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Search Engine Optimization Tips
by Susan Londell, SML® Design, LLC

Search Engine Optimization Tips Spider - SML Design Usually the first questions people ask me is about search engines and how to produce a great ranking. While this is a great question, there are a few things to consider before deciding if your business wants to play the search engine game.

First, what type of business do you have? Is it a localized business, such as a business which can only provide services or products within a very small geographic area? A good example of this would a be a local Pizzeria. Or, do you have a business which can provide services or products on a world wide basis? A good example of this would be a business which has on-line shopping capabilities.

Many factors go into search engines ranking, which is why I usually find out specific information prior to getting into more detail about rankings. Search engines are funny creatures, each has its own rules and each will index or spider a site slightly differently, but with a little hard work you can do it.

What is a spider? A spider is an automated software program that a search engine uses to crawl the coding of a web site. In essence, these spiders are the seekers of content on the Internet. In order to index the Internet, the search engines need a tool that will be able to not only visit the web site, but to navigate the web site, recognize information about the web site, decide what the web site is about, and add the data to its main index or database. When the spider visits your web site it will be looking for specific information such as page titles, meta tags, other tag data, and textual content to be included in that search engine’s database.

Several years ago it was easy to visit a search engine and submit your domain, but now most search engines require some form of payment to be listed. Some require very small one-time fees, while others require larger yearly fees. Of course, there are still some search engines to which you can submit your site for free, like Google.

Since search engines can be tricky, so we’ve come up with a few simple tips to help you get started.

1. How Do Search Engines Work? - When the search engine spider, bot or webcrawler visits a web site, it reads all the visible text on the web page, the content of the various tags in the source code (title tag, meta tags, comments tag, alt tags, attribute tags, content, etc.), as well as the text within the hyperlinks on the web page. From the content that it extracts, the search engine decides what the web site and web page is about. There are many factors used to figure out what is of value and what matters. Each search engine has its own set of rules and standards in order to evaluate and process the information. Depending on how the spider was set up by the search engine, different pieces of information are gathered, weighed, indexed and then added to the search engine’s database.

After it is added, the information then becomes part of the search engine and directory ranking process. When the search engine visitor submits a query or request, the search engine digs through its database to give the final listing that is displayed on the results page. Remember, each search engine will produce a different ranking as well as each keyword/phrase producing a different ranking.

Search engine databases update at different times. Once a web site is in the search engine database, the spider will keep visiting it regularly, so as to pick up any changes that are made to the web site pages, and to ensure they have the most current data. The number of times a web site is visited will depend on how the search engine sets up its scheduled visits, which can vary per search engine.

2. Optimization - Remember to optimize your site for your target audience and not by a search engine rules. If you did that you'd go insane as each one has different ways they index a site. The best thing to do is make a list of the products or services you wish to offer, then stop to think about how your target audience will find you. Write down various search terms that relate to what you are offering. There is no need to drive yourself crazy about different search terms; just look for the most important ones that pertain to your business. If you are not sure what your target audience may be searching for, then perhaps you can ask a valued friend, employees, partner or associate, spouse, or neighbor. Also, you can check for online studies that provide information relating to your product or services, visit online forums; or you can visit other web sites to see what kinds of search terms they may be using. It may take a lot of time to do, but all of the information you gather now will be crucial when creating your copyright or when coming up with your final keyword terms.

3. Keywords Terms - Once you’ve come up with search terms, make sure you do some research on the keywords or phrases. Make a list of the most relevant keywords or phases. You can even choose different ones for different pages in your site. If you can avoid it, never generalize your keywords/phrases, for example say you use the key word "Machine", you may type that keyword in one search engine and produce millions of web sites using "Machine" as a keyword, but if you were to alter your word by making it a phrase which targets in on your business, such as "Soda Machine", you may produce a more pertinent and considerably lower number of records. Single generalized keywords are rarely, if ever, indicative of what your site is really about, always try to use key phrases. There are even tools available which can help you decide which will work best for your business.

4. Design and Navigation - Often people are surprised by the results while conducting their research, to the point that they think about categorizing their navigation differently or produce a whole new area of interest for their site which they never thought about before. The point is, that by doing this type of research you’ll be able to see the different ways your audience may be searching for your product or service. No matter what you find, your design should be clean, and to the point. Your navigation needs to be userfriendly, with easily understandable link titles and/or names.

