A search engine optimization campaign can easily be divided in three fundamental stages:
- Choose the right keywords (keyword optimization)
- Optimize your pages for your selected keywords (web page optimization), and
- Get quality inbound links to your pages (off-site factors).
In the next few pages, we will teach you how to follow a systematic approach to complete these three steps, using free tools available on the net.
PART I: Keyword Optimization
The first step in a search engine optimization campaign is to choose your keywords or keyphrases for each of your web pages. Keywords are the terms that search engine users type in the search box to conduct a query. The right keywords are those that:
- clearly describe the purpose and content of your site, and,
- allow your site to show up as close to the first results page as possible.
A good position doesn't depend only on your choice of keywords. It also depends on how well do you position those keywords in your web page, and how many quality external pages link to you. However, choosing the wrong keywords can throw off your entire search engine optimization strategy, so you need to invest a few hours and make sure you do it right.
Let's start with your homepage. Look at it carefully and write down the words and phrases that best define your site. Try to form two or three word phrases, since competition for one-word keyphrases is fierce, and it is virtually impossible to get a top position for them. That is why, from now on, we will talk about keyphrases, not keywords. Once you have developed your list of potential keyphrases you are ready for the next step: to analyze the demand and supply for those keyphrases, and choose the best ones (those with good demand and not enough supply).
We will first check the demand for your selected keyphrases. For this, we will go to Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool:
Overture is a popular pay-per-click search engine. You will then type each of the keyphrases you selected, and see how many people search for those terms. This tool will show you only those searches conducted in Overture (and only in one month time). However, the relative popularity of each search term will be very similar in other search engines as well. In addition to telling you if your selected keyphrases are popular, this tool will show you other keyphrases that you may not have thought about, which may even be more relevant to your site.
For example, if your first keyphrase was "Italian Restaurant", the Search Term Suggestion Tool will also display other popular search terms, like: "Gourmet Italian Restaurant", "Northern Italian Restaurant", "Italian Restaurant Pizzeria", "Italian Restaurant Miami", etc. You may also try other keyphrases, for example: "Italian Cuisine", and come up with more specific keyphrases, like: "Fine Italian Cuisine", "Italian Cuisine Miami", "Northern Italian Cuisine", "Italian Cuisine Fine Dining", "Gourmet Italian Cuisine", etc.
What you have done is to validate and enlarge your pool of popular, in-demand, potential keyphrases for your web page. The next step is to check the supply, or, in other words, to see how much competition there is for your selected keywords. Naturally, you want to focus on keyphrases where competition is less fierce. For example, choosing "Italian Restaurant" alone will certainly hurt you. There are so many of them that your chances of showing up in an advantageous position within the search results are pretty slim.
Having said that, get your list of keyphrases, go to Google ( http://www.google.com ) and type-in each of them in the search box. Enter your keyphrases within quotation marks (to filter-out less relevant results), and see how many results each individual query produces, making a note of those with a relatively small number of results (less competition). You will stick with the keyphrase that:
- Best describes the topic and content of your page
- Is a popular search term according to Overture's Search Term Suggestion Tool.
- Generates a relatively small number of results after performing the Google search.
If "Gourmet Italian Restaurant" is the keyphrase that best meets these three criteria, it will become your primary keyphrase. To get even better results, you can choose a second keyphrase to make your page more relevant to an even more specific niche. For example, if your restaurant is in Miami, you can consider "Miami" a second keyphrase. Once you have chosen the keyphrases for you homepage, do the same for the other pages on your site.
After this, you will take your selected keyphrases and optimize your pages heavily for them. This involves placing them in strategic locations in the title, headings and body of each page, as we will see in Part II: Web Page Optimization.
PART II: Web Page Optimization
Once you have chosen your keyphrases, the next stage is to optimize your page for those keyphrases. You do that by positioning your keywords in strategic locations within your page. What follows is a checklist of tips and steps you must follow to optimize your page:
- Keyphrases in the web page title:
- Create a descriptive title for your page: Your web page title is very important because it is what the search engines display as link text as the result of a search. The title must include your main keyphrases, while at the same time it must describe your business very well and should entice readers to click on it.
- Unless your business is big and well known (like Microsoft or Coca Cola) don't start your page title with the name of your company. Start your title with the words search engine users will most likely use (your keyphrases)
- Put your main keyphrase at the beginning of your page title (keyphrase prominence) and keep your keyphrase together (keyword proximity).
- Put your second keyphrase somewhere else in the title.
- Make the title short (8 words or less).
- Keyphrases in your Keyword Meta Tag: Search engines rarely use the Keyword Meta Tag any more (Google completely ignores it). However, place a list of your main and secondary keywords in the Keyword Meta Tag of your page, just in case search engines decide to use them again in the future.
- Keyphrases in your Description Meta Tag: The Description Meta Tag is still important, since some search engines use them to elaborate on the results link. Remember to:
- Include your keyphrases (main and secondary) in your Description Meta Tag.
