The Internet is a very large and somewhat intimidating environment. With well over 60 million pages on the Internet, and with the Fortune 500 pouring millions of dollars in Internet advertising and paid placement, the adage. “If you build it, they will come”, simply is not true.
The true currency of the Internet is information. That’s what users are looking for, and if you provide end users with valuable information for your targeted group, and organize your website so that search engines will give you a high placement, then you will get the audience that you desire. Money may help in getting placed on the Internet, but intelligent information is still is of greater value to the search engines, and by definition will always need to be so. If a search engine takes a user primarily to sponsored sites of little value, the user will most likely find an alternative search method.
Search Engine Optimization
A search engine optimization (SEO) plan should be a part of any web marketing strategy. A business can pay tens of thousands of dollars for a search engine consultant, but it is not necessary. There are a number of free and low-cost tools out there to do analysis for you. Combined with hard work and a bit of ingenuity, you can find yourself in the prime time search engine space, the top 20 of Google, MSN, Yahoo or Ask.
Throughout this article, I will use the example of a typical hardcover book to draw analogies to what search engines are looking for.
What are you about?
And who do you want to reach? You wouldn’t try to write a book without a theme, and you shouldn’t have a website without a theme. Your theme is the mission for your site, and should be consistent with your overall marketing and sales plan. You should frame your mission in the following way.
I wish to provide my readers with information on _______________________ and I will receive __________________.
The first portion of this statement is what you are giving. If you provide nothing of value, then a searcher or a search engine probably won’t arrive at your site. The phrase “unique value proposition” gets thrown around these days, but in this case the phrase is entirely appropriate. The more unique and valuable the information you provide is, the greater the chance you’ll be placed higher on a search engine.
The second portion lists what outcomes you want. Your goal for a business site should ultimately provide some financial value. An objective like “raised brand awareness” is only a partial objective. “Raised brand awareness which will ease my access into major accounts and result in more, faster, and better sales,” is a much more complete mission.
Meta tags are equivalent to the keywords a library database would have about a book. Once you have your mission down, you should be able to further break down the information topics you provide into keywords. These keywords should be added as Meta tags to your website. Meta tags should reflect precisely what information your site provides. You should keep your metatags at a limit of 300 characters.
The name of your website is probably more equivalent to a title of a book, but a website also has a title. This website title is the subtitle of your site, and will be used by the search engines to categorize your site. A title should be relevant to your site and also your geography, if you do business in a certain area. For example, you should be “Washington, D.C.’s number one ad agency” if that is your market.
A robot, or crawler, is used by a search engine to read your site. You should check and see if robots can read your entire site, except for those areas that you don’t want the search engines to crawl. There are tools to do this mentioned below.
When a search engine’s robot reads a site, it is looking for a percentage of keywords that are the same or similar to each other. While in normal writing it’s good to mix things up, on the Internet consistency is the rule of the day. Try to have 4%-7% of your content using the keyword topics. Don’t overdue it, the search engine bots will flag your site for keyword spamming. A good rule of thumb is just to mentally focus on your keywords while you write your content. Much of the time, this conscious focus will be all it takes to get you in the correct range.
When you pick up a book at a book store, you probably look for the reviews on a dust jacket. There are probably a number of quick one-liners on the back from other famous authors. If a book merits a thumbs up from another author whose work you enjoy, it is more likely you’ll pick up the book.
Backlinks work in much the same fashion. Search engine robots are looking for sites that are connected to you. Each site that is connected to you has a relative rating or value placed upon it by the search engines. Your placement is largely based upon the relative value of the other sites and the number of sites backlinked to you.
When a site is deemed authoritative by a search engine, it receives higher rankings in terms of site value. A link from an authoritative site is a great way to raise your value on a search engine. It’s even better to become an authoritative site. Groups such as trade organizations, museums, or industry publications seem to be deemed authoritative more often than ordinary sites.
Tools and other sites
There are a number of tools that you can use to analyze your site for search engine optimization. Some of the best are free.
You can get some great tools for free from: www.fromshawn.com . Shawn Pringle is an excellent Internet marketer in his own right, and he’s giving away some of the best tools on the market for search engine optimization. Shawn is just a fantastic guy, and he’s a pleasure to do business with. I also love his shareware PR Prowler tool.
The Google toolbar provides a great resource for quickly looking at page rankings.
I have a good, very low cost hosting provider, www.siteground.com. The free SEO tools that they offer are to me worth the cost of signing up for a website, even if you don’t use it. A year of service at Siteground is $6.95 a month, which includes their free SEO tools.
Last but not least, check out www.seochat.com . In my opinion, it is the most definitive site devoted to search engine optimization.
You shouldn’t expect results overnight, and in fact you should be planning your SEO strategy to start bearing fruit in six to nine months. It’s been rumored that Google “sandboxes” new sites for up to nine months to keep them out of top rankings, so be patient.
Snake Oil SEO
I was asked recently by a friend if doing SEO could get her in trouble with the search engines. The answer is “NO” if you use ethical techniques like the ones described above. You are actually helping the search engines improve their ability to find information by using these techniques.
Beware of the “SEO Snake Oil Salesmen” who promise top placements in days for a fee. These are equivalent to “get rich” schemes. They frequently involve using tactics that could get you in trouble with the search engine providers. The only way to get a better placement is to follow the rules, and provide legitimate value.
Search Engine Optimization is a science, but it’s not rocket science. If you use the tools available to you as well as some ingenuity and hard work, you will move your website into the forefront, and you will make your business more successful.