Posey's Tips & Tricks

The Evolution of Search Engine Optimization

Brien breaks down on what has changed in the world of SEO in his years of absence.

About ten years ago I was really big into search engine optimization (SEO). At the time I owned several Web-based businesses so SEO was an essential skill. Over time I disposed of those businesses for various reasons, so I admittedly haven't done much with SEO in quite some time.

A couple of months ago things changed. I decided to create a series of blogs related to various non IT-related subjects, The first blog that I launched was www.Poker-Run-Boats.com. It is a site for performance boating enthusiasts who like to work on their own boats. The second blog that I launched was www.howicruise.com. That one is a travel and cruise blog that chronicles some of my travels.

When I created those blogs (and some other blogs that have not launched yet) I assumed that the SEO techniques that I had used so long ago would still be relevant. How wrong I was. There were at least three things about the process that really surprised me.

The first big surprise was the discovery that a site's menu structure can REALLY hurt the SEO process. Right now my cruise site has a lot more content than my performance boating site. There are probably right around 100 articles on the site at the moment. Since there was so much content I built a series of menus to help visitors to the site to navigate the content. What I didn't realize at the time, however, was that the search engines are unable to differentiate between menus and page content (at least with the way that my site was built). The end result was that the search engines treated the site as a spam site. They thought that the site was nothing more than dozens of pages containing nothing but links to one another. 

The second big surprise was the fact that some search engines no longer use key words. When I used to optimize my sites back in the day, the process was all about key word usage. Today search engines like Google don't even look at your keyword list. As it turns out, key word loading was so heavily abused that Google and some others do not even take the keyword meta tag contents into account any more.

The third big surprise has to do with the tools that are available to help you with search engine optimization. SEO tools have been available for a decade or more. Although I did experiment with some SEO tools many years ago, I have historically done most of my site optimization by hand. However, this time things were different.

I couldn't figure out why the Google Webmaster Tools indicated that Google wasn't sending any traffic to my cruise site. No matter what I did, I could not seem to resolve the problem. That being the case, I decided to try out some of the SEO tools to see if they could tell me what the problem was. It was one of those tools that led me to discover that my menu structure was causing my site to be treated as a spam site.

The thing that surprised me about the various SEO tools is that almost all of them are still keyword based, even though keywords are far less important than they used to be. Furthermore, it is tough to simply buy an SEO tool these days. Most of the better SEO tools are now only offered on a monthly subscription basis.

Thankfully, those needing extra help with the SEO process are not stuck using outdated and perpetually costly SEO tools. Microsoft actually offers a free SEO tool that is designed specifically for sites that are hosted on IIS. The tool is called the Free SEO Toolkit and is optimized for Bing, Google, and Yahoo. You can download the tool here.

The tool allows you to enter your site's URL. After doing so, the site is analyzed and a series of reports are created. The most helpful of these reports is the Violations report which essentially tells you about any problems that the tool detects on your Web site. Violations can include things like broken links, unnecessary redirects, and missing descriptions. The nice thing about the Microsoft SEO tool besides it being free is that it does not use keywords.

I won't claim to be an SEO expert, but thanks to Microsoft's free SEO tool I am learning how to optimize my sites and to correct problems that I probably would have otherwise overlooked.

About the Author

Brien Posey is a 22-time Microsoft MVP with decades of IT experience. As a freelance writer, Posey has written thousands of articles and contributed to several dozen books on a wide variety of IT topics. Prior to going freelance, Posey was a CIO for a national chain of hospitals and health care facilities. He has also served as a network administrator for some of the country's largest insurance companies and for the Department of Defense at Fort Knox. In addition to his continued work in IT, Posey has spent the last several years actively training as a commercial scientist-astronaut candidate in preparation to fly on a mission to study polar mesospheric clouds from space. You can follow his spaceflight training on his Web site.


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