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Marketing Through Search Engine Optimization

SEO is an abbreviation for Search Engine Optimization. And it is big business.

What it refers to is a series of strategies, some proven, some not, which aim to make your website more visible to the search engines, help the search engine index it more accurately, and therefore give you a higher placement in the search listings (closer to page.

The higher your rank, the more people are likely to click on your site.

The whole thing revolves around two factors:

Competition – The web is fiercely competitive. When you search any give term, you may come up with millions of hits, displayed on hundreds of thousands of pages. What good does it do if your page ends up on page 862, if people are not going to look past the first three pages of hits, or 10 if they are really digging deep?

Search Engine Technology – Search engines have their own rules. Some of those rules keep changing, but a few are pretty logically set and won’t change. In order to optimize, you have to understand how the search engine sees and rates your page, and then help it to see your content more accurately.

Search engines see text. They do not see pretty pictures, and they mostly ignore colors (except in a few instances). No matter how gorgeous your site looks, it won’t mean a thing to your ranking unless you have elements that the search engines can see and interpret correctly.

You’ll hear the term “Keyword” tossed around a lot. A keyword is nothing more than a word that a person is likely to use to search for a particular topic. If you sell wide shoes, they may search “wide shoes”, “e width shoes”, “hard to find shoe sizes”, etc. Those are all keywords, which may in fact be phrases, not just words. Some people get really anal about keywords, as though the whole search engine world revolves around getting just the right ones. I have a more casual attitude, so if you are thinking it has to be hard, relax.

The other term you need to know is “pagerank”, because that is used in search engine optimization circles too. It merely means a number that the search engine gives you to determine how important your site is when weighed against others that seem to have information that is just as relevant as yours. When there are thousands of sites that seem to have relevant matching material for a search, the ones with higher pagerank get listed first.

Pagerank is determined by the search engine’s evaluation of your site’s popularity. It measures that popularity by how many sites out there have links to your site. The more sites you have linking back to you, the more popular they think your site is, so the higher they rank your page. Of course, in actual operations it is not that simple, but that is the theory anyway.

Search Engine Optimization involves two types of strategies:

Internal strategies which focus on improving the code and content of your pages so that the search engine can “see” them better and more accurately tell what the site is about.

External strategies which involve getting links back to your site to improve page ranking.

Each of these has some rules, and some strategies that you can use. Each of them has some strategies which you absolutely should NEVER use as well. And if you get nothing else from this page, PLEASE pay attention to the things you should not do, because they will not just waste your time, they can actually hurt your site’s ability to get traffic.

With all the Search Engine Optimization hype out there, and all the conflicting information, some simplification is needed! It boils down to a simple rule:

If you can afford to pay for it, you don’t need to be reading this. If you need to be reading this, you can do all of the most important things yourself.

The six things here are the ones that make the most difference for the least amount of effort.

1. Create a site with good text content. This is the NUMBER ONE search engine strategy. Without good text, no matter what else you do, your site will fail. If you have to pay for something, pay for help with this. Search engines see text. They do not see images. If you create a site with a huge graphic on the home page, no meta tags, and no text, and just an image that says “click here”, the search engine will have no way of knowing what your page is about! An image with text on it is NOT text. The search engine can only read text that was typed in directly on the page (or pasted in, etc). So make sure you have text on the page that tells what the page is there for. Write for PEOPLE first. Search engines second. If it is good for people, then it is more likely to be good for search engines.

What NOT to do: Do not use “hidden text”. Make the text part of the page, or the search engine will be able to tell that it is hidden, and you can be penalized for that.

2. Use keywords in your text. Keywords are words that people think of to look for your site. If your site has a topic that people may refer to with several different sets of terms, then you need to use each one on the page in some way. A well written page will naturally use common terms anyway, so don’t obsess about it. Make it clear in the first paragraph exactly what your site is about. Just explain well, and it will be good enough!

What NOT to do: Do not pack the page with keywords! Do not misuse them in an unnatural way. Do not use words that have nothing to do with your site either. Either tactic can hurt you with the search engines, and drive off customers. Just write well, and you won’t have to worry about it much!

3. Use Alt Tags for images. Look this up in a book on HTML, or look up in your HTML editor program, since there is usually a simple way to put in an alt tag. An Alt tag is a specially coded bit of text that tells the browser to show that text if the image is not displayed. Alt tags can also help people with visual impairment to navigate a site better. A good alt tag will provide a concise description of the image, or the text on the image. Alt tags are also not a miracle fix, they are simply an easy thing to do to fine tune your site.

What NOT to do: Do not use Alt tags that are too long. Do not use Alt tags that are misleading either, and do not pack them with keyword lists.

