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Basics of Search Engine Optimization

Understanding how can you get a substantial increase in “free” web site traffic through basic search engine optimization begins with the fundamentals. These recommendations assume a site does not possess any technical issues that may cause a search engine to avoid indexing it or to not index it properly. That’s a topic for another article.

First, what is search engine optimization? Also known as “SEO”, search engine optimization can be defined as a set of methodologies aimed at improving the visibility of a website in search engine listings.

If you have a web site, no one will find it unless you promote it. Promotion opportunities for a web site vary and should include both offline and online tactics. On the Internet, the most common way for users to find web sites is through search engines. In fact, a recent study shows more people are using search engines than the Yellow Pages to find vendors.

Search engines work by “crawling” the internet, following known links to find updated pages and new web sites, saving copies along the way. The information from the saved web page text is analyzed by sophisticated algorithms that assign values for categorization and ranking. Additionally, the linking relationship of the indexed site is compared to similar sites and communities of sites.

Even though there are many variations in types of web sites and search engines are constantly refining their ranking methodologies, there are a common set of rules to follow for better search engine placement.

  1. Do your keyword homework. You can gain important insight into what types of phrases are being used to find your type of web site with keyword research tools. and offer free tools for this purpose. As you categorize and create content, keep keywords in mind.
  2. Use keywords in title tags. The title tag is critical for a search engine to understand and rank a page. Make sure each page of your web site includes a unique, keyword-rich, descriptive and readable title tag of 8 – 10 words. Example: “XYZ Company Widgets – Blue, Green & Black widgets in all sizes”.
  3. On page text. Use a version of your title tag on the visible page of your site – the higher up on the page, the better. A keyword-rich tagline will also do. This is important for search engines and your site visitors.
  4. Content is good. Fresh content is better. Plan to add new pages of content on a regular basis. New pages should follow a theme and be placed into categories. If you sell “widgets” then add product reviews, press releases, customer comments, how-to information, etc on a regular basis. Incorporate “widget” related keywords in the title tags, on-page titles and descriptive text on the new content being created. Search engines will give a preference to sites that offer new content over time.
  5. Link in, link out. All major search engines use incoming and outgoing links as a way to measure a site’s popularity with a preference to incoming links from authoritative and information rich web sites. Ask distributors, marketing partners and clients to link to your site using keyword rich link text and descriptions. For example, if you sell red widgets, the link text might be: “Company XYZ Red Widgets” and link to the page on your web site that offers the best information on “red widgets”. Avoid exchanging links with other sites that have nothing to do with your industry. In fact, you might consider avoiding link exchanges altogether. Link out to other web sites related to your content such as industry associations, organizations, manufacturers, publications, articles, etc.
  6. Link smart. Linking the pages within your site is important especially if you can link keywords in a sentence to another page that provides more detail. Example: “Company XYZ offers a complete range of widgets for every type of occasion or event.” where “widgets” is linked to your widgets product page. This applies to links within the pages of your site as well as links from other web sites.
  7. Make a map. Make it easier for a search engine to find all the pages of your web site by including a site map. A site map page is a collection of plain text links to all the major web pages of your web site. Do not place more than 100 links on one page. It works best to link to the site map from the home page.
  8. Avoid JavaScript links. Most search engines do not follow JavaScript links such as mouse over images, drop down and foldout menus. If you cannot avoid using these types of site navigation, offer an alternative text navigation area at the bottom of your pages.
  9. To submit or not to submit. While Google, Yahoo and MSN offer free submission forms, the fastest way for your site to be included in a search engine is to be linked by sites that are already in. Rather than pay a service to submit your site, pay for a press release and have it submitted through an online newswire service. Include links to your company web site in the release and each web site that publishes the release becomes a link to your company. Take the time to research and submit to important directories such as and Yahoo directory.
  10. Monitor your progress and have patience. For competitive phrases and new web sites it can take 2-6 months to see an improvement in rankings. Mature sites in niche categories may only take weeks to see initial progress. Measure your site rankings, unique visitors and conversions and watch for trends. Fluctuations are common but sudden, persistent drops or spikes are cause for further investigation.

Companies we’ve consulted with that have implemented even the most basic site-wide tactics have experienced increases in traffic of 100% – 500% in six months depending on the situation.

Overall, ensure your site is easy for search engines to find and crawl. Make sure you use keywords in titles, on the page and in links but don’t overdo it. Never stop finding other web sites that will provide a one-way link to your site and add new content on a regular basis. Follow these steps and in time you may see much better rankings and sales online.

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