRank.
Or more simply put, if you want search engine users on Google to find your pages before someone else's you need to, amongst other things, have links from other pages/sites. And preferably from pages/sites that themselves have good weightings. In other words, ignore cross linking to other sites at your peril.
Work with relevant partners to place content and links on their sites that help your partners' site visitors and your own.
Mistake 4. Don't Pay Attention to Keywords and KeyPhrases
If you're talking about MP3 players make sure you use the phrase. Think about how people search and write your content to make it as descriptive as possible. And do think about alternate names.
For example they may be called Video Cameras, or they could be referred to as Camcorders. The GoodGearGuide uses both terms to ensure that readers interested in these products get a chance to find them, as can be seen in the review page for the Sony HDR-HC3 high definition video camera.
Mistake 3. Launch a New Site... with different URL structures
Google has indexed your entire site and you're getting loads of traffic to your content rich pages. You're becoming so successful at getting your message/content out that you realize your Web site needs further investment. It needs to look better and hey, that content management system you built/bought/inherited just doesn't deliver the services you need, nor does it ensure the staff productivity you should be able to get. What to do? Heck - why don't you rip and replace the whole thing with a completely new back-end and front end.
Sure it's a decision you don't make lightly, but you've weighed up the alternatives and it's the one that works. We've done it and it helped us build a platform for future expansion.
But be careful. Google directs search engine users to specific page URLs on your site. If you change your entire URL structure - even if the content is still there somewhere on the site - it's going to take time for Google to find those pages and re-index them. And in the meantime people will get your error page instead.
On top of that if you have managed to get your pages linked to from other sites, those links won't work, impacting even further on your traffic and rank.
Make sure that you either build the new site with the same structure or set in sufficient redirect information so that the URLs still work.
Mistake 2. Get Banned by Google
There are quite a few techniques being peddled on the market to boost your sites position on Google and other search engines. These techniques could get you banned, like BMW Germany.
Mistake 1. Don't Give Free-reign for Googlebot.
Blocking robots (Googlebot) from accessing your site is the number one no-no. If the robots cannot access your site, your pages are never going to be included in search engine indexes. And of course if you're not in the indexes, then no-one is going to find your pages when they are searching.
If your robots.txt file looks like this:
Then no search engines, including Google, will index your site. (Well, to be precise, search engines that obey the robots.txt file will not index your site - there are rogue engines that do not pay attention to robots.txt.)
Certainly having a load of search engine robots hitting your site can cause a strain on bandwidth (especially if you're paying by the Gigabyte) so you may wish to be selective about which search engines you allow in.