Search engines send robot “spiders” to index the content of your webpage, so let’s begin with steps to prepare your webpages for optimal indexing. The idea here is not to trick the search engines, but to leave them abundant clues as to what your webpage is about. This approach is called “search engine optimization,” abbreviated as SEO.
1. Write a Keyword-Rich Page Title. Write a descriptive title for each page — rich in keywords you want people to find you with — using 5 to 8 words. Remove as many “filler” words from the title (such as “the,” “and,” etc.) as possible, while still making it readable. This page title will appear hyperlinked on the search engines when your page is found. Entice searchers to click on the title by making it a bit provocative. Place this at the top of the webpage between the tags, in this format: Web Marketing Checklist — 37 Ways to Promote Your Website. (It also shows on the blue bar at the top of your web browser.)
Plan to use some descriptive keywords along with your business name on your home page. If you specialize in silver bullets and that’s what people will be searching for, don’t just use your company name “Acme Ammunition, Inc.,” use “Silver and Platinum Bullets — Acme Ammunition, Inc.” The words people are most likely to search on should appear first in the title (called “keyword prominence”). Remember, this title is your identity on the search engines. The more people see that interests them in the blue hyperlinked words on the search engine, the more likely they are to click on the link.
2. Write a Description META Tag. Some search engines include this description below your hyperlinked title in the search results. The description should be a sentence or two describing the content of the webpage, using the main keywords and key phrases on this page. Don’t include keywords that don’t appear on the webpage. Place the Description META Tag at the top of the webpage, between the tags, in this format:
The maximum number of characters should be about 255; just be aware that only the first 60 or so are visible on Google, though more may be indexed.
When I prepare a webpage, I write the article first, and then develop a keyword-rich title (#1 above). Then I write a description of the content in that article in a sentence or two, using each of the important keywords and key phrases included in the article. This goes into the description META tag.
Next, I strip out the common words, leaving just the meaty keywords and phrases and insert those into the keywords META tag. It’s no longer used much for ranking, but I’m leaving it in anyway. I think it may have some minor value. So to summarize so far, every webpage in your site should have a distinct title and META description tag. If you implement these two points, you’re well on your way to better search engine ranking. But there’s more that will help your ranking….
3. Include Your Keywords in Headers (H1, H2, H3). Search engines consider keywords that appear in the page headline and sub heads to be important to the page, so make sure your desired keywords and phrases appear in one or two header tags. Don’t expect the search engine to parse your Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) to figure out which are the headlines — it won’t. Instead, use keywords in the H1, H2, and H3 tags to provide clues to the search engine. (Note: Some designers no longer use the H1, H2 tags. That’s a big mistake. Make sure your designer defines these tags in the CSS rather than creating headline tags with other names.)
4. Position Your Keywords in the First Paragraph of Your Body Text. Search engines expect that your first paragraph will contain the important keywords for the document — where most people write an introduction to the content of the page. You don’t want to just artificially stuff keywords here, however. More is not better. Google might expect a keyword density in the entire body text area of maybe 1.5% to 2% for a word that should rank high, so don’t overdo it.
5. Include Descriptive Keywords in the ALT Attribute of Image Tags. This helps your site be more accessible to site-impaired visitors and gives additional clues to the search engines. The ALT attributes does help get your images ranked higher for image search (see #12 below).
6. Use Keywords in Hyperlinks. Search engines are looking for clues to the focus of your webpage. When they see words hyperlinked in your body text, they consider these potentially important, so hyperlink your important keywords and key phrases. To emphasize it even more, the webpage you are linking to could have a page name with the keyword or key phrase, such as blue-widget.htm– another clue for the search engine.
Some content management systems and e-commerce catalogs produce dynamic, made-on-the-fly webpages, often recognizable by question marks in the URLs followed by long strings of numbers or letters. Overworked search engines sometimes have trouble parsing long URLs and may stop at the question mark, refusing to go farther. If you find the search engines aren’t indexing your interior pages, you might consider URL rewriting, a site map, or commercial solutions.
8. Create a Site Map. A site map page with links to all your pages can help search engines (and visitors) find all your pages, particularly if you have a larger site. You can use free tools, XML-Sitemaps.com to create XML sitemaps that are used by the major search engines to index your webpages accurately. Upload your sitemap to your website. Then submit your XML sitemap to Google, Yahoo!, and Bing (formerly MSN), following instructions on their sites. By the way, Google Webmaster Central has lots of tools to help you get ranked higher. Be sure to set up a free account and explore what they have to offer.
9. Develop Webpages Focused on Each Your Target Keywords. SEO specialists no longer recommend using external doorway or gateway pages, since nearly duplicate webpages might get you penalized. Rather, develop several webpages on your site, each of which is focused on a target keyword or key phrase for which you would like a high ranking. Let’s say you sell teddy bears. Use Google Insights for Search or the free keyword suggestion tool on Wordtracker to find the related keywords people search on. In this case: write a separate webpage featuring the keyword “teddy bear,” “teddy bears,” “vermont teddy bears,” “vermont bears,” “the teddy bears,” teddy bears picnic,” “teddy bears pictures,” etc. You’ll write a completely different article on each topic. You can’t fully optimize all the webpages in your site, but for each of these focused-content webpages, spend lots of time tweaking to improve its ranking, as described in point #10.
10. Fine-tune with Careful Search Engine Optimization. Now fine-tune your focused-content pages and perhaps your home page, by making a series of minor adjustments to help them rank higher. Software such as WebPosition allows you to check your current ranking and compare your webpages against your top keyword competitors. I use it regularly. WebPosition’s Page Critic tool provides analysis of a search engine’s preferred statistics for each part of your webpage, with specific recommendations of what minor changes to make. The best set of SEO tools is Bruce Clay’s SEOToolSet. You can find links to many SEO articles on this site.
Frankly, this kind of SEO fine-tuning is time-consuming, painstaking work that takes a lot of specialized knowledge. For this reason, many small and large businesses outsource search engine optimization. If you’ll explain your needs to me on my online form, I can refer you to appropriate SEO firms that I know and trust.
11. Promote Your Local Business on the Internet. These days many people search for local businesses on the Internet. To make sure they find you, include on every page of your website the street address, zip code, phone number, and the five or 10 other local community place names your business serves. If you can, include place names in the title tag, too. When you seek links to your site (see #15 below), you should request links from local businesses with place names in the communities you serve and complementary businesses in your industry nationwide.
Also create a free listing for your local business on Google Places for Business, Yahoo! Local, and Bing Local Listing Center. That way your business can show up on a map when people do a local search. For more information, see articles on local marketing on my site.
12. Promote Your Video, Images, and Audio Content. Google’s “universal search” displays not only webpage content, but also often displays near the top of the page relevant listings for images, videos, local businesses (see #11 above), and audio clips. Therefore, consider creating such content appropriate to your business and then optimizing it so it can be ranked high enough to help you. For example, if you were to get a top-ranking, informative video on YouTube that mentions your site, it could drive a lot of traffic to your site. For more information, search on “optimizing images” or “optimizing videos.”