What Goes In a Well-Optimized Site?


Posted by Sam Battin, Senior Search Strategist, SEO

Performics SEO blog talks about the elements that appear in well-optimized sites.

I’d like to talk about the site “stackoverflow.com”—not as a plug, but instead as an example of a site that’s well optimized for natural search.  On their statistics page

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/12/stack-overflow-2010-analytics/

they state that 87% of their traffic comes from Google.  Search-wise, that probably means they’re doing something right.  So what are they doing?

StackOverflow.com is primarily a question and answer site for code.  All types of code, from C# to Java to simpler applications like Powerpoint and Word.  Programmers write in to ask and answer questions.  For example, a typical stackoverflow user might have a really obscure question like

“IronPython bug related to long boolean expressions?” 

When a visitor posts their question on StackOverflow.com, they don’t know the answer; however, they do know that many programmers frequent the site, and very often at least one of them can provide an answer.

StackOverflow.com uses the phrasing of user-submitted questions as its primary keyword set.  For example, each question gets its own unique URL.  The URL for the question above incorporates the question into the URL, e.g.

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4620615/ironpython-bug-related-to-long-boolean-expressions

Then the title tag of this unique URL incorporates the question as well, e.g.

<title>IronPython bug related to long boolean expressions? – Stack Overflow</title>

The question is also used as the <H1> tag of the page and forms double service as an HREF link to itself, e.g.

<h1><a href=”/questions/4620615/ironpython-bug-related-to-long-boolean-expressions”>IronPython bug related to long boolean expressions?</a></h1>

Following all this is body text (written by the contributor) that explains the situation that gave rise to the question in the first place.

Stackoverflow.com also uses “Tags” on each page as links to other related questions.  For example, this particular question has the tag “Ironpython” (the name of a computer language).  Visitors (and search engines) can follow this link to other questions that have also been tagged with “ironpython.”  Tag pages on StackOverflow.com are essentially landing pages for more general search terms.  The network of internal links for “IronPython” gives all of StackOverflow.com’s landing pages more authority for search queries related to this subject; if the search engine user looking for info about ironpython doesn’t find exactly what they need on a particular question page, they might find what they need only one click away in another question page about ironpython.

Stackoverflow also adds “Related” links on each question page, e.g. even more plain HREF links to particular question pages, such as

Is it safe to execute user entered expressions as IronPython
IronPython: How to install IronPython Studio
etc…

This further increases the page’s relevancy and authority for search queries about “IronPython.” 

The site is geared towards usability as well, which is essential for a successful site.  StackOverflow.com encourages the trading of information by new visitors by making the site totally free to use without any registration required.  (Incidentally, what many companies have to realize about their Web sites is that they’re competing with “free.”  If you’re charging for your information, there’s always going to be sites that aren’t, and your customers may go there if they think they’ll get a better deal.)

So with all this highly concentrated information on each page, search engines have a high degree of certainty that this particular stackoverflow.com page is relevant to a wide variety of related search queries, such as “iron python boolean,” “iron python bug,” and so on.  The queries don’t need to exactly match the page title or <H1> tag, since the tag links improve the page’s usefulness for broad informational queries.

If you happen to be running an informational Web site, you can think about what stackoverflow.com is doing and apply these elements to your site.  Is your information split up into tiny little bits that search engines can understand?  Is the information on each page accurately linked to other related information?  Does the site use javascript, flash, or other technologies that search engines can’t use?  How easy is it for a new user to start using the site? 

How well are you competing with “free”?

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