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SEO Primer for Enhancing Websites

EnhanceMyMarketing.com's SEO primer provides 10 easy-to-use search engine optimization guidelines for creating, enhancing, marketing all facets of your personal or business Website.

by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., Founder of the EmpoweringSites.com Network

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 EnhanceMyMarketing.com's 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.

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. 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.

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.

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 ArticleDirectory.com, EzineArticles.com, and 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 Blogger.com, TypePad.com, 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.

Use FindMyForum.com, BoardTracker.com, and Google Groups.

9. Use 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 answer questions.
  • 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.

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.

Final Thoughts for Improving Your Website

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:

Finally, review terms used in this article in the EnhanceMyMarketing.com: Website Marketing and SEO Glossary.

EmpoweringSites.com CEO Dr. Randall Hansen 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 EmpoweringRetreat.com, MyCollegeSuccessStory.com, and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Dr. Hansen 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, RandallSHansen.com. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

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