How search engine optimization can drive success on the information superhighway.
It's the greatest aspiration of every website: appearing at the top position of search results on Google, Yahoo, Bing and other widely used search engines. Just how important is it to be at (or even near) the top of the heap? Consider that users choose the first website listed in a search result approximately 40% of the time; a site ranking tenth receives a mere 1% of traffic.
Exactly how each search engine determines its rankings is ever-evolving and a closely guarded secret, but the goal is always the same: delivering the most relevant results for users. Search-engine optimization (SEO) is how companies attempt to improve their positioning in these search results. Here are a few tips to help you optimize your ranking:
Know your Keywords: Discover the words and phrases people are entering to find the service you provide. The more specific the words, the better. If, for example, you specialize in fixing Stradivarius violins, you want to be front and center when someone's looking for "Stradivarius repair." It doesn't matter whether you appear on the first page when she types in "violins." Numerous online tools (both free and fee-based), such as Raven Tools and Google Adwords, can help you determine your optimal keywords.
Help the Spider: Search engines work by constantly "crawling" the web and indexing what they find. These so-called spiders serve as proxies for users, looking for clues as to what a website is about, how often it's updated and how authoritative it is (based, to some extent, on how many other sites link to it). Your business's webmaster should embed unique and accurately descriptive metadata into the code, such as titles (the words that you see in the title bar on your browser) and descriptions (an invisible field that includes a succinct summary of the page's content). Both should include your most important search keywords. Make sure there are no broken links or dead ends at URLs where content was expected - these earn search-engine demerits.
Keep Your Web Content Relevant: The most important thing you can do to earn the favorable attention of search engines is to provide high-quality, relevant information that your visitors find useful. Include keywords in the content posted on your site, but not in a way that is artificial or forced. Update your content regularly (adding a blog that highlights your expertise is an excellent way to do this), and promote your site with email newsletters and via social networks such as Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter.
Claim It: If you have a bricks-and-mortar business, such as a shop or restaurant, the major search engines, including Google, Yahoo and Bing, likely already display an enhanced listing for it that includes a map location and reviews. And most allow business owners to "claim" their listing free of charge, which allows you to add photos, opening hours and more. Look on the web page for a link with "Do you own this business?" or similar language to initiate the confirmation process. Other listing and review sites such as Yelp, SuperPages and CitySearch offer similar services. These sites allow you to update information (such as hours of operation) and upload photos to make your listing more eye-catching. Positive user reviews on these sites also help boost search ranking.
Track Results: Monitor the progress of your SEO strategy by regularly checking your ranking on every major search engine (including industry-specific ones, if relevant). A trusted analytics program, often available through your web-hosting service or for free via Google Analytics, will indicate the search terms that drive traffic to your site, where visitors are landing once they get there and how much time they spend on your site, among other things. Use this information to craft the kind of content your ideal prospects are looking for.
Be Patient: Despite many vendors claiming to perform SEO miracles, there is no secret for improving search-engine performance. Just as it takes time to build a solid reputation among customers, it takes time to tend a website's search strategy before it will bear fruit. If you do, the results can be extremely rewarding.
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