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SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION REVISITED

by: Cary Christian

We've receive a lot of questions about search engine optimization and submissions lately, and there seems to be a lot of confusion created in people's minds caused by different articles they have read. It seems like a good time to revisit this subject and clear up a few issues.

Now if you are one of our home business subscribers, don't tune out. This applies to anyone who owns their own site. And since those of you who do not have your own site should be working towards getting one, you should stay tuned as well.

THE ISSUE

Many people have gotten the idea that they should not worry about search engine optimization and submissions anymore for the following reasons:

1. Some of the major search engines are charging fairly substantial fees to list your website,

2. Even if you pay the fee, there is no guarantee you will get a listing,

3. Even if you get a listing, there is no guarantee your site will rank high in the search results,

4. The algorithms or rules for ranking are different for each search engine,

5. The algorithms for ranking change frequently, and

6. It requires a lot of knowledge and a lot of time to stay on top of the process and maintain a high ranking, assuming you get one in the first place.

It can also take you many weeks or months to get your listing, so this is not a process that will start generating hits to your site right away.

There have been many articles written that do seem to discourage people with small sites from playing the search engine game. I'm not sure anyone actually comes right out and tells you not to submit, they just make it sound so impossible to play the game.

Now come on, guys! We're talking about highly targeted, FREE hits here from people who are actively seeking your products! It's a game you must play.

I realize that most of you are never going to be experts at search engine optimization. Even the experts disagree on the usefulness of various techniques. And yes, it can quickly become a full time job if you are going to stay on top of it. But there is a middle ground and you should at least play the game to this extent.

CHOOSE YOUR KEYWORDS WISELY

Before you can optimize your site, you need to choose the keywords that describe your site. More importantly, you need to define the keywords and phrases that your VISITORS would use to find your site. Use the Overture Search Term Suggestion Tool to test some keyword phrases that apply to your site and to find some alternates. You can find the tool here: http://inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion/

Work with these terms for a while, make some searches to see who you are competing with for a given term and how well their site reflects the term, and choose a grouping of keyword phrases that you believe will work well for you and produce a high level of hits to your site.  Like Kevin says in his article below, find terms that have a high search frequency and low competition.  These keywords and phrases will pay big dividends.

MINIMUM OPTIMIZATION OF YOUR WEB PAGE

You are going to use these keywords, or some of them, in five different places on your web page. We'll give you an example of each to illustrate their use. We'll be referring to "meta tags" or "tags" in the following discussion. These are content on a web page that search engines can see but your visitors usually cannot.

The TITLE Tag

The following is an example of a Title tag:

<title>Small Business Resources</title>

This is an example that we could use for the Peak Small Business Center. Why didn't we use "Peak Small Business Center" instead? After all, this title does appear at the top of the browser when visitors are on the web page. Wouldn't "Peak Small Business Center" be better?

The TITLE tag is the most important from a search engine point of view. It should contain your best keyword or phrase. People are far more likely to be searching for "small business resources" than for "Peak Small Business Center." After all, it is people who do not already know about us that we are trying to attract. They wouldn't know to enter our name. We would study our list of keywords and data regarding search frequency for each term to determine the best title to use.

The DESCRIPTION Meta Tag

The following is an example of a Description meta tag:

<meta name="description" CONTENT="Marketing, financial and systems resources for small and home businesses.">

Start your description with your most important keywords but make it a coherent sentence of less than 150 characters. If you stuff a list of keywords into the description the search engines will likely penalize you and your site will drop in the listings.

If you do not provide a description meta tag, the search engines will build one from the content at the top of the body of your web page. Have you ever seen a listing when you perform a search that reads "Home About Us FAQ Support" or something similar? It doesn't make much sense and you probably won't bother clicking on the link. This is an example of a description built by the search engine from the topmost content it found on the web page. You obviously do not want this to show in your listing, so provide a description you want potential visitors to see as well as the search engines.

The KEYWORDS Meta Tag

Here is an example of the keywords meta tag:

<meta name="keywords" CONTENT="marketing, internet marketing, web marketing, resources, business resources, business articles, home business articles">

You'll have to experiment with these a little, because you should only use keywords and phrases here that appear in the content of the page. Many search engines will build their own list of keywords from your content, but some do not, so be sure you include them here. The maximum characters allowed for keywords is 1,000, but it is generally believed that anything over 255 characters is ignored.

The importance of the keywords meta tag has diminished dramatically. Some will say they are now unimportant. Put them on your page anyway. Some smaller engines still use them.

Using ALT Tags with Images

This is often overlooked. It is not critical, but can be used to increase your keyword density. Let's say you have a logo on your page. The ALT tag could look like this:

<img src="logo.gif" WIDTH="70" HEIGHT="70" ALT="Small Business Resources Logo">

This is the text that appears when graphics are turned off on a browser or that appears when you hover the mouse over the picture. By including the ALT tag with our logo we have added an instance of our best keyword phrase to our page.

The BODY of Your Web Page

No, this one is not a tag, but it is vitally important from a keyword standpoint. No matter what you have included in the tags discussed above, if your content on the page is not rich in keywords, it will have been a waste of time. You need to try to use as many of your keywords as possible near the top of the body of the page to achieve your best ranking. It can become difficult to write coherent content if you have stuffed every keyword you can think of into the tags. You'll have to work with this from a design standpoint. If you can't work all the keywords into the body of your page, you might have to remove some of them.

Whatever you do, do not resort to "tricks" like hiding content on the page by making the text the same color as the background. This will rarely work anymore and may get your site banned from the engine.

You also do not want to use your keywords too frequently either. This might be considered spamming the engine and will get you banned or penalized.

SUBMIT YOUR SITE TO FREE SEARCH ENGINES

We said we were looking for middle ground here, so we're only going to submit to engines that allow us to submit for free. For example, you can still submit to Altavista, Google and The Open Directory Project without paying a fee. Do this, but don't stop there. Find other search engines that allow you to submit for free and submit there also.

Before you pay a fee to submit, like $299 per year to Yahoo with no guarantee of a listing, you will want to know that you're going to be able to constantly monitor your listing and be able to do more than the minimal optimization techniques we discussed above.

Remember folks, these are the best free hits money can't buy, so be sure you get your share!



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