Search Engine Optimization Tips Using Site Content – Part 2

This article is part 2 of a series on how to optimize your site for search engines using content. In the first article, I described how you can use HTML tags effectively to create pages that are appealing to search engine spiders. This article goes a step further and provides specific recommendations for improving the quality and accessibility of your content.

This article has two main sections. The first section covers the issue of creating relevant content, which is the best way to prove your credibility and build the kind of content-rich site that pushes you toward the top of the search results. The second section explains the pitfalls of using certain techniques that, from a search engine perspective, can damage your site.

Provide Relevant Content

Relevance is a term that is gaining momentum in the search engine optimization (SEO) world. The premise is that your page should focus on a particular topic, and the content of your page should be relevant to that topic.

Relevance isn’t too hard to fake from a search engine standpoint. As relevant content has become more important for maintaining search engine positioning, scammers have reacted by contracting for volumes of cheap, poorly written "articles" that they post on their sites as so-called content. The only value these articles bring to the site is a realistic keyword density, at least from a statistical analysis standpoint. However, the human reader sees the article for what it is: junk content.

As a serious web entrepreneur, you don’t want your site to contain junk content. When people visit your site, you want them to like what they see. Junk content erodes your credibility: Well-presented, relevant content builds your credibility. Quality content also appeals to search engines, because your text naturally contains the keywords that the spiders crave.

So, what can you do to create quality site content? Mainly, you just need to provide accurate and descriptive information about what you do and how you do it. If your site can answer your visitor’s questions and overcome potential objections, it acts like a virtual salesperson, automatically qualifying potential leads and educating your customers so they can make an informed buying decision.

Below are a few specific techniques for creating high quality content that educates your customers and appeals to search engines.

Use Industry Terms

Every industry has its own jargon. You should not be afraid to use industry-specific words and phrases, although it might be a good idea to make sure that the terms are defined in context. In fact, a glossary page of the terms associated with your industry will help your customers while adding valuable keywords to your site.

Visitors who are familiar with your industry will search for these terms, partly because the uniqueness of the phraseology often filters out irrelevant results. Including the terms improves the odds that your site will be included in the search results.

Give Valuable Insight

When it comes to educating customers and providing relevant content, the best question to answer is "why?" If you can give your customers valuable insight into your business and your industry, they will recognize you as an expert. Even better, they might look to you as THE expert.

If your customers discover that your site generally gives them answers, you can bet that they’ll be back the next time they need more information. If you can build that kind of recognition and trust, customers will bypass the search engine altogether and just add you to their favorites list. That’s the best kind of positioning.


Visitors often want to understand the processes associated with how you do business. Your site should be sure to answer their "what’s involved?" questions.

If you sell appliances and include delivery and installation, you should explain what will happen once the sale is complete. Explain how you will make the customer’s life easier by handling everything from the moment you take payment to the first time the customer flips a switch or turns a dial.

Anything you can do to demystify your business will make customers more comfortable buying from you. If you do a better job of that than your competition does, then you are more likely to be the one who gets the sale.

The best way to identify good subjects for explanation is to consider the questions your customers ask most often about your business practices, particularly the ones where they seem wary of the answer. Your goal is to soothe fears, overcome objections, and remove confusion.


People generally search for information relating to a question, not an answer. If they already knew the answer, they wouldn’t be searching!

Your site should include as much "how to" information as you can put together. This is another situation where you should use common customer questions as your guide. The next time a customer asks you a question that begins "how do I," consider documenting the answer and making it available on your Web site.

You don’t necessarily have to come up with all the answers yourself. If you carry a product that requires installation instructions and your supplier has already documented the process, then your site could just help the customer reach that information.

The best way to do this depends upon your relationship with your vendor and how often the information changes. For example, if the vendor has a PDF file that they are willing to share and the instructions rarely change once published, your best bet is to put the file on your site and let customers download it from there.

Hosting the content yourself lets you be sure that the customer can get the information regardless of whatever changes the vendor might make to their web site. The last thing you want is for your customers to happily click on a link for instructions they really need right now, only to find the link is broken. That kind of experience stays with them and erodes the credibility of your site.

Make Information Accessible

You can go a long way toward accomplishing the objectives I just outlined by creating a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) page and a Glossary page.

Depending on your business, a How To page may also be useful. This page contains a list of common tasks. Each task is a link that takes the visitor to a separate page with specific instructions. Once your visitors find the information they seek, they can print that page (which has your company name at the top, of course) for their reference.

