by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Founder of the
SEO: Search Engine Optimization. The goal of every Website owner -- at least it should be if you
want to get found, increase traffic, generate revenue. This SEO Primer provides easy-to-use guidelines for creating,
enhancing, and optimizing your online presence. If you have any questions of some of the terms
used in this article, please refer to the
Website Marketing and SEO Glossary.
Individuals and organizations are creating new Websites and adding thousands and
thousands of new Web pages daily, resulting in an unprecedented amount of information
and resources available online. A plethora of choices for Web-surfers is available to help
you find what you seek. Don't believe it? Type any word or keyword into
Google (or, if you
must, some other search engine) and see how many "hits" it receives. As of this writing, for
example, when I type "Hansen" into Google, I receive almost 64 million hits. (As you'll learn
later in this primer, Hansen would not be a good keyword for me to use given how many sites
there are with Hansen in them.)
The objective of this SEO Primer is to provide an easy-to-use guideline for creating, enhancing,
and optimizing your online presence so that you can break through the vast, vast amount of
clutter on the Web. Most experts say you need to be on the first two or three pages of any
search or the majority of people will never find your site. The odds seem kind of impossible,
don't they? That's one of the reasons I get spam mail every day from "SEO Experts" telling
me they can help me optimize my site and why there are so many "SEO Secrets" Websites
willing to sell you everything you need to bring in millions of visitors to your site.
The reality of SEO is that it is not that difficult. The most significant thing you'll need is not
technical expertise, but patience. You'll also need time -- especially if you are just developing
your site or realize from reading this article that you need to revamp your site. Following the
advice in this primer will lead to good (and even great) results, but it will take work, time, and
patience before you can bask in your success.
Read to start? Here are my 10 strategies for SEO success.
1. Develop/Refine/Review Business Model and SEO Strategy for Website
One of the most important elements of running a successful (profitable) Website is having a
solid business plan. A business plan develops/reviews your mission, goals, and objectives
and provides a blueprint for how you will achieve them. The key to successful business
planning is finding and filling your niche. Learn more in the detailed tutorial over at our sister site,
Careers: Business Plan Tutorial.
Do you have a company name? A domain name for your Website? If not, a key here is to think
strategically. You should incorporate your main keyword or keyword phrase into your name or
domain name whenever possible. Of course, be careful of choosing a name too close to a competitor
for both legal and competitive reasons. (See also my article,
Tips for Starting a
Small Business Website.
The next step is developing some specific SEO goals and objectives. Since you're reading this SEO
primer, I'm assuming you have some specific goals about improving the visibility of your site. One goal
might be to have one or more of your pages listed on the first or second page of Google for your specific
keywords -- a goal that is critical for your success as many people do not look at results beyond the the
second page. (For example, QuintCareers.com is on the first page of a search for "resume samples.").
Another goal might be to improve your site's PageRank.
Speaking of PageRank, another aspect of developing your business model should be developing or
enhancing your understanding of your site, including things like PageRank and your Website traffic.
PageRank, trademarked by Google, is a complex and ever changing ranking of a Web page based on
the number and value of links to and from the page. (Don't worry, there's a whole section on linking
strategies later in the primer.) The key with PageRank is that it is more a symbol of quality than anything else; the
higher the PageRank, the better the quality.
So, PageRank deals with the overall quality of your site, but perhaps more importantly to you, do you
know how many people visit your site, how many pages they view, the keywords they use to get there,
and which pages are your key landing pages? The more you know about your Website and your site
visitors, the more information you have for making strategic decisions about the future. I fully recommend
Google Analytics as the tool to assist you in better understanding these
things. All that is required is a Google logon (which you can then use for other tools, such as Google
Webmaster tools, explained below) and the ability to paste a snippet of code on to all your Web pages.
The last issue here is about getting people to your site -- and the solution for your site partly depends on
how quickly you need visitors and how willing you are to buy visitors. Many, many businesses use
advertising (text, banner, and other ads) to attract visitors to their sites -- including buying keywords to
direct traffic to their sites. The three major search engines (Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Live) have made
massive amounts of revenue based on companies buying keywords to move their placement to the
top (or side) of the search results. And while buying keywords may be a good way to build or sustain
traffic, most experts have much more respect for sites that build their traffic (visitors) organically --
which you can do for free by following the advice in this SEO primer.
