Getting your web site to show up on the first page of a Google, MSN, and Yahoo! search for the right keywords in your industry is critical in today’s search driven world. If you are currently showing up past page three or four, you’re pretty much invisible to the 200+ million people and businesses searching online.
So, if you somehow found your way here, you’ve may have already visited hundreds of websites, read dozens of articles, downloaded every SEO white paper you can find, and may have even used a few 30-day trials of SEO tools – all of which had claimed to get you top billing, but never delivered any measureable results.
Just to put things into perspective, it is very difficult to find good advice on SEO online. Bear in mind that searching the search engines for advice on how to improve your search strategy can be a ridiculous exercise. Usually, the top listings result in advertisements for professional SEO experts and service providers in the business who are happy to give you just enough information to draw you into whatever product or service (or secret SEO trick) they would like to sell you, but never provide anything substantial, making it nearly impossible to get the information you need to succeed on your own.
Well, after grinding it out for months and running some successful tests on a few sites, I put together a short-list of core SEO principles, techniques, and helpful links that an SEO Marketing Manager probably needs to achieve successful organic search. I hope I’ve helped make your job a little easier and I hope others can find their way to this article (so feel free to link to this article). I think will save a few marketing professionals several months of time and research.
The first thing to understand about SEO is that earning and maintaining top search engine placement is an iterative process. Generally, you’ll identify the ideal keywords for your product or service, integrate them into your site, measure the results, and then start all over again as you gradually move up the rankings. To make things easier, I’ve separated this article into three separate sections which include identifying your keywords, developing your website, and measuring your results.
Part I: Identify Your SEO Keywords
Before you do anything else, you’ll need to identify the keywords and phrases that will attract your target audience. Start by evaluating the sites of your competitors’ sites and use Google Adwords keyword tools (see Adwords). Your goal is to find the top 5-10 keywords in your space. These are the typical words your customers thinks of when trying to locate a product or service that solves the particular problem they have – so think generally.
NOTE: If you are in a crowded category and you are a smaller player (“Dentist”), seek keywords that are popular, but less obvious, of choose keywords that more specific (“Miami Dentist” or “Teeth Whitening Specialist”).
Your competitor’s websites are a great place to study keyword density, which is the balance of keywords to non-keywords in your body copy. Review to top ten sites in the search results for your primary targeted keywords. Be prepared to do ongoing testing to find the best balance and arrangement of keywords to keyword-enriched text and determine the appropriate ratio of keywords to non-keywords. You’ll also want to choose keywords that are attainable with a reasonable search frequency.
Word Forms & Synonyms
Use the longer form and the plural form of a keyword whenever possible.The words surrounding any clickable link carry value so be sure both the clickable words and words in front and after the link are relevant. If you are looking for synonyms to your keywords, try typing a search into Google with a tilde “~” in front of your keyword (i.e. ~Dentist) and review the words in BOLD on the search results pages. This is a great way to find similar keywords.
Part II: Develop Your SEO Website
Once you’ve identified you top 5-10 keywords, you’ll need to develop content-rich pages that ensure your keywords will appear in all these key pages of the site. Additionally, the following pages are all opportunities to build keywords: About Us, Company, FAQ Section, Mission Statement, White Papers, Press Releases.
Domain Name & URL
For top results, pick a domain name that includes your top keywords “www.JohnsonDentist.com”. If you are an existing business, consider purchasing new domains for sub-sites or sub-brands you are looking to target for search. Name your folders and files with keywords and industry phrases rather than generic category names and code.
A title tag of 70-charaters or 6 to 8 words works best. Never repeat a keyword in your titles. Keep it short and relevant, make sure it starts with your most searched keyword “Dentist Miami Dr. Johnson”. Write a separate title for each page on the site.
For best results, use around 170 characters in your Description Tag. Keep it short and simple. Also,each page should have its own unique meta description. Target your best keywords close to the beginning and never repeat a keyword more than three times.
NOTE: Apparently the Keyword META Tag is rarely used by Google anymore.
Header Tags & Text
When using Header Tags, you need to designate your tags using H1, H2, or H3 and make sure these appear on several spots on the page. H1 tag should contain your primary keywords. Alternatively, you can use the /TITLE tag. Your Header tags also breaks up the content on the page and makes it easier for both readers and search engine to read (it provides clues about page structure & content). An ideal Body Text count is between 300 to 800 words – although other sources claim between 483 and 677 words, so this is probably a good variable to consistently test for optimal results.