Keep it Simple

Once you have great site content, the next step is to make sure you don’t do anything that prevents the search engines from finding it.

Ironically, the best way to create a barren wasteland of a site that contains little content sustenance for a hungry search engine spider is to build a graphically intensive and heavily scripted site with lots of fancy navigation and eye candy.

Spiders want text, and they want it as quickly as they can get it. The more text in your page and the earlier the text appears in the HTML code, the more enticing your site is to spiders. If you load up your pages with kilobytes of scripting and insist on rendering your site content as graphics, spiders will starve and move on.

A great Web site requires the right blend of artistic talent and technical skill from an Internet perspective. Both artists and technicians may have a vision, but their visions are sometimes extreme and contradictory. To achieve their goals, artists want complete control over colors, fonts, and effects. They tend to put everything in an image because it looks better that way. Technicians tend to produce complex, script-driven navigation and other interactive features that compromise the cross-browser compatibility of the site. Both visions have value, but they must be tempered with a consideration of the audience and environment.

You want a site that attracts spiders with pages that are optimized for the Web and that entertains visitors with an attractive layout and engaging imagery that functions for the majority of Internet users. You can do both if you keep your pages simple and use graphics, HTML, and scripting carefully.

Use Styles

One of the best ways to eliminate volumes of useless HTML is to use styles instead of font tags. Long ago, font tags were the only safe way to control how text was rendered on a Web page. Eventually, the Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) specification was developed to give designers more and better control over text rendering.

A style sheet lets you define a series of default and named styles that you can then apply to your HTML tags and control how the browser renders the information in those tags. Rather than littering your HTML with font tags, you let styles control the default appearance of the tag and override the default style with the "class" attribute when necessary. You can use a single style sheet to control most aspects of your entire site’s appearance. That means you can dramatically alter the appearance of your site by simply changing the style sheet.

For example, the following style sheet causes all paragraph tags to be rendered in the Verdana font at 10 pixels by default:

<style type="text/css">
P { 

Now, imagine that you need to include several quoted paragraphs (testimonials, perhaps) in your pages and you want them to stand out in bold and italic. You could add a Quote style to your style sheet that might look something like this:

P.Quote {

To use the style in your HTML, add the "class" attribute to your paragraph tag as shown below:

<p class="Quote">The best customer service I've ever received! Thank you!</p>

Adding that one attribute applies the Quote display characteristics to the paragraph. If you later decide to change all quoted paragraphs to use a different font family as well, all you have to do is change the style.

You can do a lot more with styles, but a full discussion is beyond the scope of this article. The main point here is that using styles can give spiders easier access to your content.

Avoid Frames

Designers like to use frames on a site so you can scroll the content of the page but keep the site header and navigation visible at all times. There are other reasons to use frames, of course, but that is the most common. Regardless of how you feel about the usefulness of that feature, using frames has consequences with the search engines.

The problem is that your visitors have to land on a gateway page of some sort (usually the home page) that establishes the frame layout and context. The gateway contains a "frameset" tag that tells your browser how to render the frames and where to get the content for each frame.

Search engines can be confused by the frameset and fail to crawl the site. Even if they are capable of following the content references, they don’t maintain the frame context of the content they find. When visitors follow a link from the search results, they land on the content page without the benefit of the frame, so there goes your site header and navigation. There are ways around these problems if you insist on using frames, but the most reliable solution is to just dispense with frames in the first place.

You have to question what frames are really doing for you. Keeping the site header visible at all times reduces usable screen real estate for your visitor, who is just trying to read the content of the page. After all, they’ll see the page header before anything else anyway. As for the navigation, do you really think your visitors won’t think to scroll back to the top of the page to access your navigation links?

The only place I’ve seen frames used effectively is in highly interactive sites like browser-based administration interfaces. In that environment, you expect your user to need constant access to the navigation menu and to regularly repeat operations. Plus, you aren’t trying to attract visitors to an admin interface anyway.

Use Text Links

Going back to the desire for creative control, you’ll find that designers like to put all the significant site text inside a graphic. They like to use rollover images in menus so you can see highlighting when you hover the mouse over a graphical navigation link.

Using graphics for navigation links has several disadvantages. It chews up extra bandwidth, making your page larger and slower to load. It requires multiple trips to the server to retrieve each image, again slowing down your page loads, and sometimes showing broken image artifacts if visitors try to use the page before the download is complete. As visitors navigate your site, browser caching often reduces this effect for frequently used images, but the initial page load can be painful. Finally, search engines can’t do much with graphical links, other than follow the page reference.

