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Overcoming *Search Engine Paralysis*

By Dan Thies
Posted Friday, February 13, 2004

Many do-it-yourself webmasters and online entrepreneurs have been led to believe that search engine positioning is a black art, and that no mere amateur can hope to compete with the "experts." If you are among them, you're missing out on a great opportunity to drive free, targeted traffic to your website.
There are only three steps you need to take, if you want to quickly increase your site's visibility in the search engines. The three steps are: positioning, optimization, and link building. In this short tutorial, I'll explain what's involved in each one, and show you just how easy it can be. If you can give me even 10 minutes of your time today, you'll be well on your way to top rankings.

If there is one message I'd like to get across to you, it's "don't fear the search engines." Not everything that you have been told about them is true! If you would like to increase the amount of traffic flowing to your website, without spending a dime, I urge you to read this article with an open mind.

Step 1: Keyword Research & Search Term Selection

Let's start with a quick definition: "Search terms" are the words and phrases that people type into search engines. For example, if I go to and type in "pokemon cards," that's a search term.

To get traffic from search engines, you need to know what people are searching for, and who you're competing against. This sounds very basic, but it's important. Search term selection really boils down to finding a balance between popularity, targeting, and competition.

Realtors, for example, might be tempted when they discover how many people search for "real estate," and believe that this is a perfect set of keywords. That's a very popular search term, but unless you sell real estate all over the world, it's not specific enough to reach your customers.

Some folks can come up with good, targeted search terms with nothing more than common sense, but I prefer to do my homework. The best way to do this on your own is with the Wordtracker service , which allows you to find popular search terms, and investigate the competition.

If you aren't interested in doing it yourself, you can hire someone to do the research for you, and get a report back that tells you which search terms are the most popular, and which will be the easiest to compete for.

Low-cost keyword research reports are available from SEO Research Labs , and you can find any number of competing services by looking up "keyword research" on your favorite search engine.

Step 2: Search Engine Optimization

"Optimizing" simply means putting the keywords you've selected onto your web pages in the right places, with the right formatting. That's all it means. There's a great deal of misinformation about this subject, so let me set the record straight: optimizing is the easiest part of this process.

How easy is it? Well, I can tell you 90% of what you need to know in just a few lines, and there's a good chance that you'll never need to learn the rest. Once you see what you can accomplish, though, you'll probably want to learn more.

The first thing to understand is that you should only use 1-2 search terms to optimize each page. Once you've selected a page to optimize, and the search terms you're going to use, all you have to do is put those words in the right places, and you're done.
Where the search terms go:

1. Your page's TITLE tag.
2. Your "keywords" and "description" META tags.
3. In a heading tag (H1, H2, or H3) near the top of the page.
4. In the first paragraph of body text, and repeated 1-2 more times on the page.
5. In the text of any links that point to the page.

That's 90% of search engine optimization right there. The most important of these are #1, #3, and #4. Just try it, it works. My "Inside Out Marketing" site uses no META tags at all, and it gets traffic for hundreds of search terms every month.

Step 3: Link Building & Link Popularity
"Link building" simply means getting other websites to link to yours. If you aren't already working on this, you need to start. Even if you don't care about search engines, those links will bring in traffic on their own, and help you establish a credible reputation for your website.

Link building is an important part of search engine positioning, because search engines look at these links as a "vote" for your website, and they will boost your rankings accordingly when other sites link to you.

There are three simple ways to improve your site's "link popularity," and drive traffic at the same time:

1. Submit your site to the major directories. Yahoo charges $299 a year for commercial sites, but there are several popular directories, including,, and, that will list your site for free.

2. Trade links with related websites. You can help each other, and your visitors, by linking to other good websites.

3. Look for other sites that have resource directories, and ask them to link to you. I like to look in the Open Directory to find related sites.

Whatever you do, don't try to take "shortcuts" when it comes to building links. If you'd like to learn more about link building, try Linking 101 and Linking Matters.

That's it! If you do these three simple things, your search engine rankings are sure to improve. Just remember that there are no shortcuts, and it's never a good idea to try to "trick" the search engines. The honest approach is easier, and much better for you and your visitors.

About The Author
Dan Thies is the author of Search Engine Optimization Fast Start, a concise, step-by-step guide to search engine positioning for beginners. For more articles by Dan, visit (


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