Tuesday, April 10, 2007

9 things to know about SEO

posted by Andy Leff
Got a Web site and no visitors? Don't despair, my fellow tech friends, Andy Leff is here to the rescue!

One reason you don't have any visitors might be that your site it boring and ugly. But I never had a flair for color coordination, so if that's your problem, I'm not your man.

I am your man, however, if your site is not optimized. An un-optimized site is often the reason for low traffic. The good news is, it's easy to fix.

The process is called search engine optimization, or SEO. This means making your Web site accessible to search engines to improve the chances that they'll find it. The more easily they can find your site, the higher it appears on search engines' results page. And that means more people will see your site and click the link to it.

You might already be familiar with SEO. If not, check out Wikipedia's SEO entry before reading further. And if you are, I'll add one blog to your must-read list: Search Engine Land. It's chock-full of great SEO info, tips, and news.

In either event, no post is complete without my two cents -- or in this case, nine. Here are my top pieces of unsolicited advice for optimizing your Web site:

  1. Structure your site properly, code it cleanly, and use necessary keywords. This is the most important way to optimize your site. Sites that have the proper architecture in place and are not slapped together have a better chance of getting picked up by the major search engines. Also, putting keywords throughout your site lets search engines “crawl” it, and pick up on relevant terms. However, it's important that you don't overdo it. If a search engine's algorithms interpret your site as a keyword hog, it will pass it by.

  2. Link your site to other sites. Not only does this increase traffic to your site, but search engines also pick up on the number of times people link to and from your site. This boosts your rankings.

  3. Submit your site to the major search engines. This way your site is indexed to them. Make sure to submit to these three main search engines: Yahoo, Google, and MSN.

  4. Add lots of text. The more text on your site, the better. Remember, though, text within Flash-based components of a site won't help you much. This text is not accessible to the search engine site crawlers, and will not get picked up. So yes, Flash looks cool, but it won’t help you boost your search rankings.

  5. Sneak in keywords. If you have a tab navigation-based site, there are a couple ways to sneak in keywords that will get picked up. First, make sure the tabs are text-based and not Flash-based. Second, if you use dropdown menus, you can add more text to them without taking up too much space. A great example can be found on the Wired.com homepage. Mouse over the tabs, and you'll see a box appear full of text links that take you to different parts of the site. All of these links are in effect more keywords, and more keywords means better site optimization. This is a sneaky way to overdo the keywords without being penalized by the search engines.

  6. Make sure all your site headers and footers are text-based and not strictly image-based. Again, more text equals more text for search engines to crawl and pick up keywords.

  7. Sign up for different online communities, and add their links to your site. For example, set up a MySpace page for your business, and link it to back to your site. This can be done very easily by adding a link to your Web site in the 'about me' section of MySpace. Personal MySpace pages take precedence over other pages in Google and Yahoo search rankings, so this is a good way to get optimized and bring people to your site.

  8. Blog regularly. Search engines also look for high site activity. Set up your blog on your personal Web site if possible. When you create a blog post, it creates more text and pages on your site -- another surefire way to get ranked higher.

  9. Engage an outside firm. If all of this sounds too complicated to do on your own, there are many companies who can do it for you. Just be aware that many SEO options carry a big budget with them. If you engage an SEO firm, ask yourself:

  • What keywords are most important for my site to be optimized for?

  • What keywords are the low hanging fruit that I can optimize for? (Chances are, if major companies appear in the top 10 search engine results, it's going to take a lot of time and money to dethrone them, if it is even possible.)

  • What will it cost me to do this, and is the ROI worth it?

Keep in mind that an SEO campaign is not instant. Many people think that the first day they sign up for one, their page is automatically launched to the top of the rankings. In reality, it can take up to 18 months to start seeing results, depending on all the issues I brought up in this post.

If your SEO representative tells you they can have you optimized for search in a day or a week, they're probably lying to you, don't really know what they're doing, or just want the business. Be patient!

Another money-saving tip is to start small. Place some second-tier keywords on your site, and see if they bring you more traffic. It would be a shame if you decide to use big established keywords, and you gain no traffic from it. Then you're out a ton of money for no good reason.

SEO is not for everyone. There are so many keywords and variations thereof, that it's impossible to be optimized for everything. If your goal is to do something broad, then you better hope your investors have an equally expansive bank account.


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