Organic search engine optimization: The Next Level

Article written for Canadian Tourism Commission’s Tourism Magazine – October 2006.

It’s the online equivalent of wining the lottery – a little bit every day. We all dream of finding our tourism product web pages on the first page produced by search engine queries. Achieving this is a sometimes?elusive art, but when you get right down to it, it is the result of a process far less complicated than rocket science.

The first step involves using Google or your own favourite engine to search for keywords you believe are the most relevant to your tourism offering. By analyzing the results, you will get a sense of who your competitors are, how you can go up against them and (if successful) eventually achieve first?page rankings. The size of the search volume results will help you identify the best keywords associated with your business and their probability of ranking well. They will also lead you to consider other tactics like perhaps focusing on the use of better?targeted keywords on your pages. There are free tools available to help you perform this task.

Once your keywords are defined, the next step is to write content around them and make sure each page is uniquely optimized for a maximum of two to three keywords. Choosing more keywords would be equivalent to diluting your efforts. You should consider the density of keywords on your page in relation to a particular angle you are optimizing. For instance, if you were to optimize for ten keywords, you would be entering into more competitive waters. This means that hypothetically, instead of competing against 2?million indexed pages with three given keywords, with 10 keywords you might all of a sudden find yourself submerged in a sea of 30?million pages, all competing against you.

Whilst there may not be strict guidelines governing keyword density, there is a general consensus that the ideal density for which you should aim is in the range of between 3% and 7% keyword?presence per page. A simple formula would be to take a keyword and divide it by the number of total words on that page. I would suggest you start at 3% to 4%. Wait for the first search engine crawls to see where you land in queries before you decide to increase density. On one page you may want to optimize for “Thunder Bay” and “hotels,” while on another page, you might choose to optimize for “hotels” in “Ontario”. Keep monitoring how your positioning evolves through the engines and revise the content of your pages as needed. >>>

Title tags, directories and doorway pages help sort out the online world

Look into your browser menus and find the view page source function. If you start looking behind the scenes in your html code, your will come across title tags. These are key to telling crawlers what each page is about. Then, look for meta description and meta keywords. This is how you communicate to crawlers what each page is about. This form of coding is an opportunity for you to reinforce what you are optimizing in the content you write for each page. Capitalizing on tags can be advantageous because you have already optimized for selected keywords. Make sure you include a title for the leading paragraph as well, and I also recommend you put in H1 tags. Then, you may have another paragraph down the page where you might want to be using H2 and H3 tags later on. You are telling the search engines that

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these are very important

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keywords, and usually, what you put into these tags are the keywords you are optimizing for that page. It is very basic stuff, but important nonetheless.

Link popularity is another aspect that will influence organic search optimizations. There are tools out there that will tell you how many links you have coming back to your site and what they are. There might be 100 websites linking to your website, but not all links are equal. Links coming back to the Canadian Tourism Commission’s website from, let’s say Casino sites, will not have the same weight as links from Tourism British Columbia’s website. Links to your site should originate from relevant sources like travel websites in this case.

There are automated systems available that will submit your linking requests for you, but the right way to submit links is very simple – if extremely tedious – work. You basically go out there and search the web for directories. There are hundreds, if not thousands, of them. Someone needs to manually submit your web site and make sure you adhere to link submission guidelines (so many words per title and so on). You must make sure you submit a page that will be deemed useful and which is consistent with the keywords being used. For instance, if you are sending a link to the page with “Vancouver” and “hotels” on your website, and the title for the link you are submitting is Canadian Tourism Commission, which is good but too generic, you might consider titling the page Vancouver Hotels listed with the Canadian Tourism Commission for a more effective optimization.

There is one directory everyone should be aware of: Google (just to give you a sense of how influential this directory is) looks to see if your website is listed in DMOZ. If it is, the likelihood of it ranking well will be significantly enhanced. In addition, search engines like Google and Yahoo now have well?honed image directories. Giving your image files descriptive names like banffvacations.jpeg on your pages will allow them to be picked up by the crawlers for indexing in these directories.

Another resource some people use are doorway pages. These are pages designed specifically to be attractive to search engines, containing links to your website. The key here is that the content and URLs should be different from your regular pages. If not, the crawlers could consider it spam. You must be very careful to leverage doorway or landing pages strategically; if you maintain websites for other markets (France, Germany, Mexico, etc.) and they are all hosted in Vancouver (as an example), you may want to have a doorway page that is hosted in Germany but connected through links to our internal German website on

Search engine optimization is about proving to search engines that your site is actually adding value to the consumers you are trying to reach. There are companies out there that are good at spamming, so the algorithms that guide the searches change all the time. One day, keyword density may be very important, but on another day, domain names are more important. Meta?tags may be more important one day than on another day. This is a way to keep the spammers out; there are people who are very sophisticated in trying to trick search engines, but in the end it is all about content. Our strategy is to build strong content. You try to code the site in a way that helps the search engines more easily figure out what the site is about. Where possible in your on?page content, bold instances of the keyword you’re optimizing for as this indicates to the search engines that these keywords are important and that’s what you’re optimizing for. Basically, the content is relevant for the keywords for which you are trying to optimize.