- Make your description 'descriptive', concise and professional. Avoid using hype.
- Make it short (25 words or less).
- Don't make your description sound just like a collection of keywords.
- Keep your keyphrases together.
- Keywords in the body of your page: It is important to use your keywords heavily on your page, since this will help the search engine determine the topic of your page. Follow these tips as much as possible, since they will help search engines determine your page's relevance to your chosen keyphrases:
- Use your keyphrases several times, and place them as close to the top of the page as possible.
- Place your keyphrases between Header Tags (H1, H2 or H3) in the first two paragraphs of your page.
- Place your keyphrases in bold type phase at least once.
- Repeat your keyphrases often to increase your keyphrase density. Repeating your keyphrases between 5 to 10 times for every 100 words in your page is considered effective.
- Since you have to repeat your keyphrases often, you must be especially careful not to make your text sound awkward. Your visitors should be able to read your page fluently and effortlessly. Remember that ultimately it is your readers who will decide if your page is worth the time they spend on it. A pleasant experience will make them more likely to come back.
A good resource on how to write search engine friendly copy without losing readability is this special SEO writing report by Jill Whalen.
- Other Web Page Design Considerations:
- You must make your page easy to navigate by the search engines. Search engines heavily favor text over graphics, and HTML over other editing formats.
- Use text heavily, especially in your navigation bar. Avoid placing text in graphic format since the search engines won't be able to read it.
- Avoid frames. Search engines have trouble following them, and they may index only the framed content page and not the navigation frame.
- Create a Site Map that includes all the pages in your site, and place a Site Map link close to the top of the homepage. When the search engine follows the site map link, it will find and index all the pages in your site!
- If you use a left navigation bar, the search engine will read it before the body of your page. Make sure you include your most important keywords there, too.
- Make sure that all your internal pages link to your homepage.
- Don't try to describe all your products or services in one page. It will confuse the search engine and dilute your page's relevance to your selected keyphrase. Instead, create different very focused pages, each with its own content and keyphrases, and optimize them too.
This is pretty much all you have to do to make sure that your page is optimized for your chosen keywords. The next and final step to increase your site's ranking is to get as many links to your site as possible, from quality sites that have a topic related to yours. This is what we will see in Part III: Off-Site Factors.
Part III: Off Page Factors
Once you have selected your keyphrases and optimized your pages for them, the last step is to make sure that you get linked from the best directories, and from lots of quality sites with a topic related to your site's. The best search engines, and in particular Google (who alone can deliver 80% of the search engine traffic to your site) "crawl" the web looking for links to your site. They interpret a link to your page as a vote, and the more links (votes) you have coming from quality sites the higher your page rank will be, and the higher the possibility that your page will achieve a good position in the search results pages. It's that simple. Following these four steps is the best way to get the quality links you need:
- Get listed in DMOZ: The Open Directory Project ( http://www.dmoz.org ) is the world's largest directory. It is maintained by voluntary editors who review your site prior to inclusion. Being listed in this directory is important because it is used by Google and America Online to build their directories. Getting listed is free, but it may take a few weeks or even months to get listed, which can be a bit frustrating. However, there is a strong believe among search engine optimization experts that an Open Directory Project listing can significantly increase your page rank in Google, so you must take the time to submit your site and do it right (list your site in the right category and strictly follow their submission guidelines). For how to get listed in the Open Directory Project go to: http://www.dmoz.org/add.html .
- Get listed in Yahoo!: Submissions to Yahoo! are no longer free for commercial sites (your site can be reviewed in about a week for a fee of $299 although inclusion in the directory is not guaranteed. However, if you do get accepted, the $299 fee will be due every year if you want your site to continue to be listed). A link from Yahooï¿½s directory is still one of the best links you can get, and it is worth the money you spend getting listed. For tips on getting listed in Yahoo! go to: http://docs.yahoo.com/info/suggest/ .
- Submit articles: There are many sites where you can publish articles in your field of expertise. This is a great way to establish yourself as an expert and to drive quality traffic to your site. The key is to include your resource box at the end of your article. A resource box is a small paragraph with a brief description of you and your business, where you include a link to your site. This way, every time somebody picks up your article and publishes it in their website or newsletter, your link will be there for readers and search engines to see and follow. For tips of getting traffic by writing articles you can visit: http://www.theinternetdigest.net/archive/write.html .
- Exchange links with reputable sites: You must try to find quality sites that are compatible to your site's topic (not direct competitors), and ask the webmaster for a link exchange. This will give you highly targeted traffic and will improve your score with the search engines. For tips on a good link exchange campaign, visit: http://www.theinternetdigest.net/archive/inboundlinks.html . If you liked this article and feel inclined to learn more about Search Engine Optimization, you may want to check out Aaron Wall's SEOBook.