Search Engine Optimization - A Do-It-Yourself Guide for the Small Business Owner

So your company has a website ? an important step to validate your company, boost its visibility and increase its sales. Now how do you get it to show up on Google and the other search engines like Yahoo and MSN?

A high search engine ranking for your website is essential. At least 85% of people looking for goods and services on the internet find them through search engines.

To increase your website's ranking on search engines, you could hire a company to do it for you. There is a whole search engine optimization (SEO) industry that will gladly take your money. SEO is simpler than it is made out to be, and there are several steps that you can do yourself to increase the rank of your website.

1. The content of your website is key. Search engines check to see if search words appear close to the top of the page and their frequency on the page. You must first determine what the key words that your customers search with. Consider the website from the perspective of a potential customer and try to understand what they would be searching for on the web. Aim to have 100-250 words on each page with those key words used as often as possible. Those same key words should be included in the title tag of your coding, but keep it to six words or less. (this is the coloured bar at the top of the page). The site at http://www.related-pages.com/seoTools.aspx?cb=wgyr has some great tools to help you optimize key words.

2. Link Popularity. This is a factor that is extremely important in search engine rank. Almost all of the search engines use link popularity to rank websites. Inbound links matter most, and highly ranked sites linking to your site are worth more that lower ranked sites. If you can provide content that other sites want to link to, you will move up in the rankings. This means that you may have to actively solicit links to your content and perhaps write articles for other websites.

3. Proper Page Structure. This can be tricky for people who don't know HTML, but it really isn't that complicated. Your pages should be coded correctly so they are easier for the search engines to index. Your site should have easy to follow text navigation, and you should avoid using Flash to build your entire page because it makes the site harder to index. If you want dynamics on your page generated by other languages such as JavaScript, you should have these codes in external files. There is also an html validation tool at http://validator.w3.org/ that is useful. Errors in programming code and incorrect html can keep the search engine robots from indexing your web pages. Keep coding clean and simple.

4. META Tags. This may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but it is very simple code that should be included in your site because its makes it more inviting to the search engine spiders that crawl the internet.

5. Don't Cheat. Don't try to 'spam' the search engines by including invisible keywords repeated hundreds of times or by repeating key words in META tags. The engines are getting smart and will penalize you for this. They may even drop your site all together.

6. Patience, Patience, Patience! It can take weeks for the search engines to re-index and re-rank your site once you have made changes or if you have a new site. Search engines are smart, but they taken time to sort through the vast amounts of information that's thrown at them. If you are patient, you will see results.

7. Many of the major search engines still include a free submission section for their listings. It may take 6-8 weeks (or more) for your listings to show up, but Google, AltaVista and Yahoo still accept free submissions. Since search engine rank is key for success on the internet, you may want to budget for search engine optimization and consider paid listings (Yahoo), or pay-per-click advertising on Google.

Good web design is a balance between what looks great and optimizing your site for search engines. Your content must be good enough so that other sites want to link to it while at the same time include key search words that will draw potential customers. You also need to have your site built correctly and take the time to manage it and keep it fresh. Now you are well on your way to having a high ranking website on Google. Good luck!

Colleen Happ designs effective and affordable websites and graphics. Her portfolio can be viewed at http://www.happconsulting.com. She offers free one hour consultations to show how an effective website can benefit your business.

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