2. Conduct Competitive Research
One of the smart activities you (or a member of your organization) can do -- both at the start of your
business as well as during its entire life -- is monitor your competitors.
From a strategic standpoint, you should monitor competitors to stay one or more steps ahead of them.
Review their offerings and make certain yours are better or more cutting-edge. Guard your niche, but also
take note of new developments, tools, or services your competitors are offering that you might consider
for your business.
For a SEO standpoint, you want to examine your competitors' sites for things like PageRank, search
result rankings on various keywords (and keyword phrases), and use of meta tags. PageRank and
search results are easy to chart, but meta tags? I'll discuss meta tags in more depth in the next section,
but the key for examining competitors' meta tags is simply going to the "view" menu in your browser's
toolbar and then selecting "page source." Meta tags are found at the very top of the source for Web
pages, and what you're looking for are the "keywords" and "description" tags.
3. Use a SEO Keyword Strategy for Website
The heart and soul of SEO optimization starts with keywords. You can gain a lot of information by
reviewing the keywords of your competition, but you also need to get into the head of your site's visitors
and consider the types of keywords and keyword phrases they use to search the Web. While you might
naturally think in the broadest terms, you'll find much more success in the specifics. For example, if you
have an executive resume-writing business, you'll have much better search engine success by using
"executive resumes" or "executive resume-writing service" than you would for "resumes." (Do a Google
search yourself; when I did it, a search on resumes resulted in 43 million hits while a search on executive
resumes resulted in only 353,000 hits -- still a pretty daunting number, but better than trying to break into
the top of 43 millions pages!)
There are several ways to utilize keywords within a Web page, but one key thing to remember is that there
needs to be consistency among them. In theory, every page of your Website is going to have a slightly
different mix of keywords -- though some (such as your business name) will stay the same on all of them --
and those keywords must be reflected in the title of the page, file name, meta tags, headlines, body copy, and images.
Let's use an example from Quintessential Careers to illustrate the point -- on a page of the site in which
we provide resume samples for job seekers to review. (If you like, follow along here on our
Free Sample Professional Resumes
by going into the view page source menu.) Let's take these things one-by-one.
File name: sample_resumes.html (keywords in file name)
Page title: Sample Professional Resumes (keywords in title)
Description Meta Tag: A collection of free sample professional resumes, for job-seekers
at all levels of job-hunting for improving your job search, getting the interview. (keywords in the description)
Keyword Meta Tag: sample professional resumes, free professional resume samples, free sample
professional resumes, sample new-grad job-seeker resumes, executive job-hunting resume example,
careers, no-cost job-search examples, Quintessential Careers
Headline: No job seeker should ever be without a strong resume, so we have reproduced some
examples of professionally-developed resumes for you -- free of charge
Body Copy: The keywords "sample resume," "resume samples," "sample resumes" are repeated
throughout the body copy, including in the names of the actual resume samples and resume sample file names.
Just be careful not to overload -- or what some in the industry call keyword stuffing -- the keywords in your body
copy. (Stuffing happens when the keyword reaches 50 percent of the content of a page.)
Please note: Not all search engines fully use meta tags, so if you are not comfortable with cutting and pasting
information onto your Web pages or simply do not have the time to do so, you will be losing a strategic
element, but it will not doom your site. (The best solution is either to learn to get your hands a little dirty, or
hire a Web consultant to assist you with the various technical elements of SEO.) Finally, for a great overview
on the use of meta tags, read this article from Search Engine Watch:
How to Use HTML Meta Tags.
Finally, you can help your SEO cause by being consistent in how you link to your pages within your Website.
When you are inconsistent in your linking strategy, you can confuse the search engines that are spidering
your site into thinking you have multiple pages with the same content, diluting your efforts. For example,
quintcareers.com, www.quintcareers.com, quintcareers.com/index.html, and www.quintcareers.com/index.html
all go to the same page, but because they are different URLs, search engines see them as different pages.
