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Search Engine Optimization - A do it yourself guide

by Evan D. Owen

Introduction to Search Engine Optimization

The Internet has turned into a lucrative business channel and this is no different for what we sell, which are trade show display products. Search Engine Optimization can easily be defined as: The practice of obtaining high search engine rankings by performing keyword research, modifying the HTML code to reflect such keywords and building relationships with other websites to promote your site via a linking campaign. Search Engine Optimization can be performed by anyone who has the ability to learn and has knowledge of basic HTML. In fact, search engine optimization has more to do with marketing than it does programming. Search engines rank your site by a complex mathematical equation called an algorithm or "algo" for short. This algorithm is written and designed by individuals who are mathematical wizards who hold PhD's. When I think of these experts I think about Russell Crowe in the movie A Beautiful Mind, just not delusional. It's truly amazing, for example, that Google is able to organize 4 billion web pages using nothing but a mathematical equation. Because the rankings are based on math there is some predictability to how they are organized and what one must do to rank well. The question is should you do it yourself or hire a search engine optimization company. I personally decided to do it myself as I enjoy learning new things and the multiple levels of strategy in Search Engine Optimization is very challenging and rewarding.

Before performing any Search Engine Optimization you must first determine what keywords your buyers search for within your industry. What you call your products and what your buyers call your products may be two different things. A great example of this is very common in our industry. Within our industry we call a particular type of display a Pop Up Display where the most common term our buyers search for is Trade Show Displays. You want to optimize for all terms within your industry but primarily focus on the terms most often searched for by your prospects. To research keywords you have a couple of different options and they include:

Wordtracker - Wordtracker helps you choose the right internet marketing keywords that will help your search engine placement and ranking. Wordtracker is a fee based service.

Word Tracker provides assistance in developing related keyword lists like the keyword Convention Displays in our industry and polls keyword results from multiple search engines. In any case your likely to find that the most common keywords will be easier to determine than secondary keywords. We recommend creating a focus group to come up with every keyword or name you or your employees have ever heard a customer call your product and then research these keywords for there search frequency. You then rank these keywords from most to least likely searched. Once you've determined your target keywords you're well on your way to successful search engine optimization.

If you're just starting out building your website you'll also be able to develop your website structure around your keywords. For example, you can assign the home page your most common keywords where as secondary keywords will be assigned to second and third level pages. Typically the less often a keyword is searched the deeper within your site it will be assigned to a page. Each page can be assigned anywhere from one to three keywords. In the purest sense each page should be optimized for a separate keyword, but this can make your website hard to use and convert fewer customers and the search engines might see you as spamming. Before optimizing it is also highly recommended that you read what is considered good and bad optimization from a search engines point of view. These are guidelines that Google and Yahoo publish.

Google Search Engine Optimization Guidelines

When deciding if you should perform your own search engine optimization or hiring someone else you should consider a few factors. The biggest is that the rulebook on good versus bad search engine optimization is somewhat unwritten. Although the search engines provide guidelines, they do now stipulate every rule. You may, as a beginner, break a rule and not even know it and get your site banned and possibly dropped from the search engines. In this case all your efforts were in vain. Secondly, your time may be better spent doing something else within the company.

On and Off Page Components of Search Engine Optimization

Search Engine Optimization or SEO, as it's become to be known, is broken down into two broad separate components. These components are on-page and off-page.

On page components include the following:

1. Title Tag
2. Meta Tag Description
3. Meta Tag Keywords
4. Heading Tag
5. Keyword Density
6. Alt Tags
7. Page Name / URL structure
8. Internal Linking

Off page components include the following:

1. Content Relation
2. Links
3. PageRank
4. Page Traffic
5. Content Donation
6. Anchor or Linking Text

On Page Components

On page components can easily be created in FrontPage. The built in help function provides detailed instructions and we recommend that you use this source in learning how to perform these tasks. On page components are the easiest to control because these components are created as you build or modify the site of which you have 100% control.

Title Tag - The Title tag gives the search engine a basic understanding of what your web page is about. The Title Tag functions the same way on Internet as it does for the title of a book or the name of a chapter within a book. Each page of your website should be titled to reflect the actual content on that page. You shouldn't name your title "Blue Widgets" if the page has nothing but "Red Widgets" on it.

