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Introduction to Email Marketing



How to Write Effective Email Newsletters
Search Engine Optimization Basics

Introduction to Web Content Providers
How to Build Website Traffic with Compelling Content
How to Develop and Interactive PR Plan
How to Develop a Comprehensive Web Marketing Plan
Guide to Web-Based B2B Lead Generation Programs
Best Practices in Search Engine Marketing SEM
Overview of Webcasting and Podcasting
Selecting a Web Content Provider


 

   

Search Engine Optimization Basics

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a blend of art and science, made all the more challenging by both intense competition to show up in the first few results—especially for popular keywords—and the constant tweaking of the algorithms used by the major search engines to insure valid results and punish nefarious activity, which changes search rankings. Nevertheless, there are some basic tactics which have withstood the test of time and these changes, and which can be implemented without excessive effort or expense.

If you fortunate enough to have a large budget for search optimization, you may want to consider using a specialized SEO service. If not (as is generally the case), using the tactics below will at least help your positioning, with minimal expense.

The first step is to register with each of the major search engines (although they will almost certainly find your site eventually even without registration). Beware of software or services which promise to register your site with hundreds of search engines automatically; these are generally a waste of money. First, because there aren't hundreds of search engines of any importance; there are a handful. Second, because search engines often don't like automated registrations; Google, for example, advises against using programs like WebPosition Gold(TM).

Hand submission works best, and with the relatively small number of significant search engines, this can be accomplished in less time than it takes to catch up with your coworkers on the success of your fantasy football team. In my (extensive but unscientific) experience, Google alone will generate anywhere from half to two-thirds of your search traffic; submit to Yahoo! and MSN, and you've got probably 90% of the market covered; Alta Vista and AOL get you to about 95% (Alta Vista now uses Yahoo! search, and AOL relies on dmoz.org—see the section below about getting your site linked). If you are still feeling ambitious about site submission at this point, check out the meta-search engines (you can find an excellent list of these at Search Engine Watch); while you can't submit to these directly, you can check their results for your keywords to identify other search engines you may want to submit your site to.

In addition to submitting your site to search engines such as Google, it's helpful though not essential to create and submit a Google site map. This helps Google spider your site more easily. This easy tool walks you through the Google site map creation and submission process.

Beyond site submission, the three most important factors in search engine positioning are content, links and code. With regard to content, consider not only the text on your pages, but also page names, page titles, meta tags and image alt-text. Your page text should of course contain your most important keywords; and if you have key search phrases (e.g. "e-mail marketing services") for which you want your site to appear, include them verbatim.

Page names (e.g. web_marketing.htm) are the filenames of pages on your server; for SEO purposes, try to give your pages descriptive names (e.g. Email_Software.htm) rather than generic ones, such as products.htm or services.htm. There are actually two separate page titles: the text heading that actually appears at the top of your page, and the page title that is an HTML property of the page. For position optimization purposes, you may want to make these slightly different (for example, the text title of this page is Search Engine Optimization Basics, while the HTML title is Basics of Search Engine Optimization). Most content management systems will also let you add a Page Description in the properties, which should be formed as a complete descriptive sentence (e.g. "A how-to guide for improving your site's search engine position or ranking, through content, links and code.").

Meta tags are key search terms that apply to a specific page; for the best optimization results, limit this to 20 words or so, and don't repeat any word more than three times (Google hates that). You can generate meta tags automatically using this tool, and check the quality and validity of your meta tags using this meta tag analyzer. Here's the code you'll need for the three basic tags; these should be placed immediately after the <head> tag near the top of each page on your website:

<title>Write a 4-9 Word Descriptive Page Title Here</title>
<meta name="description" content="A complete sentence describing what your page is about, and including important keywords.">
<meta name="keywords" content="Up to 20 keywords/phrases related to the content on this page">

Since search engines can't read text contained within an image file (GIFs, JPGs or PNGs), it's important to include alt text for the images on your site, particularly if you use graphical menu buttons (this is also a best practice for Web site accessibility). For accessibility purposes, you can't simply load up your image alt text with unrelated keywords, but you can vary your alt text from the displayed text as long as it is consistent with the graphic (for example, on this site, the SEO menu button is labeled "SEO / SEM" while the alt text for the menu graphic is "Search Engine Optimization and Search Engine Marketing").