Lastly, beware of SEO firms or consultants that promise any kind of guaranteed rankings (such as first?page rankings within 60 days) as it is impossible for anyone to guarantee where you’ll end up on the search results. If it sounds too good to be true, then it more than likely is.

Clean up your web house, behave ethically, and stay on course; you will reap greater rewards in the end!

Top 20 do’s and don’ts of search engine optimization


  1. KEYWORDS: Find ways to naturally incorporate keywords in the existing website copy. Review the existing web page copy and look for opportunities to enhance it or expand content with keywords.
  2. META TAGS: Write unique titles for each web page based on the content. Each web page has the opportunity to rank for valuable keywords and provide more search engine real estate – the opportunity should not be wasted.
  3. ALT TAGS: Have the alt tag of products by the product name. A picture of a blue widget should have an alt tag of “blue widget”.
  4. CONTENT: Write good content with relevant and important keywords in mind. Content is king. Add fresh content on a regular basis to the website. The more frequently content is added to a website, the more frequently search?engine spiders visit that website.
  5. LINKS: Look for industry?related authority websites to acquire links from. Judging what makes a website an authority is more of an art than a science.
  6. DIRECTORIES: Submit to the Open Directory Project ( Submit to other valuable directories, especially: industry related, niche, and vertical. Pay for a Yahoo Directory listings ( Research other categories into which the website may fit. Submit subfolders and subdomains of a website if the content is unique enough.
  7. SEARCH ENGINE SUBMISSIONS: Use the Google Sitemaps Program to register the website. Use Yahoo’s urllist.txt option for large or dynamic websites.
  8. DOMAIN NAMES: Purchase other domain extensions to protect the brand in addition to dot com, especially DOT TRAVEL. Use 301 redirects on non?essential domains. A 301 tells a search?engine that the site or page has been permanently moved. This is the approved technique by the search?engines and should transfer and link value.
  9. GEO TARGETING: Add local content by area. Especially when servicing multiple regions, each geocentric focus of the website needs locally relevant information.
  10. WEBSITE ARCHITECTURE: Have every page of the website accessible through a link somewhere else. Add a Site Map to the top of every page. Orphaned pages may not be found by search?engines.


  1. KEYWORDS: Stuff keywords where they do not belong (using repeated words or words where they should not be is a poor tactic.) Don’t hide keywords with white on white text (this technique stopped working in early 2000). Do not add keywords to the website that are unrelated to it for the purpose of driving traffic. (While Brittany Spears may drive a lot of traffic as a keyword, it is valueless traffic if the Web site does not have anything to do with Brittany Spears.)
  2. META TAGS: Don’t repeat the same meta tags on every page of the website. Don’t have more than 70 characters in the title, or have more than 180 characters in the description.
  3. ALT TAGS: Don’t use an alt tag for keywords unrelated to the image or web?page. (A picture for a red widget should not have an alt tag of “Brittany Spears”.)
  4. CONTENT: Don’t create doorway pages. This is probably the number one poor SEO technique that has been utilized. Do not create machine?generated pages with fake content and inserted keywords. (This is a more advanced strategy than doorway pages and is even more likely to get flagged by a search?engine.)
  5. LINKS: Don’t buy links for the sole purpose of manipulating page rank.
  6. DIRECTORIES: Do not submit to directories that are suspect as pure link?farms. They are usually recognizable by silly domain names and no real purpose other than links.
  7. SEARCH ENGINE SUBMISSIONS: Don’t use automated submission programs; they are more likely to cause problems.
  8. DOMAIN NAMES: Do not point multiple domains to the same IP. and should not point to the same content without a redirect. And don’t duplicate content between domain names.
  9. GEO TARGETING: Do not add geocentric content for areas that are not serviced. (A realtor that is not licensed in Florida should not develop content around the Sunshine State to generate leads for Georgia properties!)
  10. WEBSITE ARCHITECTURE: Don’t use Flash for an entire website – it is minimally index?able by a search?engine. Don’t use Frames. Don’t have all Java navigation. (Java is difficult to index and links may not be followed.)


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