3 C’s of Search Engine Optimization: Content, Code & Credibility

Over the years, we’ve had the opportunity to present at industry conferences to a wide variety of audiences on the topic of search engine optimization (SEO). In recent months, the audiences have been from industry organizations that are much less Web savvy. I’m so accustomed to talking with SEO-savvy professionals that I’ve had to change up my approach. In that vein, the following article is an attempt to present the core concepts of SEO strategy in an easy to digest and remember format. Simply put, the fundamentals of SEO can be boiled down to The 3 Cs: content, code and credibility.


As outlined in an earlier SEO article, content is indeed king. Without keyword-loaded HTML text on all key pages, there is little chance for a Web site to gain high visibility in search engines. Search engine spiders can’t read what they can’t see. Without eyes, the spider does not inherently know what an image or Flash animation depicts or contains, and therefore it will never give that content as much weight. In a similar fashion, sites with frames are a problem because the spiders have trouble locating multiple frames and only tend to index one frame before leaving

When a spider indexes a Web site, it looks for HTML text, as it can be easily read and understood. In order to show up in the top 10 (or even top 30) search engine results for any given search phrase, it is important to ensure your target phrases are embedded regularly throughout the page in question. Remember to include the phrases in the headline, high up in the body copy and again at the bottom, as engines like Google like the standard thesis approach to page layout. Also, look for opportunities to emphasize the phrase throughout the body copy by bolding, italicizing, underling or hyperlinking to other relevant content (example: search engine optimization).


With the proliferation of database-driven content management systems (CMS) and WYSIWYG editors, much of the source code behind a Web site that helps define the content and layout is large and clumsy. Spiders have trouble with some forms of programming languages that may make it easier to build or manage a Web site, like Javascript. The ideal solution to ensure your site is thoroughly indexed by search engines is to design it to widely accepted Web standards (basically less is more).

In addition to designing for spiders, the benefit of a Web standards-compliant site is that it will be accessible to the broadest set of browsers and connection speeds, improving the experience for visitors. To round out source code optimization, ensure that each and every page has keyword-optimized title, META and ALT tags. The keywords you select should be the same ones you focused on for the body copy on that page. For bonus points, ensure your domain is keyword-loaded, especially if the URL has a dynamic string of database parameters (all of those nonsensical letters, numbers and symbols after the .com should be replaced with keywords).


Now that we’ve talked about what site visitors see, and what goes on behind the scenes, it’s critical to understand one more element that affects how search engines like Google determine which site out of millions is displayed for a term like “luggage.”  Even if every page of your site has a reasonable occurrence of that term, and the URL and tags in the source code are optimized for the term, you still may never appear in the first 100 pages, let alone #3 on the first page.

To push yourself above and beyond the noisy competition, you need to build a sense of credibility with the search engine. The best way to do that is to acquire links from relevant industry sites that are ideally popular and are also visible in search for your target terms. The more popular and relevant a site is that links to you, the higher your link credibility (or PageRank) will be with Google. Sites that use link farms to boost their rankings often get penalized due to the lack of relevance or popularity of the pages that link to them. Quality over quantity is the mantra when undertaking a link development campaign.

Bonus: Conversion

I said I’d keep it simple, and 3 Cs does the trick for the most part, but we’re missing something. Even if you follow the above steps, you may still fall short for a variety of reasons. A common side effect of a poorly executed SEO campaign is a lack of additional leads or sales. That usually indicates your keyword terms missed the mark and need to be re-evaluated for relevant to the target audience. The right keywords = leads and sales.

The best way to ensure your keyword phrases are relevant is to closely monitor and analyze your site traffic via a Web analytics package like WebTrends. It can tell you what phrases generate traffic and from what search engine. If you have the proper setup and configuration, you can tie those to conversions (leads or sales). You can also utilize free tools from Overture and Google to evaluate new phrases and you can implement their conversion tracking tools to see which phrases convert via paid search and apply those learnings to your SEO efforts.

Your Web site is much more likely to increase in search engine visibility (and revenue) now that you are armed with the 4 Cs of SEO: content, code, credibility and conversion.


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