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The 4 C's of Search Engine Optimization

Featured In Ad Age:

Ad Age Insights
How to Improve Your Search Engine Optimization
By C. J. Newton, Chief Strategy Officer
April 12th, 2010

True search engine optimization comprises a broader set of skills than simply copywriting or link building. It’s not just a matter of editing content, fiddling with keyword density, building link popularity, or adding title elements or meta tags.

At its foundation, true SEO expertise means developing websites that appeal to search engines as much as they do to potential customers… and in the process, improving your site’s usability, accessibility, and overall performance. Our approach to search engine optimization is summed up in The 4 C’s: Code, Content, Connectivity, and Commitment.

Code

There are two key “visitors” to your site: people and search engines. And search engines “visit” and evaluate websites in ways that are very different from people.

Designers and developers focus on human-operated user agents (or browsers). The goal is to create a rich, effective interaction between the user and your website through the browser. But there are thousands of ways to code any given web page so that it looks and acts the way it does when you visit it. The choices designers and developers make are critical not only to the success of the site in human terms, but also in search engine terms.

When a search engine “visits” a web page, it uses a very different kind of user agent, called robots, spiders, bots or crawlers, among other names. When a search engine “spiders” or “visits” a page, it sends requests to your server to retrieve a copy of that web page, but not for display. The spider simply scans the copy and stores some or all of its parts in a database. Spiders have very limited interactive ability. For example, spiders do not fill out web forms, so for the most part, they cannot see the data buried in many databases. Because of the limited interactive abilities of their spiders, the major search engines rely on developers to create web pages in special ways that help their spiders access the information. Unfortunately, most designers and developers focus exclusively on human-operated user agents. So, many sites you would consider to be incredibly useful and valuable are practically impenetrable by search engine spiders.

Of the four C’s, Code is most often overlooked and not fully realized in search engine optimization efforts. It also is the most misunderstood.

Put simply, optimized code is code that is lean, standards-compliant, and meaningful.

“Lean” code is written simply and elegantly and is exactly what is implied: code written with as few characters as is possible in order to achieve the desired visual and interactive effect. Keeping your code as lean as possible has several benefits, including improved page load speed, reduced overhead costs, and reduced site maintenance costs. It also leads to improved organic rankings, since a higher content-to-code ratio results in pages that are easier for search engines to “understand”.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is the standard-setting organization for web developers. As a group, it publishes guidelines used by the likes of Apple, Microsoft, Google and Mozilla for the creation of web browsers. Those guidelines enable browser creators and web developers to work together. Search engines also rely on these guidelines. Optimized code must comply with the standards set by the W3C.

A new set of standards is evolving, led by the major search engines themselves. For code to be truly “meaningful” to search engine spiders, your developers need to go one step beyond simple W3C compliance and adhere to the evolving semantic schemas created by Google, Bing, and Yahoo!.

Content

Optimizing content means researching and understanding the various keyword terms and phrases people searching for your products and services use, and aligning your site’s content so that it matches that specific searching behavior. We’re not talking about stuffing your site with commonly used phrases to try to improve rankings… our approach is to work with our clients to help them build websites that are truly a useful resource for their category or industry.

Despite the seemingly daily tweaks and changes Google and other search engines make to their ranking algorithms, one essential foundation of SEO remains the same: developing strong content that is seen as a truly useful resource for your prospective customers is the best way to drive link popularity and ultimately improve organic rankings.

Connectivity

There are two types of connectivity that matter in search engine optimization: intersite connectivity and intrasite connectivity. Intersite connectivity means connecting your website with other sites through link building, and it has always been critical to getting traffic and driving organic rankings.

Google attempts to measure the relative “importance” of a website by measuring the number of and quality of links that point to a site, then factoring that information into its overall ranking algorithm. Google calls this measure PageRank®, also known as Link Popularity.

Think of a link as a “vote”, that tells Google that your site is relevant… the more links you can get from sites that have more links pointing to themselves, the better. However, it’s not just a numbers game, and all links are not created equal. Google also judges the quality and relevance of a link based on several factors. The quality of the site that links to your site will impact the value of the link.

Commitment

In the long term, successful search engine optimization requires making a commitment to building a site that deserves to win. To do that, you must make SEO an integral part of everything you do online. That means building to W3C standards, maximizing performance and accessibility, creating useful, relevant resources for your visitors, and updating your site by adding new content regularly.

With 80% of all clicks originating in the natural results, organic search is the most effective way to drive highly targeted, qualified traffic to your site. Done properly, organic search is a powerful business driver and an extremely valuable long-term investment.

For an in-depth overview of search engine optimization and a thorough explanation of The 4 C’s of Search Engine Optimization, read the AdAge Insights White Paper written by SEO Logic’s Founder and Chief Strategy Officer C. J. Newton and published on April 12, 2010: “How to Improve Your Search Engine Optimization.”