So, choose one style to link to the pages within your site (and especially to your home page) and stick to it
throughout your site.
4. Create Knowledge Base
The news -- at least for now -- is that content is still king on the Web. That's good news for Website
owners who provide valuable information to site visitors (beyond product descriptions/catalogs).
Because of the power of content, SEO and Website creation should go hand-in-hand. The key, though,
is to make it original content -- and not recycled materials from other Websites.
Let's go back to the executive resume-writing business. Besides having pages on your site that market
your services, you should also have pure content pages that focus on information useful to
executive-level job-seekers, such as strategies for working with search firms, executive career-branding
strategies, developments in executive salary and compensation, a review of the top executive job-search
Websites, and news and trends related to executives.
Where do you find ideas for creating the content for your site? Look to your own product/service offerings
for ideas, as well as the competitive research you conducted back in Step 2.
You do not need to write lengthy articles, but you do need to write keyword-rich ones. Keep the length of
your articles in the 800- to 1,500-word range. Use targeted keywords (remember that each page should
have a specific keyword focus) throughout the content, but don't go overboard -- and don't make it so the
information is not readable because of keyword stuffing.
Finally, while some experts debate the issue, you should try to make your content as clean as possible --
both in your writing style and also in your coding.
5. Plan a Directory Strategy
A big key to SEO success is placing your Website into the major Web directories. As soon as your site
has been developed (and published online), begin submitting it to a number of key directories. These directories
are important, because many search engines start their evaluation of a site by finding it in a directory.
Some of these directories -- especially those that rely on volunteer editors to manually review submissions
-- can take months before you accepting your site for a listing. So, again, a key here is patience. Don't spam
the directories -- and submit to them only the main page of your Website. (For example, www.empoweringsites.com/).
Primary Web Directories:
Other Web Directories:
A large listing, organized by various categories, can be found on the
when we SEO Website.
6. Prepare a Search Engine Strategy
While directories are an important part of your overall site strategy, search engines are valuable tool
for all your site pages.
If you have not already done so, register with Google Webmaster Tools.
You'll find a plethora of tools to help you analyze your site -- and to help Google better understand your site. You can review searches in
which a page from your site appeared, review what sites link to yours, linking errors found on your site,
and much more.
One way to assist Google -- and other major search engines -- in understanding your site is by developing
an XML sitemap. You can download software to create the sitemap, but I prefer using
XML-Sitemaps.com, which is free for
sites with up to 500 pages. (Larger sites can buy their software and create sitemaps for an unlimited
number of pages.)
You might also consider creating a sitemap for your visitors, which should be designed like a table
of contents for a book -- not necessarily listing every single page of your site (though you could),
but key sections of it. Creating this type of sitemap will be beneficial for your visitors who wish to
browse your site -- and it will also help with spiders the search engines send to index your site.
Once you have all these things in place for your site, every time you develop a content-rich page, you should:
- complete a metatag check at ScrubtheWeb.com
- update your sitemaps (both XML and HTML)
- submit your new page to key search engines
In submitting your new page to the search engines, you can use one of many submission companies
(such as INeedHits.com or AddMe.com), or choose to hand submit your page -- a process I prefer both
for the assurance of completing the task and because completing the process manually is recommended
by many SEO experts over machine submissions.
You certainly want to make sure you submit your Web pages to Google, Yahoo!, and MSN Live --
which combined cover 94 percent of the U.S. search market, with Google crushing all others with
about two-thirds of all searches.
For other search engines to consider submitting your site, go to the
Search Engine page on
If you want a lot more depth on the subjects of directory and search-engine strategies,
go to: Search Engine Marketing 101.
7. Cultivate a Linking Strategy
Having a linking strategy -- for both inbound and outbound links -- is an essential part of SEO as
Google and other search engines evaluate the number and quality of those links and use that information
(using complicated algorithms) to help determine PageRank and search placement. Without going into
great technical detail, what Google and others admit doing is evaluating all the links that point to your site
and all the links you have to other sites. If they don't like what they see, they downgrade your site; however,
if they like what they see, your value increases.