Another of the most important factors determining your search engine rank is the number of links from other sites pointing to your site. Two places where you almost certainly will want your site linked are at dmoz.org (used by AOL search) and in the appropriate category at About.com. Unfortunately, neither of these are quick nor is your link even guaranteed. Expect at least two weeks to get listed on dmoz.org—and contact them again after three weeks if your site still isn't showing up. About.com is managed by human editors who do this part-time, are busy, and receive a lot of email, so expect a similar if not longer delay there.

Where else to get linked? Do Web searches for your top competitors and your most important keywords / phrases and see what sites show up. This is tedious, as results will include your competitors' sites (who obviously won't link to you) as well as some pure junk. You can find links to specific competitor sites by typing the URL (e.g. mycompetitor.com) directly into the search box on Google, then clicking "Find pages that link to mycompetitor.com." Look for sites such as portals/vortals, industry association directories, and publications, then contact them about linking to your site.

If you have any "thought leadership" content on your site—white papers, original articles, reports etc.—tag them on social media sites. This provides external links which help with SEO and will also likely drive some direct traffic.

Another important category of sites to get listed on / linked from is blogs (Google loves blogs). Search for blogs related to your industry (e.g. "marketing-related blogs"), then contact the writers of the pertinent ones about getting linked; you will likely have to offer some value in return (e.g. a link to their blog, advance notice of your press releases, content, even an offer to guest blog if they are open to that). You can also in many cases post comments to blog postings; just be sure you are on-topic and that your comment adds some value, and is not just a promotion for your firm, as comments are usually reviewed before being published.

If you've got even a modest budget, two paid sites worth listing on are the Yahoo! directory ($299 per year) and Business.com ($199 per year).

Whatever you do, if you come across a service guaranteeing you "links from thousands of sites!"—avoid it like the plague. These are "link farms," popular at one time though all but dead now. Search engines really hate these, and they are a great way to get blackballed; and getting your site un-blackballed is an exercise you don't want to go through.

The final important raking factor—your HTML code—is the one area where the typical marketer may need technical/Webmaster assistance. If your content management system gives you an "optimize code" option (which, for example, FrontPage does—sort of), using this will help at least to a limited extent. The goal is to make your actual page content/text as easy as possible for the automated spiders used by the search engines to crawl; this means minimal code preceding your page content. The WC3 Markup Validation Service is a free online tool that validates your site's code against common standards.

When spidering your site, most of the popular search engines will check for the presence of a robots.txt file in the root directory of your site. While not strictly required, this file does make your site more search engine-friendly, and you'll need one if you want to prevent search engines from spidering specific areas of your site. This is a plain text file which can be created in Notepad or any text editor and then uploaded to the root directory of your site. The simplest possible robots.txt file contains just these two lines:

User-agent: *
Disallow: 

You can make this file considerably more elaborate, by adding special instructions for each search engine, or excluding certain directories from being searched; for instructions, see this guide.

Also, Google in particular advises against the use of frames or doorway pages, and for dynamically-generated pages advises limiting parameters to one or two. If this is all a bit too geeky for you, ask for help from your Webmaster, content management vendor or Web host (or from an independent SEO firm if you have the budget).

What about PR activities? Interactive PR is a great way to build links from relevant, high-quality sites. Within press releases, link specific phrases to targeted corresponding pages on your website.

The final step in improving your search engine positioning involves the least effort, and yet is the hardest—waiting. Getting linked from sites like dmoz.org isn't a sure thing, and will generally take at least a couple of weeks. It can take several weeks for Google to find your site, and about the only thing you can do to speed this up at all is to try getting your site linked from more sites so you are easier to find.

 


 
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