Pagerank, SEO , and other bits of Geekiness

Since I just spent the past week setting up this new site I figured I would make sure I optimized it in the process. This meant a little research. I go in spurts when it comes to what interests me and this week I was on a technology spur–updating my understanding of Page Rank, Sitemaps, and SEO. Things have changed a bit since I started doing this and sometimes it is hard to keep up. I found some information that will not only benefit those who have websites through me but anyone who has heard these terms being thrown around. (For those who have websites through Elasah.com–in the next week I will be optimizing your sites for search engines–yeah!)

First, I am sure most of you have read here and there about page rank and SEO, and while some are all on top of this stuff and already get it others are scratching their heads.

First, what is Page Rank?

Page Rank is Google’s way of determining how important a website is on the internet. (You can check yours here.)

I found a very detailed, mathematical explanation of how Google’s page rank works here. Very cool but a bit too much explanation. Basically it is a way for Google’s spiders, without having to actually understand the page, to look at all the links in and out and in between and decide its importance based on this information.

This is important to you (if you care about such things), much more important than those cute little movie rating or getting a great vote on Homeschool bloggers because it determines how easy you are to find by someone looking for you. It affects whether you get on the front page for different searches. This isn’t that important if you are running a small family website for fun or a personal journal type blog, it is VERY important if you are trying to make money from ads on your site, if you are trying to be a big blog/website, or if you have something to sell.

That said, getting a Sitemap and keeping it updated helps Google better index your site. Sitmaps used to be a big deal when I first started designing web pages (about 10 years ago), then they weren’t for a while, and now they are BIG. So what is a sitemap and how do you get one and submit it?

The simplest explanation of a Sitemap is here. It is a page on your website that shows the organization of your site, listing vital information like when it was last updated, it’s importance, and other useful (for search engines) information. This page has a special format that the spiders from search engines can navigate and recognize. (In order to make it accessible to humans you have to make a copy of the page in .html.)

You can create one by hand using the protocol (I wouldn’t recommend this if you are uncomfortable around code) but you can create one for free using http://www.freesitemapgenerator.com. It still takes some technical knowledge and the ability to access your ftp server but once you get it going it works pretty well. (As I said, those on my server will soon have this occur automatically since I am in the process of doing all my sites and those I serve.)

While you are waiting for it to generate you should be setting yourself up on both Google Analytics and Google Webmaster control. Once you have submitted your site to Google Webmaster control and have your sitemap finished you can submit the sitemap in the same location you submitted your website.

Another thing you can do while you are waiting is read up on what Google has to say about SEO (Search Engine Optimization. Very good advice, especially good since it is right from the source.) There is a brief and easy to comprehend overview here and the full document can be found here. If you follow these guidelines you are more likely to have a decent Pagerank which means more readers will find your page.

Finally, once you have done all that you will have time to explore the wonderful stuff available at Google Webmaster Control and Google Analytics. There are some interesting and helpful bits of information there, and enough fun bits to keep you busy for hours–for instance: Google Analytics shows you where everyone who visits your page is from, in fact–if you click on the map it will show you the states and then the cities. You will also learn what your most popular articles are, which outgoing links get the most clicks and all kinds of other fascinating things. Have fun.