Monday, February 27, 2006

Lesson 8. How effective are your keywords and SEO?

In lesson 7 I talked about Search Engine Optimization and keywords. When you have made some of the recommended changes don't expect immediate results.

But when you have been patient and are ready to assess how you are doing you might like to check some tools from

1. Link Popularity Check - the number of links there are to your website

2. Search Engine Saturation - the number of pages each search engine has in its index for your website.

3. Keyword Verification - a check to see if your website is in the top three pages of search engine results for a specified keyword

If you want to check how many sites are linking to your website you can use Google advanced operators, particularly the 'link:' operator. For example, finds other websites linking to Impington Swimming Club's website.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Lesson 7: Making sure search facilities like Google, Yahoo and MSN can find your site (or Search Engine Optimization - SEO)

When you build a website you probably want it to be found by a Google search. This lesson gives you some ideas about how to achieve that.

I've done quite well with getting hits from my keywords over the years and have not done anything other than what I've written in this lesson. Here some of the keywords which hit my sites easily:

Cambridge car mechanic - 2nd hit
duncan cook plumbing - 1st hit
Impington Swimming - 1st hit
Cambridge outdoor shops - 1st hit
Lindman Doors - 2nd hit

My understanding of the Google indexing method is that it is based on honesty and strives to deliver genuine information to the user of the search facility. Google often changes its index strategy to deal with dishonest attempts to get web pages to the top of its indexes. You will be familiar with annoying websites which apparently had some information relevant to your search but turned out to be meaningless junk. Google takes a dim view of certain companies claiming to specialize in Search Engine Optimization (for a price) and who use all kinds of dishonest tricks to attempt to boost your search results, some of which could get you blacklisted (Google has a useful webpage on this kind of SEO).

Unfortunately all this means that getting to the top of the Google ranking is an uncertain business. However, if you play it straight and honest you will be rewarded for your efforts.

Here are a few things to consider if you want the search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN to find your website (I frequently refer to Google in this lesson but that generally applies to Yahoo, MSN and the other search engines too).

1. Decide upon your keywords

The first and most important thing to do when trying to ensure your website is listed on Google results is to think through keywords. Have a good long and lateral think about it. What is your website about? Will people think of your name as a way of finding your site? Will they think of a geographic area? What are common synonyms? Do people commonly mispell one of your keywords? Think long and hard and make a list. As you read the points that follow, have the keyword list to hand. For example, in the description of your website that you use for your site submission, put the important keywords in there. Don't go completely mad about it though. If Google asks you for a description, write a description, not just a long list of keywords. Play fair with Google. Write in such a way as your main keywords are mentioned, just don't over do it.

2. Submit your site to the big three - Google, Yahoo and MSN

There are search engines but most of them use data from these big three, so if you cover these bases you've made a strong start:
Google website submission page - free
Yahoo website submission - free
MSN website submission - free

Until recently AskJeeves was one of the other big sites to submit to but now Jeeves has gone, leaving just 'Ask' and they no long accept site submissions.

3. Submit your website to web directories

Search engines take notice of web directories. Two are commonly recommended as worthy for improving your search engine ranking:

The Open Directory Project - DMOZ - free
Yahoo Directory - $299 per year

Given the cost of the yahoo listing I would recommend ignoring that one.

4. Get links to your site from other respected sites - Google PageRank

Google explain that PageRank is the heart of their system. They explain that they count a vote from page A to page B as a vote cast by page A for page B. If page A is a well respected page, it will have a high PageRank and so the vote for page B will be that much stronger. It is a kind of respect system, if a highly respected website like links to your website, it will contribute a lot to improving your ranking. If you download the google toolbar it has a widget on there which shows you the PageRank over every page you visit.

Remember though that honesty is valued by Google. Get links to your website from other places where such a link is relevant - don't just take a splatter gun approach to getting your website linked from all over the place.