What you do NOT want to do is venture into some random linkings with sites that have no relation to
yours -- or worse, have no relation to yours AND have a weak PageRank.
Instead, you should develop a strategy -- and a policy -- for links. The first step in your strategy should
be finding and evaluating Websites that offer complementary, but not directly competing services --
services that your users (and search engines) may find helpful. You could develop a small “related
sites” page and place the links there, or you could incorporate the links within your content. You
do not want to have one page with hundreds of links on it. For example, with our resume-writing
Resumes and Cover Letters, we linked to career and life coaches, but not to competing resume writers.
The second step is then emailing all the sites that you now link to and asking for a reciprocal link.
Be specific in the email. Show the other sites exactly where they can find their links on your site --
and suggest how and why they should link back to your site. Be professional, polite. Keep a record of these emails so
that you do not accidently keep requesting links from the same sites -- and so you can follow-up
if you do not hear anything back.
For an idea of the script you should use in requesting reciprocal links, check out this
reciprocal link request sample.
The final step is slowly, but continually add quality links both to and from your site.
8. Build Your Own Links
As you await other sites linking back to you, you can also forge ahead and create your own external
links back to your Website. How can you build quality links back to your site? Here are three strategies
for expanding your Internet presence and increasing the external links back to your site.
First, consider submitting some of the articles you have written for your site to other Websites that
publish articles. These sites can be complementary sites or article clearinghouse sites (such as
GoArticles.com). You might even consider writing an
original article for a top-ranked site. So, how do you get the links back to your site? For each article you write,
include a link back to your Website in your byline and/or author details. You could also include a link or two to
specific pages of your site – just make sure they are relevant to the article and not link stuffing.
Second, use blogs to build external links to your site. You have two options here, depending on
how much you have to say and how much time you have to invest in the process. With millions
of blogs already being published, the easiest strategy is to simply respond to other people's blogs --
and include a link to your Website at the end of your response (like an email signature). You should
already be reading key blogs in your industry regularly, so responding to posts should be relatively
easy to do -- just don't overdo and make obviously spammy posts. Your other options -- especially if
you feel you have a unique view on your industry -- is to create your own blog. There are numerous
ways to create blog, but the easiest is simply starting your blog on a blogging Website (such as
WordPress.com, etc.) If you decide to
start a blog, you don't need to post something every day, but you'll want to post your observations,
tips, thoughts, etc. on a regular basis. (See this article for more information on starting a blog:
How to Start a Blog.)
Third, contribute to forums and discussion groups related to your industry. Unlike blogs, which are typically
written by one person (or a small group of contributors), forums and discussion groups are communities
of people discussing myriad issues related to a specific topic. If you have expertise to offer, you can join
in on the discussions, offering your thoughts and advice -- and including in your response a link back
to your Website.
9. Use Web 2.0 and Social Media Tools
Certainly one of the trendiest strategies in SEO is using online social media tools to build your
reputation and online presence. In fact, SMO -- Social Media Optimization -- is a hot topic in
SEO. (Read: The
Beginner's Guide to Social Media Optimization.)
What is Web 2.0 and what are social media sites? Web 2.0 has certainly become a buzzword,
but what it basically means is that the current trend of the Web is about two-way (interactive)
communications and community. Rather than some company or organization talking to visitors,
it's about empowering visitors to have a voice and share their ideas and opinions -- and to use the
power of community for friendship, networking, and business and career success. Social media
sites include social networking sites and social bookmarking sites.
Here are some of the Web 2.0 sites to consider joining and developing at least a minimal presence:
- LinkedIn.com -- a key social networking
site for professionals from around the world, currently with more than 20 million members; a site in which
you can promote your site and what you do, develop relationships with other professionals, and ask and
- Facebook.com -- a social networking
site that started out as a community just for college students but has now expanded to include everyone.
