Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Search Engine Optimization for Beginners

By Mark Helfen

The objective is to get attention and traffic to your web site, to sell your products or services, by getting on the first page or two of results when potential customers use a search engine – Google or another.

The strategy is to use a new version of public relations – that is, getting other people (or in this case, search engines) to get your web site and your business noticed, without paying for it.

The tactics are Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. At last Monday’s SDForum MarketingSIG, Athol and Dan Foden described a large number of techniques and tricks to help make sure your web site is seen when prospects are searching for what you sell.

At one time, businesses pursued SEO strategies to get a good placement in search results, But then search engine marketing (SEM), or paid search engine advertising, took over.

SEM has become less effective over the last few years said Foden. In fact, his consulting business, Brighter Naming, has dropped almost all paid search advertising.

At the same time search engines are smarter. Intelligent, relevant, and regularly updated content on your web site can get you up in the search engine output, instead of 5 or 10 pages down the list.

The result is “the best ROI on your marketing dollar,” and you can start “on a shoestring.” As in close to free. It all starts with a web site. It’s even a low investment of time. After getting set up, Foden says that 10 minutes a day can keep your web site fresh enough to keep you well up in Google’s search results.

The balance of the presentation was a large number of hints and tactics to make your web investment pay off. I will only list a few of my favorites here. If you are interested in the complete list, check out his book Brighter SEO Organic Search Engine Optimization.

1. Two views of your web site:
There are two views of every web site – the human view, and the robot view. The robot is the process from Google and other search engines that indexes your web site with occasional visits.
Two web sites were shown side by side, both dentists who compete in the Dallas area. One was based on interesting graphics, the other text heavy. By looking at the page source (which most browsers let you see) the difference in what the search robot sees was clear. Robots can’t read graphics, so you need to be sure that there is plenty of text to describe your business and target market. This is part of the text that allows your web site to be found.

2. Keywords:
In addition to the text displayed on your page, there are keywords and meta-tags that are not visible to the end user. But they are visible to the search robot. While the tag values and the text on the page are different, they should be aligned, covering the same topics. For at least one example of tags, check out Foden’s Brighter Naming web site, and view the page source. The tags are

A search on Google for “meta tags google” generates a lot of information, including some documentation directly from Google.

3. Content:
Content, in this context, means words strung together that provide meaning and value to your potential customers. This could be a description of your business or services, or articles you write that show your expertise and inform your prospects and customers. More useful and compelling content means more that you web site has more “stickiness” – people spend more time looking at it, and you have more chances to sell them something.

Search engines value content also. They are looking for results that will deliver value to their users, and they are getting better at finding it. So more content helps raise the position you appear in a search, and increases the search terms that will find you. According to Foden, the days of just repeating paragraphs of junk with the right words to fool a search engine are past.

4. Regular updates:
Search engines also value change. So after you get all that valuable content in place, it immediately begins to go stale. You need to keep adding information to your web site. That’s where 10 minutes a day comes from. Newer content will help your web site show higher in search results.

5. Tools to help:
There are a number of mostly free tools to help you understand what key words are most frequently searched, how your web site is viewed by search engines, where people spend time on your site. The ISP where your web site is hosted probably keeps statistics on your web pages – contact them for information. Google analytics is a service that gives you “rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness,” and its free from Google (www.google.com/analytics.) A paid service is Keyword Spy (www.keywordspy.com)

6. Register you web site:
You need to register your web site with a potentially long list of search directories. Starting with Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc… A key directory is the Open Directory Project (www.dmoz.org/). These directories are where search engines go to find new sites.

Foden’ new book has a four-page list. A Google search for “search engine registration” will return about 52 million hits that you can check out.

7. Inbound, relevant links:
One of the factors that Google uses to determine the popularity and value of your web site is to its users is by the number of other sites that point to yours (inbound links). In the past, whole systems of interlinked sites were set up to try to achieve this end. Supposedly the now smarter search engines value “relevant links” more highly than a random collection. Foden suggests posting on blogs with links back to your site. Or exchanging links with friendly, non-competitive businesses or partners, each site pointing to the other.

This is only a small sampling of last Monday’s meeting. And the meeting is only a tiny fraction of what has become an entire industry – SEO optimization. There are many web sites and newsletters that cover the area. Or you can buy Foden’s new book for an introduction.


Mark Helfen is a freelance writer, journalist, and marketing consultant. He can be reached at:

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/in/markhelfen

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