When you do get a link from somewhere else it seems worthwhile ensuring that the text associated with the link is also meaningful. So, if you have a website about musical instruments called, you might like people to ensure that 'musical instruments' are part of the link text they write for you, like this, Buy guitars and keyboards and other musical instruments at

One place to start could be adding a link to your site from somewhere in Wikipedia but stay honest, only do this if it makes sense.

5. Structure your web page for Search Engines

The way you structure the html code of your web page has a big effect on how high it scores in the Google rankings. The precise significance of each item is not clear but the title tag, heading tags and main body text are very important. Keywords in a meta tag are presumed to be ignored by search engines these days.

5.1 Title tag <title>

In the <head> of your page you should always have a <title> tag (you will see this in the window title of your browser). If your site has many pages, you can have a different <title> tag per page if you like. Here are two that I use on our swimming club website. I was keen to ensure that anyone typing 'cambridge swimming club' into google would also find our website, since we are just 2 miles north of cambridge and may well be relevant to anyone wanting a swimming club around cambridge.

<title>Impington Swimming Club (Impington, Cambridge, England)</title>
<title>About Impington Swimming Club (Cambridge, England)
- The other Cambridge Masters Swimming Club</title>

It is interesting to note that Google now favours the first more straightforward page title (the first one above) and used to favour the 'About' page title. Such is the way things change with search engines as they continue to evolve in favour of honesty!

5.2 Heading tags <h1>,<h2>,<h3> and bold tags <strong> (formerly <b>)

It is important to ensure your important keywords appear in heading tags if possible. I would assume <h1> is the most important but use the others too if you can.

It constantly surprises me that websites produced by tools like Microsoft Frontpage are devoid of sensible heading tags. Such tools are supposed to help people build websites and protect them from needing to worry about fundamentals of html. In the circumstances I would expect the tools to have some 'duty of care' to their users to ensure the html produced 'behind the scenes' is proper. This seems to be sadly not the case with Frontpage, though Dreamweaver seems somewhat better.

5.3 Body Text

There are various theories about writing for the web which you can find elsewhere. Writing well, keeping it short and spelling correctly all perhaps help your search engine rankings. Try to stay honest and don't go over the top with splattering your keywords all over the place. However, do remain aware of the keywords and synonyms and fit them into your copy. For example, if you are writing about cycling you could try to vary the words you use to try to cover more keyword bases. So, cycling is also bicycling, or biking or MTBing (mountain biking), etc. Think laterally about your keywords and get them into the body of your text but not in a forced way.

5.4 Domain Name and File Names

The domain name you choose and the filenames that form the URL may have an impact on search engine results placement, though perhaps not much.

5.5 Image <alt> tags

When you put an image on a website it is generally good practice to include an <alt> tag with the link. Primarily this is so that blind people who cannot see the image can still tell what it is (sometimes they use screen reading devices that will read out this text).

From a search engine standpoint this is also a good idea since one of the google search indexes specifically relates to Image searches. For example, Paula Collier is one of my swimming club friends, amongst the swimmer profiles on our website. If you view the source of this page you will see the only occurence of her name is in the the alt tag of an image, like this:

<img src="paula_1.jpg" alt="Paula Collier Photo">

A google image search for 'paula collier' has this page as the 3rd result. It is likely that the getting keywords high up in the google image index also helps normal page results for those terms too.

5.6 Links

It is useful to put links between pages on your website to improve your overall page rankings. The more links to a page the better in general, but again, don't force the issue.

Putting links to other websites can also help your own. Working on (a Florida condo) I linked to the Colony Club, a world famous tennis resort nearby. At one time, when you typed 'colony club' into Google our site was the first hit because we linked to them. Alas, this is no longer the case. Sarasota attracts lots of money and websites so search results for the area are quite dynamic.