The site is basically a social utility that connects people with friends and others who work, study, and live
around them; it's a site in which you can promote what you're doing, keep up with friends, upload an unlimited
number of photos, share links and videos, and learn more about the people your friends meet.
- Twitter -- a micro-blogging site in
which you can follow people, as well as developing a following of your own. People send
140-character "tweets" to update their followers on news, events, links, and just about anything else.
- MySpace.com -- is a social networking
site that consists of worldwide community of users who share information, photos, videos, music, and
more. You could decide whether to create a personal MySpace profile or develop one for your business.
Once you develop your page, you start finding and requesting others to be part of your network.
- Squidoo.com -- a social bookmarking
site started by marketing guru Seth Godin, this site gives users a chance to showcase expertise in one
or more areas by creating knowledge pages, called lenses… and the person creating each lens is,
of course, called a lensmaster. Using this site gives you a chance to showcase your knowledge and
link and promote your site.
- StumbleUpon.com -- is a social
bookmarking site that consists of a fairly large community (5+ million) in which people share their Website
likes and dislikes with other members of the community. When you become a member you build a profile
of your activities and interests and can find others with similar profiles. In some ways, this site is like a
personalized search engine – but instead of pages and pages of potentially useless results, users get
results that have been approved by the community. Definitely a place in which you want to promote your site.
- Digg.com -- is a social news sharing for
people to discover and share content from anywhere on the web. The process begins when a member
of the community refers something (a Website, blog entry, podcast, video, etc.) to the community. Others
in the community then rate the entry with "diggs." The more votes an entry receives, the higher it moves
(even to the site's front page). By becoming a member of the community, you can then submit some
of your site's key content.
- del.icio.us -- think of this social bookmarking
site as simply sharing your personal bookmarks with an entire community of other people -- and where
you can see what sites other people are bookmarking. Using this site allows portability -- so you can
always find your favorite sites no matter where you are or what computer you're using, but it's also a
chance to bookmark your own pages so that others in the community can find them.
Remember that if you plan to incorporate some of these social media sites into your SEO strategy that
you must set aside time to stay active on these sites -- actually becoming a part of the community.
Want more? Go to The Complete Web 2.0 Directory
and Web 2.0
Magazine's Top 100 Web 2.0 Sites.
10. Assemble a Press Room and Be Available to Media
A great way to both build your credibility and reputation -- offline and online -- is becoming an expert
authority for the media. But how do you get the attention of the media so that you can use this strategy?
Add media-targeted pages to your Website -- and develop a strategy of cultivating relationships with
key reporters and editors who write about your industry in mainstream, industry-specific, and other media.
One of the best strategies from a favorite book of mine, The New Rules of Marketing and PR (by
David Meerman Scott), suggests that Websites should develop a "Press Room," a section of your
Website in which you publish a number of key Web pages related to the media -- including a biography,
experts guide, and a news release archive at a minimum. You could also add a description and link to
your blog, newsletter, article archive, and a media inquiry form.
Besides creating your Press Room, the other part of the strategy is then filling it with informative and
content-driven news releases -- that are designed more for social media and search engines than
for actual media -- that you create whenever you have important news to share, such as a new
product or service, new section of your site, new research findings, etc. (See an example by checking
out The Press Room at Quintessential Careers.
Composing a media release is not that difficult -- as long as you follow a few simple rules in how
you write it. Learn more in this article, A Barebones
Guide to Writing Successful Media/Press Releases.
There are no magic potions for helping your Website jump in ranking and reputation -- but if you follow
most or all of the strategies in this article, you'll be building a solid foundation for optimizing your
Website's ranking and reputation. Implementing these search engine optimization strategies should
help grow your site into organically into a well-visited and highly ranked Website.
Other readings and resources:
Web Marketing Guru Dr. Randall S. Hansen, CEO of EmpoweringSites.com
-- a growing network of highly ranked educational and inspirational Websites --
has been empowering people his entire adult life. He is also founder and publisher of
Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most
comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well as founder of
EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. He is also a
published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts
empowering workshops around the country. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years.
He holds a doctorate in marketing and has been involved in marketing his entire life. Learn more at his personal Website,