4. Put in Meta Tags. Meta Tags are bits of code that are seen by the search engine and browser, but not by the site viewer. They can do a lot of things, but the two that we are concerned about are the Description and Keywords tags. A good site description will be informative, but not too long. It will describe key features using keywords. The keyword tag will contain words that tell the search engine what your site is about. Use good variety in your keywords.

A search engine looks for text in your site. It also looks at metatags. If there are no metatags, it uses part of the text in your site for the description – this can have unpredictable results! But even if you DO have metatags, some search engines quote parts of the text. And search engines will not pay much attention to keywords if they do not correlate with the site content. Don’t worry about hiring a pro to analyze them, it won’t be worth it if you have good content.

Most HTML programs have a simple way to insert Description and Keywords – sometimes under Document or Page Properties, sometimes under its own heading of Meta Tags. Put a comma between each keyword.

What NOT to do: Do not use keywords that are not appropriate for your site. Keep your description to the point and do not be misleading with it. Do not use a metatag generator that creates 10 different kinds of metatags – some of those will introduce errors into your site. Just worry about the Description and Keywords.

5. Use a title. This is also code behind the scenes that does not show in the page – it is the page title that shows in the top of the window of the browser. A shortcut for a site is to use a general title for the whole site, but a page title that reflects the actual page contents can be helpful. At the very least, you want one that names your site or business. Keep them short and to the point though. Use some keywords in the title, but keep them relevant and concise. Use a title that describes your business and that uses one good keyword or keyphrase. If you have to choose between your business name and a meaningful description, choose the description. This is actually the most important coding element that you can include to improve your search engine ranks.

What NOT to do: Do not leave the title as “untitled”. That helps no one. And do not name the page inaccurately, or use a title that is more than a few words or a short phrase. A title that is too long or too crammed with keywords can get your site penalized, and there isn’t room to show it all anyway.

6. Get inbound links. Inbound links are links on other people’s sites that lead back to your site. Many search engines now keep track of how many other people think your site is worth linking to, and they consider that in how they rank your site. So exchange links, post to directories, and ask everyone you know to put a link on their site for you. Read more about linking in the later chapters in this book.

What NOT to do: Do not create seven other sites and link your site in to them in the hopes of fooling the search engines into thinking your site is big. It won’t work, because the age of the site also matters. Linking it into an existing sites helps, but that won’t propel it to instant fame either. Do not buy “instant links”, where someone promises to put your links on X number of sites overnight, those types of services do not work and will get you banned from the search engines (if you purchase text links, do so on one site at a time, on sites that will get you good traffic). Be careful what kind of traffic exchanges you participate in, some do not help rank or sales either one – who cares if you get tons of traffic if it does not help you sell anything? And watch out for popups… if your site has to have popups to get traffic, or your site appears on popups, you’ll annoy your guests. When I talk about inbound links, that kind of traffic “generator” is not what I mean. I mean permanent links on other people’s reputable sites. Stay away from Free Classifieds, or Free For All link sites, they get you lots of spam and no marketing advantage, but they CAN hurt your site. Each inbound link is a drop in a bucket. You need to aggressively pursue legitimate links, and not get sidetracked by hype.

There are a whole collection of other things that are not quite as critical, and for the sake of completeness, I ‘ll list a few:

  • Search engines do not like Javascript or Flash, so avoid those unless you have a major reason for using them. Large businesses can use them, because they can afford to market around them. Small startups cannot.
  • If you have a php website, make sure the pages can actually get indexed by the search engines.
  • A domain name with one keyword or keyphrase in it can help a tiny bit, but don’t get in a knot if yours doesn’t have one, because Wal-Mart ranks for toasters even though their domain is www.walmart.com.
  • If you use keywords in your page links, and if you use keywords in your filenames, that reputedly helps – most people do that anyway because you choose a filename that is logical, and a keyword usually pops to mind.
  • If you use H1 tags around your text titles, and bold important phrases that have keywords in them, that reputedly helps because you just indicated to the search engine that those words were more important.
  • Your site structure helps too – if you lay out your site with a single focused topic per page, it helps you get traffic clear through your site, since any page can show up on searches.

Mostly, do what is logical. Don’t ever try to trick the search engines into getting visitors that are not actually looking for what you have. And last, do what you can do easily, and don’t worry too much about the rest. Search Engine Optimization is usually more about nudging your traffic, and not really about skyrocketing your numbers.

The tactics above are solid, and proven. They aren’t going to change any time soon, and they are not based on tricks which will only hurt your site or cause you to have to re-write your site coding if the rules change.

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