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Search Engine Optimization FAQ

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This post is part of a series called SEO Fundamentals for Web Designers.
A Web Designer's SEO Checklist (Including Portable Formats)
Quick Tip: Use “x-default hreflang” for International Landing Pages

So far we’ve answered several SEO-related questions in this Session. Nevertheless it’s a good idea to bundle some important questions, add some new ones and create an SEO FAQ. Can’t find the answer to your questions? Post a comment and we’ll try to help you.


To help you quickly navigate between sections, here's a breakdown of what's covered:


SEO Basics

How do search engines work?

Search engines aim to build an index of all web pages via crawlers. These bots follow links (href and src) and index the files they encounter. When you enter a search query, search engines retrieve the most relevant web pages from their index and sort them based on several ranking factors.

What is black-hat / white-hat SEO?

White-hat SEO refers to techniques which search engines recommend as part of good design. They produce long-term results. Black-hat SEO involves techniques that are disapproved of by search engines. These can get your site penalized or ultimately banned from the index.

Which SEO tactics are considered black-hat?

There are several techniques that are considered black-hat, such as:

  • Keyword stuffing: packing long lists of keywords on your site. The content usually has little or no value.
  • Cloaking: serving different content to crawlers and visitors.
  • Hidden text: hiding keyword-rich text in the background or off-screen.
  • Doorway pages: pages created specifically for crawlers.

Which factors affect the ranking of my pages?

There are more than 200 factors which are used to determine the relevancy of your pages. We don’t know all of them, but research has identified several important elements:

  • Backlinks: a link to a site is seen as a vote for that site. The more links a page gets, the better. Links from domains with a high authority are more valuable.
  • On-page factors: such as the title of the page, formatting, content, images and so on.
  • Domain age: as a rule of thumb; older is better.
  • Update frequency: frequently posting new articles or updating pages generally has a positive effect.

What is Google Panda / Penguin?

Google Panda and Penguin are updates to Google’s search engine ranking algorithm. The Panda update was first released in 2011 to improve the visibility of high-quality sites. Google Penguin was announced in April 2012 and penalized websites which used Black-hat SEO techniques.


Search Engine Result Pages

Why isn't my site showing up in the search results?

This is probably one of the most common SEO-related questions. There are several causes which might prevent your site from showing up in the search results.

First of all you should perform a site: search in Google (e.g.: site:webdesign.tutsplus.com) to see if it has been indexed yet. If you see a list of pages, your site has been crawled and indexed by Google. If you see the following message it has not yet been indexed or it might have been removed from the index by violating Google’s Guidelines.

domain not indexed

If your site did show up, you probably need to work on your site authority. Publish unique content that solves visitors' needs and try to earn links from relevant, authoritative domains.

How can I remove a page from Google’s index?

You can prevent a page from being indexed by Google with the help of the robots.txt file or robots meta tag. If you want to remove a page that has already been indexed, you can do this via Webmaster Tools > Optimization > Remove URLs.

Can password protected pages get indexed?

No, search engines can not crawl the content on password protected pages, hence they can not be indexed.

Can search engines index pages that are served via an https-connection?

Google can index https-pages (PayPal’s homepage is indexed as a https-version for example).

Warning: this can sometimes be the cause of duplicate content if both http and https versions are indexed.

Does traffic affect my ranking?

Short answer: no.

Why not? Because the amount of traffic a page receives is not a ranking factor. Yes, high traffic websites are usually correlated with high rankings, but the high ranking is not a direct consequence of traffic. Search engines don’t know how much traffic a website gets. They know how much they sent to a website, but they don’t know how much direct or referral traffic it may get, so they have incomplete data. And if you’re using Google Analytics on your site, Google can’t use this data due to privacy concerns.

So traffic doesn’t affect your ranking. Your link profile, content, domain authority, etc. affect your ranking. This will in turn improve the amount of visitors you get.

Why do my search results differ from my friend/colleague/wife/husband...?

Sometimes you might see different search results than someone else. This is due to search personalization. Search personalization is based on your search history and is tracked via your Google+ profile or cookies. For this reason SERPs might sometimes look a little bit different.

Don’t worry though, search personalization can be disabled.

How do I get my new site indexed?

It’s impossible to appear in the search results if search engines don’t know your site exists, hence why a lot of people ask how they can get their new site crawled and indexed. There are several things you can do:

  • Create an XML Sitemap and submit it via Google / Bing Webmaster Tools. This is an easy way of informing search engines about the pages you have already published.
  • Create some backlinks to your site. Crawlers discover new pages by following links. Doing some basic link building can help your new site get indexed.
  • You can submit your site to Google. Some people argue that this method has become obsolete, but it can’t harm your site and only takes a few seconds. So wouldn't you do that? Use Google's webmaster tools to submit your new site.

When should I begin seeing improvements in my rankings?

This is a rather tough question to answer. Improvements can be seen after a few days, weeks or even months. There are several factors to consider, such as the previous state of the website, the amount and type of changes, crawl rate, keyword competitiveness and so on. SEO is usually a long term strategy that can take several months.

How do I get my profile picture in search results?

You need to implement authorship information to display your profile image (via Google+). This article details you how to do this.

On a related note: how do I get star ratings and thumbnails in search results?

