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SEO - A Short Course

Aug 17, 2007
Anyone who does business on the internet today has heard of SEO (search engine optimization), and many have tried their hand at it themselves. Most find, however, that they don't get much response from their efforts. This leads to a dilemma for a start-up business: Is there any way to capitalize on internet traffic without paying big bucks for a professional SEO?

The answer is, yes and no. As with anything in business, you can't get something for nothing, and most people who own top listings for competitive search engine keywords have paid dearly for that privilege. However, there are some simple things that can help make your new website more friendly not only to search engines, but also to your customers:

1. Remember that your customers always come first! Make your site easy to use and easy to buy from, and you will win a loyal following. Simple, straightforward sites perform best all around. Clearly labeled navigation, informative page content, secure online purchasing and ease of ordering are some key elements to a successful website.

2. The KISS rule: Keep It Simple, Silly. Remember that not every potential customer has broadband internet, many surf the web behind firewalls which will not allow downloads, many have vision problems, and many do not have sound cards. Your pages should load quickly and cleanly in any browser (the most commonly used resolution is 800 x 600), your content and navigation should be in a larger type (font size 2 or greater, 10px or greater), and don't rely on Flash movies, sound, or downloads.

3. Your index page is hands-down your most important page, for search engines and visitors alike. You have 10 seconds or less to convince someone to stay on your website. Give them a brief text summary of your company, your website, and your products/services. Two or three paragraphs is plenty; save the detail for the inner pages.

4. Do use meta tags, but use them properly! Meta tags consist of the title, description, and keywords, although there are other tags possible. For SEO, the 3 listed are the most important. Keep them simple and brief. The search engines that still use them have character limits, and also have strict spam rules, so don't use a keyword more than once. Be specific: "insurance" is unlikely to get you any rankings, but "California life insurance" might, as it is a less competitive term.

5. Don't use frames. Frames are a convenience for designers, but most search engines hate them, and so do most site visitors.

6. Don't use a form for your landing page. Forms have little or no useful text content, so they won't help your rankings (unless you want to rank well for "name and address"!). In general, they do not convert well to sales either. If you want a form on the first page, make sure you still have a couple of paragraphs of informative text.

7. Make sure your site has at least 5 pages of content. Search engines reward you for "site depth". Many internet consumers will look for certain pages such as the About Us page and Testimonials; these help lend credibility which helps convert to sales, while giving you solid site content. And don't forget your site map!

8. Every page should, ideally, link to every other page. This makes the site very easy for your visitors to use, and gives the search engine spiders a road map. When possible, increase the value of your text links: Instead of "Contact Us", use "Contact the Women's Network".

9. If your site is dynamic, make sure you still have a few static pages. Many search engines still can't "crawl" dynamic pages, so they can't give you ranking for them. Your index page and your basic informative pages should be in static text.

10. Avoid anything "tricky" like hidden text, pages of irrelevant links, or spamming your site in any way. These tricks are well known, and if you're caught, you will be sentenced to search engine Siberia!

Following these simple rules won't guarantee you top search engine rankings (in fact, very few things can do that!) but they will help you to create a website that is informative, easy for your customers to use, and contains the key elements that search engines require.

SEO offers some of the best ROI in advertising for many industries, when done properly. If the time comes when you are ready to go after internet market more aggressively, don't be afraid to hire a professional to help you out. Search engines change the rules at a dizzying pace, and only a professional can really invest the time needed to keep up. Just do your homework first; as with many other industries, internet marketing has its share of companies that make unrealistic promises. A little research can save you from a bad experience, and make sure you get the most value for your money!
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