10 Ways to Optimize Your Site for Search Engines

by Sarah Dopp

If you're like most website owners, you want visitors to easily find your site. Search engines can be your best resource, but they can also be the hardest to communicate with. In order to be listed in the top 10 ranks for a Google or Yahoo search, you need to build a website that search engines understand to be important. This process is called Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

Here are the top 10 things you can do to improve your SEO. If you and your web developer work together on the following items, I guarantee that your website will enjoy better rankings in search results.

1. Think like a search engine.
Search engines rank web pages based on two things: relevance and popularity. A page is relevant to a search term if that term shows up in the title and body of the page. A page is popular if plenty of other websites link to it. While search engines use complex algorithms to determine where everything stands, that's really the meat of it. Words and links.

2. Know your keywords. This part is crucial and somewhat difficult. You need to target the words and phrases that best describe your web pages. Don't stop there, though. Your keywords also need to be words that people currently search with. They're are useless if the average person won't enter them into Google.

First, make a list of what you think are your keywords for each page of your site. Then go to the Overture Keyword Selector Tool to check against searches on the Yahoo network. Also, check the Google Keyword Selector Tool for more reference material. Forget any words that don't show up in those tools.

Now narrow your list down to two or three phrases per page. You have what your customer wants. Put that into specific terms so the right customer can find you. If you sell Subaru vehicles in Milwaukee, your keywords might be along the lines of "Subaru dealer Milwaukee" and "Baja Subaru used". You won't just use "cars".

3. Become an information resource. Internet surfers love information. Fortunately, search engines do, too. If you pack your site with professional, keyword-rich text, you'll score in the search engine relevance department. If you make that information useful and interesting to read, you'll easily win popularity. Two birds, one stone. Don't underestimate the power of good information.

4. Work your titles. The title is what you see at the very top of your browser. It's the name of a page when you add it to your list of bookmarks. Most importantly, though, it's the bold, linked text that users see on search engine results. It's crucial to how visitors view your site. Don't waste the space by writing "Welcome to My Homepage." Tell search engines and visitors to come inside by using your keywords here. Put on your consumer hat. Does it make you want to browse that site?

5. Minimize the bells and whistles. Sure, a fully interactive website built in Flash is pretty, but it's nearly impossible to optimize it for a search engine. And yes, 100% graphic image websites are attractive, but search engine crawlers have little space for reading keywords. Make your bells and whistles the icing on the cake—not the cake itself. Not only will they ruin your search engine rankings, they'll also make your visitors with slower modems click away!

6. Make each page an entrance to your site. Once a search engine indexes your site, it will list your most relevant web page in its search results. That means your visitor might not see your homepage first. They might enter your website through "About Us" instead. Each of your pages needs to serve as its own homepage, letting your visitor know what else she can see on your website. The best solution to this is clear navigation, as well as links to other pages in your site throughout your text.

7. Do a little META tag work. But only a little. META tags are invisible tags inside your web pages that list your keywords and page description. Once upon a time, they were very important, and search engine results were based almost entirely on them. Now, search engines care far more about actual content than invisible notes. Nevertheless, they can't hurt.

8. Tell your friends (and everyone else). If you develop a truly wonderful and useful website, people will naturally link to it. However, sometimes you need to jumpstart the process by asking people to add your link to their site. Be creative and very respectful in this process. Give them a good reason to list your site on theirs.

9. Submit to human-edited directories. The biggest ones are the Open Directory Project and the Yahoo! Directory. Once listed in those, crawler-based search engines will increase your rankings. Be very careful when you submit to those directories, though. Make sure your site is in great condition and follow their instructions to the letter. You only get one shot. Real people edit them, and real people might decide that your site isn't worth their time.

You also should look around for industry-related directories that might list your site. Aside from giving you another popularity link, those directories can bring you targeted customers.

10. Keep tabs on your status. The only way to know how well your site is optimized is to check. Here are a few manual search terms you can use with Google (replace "yourname.com" with your domain name):

Who's linking to you?
link:www.yourname.com

Which of your webpages are indexed by search engines?
site:www.yourname.com

Also search for your business name and any keywords you've targeted. Are you being listed where you want to be? If so, congratulations! If not, you probably need to keep working on your site.

Make it professional, useful, popular, and rich with important keywords.

As you can see, there is no quick fix for search engine optimization. It's a long, manual, and rewarding process for everyone involved. If you're looking for help with an aggressive marketing campaign, I recommend working with an excellent Search Engine Marketing Firm, Find Me Faster, who has provided solid results for my clients.