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SEO: a focus on the basics

You have a website. You want to attract customers and build your business. You can do this in various ways: advertising your link on your products, business cards, and other marketing material. But the most valuable traffic on a website is from search engines: reaching your target audience and connecting with new customers who are looking for your product or service.

I frequently get asked the question: “What keywords did you put in for my site on Google?” and unfortunately, it’s not that simple. High organic ranking in search engines is hard work. It just is. Search engine optimization is a multi-level process and in order to do it correctly, you need to constantly monitor your ranking, modify and update your content, and analyze your competition.

In my experience, there are three basic necessities for a well-optimized website. I call them steps, but each one actually has multiple steps, and may require revisiting on a regular basis!

Step 1: Content, Content, Site Structure, Content

Content is #1. If your website doesn’t have anything good for your customers or the search engine spiders to read, then you’re sunk before you’ve even started. Ideally, you should have 500-1000 words of clean, grammatically correct sentence-structure content on every page. Some websites lend themselves better to more text content, others may have more visual content, but even a few well-written sentences goes a long way.

Beyond the readable content, the technical structure of a website is very important. This is where I focus my efforts for my clients, even if nothing else is done. I write clean HTML code for a lightweight website, use heading tags for important content and headlines, include ALT tags on images (because search engines can’t read graphics!), and strive to generate search engine-friendly URLs.

Fresh content is also excellent for boosting your ranking! Search engines will give more importance to a site with recently updated content, so a blog, a news feed, or even a portfolio page or photo gallery can help keep your site from getting stale.

Step 2: Research & Decide on Keywords

This step really could/should be part of step 1, because it goes hand-in-hand with writing the quality content. But I’ve kept it separate for a reason. I tend to prefer building a website with naturally organized content that makes sense from a user experience perspective, and then go back and revise things based on which keywords will best highlight the content and attract targeted traffic. But starting with Step 2, or at least keeping it in mind while developing a site map and navigation structure, isn’t a terrible idea.

It can be a daunting process to select keywords and write appropriate, relevant content. The good news: there are many tools and tutorials on the web for analyzing a website’s content and choosing keywords on a page. It’s a balance between having readable, useful content for the customers, but also giving the search engines what they need to properly rank a site. Here’s the not-so-good news: maintaining a high organic SEO ranking requires constant monitoring and rework. So launching a new website with some good keywords and letting the search engines have at it isn’t enough. Things may need to be adjusted monthly, or weekly, or even daily in order to keep a website at the top of the list.

(I will be the first to admit that this particular phase of SEO is NOT my area of expertise! I am not a copy writer and I don’t pretend to be one. But I am learning more with each project, and I’m happy to give advice to my clients when I can, and make referrals to some GREAT experts I know who can help!)

A bit about meta tags: a long time ago, meta tags were all you needed to “tell” the search engines what your site was about. But that quickly became an easy way to cheat the system, so meta tags aren’t used as the primary way to highlight keywords in a website. Meta tags should still be used, because you aren’t penalized for them, but they work WITH your content to build your ranking.

Step 3: Tell the Search Engines!

After I launch a new website, I have a laundry list of things I do to make sure that the search engines know it’s there.

Generate an XML site map. This is simply a file that helps the major search engines understand your site structure. WordPress has some useful plugins that do this, or it can be generated using an online tool.

Create Webmaster Tools profiles. Google and Bing both offer these free tools. After doing this, I can submit the XML site map, specify a preferred domain to avoid duplicate content penalties, analyze keywords through the site, view search traffic statistics, integrate the profile with Google Analytics, and so much more.

Create a local profile for your business. Verifying your business with Google Business and Bing Places for Business, and Yahoo Small Business will get your business in any location-based search results, so customers in your area can find you more easily.

..And then what?

There are about a million OTHER things that can be done to increase a website’s ranking, but these three areas are where I usually start with clients. Getting a few simple tools in place can make a big difference. And once a site is up and running for a couple of months, it can be useful to revisit the keywords or to take a look at your content structure and reorganize a bit.  If you’d like me to take a look at your website’s SEO status, contact me for a quote!

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