Most small businesses that run a website today don't have the insider knowledge to optimize their content and overall visibility online. I personally handle internet marketing issues--SEO, PPC, e-mail marketing, copywriting--every day, and I'm always surprised to see how many businesses have no understanding of what SEO means, let alone know how to approach it.
In the vast sea of websites--from e-commerce, media and informational websites to blogs and wikis--most site owners use a basic approach to search engine optimization. They submit their site to more than 200 search engines and blast these with some domains and keywords that may be related to the site. Some go to blogs and forums--related or not--and start "fishing" for links (making random, non-intelligent forum comments and submitting links back to their site). Even worse, they'll pay companies to undertake this useless exercise.
Next, if that doesn't work, they will purchase a marketing book, apply all the techniques and sit back, hoping that something will take. Often this will be done by an IT person who has been told to optimize the company website, which isn't part of their daily routine or knowledge space.
Rather than these slapdash attempts, you need a strong, long-term commitment to SEO and must always stay on top of the search engines and their ever-changing, underlying landscape.
Google, the top search engine--and the one to optimize for--handles more than 50 percent of search traffic and utilizes more than 100 algorithms to track and manage HTML content ("on-page factors"), external profiles ("off-page factors"), link architectures, popularity and reputation, as well as PageRank calculation (a complex site voting system) and web bots. The content gathered from spidering search-friendly sites gets stored into huge databases (called the "index") on a powerful grid of network computers.
Google weighs all of these elements into an overall score, and if you have optimized well in all areas and have reviewed your competition and their strategy (I'll talk about how to do this in an upcoming article), you can and will rank well for fairly competitive key terms. You must realize, though, that the more competitive your term is, the longer it will take--but you can get there.
How to Reach the Top
Here's a 10-step plan to improve site visibility and increase search-friendliness. The first five steps address parts of your website's HTML code, while the final five are more abstract. Together, they add up to a "must do" SEO list.
1. Title tag (<title>SEO Gone Wild - microsaw.com</title>)
- This is most important of all. If you have the title tag set up right, and it's a unique enough phrase, you could rank on page one for this alone.
- Write your keywords early in the title, and place your company name last--unless you are Coca-Cola, or have a huge brand.
2. Meta tags
- Description--<meta name="description" content=""/>. Place your page content description between the blank quotes with a call to action statement like, "Sign up here," or "Call us at 800 XXX-XXXX."
- Keywords--<meta name="keywords" content=""/>. Place keywords between the quotation marks after "content," separated by commas. Google ignores this, but it appears that other search engines still review it.
3. Header tags
- H1--This HTML tag should contain your core keywords, one per page.
- H2--This HTML tag should contain derivatives of the keywords.
- Content--Use content that matches the keywords on your site. You should ideally have 400 to 800 words on a page.
- Bolding--Include bolded keywords that match your topic/theme on the page.
- Create a blog--Wordpressis an amazing blog that is free and can easily be optimized via plug-ins. Then, write entries twice a week.
- Use links and anchor text to create popularity and reputation around keywords (example: don't link to just "click here," but create a better link like, "download the digital camera white paper").
- Internal links (link to other pages on your site)
- Outbound links (you link to another authority site on your topic)
- Reciprocal links (join link exchanges and contact partners to exchange links)
- One-way links (when other sites link to your blog, press releases or articles) are typically more effective than outbound and reciprocal ones.
- If starting a new site, try to get an established URL (purchase it if you have to).
- Use keywords in an easy-to-remember domain. Google recognizes domains that have been around and establishes credibility; you can avoid the Google Sandbox (where you don't show up in the index for months, potentially).
7. Users first, then search engine
- Make sure your sites have valuable and readable content. If you've optimized for search engines only and no users stick around your website, you haven't been successful.
8. Keyword research
- Keyword development is one of the first places to start. Two to three keywords per page is possible. Combined with the items listed in the first five steps above, you will have a high success score.
- Use tools like Yahoo! Search Marketing/Overture, Google's Keyword Tool and SEOBook keywords tool.
- Try to shoot for keywords that have higher search counts; over 20,000 searches for your keyword are good, but it all depends on your industry.
- Find out what the competition is doing. Type in your search term into a search engine and locate three to five of the top results. Look at these sites and see what they are doing in the HTML (on-page) and linking (off-page) areas. I'll discuss this more in a future article.
- To find out how many sites are linking to your competition, type "link:http://www.competitorname.com" into Google. Do the same in Yahoo!, and you'll see a higher count because Yahoo! is more all-inclusive.
10. Be cool.
- Don't let this business get to you; it's frustrating at times. SEO is a long-term commitment. Some weeks are great, others are not.
- It's a serious investment of time, sweat and staying the course. The best success factors I've seen: Approach content and website design in a natural way; be ethical (don't spam); and keep it real--it's a business, and nothing comes for free.
Don't forget that search/internet marketing is multi-faceted. Traditional Marketing 101 teachers would say to build a comprehensive plan for marketing. Don't just work the online factors, but create a sound strategy around offline marketing, using ideas like postcards, trade magazines ads, phone/sales work, word of mouth and additional tactics that can help create a "buzz" around your products and services. Search engine optimization applied correctly will create better visibility online, but it's just one part of your overall marketing strategy.
Jon Rognerud is a recognized authority on the subject of search engine optimization and has spent more than 15 years developing websites and marketing solutions at companies like Overture and Yahoo!. His website provides a wealth of informative articles, resources and complimentary e-mail courses on everything you'll ever need to know about SEO and search marketing.