5. Spiders - Remember to develop or program your site to be "search engine friendly". What this means is that search engines read things differently than what you may think. While a picture is worth a thousand words to a person, it’s worth zero to a search engine. They don’t understand frames, graphics or Flash animation/movies or JavaScript. They can’t fill out forms or click buttons. If there is not a static or fixed link for them to follow they won’t follow it. They can’t navigate drop-down menus, and they can’t run a search on your web site to find the content. This doesn’t mean you can’t use these features on your site; it just means that the search engines may have a little more of a difficult time when crawling your site. You should always provide an alternate means of navigation. Separate HTML links to main categories or top-level pages at the bottom or top of the page or simply provide a site index. You’ll want something that the spider can crawl when it visits your page.

6. Linking text - Often search engines, as well as your visitors, look at the "linking text", "clickable" or "anchor text" portions of your links to help them understand what they will be clicking on. You should also be as descriptive as possible so that they know what they are reading and where they are going. Not only that, but you can almost always describe the page you're pointing to by using its main keyword phrase, which the spiders love to see.

7. Writing your text copy - Your text should be a keyword-rich copy so that the search engines will know how to classify your site. You should not have your text buried in graphics or hidden in Flash. This is where all the search term research comes into play. You’ll want to write your copy based on your most important keyword/phrases while at the same time making a connection with your visitors. Some people say there is a specific number of times you must repeat your keyword/phrase or how many words you use on the page. To be honest there is no magical number—the important thing is that you use your keyword/phrases when and where it makes sense to your visitors. Repeating random keywords over and over, using invisible text or sticking keyword/phrases on various areas of your page for no apparent reason will not do anything other than make your page look silly, incoherent, or—worse—hurt you in the rankings. Search engines have become smart; they will know when you are trying to fool them with things you shouldn’t be doing. If you are after rankings, why would you even want to try being sneaky when you know you’ll eventually be caught. After you’ve come up with text you are happy with, and if you are comfortable with it, you should have your text professionally edited to check for errors.

8. Title/Description Tags - Always incorporate your main target keyword/phrase into your Title and Description tags. These tags are critical because they are given a lot of weight with every search engine. So no matter what you’ve written your copy around, you should always remember your Title and Description tags. Make sure your tag information is accurate and reflects the content of the page it is on.

9. Link Popularity - Other sites linking to yours is a critical component of a successful search engine optimization campaign, as all of the major search engines place a good deal of emphasis on your site's overall link popularity. Trading links is always a great idea regardless how search engines may react to them. Just make sure you are providing your site visitors with only the highest quality of related sites. When you link to lousy sites, keep in mind what this says to your visitors as well as to the search engines. And, don’t forget to make sure the other company puts your link on their site. Double check to make sure they followed through with their promise, if not, send them a friendly email reminding them to add your link.

10. Don’t worry about the rankings - Many times people are obsesssed about rankings. Those who do have a good ranking, feel that they don’t want to take the chance in changing keywords/phrases for fear of losing their place. Which actually may be true in some cases. If you are producing a decent ranking in several of your keyword/phrase terms, leave things alone and monitor what is going on around you. Maybe you’ll notice something someone else is using which will help boost you in the rankings. If on the other hand, you are not producing a good ranking, you should consider changing your keywords/phrases. Sometimes you can just rearrange them in a different order, other times completely new words may be needed. But, if you’ve followed the tips above, hopefully you’ll start to see an increase in targeted search engine visitors. Sometimes it can be fairly quick, other times it may take a while, the point is that there may be a great possibility you’ll see some type of increased traffic, sales or conversation. As I stated at the beginning of this article, you should not rely on search engines being your only marketing strategy, but rather part of it.

Now, if you are really concerned about rankings, then you should seek the advise of a professional Search Engine Optimization (SEO) company to assist you. Although, I should stress that depending on what you are trying to accomplish, hiring SEO services can often be quite costly.

Last thought … Site Updates - Don’t forget to edit the content on your site or add new areas of interest at least once a month. It will help make your site more useful to your visitors and will make them want to come back for more. Don’t add a load of stuff just to add something, make sure it is something useful. Remember, your site can be anything you want it to be, it doesn’t have to just be about the history of your products or services, but can be used as a valuable tool which can greatly enhance your business and make your visitors want to deal with a professional who really knows the industry.

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