Meta Tag Description - The "Meta Tag Description" provides a basic description of what's found on the webpage. Typically this description will be 12-15 words as most search engines ignore anything past the 15th word. Included within your description will be targeted keywords, action verbs like "research", "buy", "sell" and your company name.

Meta Tag Keywords - Your Meta Tag Keywords are the same as the keywords that you researched. Your Meta Tag Keywords should reflect what's contained on your webpage. If the page is about Blue Widgets, then the keyword Red Widgets shouldn't be contained within your Meta Tag Keywords for that page.

Heading Tag - A Heading Tag is similar to sub-sections within a chapter of a book. They are used to break down the overall content within a web page. There are six heading tags and they are H1 - H6, with the H1 tag carrying the most importance and H6 carrying the least, but more than text that does not have a heading tag. For example the following heading tags have been used on this web page.

- Search Engine Optimization - A do it yourself guide. - H1 Tag

- Introduction to Search Engine Optimization - H2 Tag

- On and Off Page Components of Search Engine Optimization - H2 Tag

- On Page Components - H3 Tag

When using the Heading Tags you'll find that FrontPage automatically assigns a font size and other font characteristics, but these can be changed to fit the design of your website.

Keyword Density - Keyword density refers to what percentage a particular keyword is used on a page. In most cases it is recommended that a keyword be used anywhere from 2% - 8% on a page, but it can be analyzed for different aspects of your page. For example, your keyword density should be different for your Title Tag than your on page keyword density. Overall keyword density is calculated on all aspects of a page and that includes your Title, Meta Tags, on page text, URL structure and others.

Alt Tags - Alt Tags are primarily used to assign keywords to an image. If you've ever held your mouse curser over an image and it shows a description then this was created by the Alt Tag. Your Alt tags should match the actual image. If the picture is a Red Widget then the Alt Tag should read Red Widget, not Blue Widget or Red and Blue Widget.

Page Name / URL Structure - Your page name or URL structure refers to the actual page name. For example, if you wanted a website to rank well for the keyword "Blue Widgets" then your URL could be http://www.bluewidgets.com or http://www.blue-widgets.com. In many cases your URL is the same name as your company, but you can still use this as an optimization tool. For example, http://www.acme-blue-widgets.com. Other pages can also be optimized like the following, http://www.acme.com/blue-widgets.html. There has been much discussion on using hyphens (-) or underscores (_) or nothing at all to separate words. Google did say that they see underscores as text and and hyphens as separators. Based on this information then a URL structure of "blue_widgets" is seen as "blue_widgets" where "blue-widgets" is seen as "blue widgets". However, any ranking advantage given to one style over the other isn't that apparent at this time as there are many other factors that are weighed to determine your overall ranking.

Internal Linking - Linking to internal pages refers to using keywords that normally occur within you site as links. For example the following sentence occurs on our site, "Tradeshow Displays can be an incredible aspect of marketing your business at your next convention." The keyword "Tradeshow Displays" is being used as an internal link to another page within our site and is being tied to the keyword tradeshow displays. These keywords are referred to as Anchor or Linking Text and are explained in the linking section of this article. This doesn't mean that every keyword should be linked as this could be viewed as spam.

Off Page Components

Off page components primarily refer to building links or link popularity. Link popularity is a score that adds up the total number of links you have pointed to your site over various search engines. Marketleap offers a free link popularity tool. Search engines heavily weigh how many links there are pointing to your site. You can view a link as a vote, however, all links or votes aren't equal. The more votes or links you have the better. Evaluating a links importance is quite complex and is determined on various factors. Some of which include content relation, PageRank® and page traffic.

Content Relation - The most valuable link you can get is a link that is on your competitors home page, but this isn't feasible as your competitor isn't going to promote your business. In theory though any company that operates and or targets the same customers and prospects are very valuable. In our industry Promotional Products, Publishing and Printing Companies and Public Relations Companies are all used at trade shows and buyers of our trade show exhibits do business with these companies. For this reason we want to get links from these websites to ours.

