Optimize Your Site for Search Engines
Your business can have the best products or services on the Web, but it doesn’t mean a thing if potential customers can’t find your site.
The best way to get your Web site noticed is by ranking high in the results when users ask search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN and others to scan the Internet for your kind of offerings.
It’s one of the most challenging and potentially rewarding tasks you’ll face in maintaining a commercial Web site, and absolutely essential for success.
We cover what you need to know for a great start with:
- What is SEO?
- Some Cautions
- How SEO Works
- How Search Engines Rank Web Sites
- SEO Best Practices
- Who and What to Avoid
- SEO Maintenance
What is SEO?
Search Engine Optimization is the process of making your Web site as easy to find as possible for search engines and, through them, your clients and customers.
For that to happen, your Web pages have to contain the keywords and phrases most likely to be used when a customer enters search requests in an engine, and your pages must be organized in way that’s most “friendly” to those high-tech seek-and-find services.
There are two dominant types of search engines:
- Crawler-Based – Google, Yahoo and other top search engines operate automatically, coming up with their rankings by sending “spiders” out to “crawl” Web sites, analyze their contents and rank them according to how likely they are to have what users want.
- Human-Powered Directories - These depend on Web site owners or someone working on their behalf to manually enter their listings, or enough information for directory editors to look over the site and write their own reviews. If you don’t submit your site to these directories, it won’t show up when they’re searched.
Nobody, repeat, nobody can guarantee you top rankings – much less the top slots – on Google or other major search engines. Some providers claim to have “unique” relationships with them, or an “inside” source that will get your Web site to prime time. Don’t believe it.
The simple truth is that you can’t “buy” your way to the top, because position is never sold. Some search engines merge pay-per-click or pay-for-inclusion data with their regular results, but high rankings still aren’t a done deal.
One scam promises top placement, but gets your site only in lists of paid ads, not overall search results, where you need to be.
Just as you went shopping for storefront software in Step 6, take your time and look around for quality SEO software packages:
- Check in with SEO discussion boards or online forums to see what current users are saying and draw on their advice.
- Ask the SEO provider if it reports any violations of search engine guidelines it finds to Google’s anti-spam project.
- To gauge SEO specialists’ trustworthiness, ask for a money-back guarantee or some other refund if you’re not happy with their work – and get it in writing.
Making it as easy as possible for search engines to find your website is the goal of SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. But beware of certain provider claims.
SEO relies mostly on choosing exactly the right “keywords” to use throughout your website and putting them in the right places. Many services will handle it for a fee. This might be a good place to go with a pro instead of DIY, although there’s no end of online advice to help you work it out if you’re game. Just know that it’s a never-ending process.
If SEO isn’t managed properly, your website is doomed to fly under the radar of the big search engines like Google, Yahoo and MSN. But stay away from any SEO service that claims to have an insider relationship with them or any engines. And nobody can guarantee you top rankings.
How SEO Works
Most crawler-based search engines have three key ingredients:
- The spider or crawler that seeks out a Web page, reads it and follows links to other pages on the site. These powerful little tech-mites return every few weeks to look for changes and adjust results.
- An indexed archive where all content uncovered by the spiders is stored. Also known as the catalog, it contains a copy of every Web page found, and is updated as a Web site changes or grows – for example, when you add new products.
- Software that zips through the index database to “match” search requests and rank them by relevance. Because most crawler-based search engines use their own technology, search results vary between them.
How Search Engines Rank Web Sites
Unlike a human archivist or librarian, Internet search engines don’t interact with users and ask for more details, or use judgment and past experience to rank Web pages.
Instead, they rely on mathematic formulas called “algorithms.” Despite what you may hear, nobody but the search engine owner knows exactly how their algorithm works.
But they do follow a universal practice known as the keyword location/frequency method. Search engines look over your Web site to see if the search keywords show up at the top your pages, in the headlines or the first few lines of text content.
They assume that any page relevant to a given search topic will mention those magic words right from the start. “Frequency” is how often keywords appear in relation to other words on a Web page. Those with higher frequency are given more relevance, and higher rankings.
SEO Best Practices
Boosting your Web site’s visibility is a very competitive game, and you should assume that rival sites are playing it.
No worries. Here are some well-proven ways to optimize your Web site’s visibility:
Get the most from your URL
Be specific and creative with your domain name. Use one that uniquely identifies your company and your brand.
Create search-friendly page titles
Be sure to use relevant keywords first in your page titles, and keep them under 60 characters.
Don’t use “home page” in your title
Studies show it decreases your Google ranking.
Highlight your keywords
Be sure the individual words and phrases are in the meta tag description of your site, which you build into the code with your design or site-builder software. The description should be no more than 200 characters long.
Focus on density
Use multiple key words in a coherent, creative and compelling way on your pages. Be sure your keyword “density” is never more than 5 percent for pages with a lot of text, or 10 percent for pages with little copy, or your rankings could nosedive. SEO Chat.com has a free keyword density tool.
Emphasize your text links
The wording of the links on each of your Web pages is one of the most important requirements of SEO, and will significantly affect your search engine ranking. They should always include relevant keywords.
Including all the possible variations of your keywords is called “stemming.” For example, variations of the keyword “optimization” include “optimal,” “optimize” and “optimum.” UsingEnglish.com has a free tool to find similar or stem words.
Be sure every page on your site is linked to the other pages. Search spiders follow these trails to rank your Web site.
The 2-Click Rule
As we discussed in Step 4, navigating around your site should be as easy as possible for your customers. The same goes for search engines. Be sure that every page on your new business Web site is at most only two clicks away from the home page.
Avoid “spamalot” syndrome
Search engines will drop your site if they think you’re “spamming” – and using any of these things:
- Meta refresh tags
- Invisible text
- Irrelevant keywords in the title and meta tags
- Excessive repetition of keywords
- Identical or nearly identical pages
- Submitting to an inappropriate directory category
- Link farms
Who and What to Avoid
Google’s Webmaster Help Center is a rich source of information not only for optimizing your new business Web site, but to learn the SEO practices and providers to avoid. Be sure to include it in your research. The Web isn’t just crawling with search spiders, but also with scam artists.
If you think you were deceived by an SEO provider, you can report it to Federal Trade Commission online, by calling 877-FTC-HELP, or write to:
Federal Trade Commission
Washington, D.C. 20580
The Web never stops buzzing with change, so search engine optimization has to be continually tended to keep up. Simply put, it can always be done better.