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5 Easy Ways to Improve Your Site's Search Engine Ranking Instead of trying to create traffic, learn to stand in front of it.

By Pattie Simone Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Juliet Johnson is one happy camper these days. That's because this determined owner of Juliet Johnson Staging, a high-end staging firm specializing in staging homes in the range of $1 million to $3 million for resale in northern New Jersey--went from being nonexistent in search engine rankings to consistently showing up on the first page for her keywords of choice.

"I decided to stand in front of traffic instead of trying to create my own," says Johnson, who achieved her goal in 90 days with lots of personal sweat equity. She gave up TV and started blogging, created Squidoo lenses and launched a BlogTalkRadio show, where she interviewed top Realtors covering her geographic service footprint. Johnson also wrote and published pithy, keyword-rich articles and expanded her network (showcasing her expertise in the process) on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. Her "publish, share, discuss" approach, along with strategic tagging (assigning specific, business-focused keyword phrases and differentiators every time she posted articles, internet radio shows, etc. online) worked like a charm. In addition, Johnson also made sure she added relevant lifestyle tags into the mix--she's a mother, a stager and a social media nut who loves red wine and supports the NFL's New York Giants. She joined groups of like-minded folks--mom groups, moms who work from home, etc.--and opined with vigor, humor and authenticity. All her activities yielded a rich, multifaceted promotional campaign that served two very strategic purposes--establishing her street cred and expertise as a premiere home stager and raising her search engine rankings--without ever leaving her home base.

"I created social capital, which resulted in me more than doubling my business," says Johnson, who has been happily sharing her success story with other entrepreneurs and her local women's networking groups. While she readily admits that there's value in engaging others who specialize in strategy development and implementation to organically boost search engine rankings, Johnson decided to "trade time for dollars."

So what do the experts say about achieving search ranking dominance in specific market sectors via relevant keyword searches? A lot. And while there are scads of excellent books and online resources on search engine optimization, here's the skinny about the top five easy and cheap steps you can do right now to improve your website search engine rankings and sales.

1. Find out where you stand
The old adage still rings true: You can't fix it if you don't know what's broken! Before you do anything, Jill Whalen, CEO of High, a Boston search engine optimization consulting firm, recommends you install Google Analytics on your site. "It's free and can tell you how each page is working, or not," says Whalen, who has been in the website optimization business since 1995. This handy tool can give you specific insight as to which pages get the most views, which links are clicked on, where you get the most visitors from by state or nation, and how long each visitor spends on any page and where they go while in your site. This data provides specific behavioral records of your site visitors, as well as insight on what pages work (where visitors linger or act) vs. pages that people click away from quickly.

2. Conduct keyword research
What phrases are people using to find your kind of services or products? Per Marc Canabou, senior director and product management leader at Yahoo! Search Advertising, you need to keep a few things in mind. First, know that online traffic is always evolving--Canabou says that in any given quarter, 20 percent of all Yahoo! queries are new. Second, different audiences convert in different ways. Per Canabou, men search more and women click more. Determine what keywords and keyword phrases are relevant to your specific business, geographic footprint and target markets. Christine Churchill, president of KeyRelevance, a Texas-based search engine marketing company, recommends tapping into a few free (or inexpensive) tools to help you identify the strongest keywords and keyword phrases. She says your success depends on good research and should be an ongoing process. She warns: "Don't use popularity as the only criteria, but look at user intent and objectives." Here are a few basic tools to get you started:

  • Even if you aren't going to do pay-per-click advertising, the Google keyword tool is great for research.
  • trends in search volume, also allows you to compare popular search phrases.
  • pulls meta data from internet service providers, eliminating most skewing issues.
  • Clusty--a search engine that allows you to see search results by topic, which may uncover some unexpected relationships between items.
  • Google Sets can be frustrating in terms of its lean results, but supposedly it can help you expand your keyword lists.
  • Keyword Discovery--an advanced keyword suggestion tool using global databases.
  • Quintura--a search tool that gives you keyword clouds, allows navigation between clouds, helps you to come up with different broad ideas for keywords and articles.

3. Get your website content up to snuff
Now that you've got a grasp on which keywords and keyword phrases are relevant to your specific services, products and target markets, the next step is to use them--both in the content that the consumer sees on each page and the coding they do not (i.e., with unique, relevant meta data for page title tags and descriptions tags). Whalen says to look at every page on your site and decide on three to five phrases per page to focus on that are unique to each page. Whalen suggests creating a "keyword phrase map" to keep organized and productive, and to use different forms of the words, including plurals, past tense and -ing.

Whalen used this example: Great keywords and phrases for a restaurant located in Martha's Vineyard would be--Martha's Vineyard Restaurant, Dining in Martha's Vineyard, Where to eat in Martha's Vineyard, Martha's Vineyard Caf?, etc.

4. Play in multiple spaces
While content is king, and search relevancy and keywords are top mechanisms for better search engine rankings, savvy businesses are achieving search ranking dominance by playing in multiple online social networking and advertising portals. More exposure and more inbound links mean better rankings. What's great about all the options--whether you play in the top traffic sites like Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn; join Namyz or FastPitch; open a Squidoo lens; or submit articles to Suite101--you can be seen and heard for free (not counting the time it takes to develop strategy, craft meaningful communications, post them, track and measure response, and tweak as needed).

5. Build inbound links and ROI through people-focused interaction
Per Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group and co-author of Groundswell, the most important thing to remember is that people, not just keywords, must be in the center of your search strategy and optimization because relevancy equals engagement. Li went onto say that that understanding user intent--with all its diverse facets of geographic locale, demographics, psychology, behavior, social context, time of day, sharing with friends and buying patterns--must be at the heart of your search ranking improvement activities, traditional communications and advertising choices, in order to be successful.

So take a deep breath, stay focused and start small. Allocate two hours a week and outsource certain search engine optimization tasks. Create online business profiles, submit articles, post videos, share PowerPoints, opine with gusto and participate with one goal in mind: to expert-ize yourself. Your "hidden agenda" is always to create brand awareness, communicating value and benefits in such a way that you boost sales and shorten the sales cycle, because that is the true end result of great search engine rankings.

Pattie Simone

Digital Adventurer, Profit Alchemist, Entrepreneur

As president of Pomona, N.Y.-based marketing-advantage and founder of WomenCentric, Pattie Simone empowers ambitious companies, individuals and entrepreneurs, helping them to develop strategic, integrated, well-branded communications that engage diverse audiences and fuel sales.

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