Avoid too many or irrelevant keywords and never repeat, or “stuff” your keywords. Add your main keyword to the first and last 25 words on your page.
The Link Text, Link Title and Hyperlink URL all contribute to search engine rankings. The more closely related all of the links you place on your site are to your business, the better.
ALT Tags and Comment Tags
Alt+Image Links and Comment Tags are a great way to include keywords that are closely related to your product or service.
When designing your site, make sure you maximize the content to code ratio. Use CSS to create a tableless design. Less code on the page creates a higher content to code ratio, so minimizing the code on the page is preferred. Externalize any scripts and arrange any remaining code on the higher portion of the page.
NOTE: Write W3C Compliant Code and use the tools located at http://validator.w3.org/ and other tools listed at the site to check for errors.
Minimize Splitting Traffic
For better results use Permanent 301 Redirect and rarely (if ever) use 302 Temp redirects. Using a 301 redirect avoids splitting site traffic. Even on http://www.domain.com and http://domain.com should use 301 redirects to avoid splitting site traffic and never use more than one URL for the home page. Avoid splitting traffic, such as www.domain.com and www.domain.com/index.htm.
Build upon your keywords by cross-linking them through your site. A good way to accomplish this is with a product tour where each page portrays a section of the product or service which is related to the keywords you are targeting.
Links to your site are the #1 way search engines consider the popularity of your site, which will results in higher search rankings. So, deploy your PR department, bloggers, editors, reviewers, and seek out awards. These are all critical to SEO and will result in higher search results. Ask only highly relevant sites to link to your site, such as an industry trade publication or .channel partner. Make it easy for users to add your site to Digg.com, StumbleUpon.com, Reddit.com, Deli.ci.ous.com and similar sites. Check out http://www.socialposter.com/ which can more easily connect you to the top 40 sites.
External Links and Link Farms
Add links on your site which link to articles and reviews at other sites (especially popular sites) which contain relevant material. Use your target keyword phrases as your link. This enhances your credibility with the search engines. Avoid link-farms such as guest books and other disreputable sites which have too many links as these sites may actually reduce your search results.
Site Navigation & Site Map
Use a site navigation map and a modified site map on the home page which provides a clear path through site (again, maximizing keywords). An XML sitemap should list all the known URL’s in a domain that are searchable. Add a Robots.txt file to the site and include this exact call to the sitemap in a file: http://www.domain.com/sitemap.xml. For better results, try niche vertical market sites and publish articles such as ezine articles and blogs (especially blogger.com).
Part III: Measure Your SEO Results
Measuring Link Density & Relevancy
Be sure to measure both the number of inbound links from other sites as well as the number of internal links on your site. There are a variety of tools available on the market to help you achieve better results. Avoid in-bound links from irrelevant sites at these may hurt your search efforts.
Search Engines and Spiders
Definitely submit your site directly to Google using Google’s WebMaster Tools. You’ll also want to submit your XML directly and monitor the spidering status of your site. Be sure you allow search engines to spider your entire site and capture all your pages and avoid hiding your content behind contact gathering or other user input forms. Learn and see first-hand how spiders and live editors crawl your site (there are several tools that can assist here.)
Review Your Site
Use Google WebMaster Tools – Diagnostics - Web Crawl to find and fix errors on the site. Use http://website.grader.com/ to evaluate your results and
a. Other tools include http://www.1-hit.com/all-in-one/tool.loading-time-checker.htm
b. And 25 general tools: http://www.virtualhosting.com/blog/2008/test-me-25-freebie-website-accessibility-checkers/
Top-rated SEO rarely occurs by accident and it’s a continual process of testing your site, evaluating what key terms are being searched, monitoring your competition and fine-tuning your results.
Submit to Directories
Submitting to directories is a necessary component of successful SEO. You can start with Yahoo! ($299 per year), the Open Directory Project DMOZ.org, About.com, essential Google, 4-5 months and smaller, niche sites.
a. Create a community of sites that link to each other
b. Request Reviews at Website from Customers (add to your site)
c. Amazon.com (include direct link to your products at Amazon)