5.7 Meta tags <meta>

In the old days you used to put keywords into <meta> tags. Although they are thought to be little used now lots of people seem to use them anyway, just in case. A belt and braces approach. Meta tags go into the <head> section of your html and look something like this:

<meta http-equiv="Keywords" content="masters swimming, swimming in cambridge,
swimming club, masters swimming club, masters, swimming, cambridge, friendly club" />

6 Content quality and freshness

I'm not sure how Google assesses content quality and freshness but they seem likely to make some kind of difference. Things to think about include:

6.1 Short, well written pages

Don't write too much but check the spelling of what you write. Ensure page sizes are quite small. Using Cascading Style Sheets to separate content and formatting information can help to keep page sizes small.

6.2 Fresh Content

Fresh content seems attractive to google. Having a blog as part of your site may help you keep on with the updates.

6.3 Write Valid HTML/XHTML/CSS Code

Choose a syntax, declare it, stick to it and verify it. I think google likes this kind of thing.

The W3C has a useful code validation service if you are curious and want to poke around. I will write another lesson on valid code.

7 Blogger

There is something funny about the successfulness of blogs with SEO. I suspect Google, who owns Blogger, prioritises blog content quite low in its index. I don't know why this is, I just notice that my blogger blogs are harder to find in Google than my other web pages. I'm not sure why, or what to do about it but this does seem so. If anyone wants to enlighten me, I'm all ears.

I've just found a link on Blogger SEO Information and it's worth a read. Ping-o-matic sounds like a good idea!

8. Consequences for Dishonesty

I've mentioned throughout this lesson that google rewards honesty. What happens if you stray and try to trick google, perhaps by putting huge lists of keywords on your site? You may well get blacklisted by google and dropped from their indexes. I have no experience of this but I've heard it happens.


These links may be helpful:

search engine watch - 'a webmasters guide to search engines'

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Lesson 6: Learning Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) allow you to separate the website content (in HTML) from the presentation. CSS seems like a great idea but is not without significant problems for someone getting started. One of the biggest problems is that each browser handles CSS slightly differently. So, when you think you have everything looking perfect in Firefox, you really need to check it works well on Internet Explorer and the other popular browsers.

I began to get to grips with CSS from certain enthusiast's websites. Luckily, several of them got together and wrote an excellent book, which I would recommend buying, called Cascading Style Sheets: Separating Content from Presentation. These guys also have useful sites devoted to CSS which may be of interest (but can also drive you crazy), a couple of them are, and

One of the big things with CSS is called, 'the box model' which involves using CSS boxes instead of HTML tables to provide the layout for your website. The RNIB famously did not use CSS in favour of html table layout for their site redesign. This outraged the CSS community and they set out to show how CSS was up to the job. You can follow what happened from the RNIB link and a bit of surfing. Strangely, despite their best efforts, the RNIB's layout won out as a more robust accessible design. An unhelpful result for CSS. So, CSS is in need of continual improvement but the idea of separating content from presentation in this seems to be the future, we just need to get better at it!

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Lesson 5: FTP

With a PC, uploading your files to your webspace using FTP is a fairly simple matter. If you open Windows File Explorer, ensure the address bar is shown, and then type your FTP details in there (eg. ), you will be invited to type your user name and password and then you are ready to transfer files around as you would on the desktop.

On a Mac you can't do that. I tried out a few tools and in the end bought Transmit, which I've found to be excellent.

Lesson 4: Choosing a Web Host

Many companies offer web hosting and best buys regularly change. The folks at have good flexible packages which are cheap, and they offer very good support (though they are a very technical bunch).

If you buy both your domain name and web hosting from 34sp, getting started will go quite smoothly.

I've just seen another hosting company recommended (by Nerd Vittles>and they seem quite interesting, These folks support multiple domains per hosting service, so could be a big saving if you are supporting several different websites.

October 2007. I have just noticed Nerd Vittles recommending another host Blue host who offers a decent deal for $6.95 per month, hosting up to 6 domains.

Lesson 3: Choosing a Domain Name (eg.

There are many places to search for available domain names. I favour, who have sorted out my domain names and web hosting for several years and have excellent technical support (seemingly at all hours of the day or night).

There are a few things to consider when choosing a domain name:

  • often you will tell someone your domain name, so if you have hyphens in there or it's hard to spell you may lose business.

