TIP ONE: THE IMPORTANCE OF KEY WORDS
In the world of marketing online, one topic comes up over and over with great frequency: site rankings. It can sometimes seem to be the 'holy grail' in the highly competitive world of online marketing, where search engines rule supreme. The reality is that unless you have deep pockets indeed, SEO optimization in the long run will be more affordable than simply buying placement with click campaigns and advertisements.
This is the good news. The bad news is that the process is slow, and it can take months (and months and months) of dedicated effort to achieve decent rankings (one reason you don't want to abandon those paid campaigns while optimizing your site). But it is well worth the time and effort in the long run, since it addresses the one issue that is foremost when marketing your product and services online: people use search engines such as Google and MSN to do their looking. And search engine listings that are highly ranked consistently outperform 'paid listings'.
So how do you get your site listed and ranked highly? Does it take dedicating your life fulltime to this effort, or specialized knowledge? The answer is "yes" and "no". It can help tremendously to hire the assistance of a firm that specializes in SEO (and, in fact, this is highly recommended). They can give you professional guidance in this arena, and steer you away from common mistakes.
But for those with a limited budget (which is most of us, nowadays, it seems) it's also possible to do your own site optimization, and work on a long-term campaign to help your site rise. It isn't easy (unlike those ads and books online that promise overnight success with no effort), but by rolling up your shirtsleeves and diving in, you can learn a tremendous amount, and help your site get found when people type in your products into a search engine.
TIP TWO: SELECT YOUR KEYWORDS CAREFULLY
Search engine keywords are what lead people (as in potential customers) who type in phrases in their favorite search engine to your site. When they go onto Google, Excite, or other search engines and directories, and are looking for a specific item, keywords are the ones that they type in during their search.
To market effectively to them, you will need to think like them (this is the basis of all excellent marketing). You will want to determine:
What phrases people type in when looking for your product, service, or content during their online searches (including the most common
misspellings, by the way). Not sure? Try looking at your web stats for your site. You should see an extremely valuable area called "search strings", with a list of words underneath it.
These search strings are the phrases that actually brought people to your web site. Which ones were the most popular? You'll want to note these. But you'll want to add more.
Sit down for a minute, and think of every possible phrase people might use for searching for your product. At this point, don't edit yourself, just let the words flow and write them down. If you sell used Chevrolets in Alexandria, VA, you might come up with "used cars, used Chevrolets, vintage cars, reconditioned cars, Chevrolet dealers, Alexandria VA car dealers, Alexandria VA used cars", as just a start.
By now, you should have a list. Go through it again, and decide which ones seem the most focused for your product or service. You want search engine keywords that will bring targeted customers to your site, who are interested in doing business with you, and the right keywords can help accomplish this. Be specific and relevant in your choices. Then, alphabetize your list, since some search engines and directories list pages alphabetically; so use your best phrases in alphabetical order whenever possible for better optimization.
Next, analyze which keyword phrases are realistic for obtaining high rankings. While you may sell used autos, and want to get top rankings for that term, 'used autos' is an extremely popular and general phrase, and odds are, difficult to get good rankings for. But if you sell used Chevrolets in Alexandria, Virginia, then it's realistic to hope for high rankings for search engine phrases for 'Alexandria used Chevrolets'. You'll also get a more targeted audience (think 'more likely to buy from me'), since most of your customers will probably come from your locale).
At this point, you should have a list of keywords. If you have a very short one, or are having trouble thinking of some, you can gain access to professional software at minimal cost. Just start a Google adwords campaign, or a CPC campaign on Overture. Each of these sites have "keyword suggestion" tools that will give you several keywords based on your product or service, and will include the relative popularity of each one.
TIP THREE: PLACE KEYWORDS CAREFULLY
Once you have your keywords, you'll want to use them in the right places. The goal is to help search engines find your site for those phrases, so you will want to place them in spots the engines look closely at. These include the page Title, inside the meta tags, inside the heading tag, in the domain name (more about this in a later lesson), and the keyword tags.
You will also want to sprinkle them liberally throughout the content (text) of your site, with special consideration for the top of your page and its first paragraphs. This is especially important on your home (index page), which is the one that most search engines will cache when spidering through. And please, have some real content on your page, and not just a list of keywords, or your site could go down in its rankings. Search engines do rank according to content relevancy, and the site that says "Our dealership provides quality used Chevrolet cars, reconditioned to meet our customer's needs," (with at least 100 words of good, relevant content) will always rank higher than the site that says, "cars, cars, cars, buy quality used Chevrolet cars, quality used cars are here". In addition, you won't drive away customers offended by poor quality writing and obvious over-usage of marketing phrases.
But you do want to maintain a certain ratio of keyword density in your text; a keyword density of 5 to 7% is usually recommended. If you don't feel comfortable writing copy using keywords, a professional copywriter who specializes in online writing can help you.
THREE COMMON MISTAKES TO AVOID
Mistake #1: One common error that many people make is to forget to place ALT tags for their graphics. You may have a beautiful logo or graphic on your web site, but if you don't have an alt tag, the search engines can't "read it". Be sure to place keywords there, and to label graphics with names that reflect keywords.
Mistake #2: Always have text on your site. When creating your site, search engines depend upon text to decide what your site is about. The more relevant the text, the better. The spiders and bots can't "read" graphics as mentioned above. Don't just make the text for the site one big graphic, as some firms do. The search engines will skip over the graphic, and assume you have no content at all.
Mistake #3: Finally, please don't spam (by trying to 'hide' your keywords by using a font the same color as the background, or repeating keyword phrases over and over in the title and meta tags). Search engines are now excellent at finding those who try to break the rules (and their technology for doing so is getting more sophisticated all the time), and will drop spammers from their indexes like a hot potato. So play by the rules, and when in doubt, ask an ethical SEO firm for advice, or visit one of the many excellent forums online (such as Jill Whalen's High Rankings Search Engine Forums).
Your site will rise more quickly, and enjoy higher rankings, if you follow these tips and their advice. And your traffic will increase, at no cost to you!