If you’re like most other CEOs, the term “search engine optimization” will mean very little. Either that or it means expense! But it doesn’t have to be that way… If you feel like you’re standing in a dark room handing money to strangers to get you in the search engines, then this article is for you.
This is an article written by a business owner for other business owners and CEOs. It explains Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) in layperson’s terms. It won’t make you an expert, but it will give you some insight into what you’re spending your money on, what you should be spending your money on, and just as importantly, what you shouldn’t.
But before launching straight into an explanation of SEO, let’s talk a bit about search engines. Approximately 75%-80% of website traffic comes through search engines. What’s more, research shows that most people don’t look beyond the first 2 pages of search results. This means if your website doesn’t rank in the first 2 pages of the major search engines, it’s only receiving 20% of its rightful traffic… and revenue. (And remember, being ranked number 1 when you search for your company name or web address doesn’t count. You need to rank highly for the words your customers use at search engines.)
The biggest concern for search engine companies like Google, Yahoo, etc., is finding content that will bring them more traffic (and thus more advertising revenue). They do this by using complex algorithms to determine whether a site is useful and should be included in their search results.
This is where SEO comes in.
SEO is the art of ranking in the search engines. Nothing more, nothing less.
SEO means creating your site such that the search engines consider it useful. The two main weapons in your arsenal are:
• Links to your site
Figure out what words your customers are looking for at search engines, and use those words at your site. By frequently using keywords that are important to your customers, you tell the search engines what you do. These keywords are used in your copy and in the code behind the page. Generally speaking, the more you use the keywords, the more relevant you are to searches in that field.
Keywords in Your Copy
The use of keywords in your copy is easy to understand. But it’s not easy to do. You can’t just pepper your site with a meaningless array of words. The trick is using the most important keywords a lot without compromising the readability of your copy. It’s a balance between writing for the search engines and writing for your reader.
TIP: If you find this too time consuming, a website copywriter can take care of it for you. And if you know your keywords already, it should cost you no more than normal web copy.
Keywords in Your HTML Code
The use of keywords in your HTML code is harder to understand, but it’s easier to do. There are four main places these keywords are used:
TIP: When you hear people talking about meta tags, this is what they’re talking about. To see how meta tags are used in practice, go to Google and pretend you’re a customer. Search for something your customers would search for. e.g. If you’re in car audio, search for “car audio”. Click on the first couple of results to bring up their website. Right-click on the home page, and select “View Source”. You’ll see a whole lot of code. You can ignore most of it. What you’re looking for are the following…
meta name="KEYWORDS" CONTENT="keyword 1,keyword 2,keyword 3"
meta name="DESCRIPTION" CONTENT="Meaningful description of page using the main keywords"
img src="filename.gif" alt="Meaningful description of picture using the main keywords"
<title>The title of the page using the main keywords</title>
Take a look at the way the creators of the site have used keywords in these areas, and follow their lead. You already know they’re ranked highly, so chances are they’ve done a good job. Alternatively, take a look at my site, http://www.divinewrite.com to see how I’ve done mine.
LINKS TO YOUR SITE
Now that you know how to tell the search engines what you do, let’s talk about how to convince them you’re important.
Links to your site (or “inbound links”) are the most important factor in ranking. The more links you have to your site from other sites, the better your ranking (related sites generate better rankings).
TIP: Think of the Internet as a big election. All the websites in the world are candidates, and all the links to those websites are votes. The more votes (links) a candidate (website) has, the more important it is, and the higher its ranking.
There are many possible ways to generate links. Some are dubious (like auto-generation software). Others are legitimate, but offer limited results (like asking customers and suppliers to list you on their sites, and adding your site to various business directories). You can experiment with these methods, but I’ve always found the best way to generate inbound links is to write helpful articles and let publishers of newsletters and e-zines use them for free – on the proviso that they link back to your site.
People who publish e-Zines and newsletters are always hungry for quality content. And there are websites out there dedicated to giving them just that. If you submit a well written, relevant, helpful article to one of those sites, you can have thousands of newsletter publishers ready to snap it up. Then you just sit back and watch the links multiply!
TIP: This method is beneficial in other ways too. Readers of your article will see that you know what you’re talking about, and because you’re published, they’ll see you as an authority.
It’s impossible to say how much time you’ll need to spend generating links. You just have to keep at it until you have achieved a high ranking. Even then, you’ll still need to dedicate some ongoing time to the task, otherwise your ranking will drop.
So to cut a long story short, it comes down to this. If you have a lot of the right keyword phrases, used in real sentences, distributed realistically throughout your site, and a lot of links from other relevant sites, you stand a good chance of being ranked highly.
That’s what you’re paying your providers for. And that’s what SEO is all about.