If you're just getting started with search engine optimization, you may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the information and all the details getting thrown around on blogs and discussion forums around the web. While good optimization skills take time to build, it's quite simple to get started.
(SEM Bootcamp articles are no-frills content designed to bring small business owners up to speed on the concepts and techniques needed to market their businesses online.)
Taking a quick read through these five steps and following the links to articles that share more in-depth information can go a long way toward helping you build a good understanding of what organic optimization is all about.
Step 1: Build a Site the Search Engines can Read
I'll be absolutely honest with you. Nothing else you read in this article is going to matter if you don't follow step one. Nada, zip, zilch.
Can't stress it enough.
The single most important thing you can do when it comes to achieving organic success is to make sure the search engines can actually read and index your content. It seems so simple, but it gets ignored so often. If you're preparing to launch a new site or to redesign an old one, the absolute first thing you should do is sit down and make sure your entire team understands the very basics of indexable content.
Not taking search engine friendly design into account before building your site is akin to building your store in the middle of the desert and turning the lights off if a review happens to stumble by. Sure, you may still get traffic, but you'll be shooting yourself in the foot when it comes to reaching your full potential.
That said, it's not as simple as making sure the engines can read your site. You'll need to take steps to make sure your site isn't just readable, it's optimized.
Step 2: Understand Keywords
The next step you need to work on is deciding what keywords and keyword phrases you want to target with your site. It doesn't matter if the engines can index your site if you aren't serving up content that targets keywords and phrases. Sure, you'll end up pulling some long tail traffic no matter what you do, but as with step one, you severely limit the potential of your web site if you don't work on understanding and targeting the proper keywords.
You'll need to to start by brainstorming the types of words and phrases people might use to describe your products and services. From there, you need to use a keyword research tool to find out what variations people actually search for. Next you need to look at your keywords in the context of the keyword buying cycle to see what the intent of a searcher might be when using those phrases.
Finally, you'll want to break your list of keywords down into categories so you can work on a plan to integrate them into your web site.
Step 3: Create the Right Content
Once you've figured out which keywords you plan to target and you've segmented them out into groups, consider which keywords can be worked into your existing content and which keywords will require you to write new content.
Keep in mind the need to mix keyword friendly content with user friendly content. It won't do you any good to increase your rankings if your copy isn't compelling to your visitors. There are plenty of great articles out there offering up advice on how to integrate keywords into your content.
For those who have studied the idea of the keyword long tail, you can rest assured that good, natural language writing mixed with an understanding of keyword phrases can result in legions of well qualified and highly engaged site visitors.
Step 4: On Page Optimization
Basic on page optimization can go a long way toward helping improve your rankings and search traffic. Learn what Title tags are and how to craft better ones. Avoid common problems like having the same Title tag on every page of your site, or simply using your business name as your Title tag without any other content.
Understand when meta tags can be useful (description tag) and when they're practically worthless (keyword tag.) Learn how to properly use the ALT attribute to gain some search benefit, but more importantly, to service visitors who will rely on it. Learn how to identify and deal with canonical issues, especially if you run a site that can be reached via multiple domain names.
If you run a large site, consider exploring the use of nofollow for PageRank sculpting, but proceed with caution as doing this wrong can cause a lot of damage to your site.
Step 5: Build a Reputation by Earning Links
Once you have your site up and running, it's absolutely essential that you work on building links. A good site with good content will attract links naturally, but you'll often need to do something to get the ball rolling. Registering your site with some of the more respected directories is a good start, as is submitting it to local search sites if you run a brick and mortar store as well.
Beyond that, it's a good idea to build a list of contacts you'd like to approach about gaining a link and to consider what you have to offer in exchange for that link. Great content, free tools, reciprocal links, blog coverage and even your own profile on social media sites can be a great way to get the ball rolling.
While it's a good idea to learn a bit about what the search engines value in a link, it's mostly common sense. Build lots of links from respected sites that serve audiences similar to your own and you should be fine. While you're at it, remember to build links to your internal pages, not just your home page.
(Keep in mind, if you plan to purchase links, you need to be aware of Google's requirements on nofollow and should make your decisions according to how much risk you are wiling to take on.)
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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