If you use text links, you avoid the performance disadvantages, and at the same time, you give the search engines additional keywords to spider. The keywords associated with links are often the most important keywords on your site. The spider won’t "see" any of these keywords if you’ve rendered them as an image.

Additionally, you can always use styles to gain a great deal of control over the display characteristics of your links. You can even specify hover attributes that highlight the text when visitors position their mouse over the link.

Another problem you will often see associated with graphical links is the use of JavaScript to perform the navigation (although JavaScript could be used with text links as well). Remember that spiders are pretty dumb: If your anchor tag uses a script function to navigate rather than a straightforward URL, that link is effectively useless to the spider. Those fancy drop-down and fly-out menus you see all over the Web are generally hurting the sites that host them, from a search engine perspective.

Use External File References

If you use a significant amount of JavaScript or a large style sheet on your site, you should consider putting the content into a separate file and referencing it from the pages that use it. The advantage to using external file references is that the style sheet or script is no longer part of your page. That means spiders don’t have to wade through all of that code to get to your "real" content, and your page should load faster as well. Another benefit is that you can make changes to your external file and all pages that reference it will automatically reflect the update.

The down side to this approach is that the browser must make an extra trip to the server to retrieve the external file the first time it finds a reference. The browser usually does cache the file for immediate access on all subsequent references, however. This behavior depends upon your browser cache settings. Even if you don’t see a big improvement in page load performance, you’ve still improved the situation from a search engine and site maintainability standpoint.

Although you can use server-side includes (SSI) to achieve the same effect as an external file reference, the client browser doesn’t gain any benefit, and neither does a spider. A server-side include is inserted into the page at the server, so to the browser retrieving the page, it is just as if the content of the include file were actually part of the requested page.

To create an external style sheet, move the content of your Style tag into a separate file with a .css extension, and remove the Style tag that surrounds the styles. Then, in the Head tag of your page, insert a reference to the style sheet. Here’s an example of an external style sheet reference:

<link rel="stylesheet" href="Styles.css">

The above reference assumes you’ve created a file named Styles.css that exists in the same folder as the referencing page.

To create an external script file, move the code to a separate file with a .js extension, and remove the Script tag that surrounds the code. Then, at the appropriate place in your page, insert a reference to the script file. Here’s an example:

<SCRIPT language="JavaScript" src="ImageRot.js"></SCRIPT>

The example assumes you are coding JavaScript, of course. The reference inserts the script in the ImageRot.js file, which is located in the same folder as the referencing page.

Avoid Pop-ups

The last little topic to cover is the subject of pop-ups. Pop-ups are the little browser windows that open on top of your page, usually in response to the click of a link. Pop-up windows often eliminate all extraneous browser controls, such as toolbars, the address bar, and the status bar. The goal is usually to provide some extra tidbit of information that isn’t worthy of its own full page on the site. Pop-ups are used for other, more nefarious, purposes as well, but those aren’t the ones I’m addressing here.

The main problem with pop-ups is that you pretty much have to use JavaScript to open them, if you want control over the window size and want to turn off the navigation features in the popped-up window. Again, spiders can’t follow links that are driven by JavaScript. Any content you put into a pop-up is effectively hidden from search engines.

Pop-ups have their place. For example, they can be very useful for displaying quick definitions of highlighted words in your content. Just make sure that the definitions also exist on an FAQ or glossary page elsewhere on your site so the spiders can find the definitions as well.

It’s Your Choice

Although there are ways around the site design problems I addressed in this article, the easiest way to deal with them is to avoid them in the first place. If you care more about the appearance of your site than its ability to be found in the search engines, then by all means, feel free to use all the fancy tools in your kit.

If, however, you want to optimize your position in the search engine rankings by virtue of your site’s content, then follow the techniques and recommendations outlined in this article. Not only do the techniques work, they never go out of style.


If you want the search engines and your visitors to love your site, then make it the prime destination for anyone seeking information in your industry by providing volumes of high-quality, relevant content. Then, avoid site features that damage the accessibility of that fabulous content.

As the Web evolves, the rules of the road change regularly, making the job of creating a successful Web site more challenging all the time. That is one reason why I recommend that you stick with the basics and always remember that the goal of a Web site is to deliver information to people in an accessible format. HTML and text are the fundamental building blocks of Web content, and anything you do outside of that realm, whether it’s Flash, excessive graphics, or JavaScript, has a price in terms of compatibility with search engines and client browsers.