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The ABCs Of Search Engine Optimization

By Joanne Glasspoole
Posted Sunday, September 19, 2004

If you want to be found in the search engines, it is important that you add search engine optimization to your action list. In a nutshell, search engine optimization—or SEO for short—is the process of making your web pages “search engine friendly.”

SEO is a relatively new marketing industry. Although there are many purported experts, most of us who call ourselves SEO specialists are learning. The search engines are constantly in flux, so SEO techniques that worked yesterday may not necessarily work tomorrow. As a result, it is exceedingly important to keep up with the fervent pace of the Internet, and the search engines in particular.

One of the frustrations of search engine placement is that your rankings are constantly fluctuating. The key to a successful search engine optimization campaign is creativity, perseverance and practice, practice, practice. Do not try to fool the search engines by “tricking” them with unsavory techniques (e.g., keyword stuffing, cloaking, hidden text) because you will risk having your web site lose favor with the search engines, or worse, getting banned altogether.

If you are developing a new web site or redesigning an old one, now is a good time to think about search engine optimization. This article will describe the process of optimizing your web pages for the search engines, as well as highlight some of the other components that are important for a successful search engine marketing campaign.

Writing Keyword-rich Web Copy

I’m sure you’ve heard the old cliche: Content is king. Well, you know what, it is! Although the Internet is graphic-rich, it is a text-based medium. Information is what your visitors are seeking. If your web site doesn’t present the information they want, your competitor’s web site is only one mouse click away.

Search engines need copy to know what your web site’s theme is and how your site should be indexed in their directory. If your home page consists solely of a Flash movie or an image map, there will be nothing for the search engines to index. Flash is cool, but it is not so cool when your web site doesn’t come up in search engine results.

So, how do you write keyword-rich copy?

The first thing you need to do is identify the keyword phrases that are important and relevant to your web site. For instance, how would you describe your company, products and services? More importantly, how would your visitors describe your company, products and services? Although the answer may seem like a no-brainer, it really isn’t, because you need to think outside of the box. You need to get into your visitor’s head and think like your visitor. What search terms would they use to find your web site?

A good place to start your keyword research is by looking at your log files. What search terms are your visitors using to find you? Armed with this information, you can begin researching the popularity of those terms. Researching your keywords is a very important task, because if you target the wrong terms, your traffic will suffer. Although your site may rank number one for some obscure term, if no one is searching for that term, your site will not be found in the search engines.

There are a number of handy tools available online to help you begin building your list of relevant keywords. Overture (formerly Goto.com) offers a Search Term Suggestion Tool on its web site that will not only tell you how many times a particular keyword phrase was queried in the past month, it’ll also present you with a list of alternative terms to consider for your search engine optimization campaign.

In addition to utilizing keyword suggestion tools to research your keywords, I highly recommend brainstorming keywords with your coworkers, employees, friends and family members. Better yet, ask your clients and customers what terms they would use to search for your web site. Brainstorming keywords will teach you a lot about how others think and use the Internet to find information.

Once you have identified your keywords, you will need to integrate them into the body of your web page. Your sentences need to be intelligible and grammatically correct. Don’t forget: Your web copy will be read by human beings, as well as the search engines. If your web copy doesn’t make sense, your visitors will hit their back button never to return again. Bad web copy will defeat the whole purpose of your search engine optimization campaign.

Writing Your Meta Tags

The most important tag in the header section of your web page is the title tag. The title tag is displayed in the bar at the top of your browser window—above the toolbar. Many Webmasters do not use the title tag properly. For example, their page will be titled “Home” or “Welcome,” or worse yet “untitled,” because they don’t include a title at all. The search engines place a lot of relevance on the words contained within the title tag, so be sure to include your targeted keyword phrases when writing your title tag. This tag is generally limited to 60 characters, so choose your words with care.

The next important tag in the header section is the description meta tag. This tag is used to describe your web page. Like the title tag, many of the search engines will extrapolate this information to summarize your web site. Again, be sure to include your targeted keyword phrases.

