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Search Engine Optimization: Jill Whalen

New and Improved 10 Tips to the Top

Having a web­site that gets found in Google, Yahoo, and MSN, etc. isn’t hard to do, but it can be dif­fi­cult to know where to begin. Here are my lat­est and great­est tips to get you started:

  • Do not pur­chase a new domain unless you have to. Due to Google’s aging delay for all new domains ( see this forum thread ), your best bet is to use an exist­ing domain/website if at all pos­si­ble. If you’re redesign­ing or start­ing from scratch and you have to use a brand-new domain for some rea­son, you can expect to wait a good 9 – 12 months before your site will show up in Google for any key­word phrases that are impor­tant to you.
  • Optimize your site for your tar­get audi­ence, not for the search engines. This may sound coun­ter­in­tu­itive, but hear me out. The search engines are look­ing for pages that best fit the key­word phrase some­one types into their lit­tle search box. If those “some­ones” are typ­ing in search words that relate to what your site offers, then they are most likely mem­bers of your tar­get audi­ence. You need to opti­mize your site to meet *their* needs. If you don’t know who your tar­get audi­ence is, then you need to find out one way or another. Look for stud­ies online that might pro­vide demo­graphic infor­ma­tion, and visit other sites, com­mu­ni­ties, or forums where your tar­get audi­ence might hang out and lis­ten to what they dis­cuss. This infor­ma­tion will be cru­cial to your result­ing web­site design, key­word research, and copywriting.
  • Research your key­word phrases exten­sively. The phrases you think your tar­get mar­ket might be search­ing for may very well be incor­rect. To find the opti­mal phrases to opti­mize for, use research tools such as Keyword Discovery , Wordtracker , Google AdWords, and Yahoo Search Marketing data. Compile lists of the most rel­e­vant phrases for your site, and choose a few dif­fer­ent ones for every page. Never shoot for gen­eral key­words such as “travel” or “vaca­tion,” as they are rarely (if ever) indica­tive of what your site is really about.
  • Design and cat­e­go­rize your site archi­tec­ture and nav­i­ga­tion based on your key­word research. Your research may uncover undis­cov­ered areas of inter­est or ways of cat­e­go­riz­ing your products/services that you may wish to add to your site. For instance, let’s say your site sells toys. There are numer­ous ways you could cat­e­go­rize and lay out your site so that peo­ple will find the toys they’re look­ing for. Are peo­ple look­ing for toys to fit their child’s stage of devel­op­ment? (Look for key­word phrases such as “preschool toys.”) Or are they more likely to be seek­ing spe­cific brands of toys? Most likely, your key­word research will show you that peo­ple are look­ing for toys in many dif­fer­ent ways. Your job is to make sure that your site’s nav­i­ga­tion show­cases the var­i­ous ways of search­ing. Make sure you have links to specific-brand pages as well as spe­cific age ranges, spe­cific types of toys, etc.
  • Program your site to be “crawler-friendly.” The search engines can’t fill out forms, can’t search your site, can’t read JavaScript links and menus, and can’t inter­pret graph­ics and Flash. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use these things on your site; you most cer­tainly can! However, you do need to pro­vide alter­nate means of nav­i­gat­ing your site as nec­es­sary. If you have only a drop-down sequence of menus to choose a cat­e­gory or a brand of some­thing, the search engine crawlers will never find those result­ing pages. You’ll need to make sure that you always have some form of HTML links in the main nav­i­ga­tion on every page which link to the top-level pages of your site. From those pages, you’ll need to have fur­ther HTML links to the indi­vid­ual product/service pages. (Please note that HTML links do NOT have to be text-only links. There’s noth­ing wrong with graph­i­cal image nav­i­ga­tion that is wrapped in stan­dard tags, as the search engines can fol­low image links just fine.)
  • Label your inter­nal text links and click­able image alt attrib­utes (aka alt tags) as clearly and descrip­tively as pos­si­ble. Your site vis­i­tors and the search engines look at the click­able por­tion of your links (aka the anchor text) to help them under­stand what they’re going to find once they click through. Don’t make them guess what’s at the other end with links that say “click here” or other non-descriptive words. Be as descrip­tive as pos­si­ble with every text and graph­i­cal link on your site. The cool thing about writ­ing your anchor text and alt attrib­utes to be descrip­tive is that you can almost always describe the page you’re point­ing to by using its main key­word phrase.
  • Write com­pelling copy for the key pages of your site based on your cho­sen key­word phrases and your tar­get market’s needs, and make sure it’s copy that the search engines can “see.” This is a cru­cial com­po­nent to hav­ing a suc­cess­ful web­site. The search engines need to read keyword-rich copy on your pages so they can under­stand how to clas­sify your site. This copy shouldn’t be buried in graph­ics or hid­den in Flash. Write your copy based on your most rel­e­vant key­word phrases while also mak­ing an emo­tional con­nec­tion with your site vis­i­tor. (This is where that tar­get audi­ence analy­sis comes in handy!) Understand that there is no mag­i­cal num­ber of words per page or num­ber of times to use your phrases in your copy. The impor­tant thing is to use your key­word phrases only when and where it makes sense to do so for the real peo­ple read­ing your pages. Simply stick­ing key­word phrases at the top of the page for no appar­ent rea­son isn’t going to cut it, and it just looks silly. (Purchase and read our Copywriting Combo for exact tips on how to imple­ment this correctly.)
  • Incorporate your key­word phrases into each page’s unique Title tag. Title tags are crit­i­cal because they’re given a lot of weight with every search engine. Whatever key­word phrases you’ve writ­ten your copy around should also be used in your Title tag. Remember that the infor­ma­tion that you place in this tag is what will show up as the click­able link to your site at the search engines. Make sure that it accu­rately reflects the con­tent of the page it’s on, while also using the key­word phrases peo­ple might be using at a search engine to find your stuff.
  • Make sure your site is “link-worthy.” 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. You can go out and request hun­dreds or thou­sands of links, but if your site stinks, why would any­one want to link to it? On the other hand, if your site is full of won­der­ful, use­ful infor­ma­tion, other sites will nat­u­rally link to it with­out your even ask­ing. It’s fine to trade links; 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 site vis­i­tors as well as to the search engines.
  • Don’t be mar­ried to any one key­word phrase or wor­ried too much about rank­ings. If you’ve done the above 9 things cor­rectly, you will start to see an increase in tar­geted search engine vis­i­tors to your site fairly quickly. Forget about where you rank for any spe­cific key­word phrase and instead mea­sure your results in increased traffic,sales, and con­ver­sions. (You can sign up for a free trial of ClickTracks , which eas­ily tracks and mea­sures those things that truly mat­ter.) It cer­tainly won’t hurt to add new con­tent to your site if it will really make your site more use­ful, but don’t sim­ply add a load of fluff just for the sake of adding some­thing. It really is okay to have a busi­ness site that is just a busi­ness site and not a dia­tribe on the his­tory of your prod­ucts. Neither your site vis­i­tors nor the engines really give a hoot!

Jill Whalen for­merly of High Rankings® is an inter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized search engine opti­miza­tion con­sul­tant and host of the free weekly High Rankings® Advisor search engine mar­ket­ing newslet­ter. Jill’s hand­book, “The Nitty-gritty of Writing for the Search Engines” teaches busi­ness own­ers how and where to place rel­e­vant key­word phrases on their Web sites so that they make sense to users and gain high rank­ings in the major search engines.