PageRank - PageRank is a number between 0 and 10 that Google assigns to every web page in it's index. This number is calculated on the Google Toolbar and can be downloaded by clicking on the link, Google Toolbar. Getting a link from a PR8 webpage holds more value than PR5 webpage. Determining a links value solely on PageRank is unwise as there are lots of PR0 pages that might have lots of targeted traffic. We recommend that if the company targets the same prospects and customers then a link from them is good regardless of the pages PageRank.

Page Traffic - Page traffic refers to how many potential buyers may come across a page on the web that you want to target.

So how do you get links?

You can acquire links in four primary ways and they include DMOZ and other directories, reciprocal linking, purchasing links and content donations.

DMOZ - DMOZ is called the Open Directory Project and it is maintained by over 60,000 volunteer editors. Obtaining a link is this directory is valuable, but it can take as long as a year to get. The primary reason for this is that quality editors are in short supply and they are volunteers so it may not be their primary focus. There are lots of categories within the directory that do not have editors so many sites submissions go unlooked until an available editor within the broad category that it falls under has the time to review the submissions. In addition, DMOZ powers Google's directory as well as other sites who use data feeds from DMOZ. There are other directories, but none that hold as much weight as DMOZ.

Reciprocal Links - These are links that have been traded between websites and is similar to what happens in the non-internet marketing world. We all have companies that we refer our customers to when we don't have what they want or services we don't offer. On the Internet you aren't there to communicate with the customer person to person so your website must do this for you. In most cases the easiest way to trade links is to setup some type of directory and promote it on your site. An example of this on our site is our Trade Show Industry Directory. We've developed various categories of products or services related to our industry which is the easiest part. Contacting and setting up links is harder as this is an ongoing process that never ends. There are many places to learn about other websites who actively exchange links, these are two that we recommend, Linkalizer and Link Partners.

Purchasing Links - You can purchase links in various directories like the Yahoo Directory. Other websites sell advertising, not necessarily links, but be forewarned, buying links to increase rankings in unwise and in most cases isn't all the helpful. Having 1000's of links from the same site may increase your PageRank value with Google, but not your actual ranking. Many theorize that for every additional link you have from a site the lower it's value. The first link holds the most value where every additional link holds almost no value when it comes to increasing your ranking.

Content Donations - By providing valuable content and your expertise you can obtain high quality links. You can publish press releases and articles on your website that can be openly used by other web owners as long as the other website provides a link to your site. This should be noted on each article. A great example of content donation is this article itself. There are 29 links in this article to 13 different companies and all of them with benefit from these links.

Anchor / Linking Text - One of the most often overlooked aspects of a good linking campaign is the text associated with the link. Every link in this article is associated with a particular keyword. This text will be what your site ranks well for and is based on your keyword research. If the link says trade show booth the website it's associated with will rank better for the keyword trade show booth. Many links are just the company name and some are just keywords. We find that a combination of both work the best like Buy Pop Up Booths from Art Space Trade Show Displays as you're targeting keywords and branding your company at the same time.

Links are lots of work and are ongoing and are absolutely necessary for good rankings. There are lots of ways that other websites will try a deceive you out of a link. There are Meta Tags that exclude search engines from indexing pages and some sites that use special programming so the link can be seen by you, but not by the search engine. We've found that using a reciprocal link checking service like Links Manager will not only enable you to monitor links on other websites, but make the process of setting up links and editing them much easier.

If you stick to setting up links with related sites and use anchor or linking text that are your targeted keywords your linking campaign will be a success regardless of your actual rankings in the search engines. In the end if you don't achieve the rankings you desire you can always opt for Pay-Per-Click advertising or contract with a Search Engine Optimization company to take over these responsibilities. In addition, depending on your industry it may take setting up 50 or even 5000 links to get your desired ranking, This alone may cause you not to proceed with Search Engine Optimization.

Conclusion

As mentioned earlier there aren't clear cut rules to good or bad SEO and just when you think you've got it right the rules change and your rankings disappear. The search engines are getting more and more advanced in determining how and what webmasters are doing to get the rankings they've acquired so you have to adapt and spend time researching what might have changed in the algorithm. In the end though the experts, although more practiced at SEO, may or may not know exactly what has changed either and what must be done in order to acquire good rankings.