The third and least important tag in the header section is the keywords meta tag. Because of abuse by unscrupulous Webmasters, the keywords tag is ignored by many of the search engines. Even so, some do use it, so it doesn’t hurt to include it. Like your title and description tag, choose your keywords carefully. Do not include keywords that are not included in the body of your web copy or irrelevant to the theme of your site.

Link Popularity

Much is said about link popularity, but what is it exactly?

A few years ago, people were joining “link farms” to increase their link popularity, but today that is frowned upon and can actually be detrimental to your quest for higher rankings in the search engines. Now the emphasis is more on the quality of the links pointing to your web site versus the quantity.

Many of the major search engines use link popularity to gauge the relevancy of your site in its search results. Plus, links are what makes the web go-round. Many Webmasters have the notion that links are bad because they are sending visitors off of their web site. Although this is true, links to and from web sites that complement yours helps to build credibility and sets the stage for making your web site an authority in your field.

Much is written about the importance of getting links from directories like Yahoo! and the Open Directory Project, because they are reviewed by human beings. If you want a link in Yahoo, however, it will cost you money. A listing in Yahoo! is considered “paid inclusion.” Your marketing dollars will be well spent, though, because listings here will not only generate increased traffic, it will add greatly to your web site’s link popularity.

Submitting to the Search Engines

Once your web page is fully optimized, it is time to submit it to the search engines. Although there are hundreds of search engines on the Internet, only a handful are truly important. Recent statistics show the top three search engines as: Google
Yahoo
MSN

Although there are automated services that promise to get you listed on thousands of search engines, it is recommended that you manually submit your site to the top search engines. Some of the search engines view automated submissions as spam and will not list your site. Others put a higher priority on manual submissions. And others—such as Inktomi—require an annual fee to list your site. It can take weeks (sometimes even months!) to get listed, so again, be patient. The search engines are important to the success of your web site, so treat them with the respect they deserve. Most of all, do not over-submit!

Traffic Reporting and Analysis

Once you have allowed an appropriate amount of time to lapse (I usually wait six to eight weeks), it is time to generate some reports to confirm the success of your search engine optimization campaign. Search engine positioning reports provide a wealth of information, such as your site’s position in the major search engines, how you rank on your targeted keyword terms and phrases, which sites rank above and below you, where you’ve declined in rankings, and so on.

To automate the process of generating your search engine positioning reports, download a free trial of 1stPlace Software’s highly-acclaimed WebPosition Gold at (www.webposition.com)

In addition to your search engine positioning reports, be sure to regularly check your traffic logs. Is your traffic increasing? Are people finding your site with the search terms you targeted? Which of the search engines are referring visitors to your site?

There are many variables that affect rankings, including:

Keyword density
Link popularity
Click popularity
Keywords in the title
Keywords in the description tag
Keywords in the keywords tag
Keywords in the names of linked pages and in the linked words
Keywords in the alt tags
Keywords in names of images
Paying for ranks
Listing in online directories

Source: Search Engine Optimization and Placement: An Internet Marketing Course for Webmasters by Renee Kennedy and Terry Kent, (www.thewritemarket.com)

Conclusion

To be competitive online, your web site needs to be search engine friendly. Search engine optimization is a function of Internet marketing and is the most cost-effective means of marketing to your target audience. With an estimated 85 percent of web users turning to the search engines to find information online, it is important that your site rank within the top 30 results if you want to be found. A successful search engine optimization campaign will not only boost your rankings in the search engines, it will bring qualified customers and prospects to your web site who are already on the web searching for your products and services.

For more information about search engine optimization and positioning, visit:

(www.searchenginewatch.com)
(www.spider-food.net)

Plus be sure to subscribe to I-Search Discussion List at (www.adventive.com)

About the author:
Joanne Glasspoole is an accomplished web designer who specializes in developing search engine friendly web sites. Her clients include small businesses and nonprofit organizations in Minneapolis/St. Paul. (www.glasspoole.com)