These are called rich snippets. They are automatically generated by search engines when you implement structured data, such as Microdata, Microformats or RFDa. More info can be found in a previous article.

Does a Google +1 affect rankings?

Yes, but only marginally. Because +1 is a relative new ranking signal, Google is still learning how it affects search quality.


Domains

Do domain extensions matter?

Country-specific domain extensions (.de, .fr, .it...) can help you rank for local searches in your country. There is no ranking benefit of choosing a certain generic domain extensions (.com, .net, .org...).

Should I invest in exact-match domains?

Exact-match domains are, as the name suggests, domain names that match a certain keyword or phrase. For example: if you want to rank for the term ‘rare baseball cards’, you could buy the domain rarebaseballcards.com (exact match domain).

This type of domain used to be really powerful in the past. However, in September last year an algorithm update was released that reduces low-quality exact-match domains in search results. I suggest choosing a short domain name which is easy to remember.

I just migrated my site to a new domain. When it comes to SEO, what should I pay attention to?

The most important aspect of a site migration is URL redirection. Use a 301-redirect to send visitors from the old pages to the new. You can notify Google of a site migration via Webmaster Tools (Configuration > Change of address).


Content

Should I optimize my page for the singular or plural of my keyword?

When you write naturally, you automatically use both forms in your text. Remember that it’s important to provide your readers with quality content. Text that has been over-optimized for a single keyword (without variations, synonyms, etc), will not be pleasant to read. Visitors come first, search engines second!

What is long tail traffic?

Long tail traffic comes from very specific keywords. So instead of ‘photoshop tutorial’ (short tail keyword), you get traffic from ‘photoshop tutorial for photo manipulation’ (long tail). Long tail traffic has less competition than traffic from short tail keywords.

Which meta tags should I use?

The meta keywords tag has become redundant, so you don’t have to add it. The meta-description tag on the other hand, is still be useful to convince people to visit a page.

What is search engine friendly design?

Search engines have trouble reading certain content types (images, video’s, flash...). A search engine friendly design is a website that can easily be crawled and indexed.

Does content length matter?

Search engines prefer longer pieces of content (usually +300 words). But that doesn’t mean shorter articles can’t perform well. It’s better to focus on the quality of your content than on content length.

How can I optimize images?

There are three ways to optimize an image:

  • File-name: choose a descriptive file name instead of a random string of words and numbers.
  • Alt-tag: add an alt-tag with a short description to your image.
  • File size: find a balance between file size and quality for improved loading times.

What is duplicate content?

Duplicate content is exactly what you think it is: two pages which have identical content. In this case Google rarely shows both pages in the search results, so duplicate content can be problematic.

Duplicate content can be created intentionally (for example the print version of a page) or accidentally (because of URL parameters, inconsistent linking, etc.).


URLs

Should I use absolute or relative URLs for internal linking?

For example:

Absolute URL: http://website.com/blog/page.html

Relative URL: /blog/page.html

Relative URLs exclude the root domain of the site. When it comes to SEO, it’s best to use absolute URLs.

How should I split words in a URL?

It’s best to use hyphens (-). Using other punctuation marks, such as underscores (_) and plus signs (+) might confuse search engines. Using no separators at all should also be avoided.

Should I use subdomains or subfolders?

It’s best to use subfolders. This can facilitate the correct indexation of your pages by search engines. If you have several, non-related products, you can use subdomains.

Can Google index dynamic URLs?

Google has come a long way when it comes to handling dynamic URLs. Most of the time they will interpret the various parameters correctly. However, you can help Google with this task via Google Webmaster Tools.

For more information on creating SEO friendly URLs, take a look at our article on the subject.

Links

Are reciprocal links bad?

No, reciprocal links aren’t bad. However, one-way incoming links seem to be more valuable.

What is a link farm?

A link farm is a massive network of sites with a single purpose: linking to other websites. These types of links are considered to be a form of spam.

What is a nofollow link?

Nofollow is a link attribute that tells search engines not to pass any PageRank to the linked page. This means that a nofollow link will not improve your ranking.

Someone wants to pay me to place a link to his site on my site. Should I do this?

The practice of buying links to improve the ranking of a page goes against Google’s Webmaster Guidelines. This is no surprise because you’re basically manipulating Google’s algorithm. That’s why these tactics are considered black-hat. Worst case scenario is a penalty for your site. But in reality it’s pretty hard for Google to discover paid links. Nevertheless it’s best to be careful.

What is link bait?

Link bait is content that is created to naturally attract links. These are usually controversial pieces of content that automatically generate a viral effect. For example ‘The Inconvenient Truth About SEO’ by Paul Boag, where he argues that SEO is redundant. The article attracted a high number links from popular websites.

Can other websites damage my site?

In theory, competitors can harm your website by building a high volume of low quality links to it, or links from malicious websites. Google developed a tool to counter these practices, called the Disavow Tool. The Disavow Tool allows you to tell Google which links to ‘ignore’.

What is negative SEO?

Same answer as above: low-quality links to a site that damage a site’s ranking. These links have a detrimental effect and have therefore earned the name "negative SEO".


There's More...

Can't find the answer to an SEO-related question in this list? Post a comment and we'll try to answer it for you!

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