  • a good portion of web users attempt to guess domain names rather than using search. Will yours be guessable?

  • domain extensions have certain implied meanings:
    • .com - has an international flavour with an american bias and usually refers to a company

    • - UK company but some charities like Friends of the Earth use it too

    • .net - a bit obscure and usually picked when someone cannot get their first choice of extension

    • .org - a good name for a not-for-profit organisation, and has an international flavour (Greenpeace International uses this)

    • - a good name for a UK not-for-profit

If you are shopping for a domain name and the one you want doesn't seem to be available you can do what's called a 'whois' search, is one such company.

Lesson 2: Choosing Tools

Internet Explorer & 'View Source'

The easiest way to begin experimenting with HTML, if you are working on a PC with Internet Explorer, is to use the 'View-Source' function.

To get started, in Windows File Explorer create a new file and call it something like lesson2.htm. In Internet Explorer, use 'File-Open' to open the new blank document called lesson2.htm and copy Phil's template in there, and Save.

<title>New Doc</title>

<body bgcolor=white text=black>
<h2>New Doc</h2>
by <a href="/">Philip Greenspun</a>, revised April 1, 2003
introductory text
<h3>First Subhead</h3>

more text
yet more text


With the webpage now open in Internet Explorer you will see the end result of what the template HTML looks like. If you choose 'View Source', you will see the HTML itself.

This notepad editor automatically colours HTML tags so it is easy to see if you have forgotten to close a tag. This is one of the most useful features of an HTML editor for someone writing HTML by hand.

A useful way to work is to have the Internet Explorer screen showing the actual webpage on one screen, and the notepad view showing the HTML on another. When you make a change to the HTML you can quickly Save, and then switch over to Internet Explorer and Refresh, to immediately see the changes you have made.

Other Tools

Internet Explorer and its Notepad are perfectly adequate tools to get you started but you may want more from an editor, such as spell checking or a more WYSIWYG way of creating your webpage.

Here are a few thoughts on other tools:

  • Dreamweaver - A WYSIWYG tool with a long reputation of producing decent HTML. Later versions have extras like spell checkers and code validators, which can be useful. Dreamweaver seems to interpret CSS fairly well, so as you are working you can see what you're producing. Recommended for PC and Mac. This is the tool I use but I mainly write the HTML from scratch still.

  • BBEdit - A neat HTML editor for the Mac. One strong feature which I've found useful has been it's facility for doing a search and replace across multiple files. As a long time PC user I never have got used to the keyboard shortcuts in BBEdit, in fact some standard PC ones don't seem to exist.

  • Pagespinner - An award winning HTML editor for the Mac and one favoured by Zeldman at one time I believe. As with BBEdit I continue to be frustrated by the keystrokes available.

  • Microsoft Frontpage - A WYSIWYG tool but one which does all kinds of funny things with the HTML code it creates. For example, with web pages it is important to make good use of <h> tags for the sake of search engines like google. Frontpage seems to avoid using them by default. Not recommended.

  • Microsoft Word - Word can act like a WYSIWYG tool for creating HTML pages but it is even worse than Frontpage. Not recommended.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Lesson 1: Getting Started with HTML

A good place to start with learning HTML is Phil and Alex's Guide to Web Publishing - Chapter 5: Learn to Program HTML in 21 minutes.

Key things to note from this:
- Phil's standard HTML page template. You might want to make your own standard template and this would be a good place to start.
- "Now that you know how to write HTML, Dont" In the broadest sense I think he means don't get too fancy and try to separate HTML basic content from style, using Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). More on that later.
- Notice the comment about, 'The leading "/" '. I'll return to this point later but it is important in maintaining your sanity through structuring your website well.
- keep it simple

When you've finished chapter 5, Phil and Alex have covered Adding Images to Your Site in Chapter 6. Phil's fame comes from his invention of, so he knows what he's talking about.

To see essence of what Phil is saying, check out the simplicity and photographic excellence that is his 1994 award-winning travelogue, Travels with Samantha