From the July 1, 2005 print edition of American Business Journal
Search-engine optimization rules will make your site a hit
Editor's note: Strategies columns feature businesspeople in the Twin Cities sharing advice for growing companies.
To inquire about submitting a column, contact Managing Editor Steve LeBeau at (612) 288-2108 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Understanding how can you get an unlimited amount of site traffic and increase rankings, sales and brand visibility online begins with the fundamentals.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of methodologies aimed at improving the visibility of a Web site in search-engine listings.
If you have a Web site, no one will find it unless you promote it. On the Internet, the most common way for users to find Web sites is through search engines. In fact, a recent study shows more people are using search engines than the Yellow Pages to find vendors.
Search engines work by "crawling" the internet, following known links to find updated pages and new Web sites, saving copies along the way. The information from the saved Web page text is analyzed by sophisticated algorithms that assign values for categorization and ranking.
Even though there are many variations in Web sites, and search engines are constantly refining their ranking methodologies, there are a common set of rules to follow for better search-engine placement.
1.) Keywords. You can gain important insight into what types of phrases are being used to find your type of Web site with keyword research tools. Wordtracker.com and Overture.com offer free tools for this purpose. As you categorize and create content, keep keywords in mind.
2.) Use keywords in title tags. The title tag is critical for a search engine to understand and rank a page. Make sure each page of your Web site includes a unique, keyword-rich, descriptive and readable title tag of eight to 10 words. Example: "XYZ Company Widgets -- blue, green, red and black widgets in all sizes."
3.) On-page text. Use a version of your title tag on the visible page of your site -- the higher up on the page, the better. This is important for search engines and your site visitors.
4.) Content is good. Fresh content is better. Plan to add new pages of content on a regular basis. New pages should follow a theme and be placed into categories. If you sell widgets, then add product reviews, press releases, customer comments, how-to information, etc., on a regular basis, all using "widget" related keywords in the title tags, on-page titles and descriptive text. Search engines will give a preference to sites that offer new content regularly.
5.) Link in, link out. All major search engines use incoming links as one way to measure a site's popularity with a preference to links from authoritative Web sites. Ask distributors, marketing partners and clients to link to your site using keyword-rich link text and descriptions. Avoid exchanging links with other sites that have nothing to do with your industry. Also, link out to other Web sites such as a chamber of commerce, industry associations, organizations, manufacturers, publications, etc.
6.) Make a map. Make it easier for a search engine to find all the pages of your Web site by including a site map. A site-map page is a collection of plain-text links to all the major Web pages of your Web site. Do not place more than 100 links on one page. It works best to link to the site map from the home page.
7.) Link smart. Linking the pages within your site is important especially if you can link keywords in a sentence to another page that provides more detail. Example: "Company XYZ offers a complete range of widgets for every type of occasion or event" where "widgets" is linked to your widgets product page.
9.) Submit. While Google, Yahoo and MSN offer free submission forms, the fastest way for your site to be included in a search engine is to be linked by sites that are already in. Rather than pay a service to submit your site, pay for a press release and have it submitted through an online newswire service. Include links to your company Web site in the release and each Web site that publishes the release becomes a link to your Web site. Take the time to research and submit to important directories such as DMOZ.org and Yahoo directory.
10.) Monitor your progress and have patience. For competitive phrases, it can take two to six months to see an improvement in rankings. Measure your site rankings, unique visitors and conversions.
Overall, ensure your site is easy for search engines to find and crawl. Make sure you use keywords in titles, on the page and in links -- but don't overdo it. Never stop finding other Web sites that will provide a one-way link to your site and add new content on a regular basis. Follow these steps and in time you will see much better rankings and sales online.
Lee Odden is president of TopRank Online Marketing and author of the Online Marketing Blog. More information can be found at http://www.toprankresults.com.
© 2005 American City Business Journals Inc.
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